Bose is back with a revamp of its most popular noise-cancelling headphones, which improve the technology but keep the good bits mostly the same.
The company appears to have taken an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the new headphones, which are similar to the excellent QuietComfort 35 from 2016 but markedly different to the more modern NCH 700 that launched two years ago.
The QuietComfort 45 cost £320 ($330/A$500) and are non-showy and comfortable. The design has been refined with smoother ear cushions and fewer lines and microphone holes in the ear cups for a more minimalist look, but side by side the differences with the QuietComfort 35s are subtle. The headband is now lined with smoother vegan leather rather than the suede-like Alcantara of their predecessors.
The headphones are still light, well balanced and stay put on your head without needing to clamp particularly hard, aiding their long-term comfort.
The construction feels robust and capable of taking a beating, similar to their longstanding predecessors that stood up very well to years of the rough and tumble of travel and my daily commute.
Controls and connectivity
The QC45 are a standard set of Bluetooth 5.1 headphones supporting the universal SBC and AAC audio formats, which are compatible with most phones, tablets, computers and other devices. They can connect to two devices at once, such as a phone for calls and tablet for video, and had a rock solid connection to iPhones and Android devices. You can use a cable for wired listening even when the headphones are out of battery.
A sliding switch turns the headphones on and off and puts them into pairing mode, while a trio of buttons control playback and volume. A button on the left cup switches between sound modes. Unlike most high-end rivals, the QC45 do not pause the music when you take them off, however.
Dimensions: 184 x 152.4 x 76.2mm
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1 with multipoint, 3.5mm, USB-C charging
Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC
Battery life: 24 hours
Sound and noise cancelling
All Bose headphones have a signature sound that has proven divisive in audiophile circles, typically because they heavily process sound, which means music is considered to be removed from what the artist intended.
The QC45 sound generally pleasant and better balanced than rivals, producing a solid punch in the low end without it overriding other tones. Vocals are particularly clear, but the treble and highs can be over accentuated, making some punk tracks with heavy use of cymbals a little overbearing. Separation between instruments and tones is excellent, even for very complex and overlapping tracks.
Despite lacking any virtual surround-sound feature, the QC45 do an excellent job of recreating the big booms, action and vocals of movies.
The active noise cancelling removes more unwanted sound than almost any other set of headphones, reducing higher tones and speech more reliably and to a greater extent than most rivals. Unlike the NCH 700, the QC45 only have two sound modes: “quiet”, with noise canceling on, and “aware”, with noise cancelling turned off and the sound of the outside world piped in – useful for listing out for traffic or announcements. You cannot use them without one or other sound mode turned on.
Call quality is reasonable, with my voice coming through clear if a little distant-sounding, but they let some background noise through and fall far short of the performance of the NCH 700.
The QC45 last for about 25 hours of listening over Bluetooth between charges or significantly longer via cable. That’s plenty for most commutes and the longest of flights, but five hours short of their best competitors from Sony.
They fully charge via USB-C in 2.5 hours, with a 15-minute charge adding up to three hours of playback.
Bose estimates that the battery will last in excess of 500 full charge cycles but it is not replaceable, ultimately making the headphones disposable.
The headphones are generally repairable, and some replacement parts including the ear cushions, at £24.95 for a pair, are available. The headphones do not contain recycled materials. Bose does not publish individual product environmental impact reports but does publish annual sustainability reports.
For comparison, the RRP of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is £349.95, the QuietComfort 35 II cost £299.95, the QuietComfort Earbuds cost £249.95, the Sony WH-1000XM4 cost £279, B&W PX7 cost £349.99, Apple AirPods Max cost £549.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 offer some of the very best noise cancelling and comfort money can buy. If you need a set of headphones to wear for hours on end, such as on long-haul flights or endless commutes, there aren’t many better options.
They’re light, fold up for travel, feel robust, sound good, connect to two devices at once, can be used with a cable and last for about 25 hours between charges. But while that formula made their predecessors top dog in 2016, the QC45 lack the bells and whistles offered by the latest rivals at similar or lower prices, such as automatic pause, virtual surround sound, sound and noise cancelling customisation and support for higher quality audio formats.
The Bose are still great but a bit pricy at RRP. They are frequently discounted so look for a deal or consider the still excellent QC 35 II, which are available for about £200. Note the battery cannot be replaced on the new headphones by Bose, ultimately making them disposable and losing a star.
Pros: best-in-class noise cancelling, super comfortable, 25-hour battery life, good sound, Bluetooth can connect to two devices at once, fold up for travel, cross-platform companion app, can be used with a cable.
Cons: expensive, voice mic lets in background noise, no higher-quality audio format support, no equaliser, no variable noise cancelling levels.