Bose QuietComfort 45 review: A great noise-cancelling headphone

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Is the new Bose QuietComfort 45 wireless noise-cancelling headphone really a quantum leap over than the QuietComfort 35 II it replaces? And is the inventor of the noise-cancelling headphone (dreamed up more than 30 years ago for military and commercial air pilots) still in the driver’s seat with its world-shushing audio technology?

The improvements to be found in the QC 45 (which, at $329.99, costs $20 less than its predecessor) are incremental, but they add up. And while I wouldn’t say the changes are big enough for owners of the QC 35 to trade up, anyone else craving high-quality audio reproduction, plus significant relief from the world’s noisy distractions, should be comparing the QC 45 to the usual suspects, including the $350 Sony WH-1000XM4. We’re talking a fight to the finish here.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Some things shouldn’t change

bose qc45 shot 5 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

Comparisons are telling: Bose QC45, left; custom-color Bose QC35 II, center; and the Sony WH-1000XM4, right.

The best news is that Bose hasn’t felt compelled to change what was right about the QC 35 II that preceded this new headphone. Multi-point connection via Bluetooth 5.1 means you can have two connected iOS or Android devices—a phone and a tablet, for instance—connected simultaneously. If a call comes in while you’re watching a movie on the tablet, the headphones will switch sources to pick up the call and automatically switch back to the movie soundtrack when the call ends. And Bose SimpleSynch works through the Bose Music app to pair the QC 45 with compatible Bose Soundbars. Once paired, the soundbar will mute and divert its audio feed to the headphone.

That signature Bose sound, tuned for long-term easy listening and use, remains an essential part of the Quiet Comfort package. For sure, there’s not much to fuss with here. Automatic equalization circuitry adjusts the tonal balance to the chosen volume level. If not to your liking, EQ adjustments are only possible through your smart phone or tablet’s sound or music settings.

What’s the reward for leaving well enough alone? The QC45 serve up a consistently pleasing, well-tempered sound, with moderately articulate (never excessive) bass response, a natural mid-range presence, and a clean, gently rounded-off top end. While certainly less bright and splashy sounding than Sony’s high-end offering (a characteristic that draws many folks to that brand), the Bose QC 45 allow me to listen for very long stretches and at reasonably loud volume without getting itchy ears (my first sign of impending ear fatigue).

bose quietcomfort 45 modeled Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The QuietComfort 45 have the comfortable fit that Bose noise-cancelling headphones have come to be known for.

I gave these phones a good test with repeated listens to Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’), a gorgeous new concert album remake of Derek and the Dominos’ double-disc Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Sometimes as many as four guitarists are jamming away here (guests Trey Anastasio and Doyle Bramhall II being the other two), elaborating on the florid solos and harmonizing duets originated by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. While this bluesy southern rock is often emotionally peeling and piercing, my ears never complained. So, I kept coming back for more.

What’s changed with the QC 45?

The premiere choice of solace-seeking airplane travelers, Bose noise-cancelling headphones have been upstaged by upstarts better tuned for other environments. With the QC 45, Bose says it has upped its game with a re-calibrated active noise-cancelling system that also tackles “unwanted sounds in mid-range frequencies typically found in commuter trains, busy offices, and cafes.”

bose qc45 vs a leaf blower Jonathan Takiff / IDG

Bose noise-cancelling tech squelched this noisy leaf blower.

Bose engineers have also re-calibrated the onboard voice-isolation circuitry, adding another microphone and adjusting its beam-forming algorithms in an effort to better capture the user’s voice and reduce transmitted ambient noise when making or taking a call or barking orders to your connected virtual assistant (Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri). That’s become more important in this post-COVID environment when you can be holding a business call or participating in a Zoom chat anywhere but a typical shushed office.

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