The Bose QuietComfort 45 have been a long time coming. Unlike other headphone makers out there who put out a new flagship pair of cans every year, Bose waits until it can really add something new to its lauded over-ear headphones.
In the new QuietComfort 45 model, those upgrades are an Ambient Aware mode that allows you to hear sounds around you at the press of a button as well as upgraded noise cancellation tech that’s more responsive than before.
Also new are a beam-forming microphone array that should offer better call quality and a class-leading 24-hour battery life that Bose says can outlast even the longest international flights. When the battery runs out, the Bose QC45 has quick charging that refills three hours’ worth of battery in just 15 minutes, allowing you to charge them in the morning before you head out the door and still make it to the office and back.
While we’ve yet to find any major flaws with their build quality, we did notice some soft spots in sound performance that seem ripe for improvement – namely the lack of bass response and clarity in the upper registers. Those feelings might change as we continue to put them through their paces but even with those quirks, Bose has made some long-lasting, comfortable and incredibly intuitive headphones that are well-deserving of the QuietComfort legacy.
Price and release date
The Bose QuietComfort 45 became available on September 23, 2021 and cost $329 / £329 / AU$499.95, depending on where you live.
That’s on the expensive side for noise cancelling headphones – as some can be had for as little as $100 / £100 / AU$200 – but this isn’t unreasonable for Bose as the QuietComfort 35 II cost $350 / £330 / AU$500.
At this price point, the biggest competition for the Bose QC45 is the similarly spec’d Sony WH-1000XM4, which we currently consider to be the best noise-cancelling headphones. The WH-1000XM4 have a few features the QC45 do not – like the DSEE Extreme audio upscaler and support for the LDAC codec – but so far the Bose is holding strong in the one area that counts: noise cancellation performance.
Bose has kept a consistent design with its flagship headphones for the better part of the last decade, and that hasn’t changed with the QC45.
The exterior of the headphones looks sleek and feels comfortable thanks to its padded foam bridge and faux-leatherette ear pads. The pads themselves swivel and fold to help them fit into the included carrying case, which makes them easy to throw in your carryon bag when they’re not around your neck.
What’s surprising about the design is how light they are – at just 15.7 ounces (445g), they really feel light on the ear and are comfortable to wear for hours on end. To get them so light, Bose uses some plastic on the arms of the headphones but uses metal for all the joints and the bridge – basically all the parts that are most likely to snap in use.
To control playback, Bose has equipped the QC45 with a number of intuitive buttons. On the right earcup you’ve got controls for pause/play, volume up and volume down, while on the left earcup you’ll find a button for the new ambient aware mode. You can also summon your phone’s built-in assistant by holding the play/pause button, which is nice. It’s not as nice as having an always listening assistant built into the headphones, but better than not having an option for an assistant at all.
Last but not least, you’ll find two main ports on the headphones: there’s a 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom of the left earcup and a USB-C port on the bottom of the right earcup. Both ports are fairly self-explanatory – but it’s still nice to see them as opposed to, say, MicroUSB and no headphone jack at all.
The Bose QuietComfort 45’s sound performance is a double-edged sword. On one hand, these are definitely not the bassiest or detail-rich pair of over-ear headphones we’ve ever heard. On the other hand, though, they are one of the most listenable pairs of headphones among the ones we’ve tested thanks to Bose’s smart design choices.
One such example of that is the QC45’s distinct lack of bass response. Songs like Bad Guy by Billie Eilish don’t have much power behind that driving bass line that other headphones have, nor do they have a richness and clarity in the upper registers. That means details in both areas are hard to hear and less impactful compared to other over-ear headphones.
That said, it wouldn’t surprise us if Bose tuned them that way on purpose as both areas can quickly become fatiguing if not properly done. To prove that point, there are a number of bass-heavy headphones out there that are certainly fun to listen to, but they’re not great on flights when any extra pressure can feel uncomfortable. The same is true for hyper-clear headphones that excel at critical listening – they’re fun at home, but not great on the road.
Unfortunately, the downside here is that there’s no way to alter the EQ of the headphones. The Bose app simply doesn’t have that option right now. If you’re using Android you can always use the built-in EQ to change some of those settings – but it would’ve been nice to see those options inside the Bose Connect app.
The other performance issue we experienced was occasional dropouts in connection. This happened several times with the Amazon Prime Music app – unsurprising as the app can be a little unstable – but also once or twice when listening to videos on YouTube, an app that has always been rock-solid in the past. These dropouts might have been flukes due to the apps or our electronics-laden living room, but it’s definitely something we’ll keep an eye out for as we continue to test them.
The good news? So far, we’ve yet to be disappointed with their noise cancellation performance. Just wearing them around the house blocks out those annoying everyday distractions – there’s no noise from the AC unit or laundry room, and conversations happening elsewhere don’t interfere at all with the music we’ve got playing. We’ll need to put them through the time-honored lawn mower and city bus tests the next time we’re out and about, but so far for basic office use, the Bose QC45 passes our tests with flying colors.
On so many fronts, the Bose QuietComfort 45 feel like a real success right out of the box. They’re comfortable to wear for an extended period of time and feel well-built. They’re light and appear to have an extremely long battery life – plus their noise cancellation seems like some of the best we’ve ever tested.
The bad news is that we’ve also found a few soft spots in our first few hours as well. Among those issues were connection dropouts and a lack of clarity that other big-name headphones don’t suffer from, and a lack of features that we’d really like to see like a built-in EQ, voice assistant and high-end audio codec. None of those quirks are deal-breakers but they are minor blemishes on what otherwise feel like a potential five-star product to rival the Sony WH-1000XM4.