Bose QuietComfort 45 Headphones Review: Not quite enough to reclaim the throne

Let’s get this straight out of the way. If you own the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 II, or the Bose NC 700 headphones then the newer and only slightly more impressive Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones aren’t worth the upgrade.

Bose kind of started this whole obsession with supreme noise cancellation, and they perfected the art long before Sennheiser, Sony or Apple could get it right with their respective headsets. But since the other brands have caught up, there’s so much more competition on the market, and it’s no longer impressive just to have exceptional noise isolation.

That isn’t to say the Bose 45’s aren’t an excellent offering from one of the best names in the biz. They are. Very much so. But relative to the market, they aren’t as revolutionary as the 35 II’s once were. However, one thing the 45s have got going for them, when compared to current gold-standard Sony WH-1000XM4, is comfort. There is simply no pair of headphones, right now, that are as comfortable as these.

Design

There’s no massive difference in aesthetics between the 45 and the 35. Bose has very much kept the function-forward look and opted for this over the slicker, more seamless physicality of the NC 700s. There’s nothing wrong with that. They are exceptionally lightweight and feel appropriate premium while sitting over the ears. You probably won’t feel the need to take these off at any point throughout the day, at least from a comfort point of view. The ears feel like they can breathe even, with headphones gently cupping the sides of the head while the softly padded headband rests flush along the top. A very light clamp certainly helps with the comfort, and is possibly what gives these headphones the edge over the competition.

You’ve got a foldable design here, as is fashion in this market, as well as physical buttons instead of a touch panel. Sony’s aforementioned WH-1000XM4 have won me over to touch panels, but some still prefer physical buttons as they are much harder to accidentally press while going about your day. The power button this time is a smooth slider, while the multi-function button on the left cup can be used to quickly switch between complete Active Noise Cancelling or Aware mode, where ambient sounds just flood gently under the music.

Inside, you’ve got 6 different mics that have been strategically positioned around the drivers to better perform when it comes to noise isolation, as well as smart assistant interaction, and the all-important call clarity. For those who are wondering, yes call clarity is excellent on these things. That’s a significant improvement over the 35 IIs. What hasn’t improved, however, are the drivers. They are pretty much the same as the 35 IIs, so the sound signature (more on that below) won’t sound as punchy and detailed as competing headphones from Sony and Apple.

One strange thing about the design is that Bose hasn’t bothered to reach for an IP rating. These aren’t water-resistant. At least Sony’s new flagship has an IPX4, which isn’t the best but provides solid protection when you’re out and about in some light rain or sweating after a long walk. You’ll want to quickly fold these up and put them away if you get caught out in a drizzle, which is a damn shame and a missed opportunity from Bose.

Performance

While the divers haven’t changed, and the sound isn’t the best competitively, it’s still quite impressive. Especially when it comes to vocal-forward songs, or podcasts, any listener would admire how much richness and vibrancy is noticeable in the mids and highs. The bass, however, is still so-so, and while it’s good enough to pick out the more nuanced sub-bass of a track like Yelawolf’s “Pop The Trunk”, you’ll notice the restraint if you listen to the aforementioned competitors straight after.

Bose also hasn’t included any current standard codecs like AptX and LL Audio, which has a more insidious effect on performance. Instead, you’ve got the typical AAC and SBC, which would be impressive if this was still 2016. Bluetooth, however, isn’t all bad. Multi-point works well, and the Bose Music app is incredibly responsive and efficient when it comes to basic control – even if there’s, disappointingly, no EQ control.

That no EQ thing is a weird proposition. The NC 700s allow for at least some pre-set profiles, which help if you don’t like the out-of-box sound. This is one of the main factors into why I think the 45s are more of a relevancy reminder from Bose rather than any significant step forward in the market.

On the noise-cancelling front, it’s clear Bose hasn’t lost much of what made them standouts when the headphone market wasn’t as competitive as it is today. Don’t get me wrong, ANC isn’t perfect, and you’ll still get more shrills sounds come in to threaten your private listening session, but for the most part, you’ll block out a lot of the environment. However, there’s no nuance. You’re either in ANC mode, or Aware mode. There’s no in-between like some of the other headphones, which is another point against Bose here.

Battery

24 hours on a single charge. Bose wasn’t kidding when they claimed this battery was the best yet. That’s one of the major reasons you’d want to grab the 45s over some of the other competitors, and it’s unlikely you’ll run into any juicing issues as long as you’re charging these overnight. 15 minutes will get you 3 hours of playback, which is excellent, and you can use USB-C this time.

Verdict & Value

With the QuietComfort 45s, Bose has reinserted itself into the conversation and made a few iterative updates which should make the device attractive for those in the market for some Bluetooth headphones. Still, you’re looking at a price tag of $499, which is $100 more expensive than the superior Sony WH-1000XM4. That’s a problem with value proposition here. What Bose is offering is incredibly strong, but not stronger than something that’s less expensive. You’re then resting most of your decision on three things – physical buttons, superior comfort – which Bose has well and truly excelled in – and excellent battery life.

If that’s worth it, go ahead. You won’t be disappointed with the 45s. But when there’s a pair of headphones out there that sound better, are almost as comfortable, equally impressive with noise cancelling (and the nuances in between), has some water-proofing, and a just-as-good battery, things aren’t looking too good for the former reigning kings of Bluetooth headphones. It makes me wonder, is this just a product to tide us over and remind us that Bose exists before they really ramp things up with whatever their next headphones are? I think so.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Incredibly comfortable; reliable battery life; easy to fold up and store away; will be an excellent pair of travel headphones; excellent noise cancelling and call clarity; physical buttons are almost impossible to accidentally engage and are very easy to use.
Lowlights: Expensive when compared to superior headphones; no improvement in sound signature; outdated Bluetooth codecs; bass can feel flat at times; no EQ settings; no in-between when it comes to ANC and Aware.
Price: $499

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy-Editor-At-Large of the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.

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