Bose noise-canceling headphones have helped millions fly in peace, but it’s no longer the only company offering high-quality sound isolation. Realizing that the four-year-old QC35 II didn’t quite stand its ground against newer, better wireless headphones, the company recently refreshed the lineup with the QC45s. While they’re very similar to their predecessor, especially from a design standpoint, they boast much-needed improvements like Bluetooth multipoint, a Type-C port, and beam-forming mics for better call quality.
There’s no doubt that the QC 45s are among the most comfortable pair of ANC headphones out there, but for numerous reasons, I think I’m going to stick with the Sony WH-1000XM4s.
With better noise cancellation, Bluetooth multipoint, a USB Type-C port, and improved call quality, the Bose QC 45s offer some notable improvements over their predecessors. There's also no denying that they're one of the most comfortable pairs of premium ANC cans out there. However, as a whole, I still don't think they pack enough to be as exciting and utilitarian as the Sony WH-1000XM4s.
- Brand: Bose
- Battery Life: 24 hours
- Material: Plastic
- Bluetooth: 5.1
- Noise Cancellation: Yes
- Waterproof: No
- Microphones: 6 (4 beamforming)
- Weight: 240g / 8.5oz
- Colors: Black, White Smoke
- Audio codecs: SBC, AAC
- Multipoint: Yes
- You'll be hard-pressed to find a pair of premium ANC headphones as comfortable as these
- Great noise cancellation
- New Aware mode lets you hear the environment without taking off the headphones
- You can connect it two devices simultaneously
- Type-C port finally!
- Buttons are mushy and not easy to use
- No Google Fast Pair support
- No built-in EQ
- Sound isn't exciting
Design, hardware, what's in the box
If someone gave me a dollar for every difference I found between the design of the QC 45s and the QC 35s, I’d still be a very poor man — they’re practically identical. They don’t take any inspiration from the sleek Bose 700s, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For starters, it features a similar foldable design, and they even retain physical buttons instead of the touch panels that are common now.
Compared to the QC 35s, the only major design differences are the new mic locations (there are six in total), a USB Type-C port instead of microUSB, and smoother-finish synthetic leather ear pads. Everything else has been carried over. They’re still made of sturdy plastic (all pivot points are metallic), feature swiveling ear cups, and have a well-padded headband.
While I appreciate physical buttons, I don’t prefer them over the touch controls on the Sony WH-1000XM4s, and this primarily has to do with the surface area. The playback buttons sit close together on the right cup of the QC 45s, and since they aren’t differentiated by texture, it’s difficult to land your thumb on the right button. On the other hand, Sony’s touch controls, thanks to the larger surface area of the cups, are much easier to use, and the error rate is significantly lower.
The power button is in the form of a slider on the face of the right cup, whereas the multi-function button sits on the side of the left cup. The latter is used to toggle between ANC and Bose’s new Aware mode that lets sound pass through to make you aware of your surroundings; there’s no way to completely turn off either, though.
The QC 45s are very light for premium headphones at 240 grams (8.5 oz), and the benefit is apparent. They’re extremely comfortable to wear for long durations, and I’ve yet to face any ear fatigue. The clamping force is also lesser when compared to that of the WH-1000XM4s — I never itched to take them off to let my ears breathe. But if you reside in a humid place, the story might be different.
There’s still no protection from water, so it’s recommended not to wear them in the rain. I would’ve also loved to see a proximity sensor to automatically play/pause music when I wear/remove them. What I’m happy to see, though, is the Type-C charging port that replaces the oh-so-last-decade microUSB port.
Every pair comes with a carrying case, a Type-A-to-Type-C cable, and a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cable. Unfortunately, there’s no airplane adapter in the box, so you’ll have to make your arrangements for long-haul flights.
Sound quality, features, and battery
If you’re coming from the QC 35s, the sound is the last reason you might want to upgrade because Bose hasn’t changed the drivers. The QC45’s sound profile doesn’t excite me -- the bass doesn’t punch, and the sound isn’t exceptionally detailed. There’s an emphasis on the higher end, which can get annoying if the music you listen to has a lot of high-pitched instruments and sounds — it can overpower other elements.
This nature of the sound does make the Bose headphones quite suitable to listen to podcasts or vocal-heavy tracks. But for someone who listens to a lot of hip-hop and lo-fi, I like the Sony WH-1000XM4s better, with their vibrant sound, tighter bass, and wider soundstage.
