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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II hands-on: stunningly quiet

Bose says its new noise-canceling wireless earbuds, the $299 QuietComfort Earbuds II, are the best active noise cancellation (ANC) you can get, period. That goes for over-ear headphones, as well as wireless earbuds. And after getting a demo of these new buds at the launch event in New York City, I believe it.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

In a perfect world, wireless earbuds would magically know which sounds we cared about and which ones annoy us, and then completely erase the bad ones, leaving just our music, or maybe the voice of someone we’re trying to talk to.  The QuietComfort Earbuds II (QCE II) can’t quite do that, but they come closer than any other ANC product I’ve tried — at least, that was my impression following the demo.

To show off the QCE II’s ANC chops, attendees were brought into a closed-off area, surrounded by projection screens on all sides. We donned a set of QCE II, and after a quick check to make sure we had a good fit (mine fit perfectly with the default medium ear tips), the demo began. We were asked to switch on quiet mode (ANC) and choose from a variety of preloaded tunes, which we began to play at moderate (30% to 40% volume).

Man wearing Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Things sounded fine — not spectacular, but very good. But then the projection screens jumped to life and we were placed inside a busy subway at rush hour. I immediately felt the vibration of the train in my chest courtesy of the loudspeakers placed all around us. And that was super weird because I couldn’t actually hear the sound of the train at all.  That is until I switched the QCE II back to aware (transparency) mode. The sudden influx of sound was dramatic.

To make sure we understood that Bose’s improvements weren’t just aimed at a specific set of frequencies, the demo continued with a series of other virtual scenarios like an airplane cabin during flight and a busy streetscape. Each offered a similar elimination of background sounds, leaving just our music audible.

Finally, we were asked to play some gentle soundtrack music courtesy of the inimitable Danny Elfman, while the Bose representative leading the demo stood in front of us, reading from The Wizard of Oz. In aware mode, it was like having a conversation while music played in the background. But once I flipped to quiet mode, the voice simply disappeared, leaving me to watch his lips move, with no accompanying sound but Elfman’s music.

Bose says it has improved a variety of things on these new earbuds, not just ANC, and I’ll soon get a chance to test them all, in our upcoming in-depth review of the QuietComfort Earbuds II. But in the meantime, it’s safe to say that a) Bose puts on a helluva demo, and b) the company will almost certainly get to keep its top spot as the maker of the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds.

Will the demo’s impressive experience translate into the real world? Our full review will be available on September 15, the same day that these new earbuds start to ship to pre-order buyers.

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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