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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Bose has done exactly that with its QuietComfort line of noise-cancelling headphones — and for good reason. The QC35 and QC35 II set the bar for active noise cancellation (ANC) when it comes to wireless over-ear cans. Bose’s powerful ANC blocks out more ambient roar than nearly all of the competition and the QuietComfort’s reliable controls meant they were a joy to use on long flights. Still, the QC35 II debuted in 2017 and technology has progressed a lot since then. Still, Bose managed to keep most of what made the line so popular while making a few minor updates with the QuietComfort 45 ($329). As it turns out, you don’t need fancy new features to make your headphones unique.
In terms of aesthetics, there’s almost nothing new to report here. Bose was clear that the idea was to keep the trademark QuietComfort series design intact. The company did remove the pleats around the ear pads to clean things up, and it closed open spaces for a smoother look. It also swapped out the micro-USB port for modern USB-C charging. Overall though, you could easily mistake the QC45 for a pair of QC35 or QC35 II headphones.
The QC45’s ear cups still rotate and fold in for easy storage, and both the ear pads and headband remain soft and cushiony. On the right, the power and pairing slider is on the outside of the ear cup while on-board controls are along the back edge. These physical buttons give you the ability to play/pause, take calls, skip tracks and adjust volume. In the same spot on the left, what used to be the Google Assistant and Alexa button now cycles between active noise cancellation (Quiet mode) and ambient sound (Aware mode). If you press this button during a call, it will mute the mics. You can still summon your assistant of choice, but you now do so by holding down the center multi-function button on the right side instead.
If you want something that’s a bit less of a “dad on a business trip” vibe, but still desire Bose’s sound quality and ANC chops, you’ll want to look at the Bose 700 (more on those in a bit). Those have a more modern design. However, the entire point of the QuietComfort series is to keep you comfy for hours at a time while blocking out the world. The QC45 continues to do just that with its lightweight design that packs easy and is an excellent travel companion.
Software and features
Like other Bose headphones and earbuds, the QuietComfort 45 work with the company’s Music app. The software doesn’t offer much in terms of customization, but it will guide you through the on-board controls, display battery life, allow you to change ANC modes and switch between connected Bluetooth devices. There’s also a volume slider and a basic media controller, both of which you probably won’t need. What you are able to adjust does actually come in handy though. You can choose between four levels of Self Voice, or the amount of yourself you can hear in the headphones during calls (off, low, medium and high). This helps you be less shouty on Zoom, which is always nice. You can also adjust how long the QC45 will sit idle before automatically powering off to conserve battery.
That’s really it. Bose doesn’t offer the ability to tweak the EQ or even a select of presets to adjust the sound profile. Instead, the QC45 is equipped with a volume-optimized Active EQ feature that automatically adjusts highs and lows to maintain performance at all levels. There’s really no need to reassign any of the controls and features like automatic pausing or voice recognition aren’t available. This means the Music app is potentially something you’ll visit during initial setup, and never again.
Lastly, there’s one thing with the multi-device connectivity that I found frustrating. You can connect the QC45 to both your phone and your computer at the same time. This way when you’re working, you’re tuned into Slack and Spotify, but the headphones automatically switch over when you get a call. However, when that call is finished, the QC45 remains connected to your phone and you have to tap to get your computer back to the active stream. It’s a small nuisance, but when competitors do this automatically, it sticks out.
You might be considering a set of Bose headphones just for their noise cancelling chops, but don’t overlook the sound quality. The company has a decent track record with tuning, typically offering warm, balanced sound with good clarity that highlights details of the music. That continues with the QuietComfort 45 as these headphones handle all genres well, offering crisp highs, robust mids and deep bass when a song demands it. The tuning here is more even-handed than what Sony offers on its flagship model, so don’t expect booming low-end.
That being said, there’s ample bass for albums like Run The Jewels’ RTJ4 and Chvrches’ Screen Violence. The difference with Bose is that the low end doesn’t have the same depth or detail as other sets. The basslines of “Walking In The Snow” and “Asking For A Friend” don’t drone or oscillate with the same immersive quality as the competition. With more balanced tuning, and thanks to how well they handle details, the QC45 is well-suited for all genres — from metal to bluegrass and everything in between. They can get loud when you need them to and there’s enough depth to keep things from any semblance of flat or boring.
The most notable changes to sound on the QC45 were actually made to the active noise cancellation. Bose says a combination of external and internal microphones work with a "proprietary digital chip” to detect and silence more mid-range frequencies. The company explains that this should cover things like office noise, the roar of a train or the hum of a coffee shop. Indeed, these headphones are better at blocking the distractions the competition struggles with. I noticed the QC45 handled things like the TV and other sounds around the house with ease — including human voices on their own work calls. ANC performance was never an issue with Bose headphones, but the company has managed to improve on what was already top tier.
Ambient sound or Aware mode is also a new addition to the QC45. Something like this is a staple of most headphones nowadays, so it’s nice to see Bose include it. It doesn’t sound anywhere close to as natural as the AirPods Max, but it gets the job done when you need to hear what’s going on around you. The ability to adjust how much of your voice you hear on calls is also handy, since it looks like we’ll still be spending a good portion of our lives on video calls.
Bose promises up to 24 hours on a charge with the QC45, four more than the QC35 II. Obviously, that’s long enough to take any commercial flight in the world, or to get you through a few full work days with ease. During my tests using a mix of ANC and ambient sound for both music and calls, I managed 22.5 hours before having to plug in. That’s slightly under the stated figure, but still quite a long time.
If you find yourself in a pinch, Bose has included a quick-charge feature that gives you three hours of playtime in 15 minutes. It’s more than enough to get you through your commute home, a workout or a Zoom call.
Bose has an attractive alternative to the QC45 in its own product lineup: the Bose 700. The 2019 model offers the company’s robust ANC along with impressive voice quality for calls, even in noisy environments. You can also set the level of noise cancellation between 0 and 10. The 700 has reliable touch controls instead of physical buttons and a design that’s more modern than the QC series. They’re more expensive at $379 and the treble can be harsh at times, which isn’t great when there’s no option in the app to adjust it. Still, if looks are important to you, these are a worthy alternative.
Sony has been giving Bose a run for its money over the last few years. The company’s latest flagship noise-cancelling headphones, the WH-1000XM4, keeps that pace. Sony packs in so many handy features on top of powerful ANC and excellent sound quality. The WH-1000XM4 can automatically adjust noise cancelling based on your activity or location and speak-to-chat, along with quick-attention mode, offers a convenient way to have a quick convo. Plus, automatic pausing, multi-device connectivity and support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio may sweeten the deal. When you consider you can sometimes find these available for $100 less than the full asking price of around $350, the 1000XM4 becomes even more enticing.
Bose is clearly catering to QuietComfort fans with the QC45. The new model maintains everything that makes this line of headphones so popular with noteworthy upgrades to noise cancellation. It’s also apparent that Bose is content to put its latest tech to work in entirely separate models like the 700, keeping the QC family going as long as there’s still demand for it. And if I had to guess, the clamoring will remain for quite some time. If Bose can manage to get the price closer to $300, future QuietComfort headphones become an even more intriguing proposition.