This is an in-depth commentary of the Bose QC Ultra headphones after testing it for several weeks, particularly on the bass performance and other interesting aspects of this headphone
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are the latest headphones from Bose released in September 2023 and are the most advanced noise cancelling headphones that Bose has built to date. They are more advanced than the new Bose QuietComfort headphones and feature 3 active noise cancelling modes – aware, quiet and immersion – which allow you to tune the ANC features according to your personal listening preferences. This review may sound surprising, but these headphones have some serious bass that you have to try out.
As background, I tested out these headphones for a couple of weeks and I must say that the noise cancelling is one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard – and even better than the Sony WH-1000XM5s. But what truly sets these headphones apart from the pack is the sound. The QC Ultra headphones deliver really incredible sound with 3D spatial imaging and the bass is surprisingly deeper than expected.
Coming from a bass head who has tested out the Fostex TH-900MK2, the Sony MDR-Z1R WW2 and the Ultrasone Pro 900 headphones, the bass on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones punches even deeper and has surprisingly more depth than I anticipated than these headphones designed solely for bass. You don’t even need a portable headphone amp or DAC to boost up the headphones – they sound extremely tight and punchy and deliver really loud sound performance. They are the kind of headphones you would wear for movies and they can deliver cinematic spatial sound performance as though you are sitting inside a Dolby Atmos movie theater. Let me explain further.
The first thing that strikes you while listening to the Bose QuietComforrt Ultra headphones is the spatial imaging. You can listen to sounds like JVKE’s “Golden Hour” and experience a crescendo of deep bass notes at the chorus with cinematic soundstage – you can hear the piano notes, the vocalist and the bass exactly where the artist intended them to be heard. Live jazz performances from Tony Bennett’s “Fly Me To the Moon” (I always use this as a test to examine the soundstage) sounded incredibly spectacular, with vibrant details and spatial imaging (you get a sense of distance with the audience clapping) and you can pick up subtle details in the vocals that you might not have noticed before. You start to notice things while wearing these headphones; you hear the plucking of stringed instruments such as the guitar, or the subtle stroke of the piano or the stroke of the drum. These headphones deliver really crisp highs and very well-refined timbre ranges.
A huge caveat however is that you need to turn the active noise cancelling mode to full immersion to really experience these effects. The full immersion mode gives the best combination of noise cancellation and 3D spatial imaging which really make music and movies come to life.
I should also mention that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra provides one of the best movie watching experiences you can ever get with a pair of wireless headphones. If you are skeptical, just try watching Batman The Dark Knight and experience the cinematic movie effects for yourself – movie sound effects feel extremely up-close and spacious. There was even a scene of Bruce Wayne knocking on the door and it really felt as though someone was knocking on the door to my rear of the room – that’s how good the QuietComfort Ultra headphones are at delivering 3D spatial sound. The movie effects that you get while using these headphones is spectacular and you can really pick out the minor details in the sound effects that you might not have noticed before, such as the direction of rainfall, the rustling of leaves or the sound of footsteps.
Now on to the bass – the bass on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is something special and this is not an exaggeration. I love the natural sounding bass on the Meze Classics 99 or the Fostex TH-900MK2 which uses a wood construction to improve the lower-end bass. The bass on the QC Ultra headphones punches way deeper than any of these headphones with immersion mode. Just try playing a couple of EDM soundtracks on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones you will see what I mean when I say that these headphones have depth and gravitas. The bass has plenty of authority and punches really deep – it gives you the kind of bass that you only get with the Fostex headphones (which are absolute bass cannons) but with a mix of realism that you get with a Dolby Atmos cinema.
I have no difficulty in saying that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is an absolute bass cannon when it comes to bass that really matters – deep, authoritative and powerful. This elevates the entire listening experience especially if you love to listen to EDM or hip-hop music genres, but the headphones also perform equally well for live jazz performances and vocals with really good spatial imaging.