Another drawback, the headphones only support AAC and SBC codecs. It would’ve been nice to see support for some higher-quality codecs or Qualcomm’s AptX and energy-efficient LE Audio.
The inclusion of Bluetooth multi-point is welcome, but the implementation is not perfect. Although the Bose Music app lets you control which devices your headphone is connected to, I did face some issues while using it with my MacBook Air and the Pixel 6. For some weird reason, the cans wouldn’t play any music from my phone even when the laptop didn’t have anything going on on it. But that could be a problem with just my MacBook because I didn’t face the same issue with a Chromebook. There’s no Fast Pair support for Android devices too, and the lack of NFC means you won’t be able to simply tap your phone to connect them.
Noise-canceling on the Bose QC 45 is great, but it doesn’t block all sounds -- conversations and higher-frequency sounds can still seep through. The performance is comparable to the XM4s, with the exception that you can’t control the intensity of ANC. This isn’t something I find much use of, but it’s worth noting.
Bose has added an Aware mode that helps you be aware of the environment without taking much away from the music experience. Unlike ANC, I’d very much prefer if the intensity could be adjusted here. The default setting doesn’t work for me. To make sure I hear an announcement clearly, I still have to pause my music.
As far as device support is concerned, they’ll work with just about any smartphone, laptop, or smartwatch out there. When you’re using it with a phone, the new Bose Music app gives access to OTA updates and some basic device controls, but it’s far from the most exhaustive companion app. There’s no EQ control, for starters, so you won’t be able to do much if you’re not big on how it sounds by default. Given that the NC 700s have this, I’m sure Bose could’ve shipped at least a few presets here.
Call quality and sound isolation have been improved, thanks to a total of six microphones -- they’re surely better than the XM4s. However, it does struggle a bit with wind and engine noises, and taking calls while on a bus just always seems to be a bad idea.
The headphones are rated to work for 24 hours on a single charge, and in my testing, I found this to be more or less accurate. This surely isn’t the best-in-class, but it does support quick charging; a quick 15-minute charge will let them play for three more hours. When the battery is dead, you can use the headphones in wired mode, but the sound quality takes a hit, and ANC doesn’t work.
Should you buy them?
Maybe, if you’re looking for a pair of premium ANC headphones and comfort is high on your list of needs. There’s no question that the Bose QC 45 is one of the most comfortable headphones out there. With the addition of Bluetooth multi-point, a Type-C port, and slightly better ANC, they’re way more relevant than their predecessor.
But if you haven’t pledged your allegiance to Bose, you might want to audition the Sony WH-1000XM4s, especially if adjustable ANC, a better companion app with EQ support, enhanced connectivity (Fast Pair and NFC support), and high-quality audio formats appeal to you.
AI can’t help but think that Bose isn’t doing a great job of positioning its premium ANC headphones. To keep the more-expensive NC 700s relevant, Bose has axed some important features like adjustable ANC and EQ settings. In a vacuum, this might’ve not been a problem, but Bose is still asking $329 for a pair when the more capable Sony cans are only a little more expensive (and quite often on sale).
UPDATE: 2022/01/04 17:27 EST BY PRASHAM PARIKH
Two months later
It’s been a couple of months since I first started using the Bose QC 45s, and I have to admit that I’ve started to like them more over time. It’s worth noting that nothing about the headphones has changed; there haven’t been any updates to improve functionality or add features. But I just can’t get over how comfortable they are.
It’s hard to grasp how comfy these headphones are unless you try out a few more headphones that fall short in the comfort department. I’ve had the QC 45s on my head for hours on end, while at home and traveling, and have never felt the need to take them off to let my ears breathe. If you’re someone who prefers using a pair of over-ear headphones for your day-to-day music and calling needs, you’ll be happy to leave these on. Everything from the sufficiently-padded headband to the not-too-aggressive sound signature helps its case.
My opinion regarding the physical buttons has changed a bit, too. While they aren’t as forgiving of clumsy fingers as the Sony WH-1000XM4’s large touchpads are, I have managed to almost memorize the location of the buttons. I’m still not a huge fan, but also not as sore as I used to be. Also, the multipoint issues I was facing when connected to the MacBook are gone now and I suspect it was never Bose’s fault, to begin with.
I still lament the lack of wear detection and no EQ controls, but with the price of the headphones frequently dropping to $279 in recent times, these flaws are more digestible. Even more so, if you’re seeking a pair of ANC cans that you know you’ll be wearing for hours on end. All said and done, I’m still not ditching the Sony WH-1000XM4s in favor of these, but I’ll surely be spending more time with them.