Pros and Cons
For one, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are incredibly lightweight at just 0.56lbs or 250 grams. The entire headphone is made from plastic and aluminium headbands but is generously coated with leather that gives it a very comfortable feel. I do have pretty large ears, but the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphone is able to fit comfortably over the ears for long periods of time without causing discomfort. These headphones are very lightweight and they can pretty much disappear over your head if you are wearing them for long periods of time. They won’t cause much ear fatigue although your ears may start to sweat if you listen to the headphones continuous for hours.
Compared with the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones are miles apart in terms of comfort and noise cancelling. Although the WH-1000XM5s comes with various degrees of noise cancellation which you can tune, I found the Bose QC Ultra headphones to have a more simplistic option between quiet and immersion. In terms of noise cancellation, the QC Ultra headphones also perform much better on a side by side comparison. You can literal dead silence with full immersion switched on – it almost feels as though you have been submerged underwater in a peaceful ocean.
I must say however that full immersion ANC may start to get uncomfortable after some time because my ears are not used to so much silence (it feels almost as though you are in a pressurized environment – the same feeling that you get if you immerse yourself underwater). There’s a certain kind of pressure that the ANC gives over the ears after listening to music or with just the ANC switched on, probably due to the fact that these headphones really cut out background sounds and make you feel as though you are inside a quiet room. I can’t even hear myself typing on the MacBook keyboard with the ANC switched on and it feels eerily quiet with full immersion mode switched on.
Having said that, you can always switch to Aware mode which takes in the surrounding noise (I found that this headphone somewhat amplifies the surrounding background noise in Aware mode, so that you hear them clearer even though in real life you don’t hear them as much). For example, the sound of typing on the keyboard or the blowing fan is amplified in Aware mode – it feels much more pronounced and I found the Aware mode to be more than just turning off the ANC – the headphone actually amplifies surrounding noise a little so that you can hear them more clearly. This may be a benefit to some but for me, I would have just preferred the ANC to be switched off (the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones do not come with this option and you can only toggle between Aware, Quiet or Immersion).
One final gripe that I have with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is that you need to push the modal button down for around 3-4 seconds before you hear the headphones activate and switch on. This can be rather annoying as sometimes it takes a few seconds before the headphone actually powers on and you need to hold the modal button down long enough for it to power on. There should be a simple power on switch like the Sony WH-1000XM5 has which immediately powers on the headphone rather than having you hold down the button a wait a few seconds (sometimes if you are not holding down on the button long enough, the Bose QC Ultra headphone will not switch on).
The wireless connectivity is pretty solid though with the latest Bluetooth 5.3 technology. You can pair the headphone to your MacBook or iPhone simultaneously and switch between devices intuitively (all you have to do is to pause your audio on one device and play audio from another, and the headphone will automatically play the audio).
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones use a USB-C to USB-A connection to charge the headphone, although I personally don’t really like the USB-C connection input on the headphone because the port can get damaged easily (there’s a mini center piece in the USB-C port that can be rather flimsy especially if you insert the USB-C cable with force).
Overall, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra is worth getting simply on the active noise cancellation and very strong bass performance. The active noise cancellation works extremely well especially in immersion or quiet modes, and allows you to focus on your tasks while keeping out background noises. From testing, I would say that the Bose QC Ultra headphones are much better than the Sony WH-1000XM5 and less complicated to use (you don’t have to adjust multiple levels of noise cancelling and just select the mode that you want). There’s also a handy Bose headphone app which you can use to further customize your listening experience and store listening profiles if required. The major advantage of the Bose QC Ultra is that this headphone deliver superb sound with really immersive soundstage and some of the deepest bass notes we have tested. They sound great with EDM, rock and hip-hop music genres but we found that they are also great for live performances and jazz.
These headphones really shine when it comes to movies and it is not an exaggeration to say that they deliver an incredible cinematic listening experience. The level of realism, detail and 3D spatial imaging that you get with the QC Ultra headphones is simply unbeatable. You should try out the headphone for yourself while streaming Netflix and you would see what I mean. These headphones have bass that you don’t simply trifle with – it’s the kind of bass for serious bass heads who want deep and authoritative bass in their music.
Commentary on the Bose QC Ultra headphones, The author is the editor-in-chief of bassheadspeakers