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Headphone Review: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds ($299)

Moving right along. We’re back with our fifth review of headphones for active humans. I’m not going to lie, when SMM said I could tackle this project, Bose was at the top of my list.  Even way back when, as a young music fan, I knew that Bose was one of the highest caliber brands for stereo equipment.  My dad, also a music lover, always preferred Bose speakers for his sound systems which I was obviously not allowed to touch.  I could, however, appreciate the sound and knew, even then, that it was high quality.  Prior to this test, I had never used any type of Bose headphones for running; primarily due to the cost.  And honestly because I didn’t want to risk ruining such a high end product by running with them and potentially losing or damaging them.  Personally, I always just assumed they were super nice and likely worth the high price but ultimately not for me.  So, as you’d imagine, I was thrilled when I learned I would be able to give them a go, thanks to SMM.  For this test they purchased the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds.  

These are specifically designed with athletes in mind.  I definitely thought I would end this test with these Bose headphones at the top of my list.  Not so.  And I’ll tell you why.  But first, a reminder that I wear all of the headphones I test for a minimum of 50 miles and in all types of weather conditions.  I also try to use them for multiple types of workouts and races when I can.  As soon as these arrived I took them out of the box and leashed up my dogs to go for a walk.  And the rest, well, see below and judge for yourself.

QUALITY: As far as headphones go, these are a thing of beauty.  Yes, that sounds dumb.  But unlike the other brands I have tried, these just look fancy.  Big, bold case.  Shiny, sleek-shaped earbuds.  If you were going to judge a book by its cover, and you should never do that, you would think these were a sure thing.  I turned them on and jumped as I heard the Bose voice tell me they were connected.  Even the “on” sound is legit.  The earbuds have up to six hours of battery life and the case holds an extra three hours.  Plus you can get up to two hours of listening time with a twenty minute quick charge, which is a nice option if you forget to charge.  That said, this battery life isn’t worlds better than any other pair that I’ve tried to date so you’re not getting something special here in this category.  The case and the earbuds themselves are kind of big compared to most.  Not that there's anything wrong with this.  But I wouldn’t run with this case in my pocket as I have with other brands.  So something to note.  They are water resistant but not fully waterproof which, if you live in an area where weather is iffy, might cause you to pause.  

OK, so bear with me on this next bit.  The first time I tried them I wore them for a run on my treadmill.  Mid-run, the music stopped and the Bose voice said “immersion.”  I did nothing because I had no idea what that meant.  Seconds later the voice said “quiet.”  Again, no idea.  Naturally, I started tapping the earbuds in hopes that she would stop talking.  Nope.  Back and forth between quiet and immersion which I later learned are modes you can put the two of several modes that you can put the headphones in.  Finally, I took them out and switched to a different pair.  Very annoying.  But, in fairness to Bose, I did not read the manual before I used them.  So after I ran, I got online and did some digging.  I learned a little more about the modes available to the user but I couldn’t find any reason that mine were bouncing back and forth between two modes on their own.  The site has a chat option and claims they are available to help 24/7 but when I chose this way to ask my question, I got a message that said they were not, in fact, available.  So much for 24/7.  

Finally, I called customer service.  I explained what was happening.  She also had no idea what I was talking about.  Now, I’m guessing she doesn’t work for Bose, so I get that.  But even after putting me on hold and asking someone else if they knew the issue I was describing, she came back with nothing.  So she sent me a return label and I sent the headphones back to them.  OK, I can appreciate that.  It’s inconvenient but at least they took them back for the exchange.  A couple weeks later I got a second pair.  I probably got about 30 minutes into a run before the same thing started happening -- immersion to quiet. And repeat.  Now, I’ll admit, this is likely an error on my end.  But, even so, I can’t figure out how to solve it and I have legitimately looked.  So, I am now reluctant to wear them for running and will only use them for dog walks or other activities where I’m not leaning hard on my music.  Obviously, none of this is ideal so this piece alone greatly impacts my overall grade of the product.

SOUND: When they work, the sound is pretty incredible.  You really feel like you’re sitting in a room with a very high end stereo and having a one-on-one experience with your music.  As I’ve mentioned in my past reviews, I’m not super picky about this category.  If they play music and I can hear it I’m pretty content.  But I will say that these do honestly sound better than all the other pairs I’ve tried.  Everything is crisper, bolder and I can hear things in my music that I don’t necessarily hear with a lower quality product.  So that’s a big plus for them.  As you now know, they have multiple modes (immersion, home, quiet, loud) that probably make things ideal for what you are using them for.  But, as you also know, I couldn’t figure this out on the app or anywhere in the site so I’m waving the white flag on this feature.  Godspeed if you can figure it out.  

CONNECTION: The Bluetooth connection is perfect.  I never had any issues with this.  They connect quickly and easily.  And calls sound really good; very clear.  I don’t use my headphones for calls very much but if I needed to, these are a very good option.  

FIT: I’m not wild about the shape of these earbuds.  First, they seem to be unnecessarily large.  Second, they have a lot going on as far as an inner piece, a fit around the ear and a piece that comes down.  Granted, this might be necessary for the high end sound they provide.  But I find them bulky in my ears and that they don’t feel very snug when I’m moving.  It honestly feels like they tried too hard and it backfired on them.  But what do I know about technology other than how it feels and if it works for my needs?  The earbuds are very sensitive to touch, so when I twist or push them in to re-fit them into my ears, the music inevitably skips or turns off.  Again, why?  You’re going to touch them non-stop if you’re moving, right?  If they are this sensitive, there is always going to be an issue when you try to make them fit.  Bottom line, too complicated for me and overall incredibly annoying to deal with.

PRICE: At $299.00 (discounts are available occasionally) these are, in my humble opinion, ridiculously costly for the value of the product.  If I’m paying this much, I want it to work and if it doesn’t, I want someone to help me figure out why.  Neither of these were the case for me.  The only thing they have going for them is the high quality sound, so if this is your most important feature, they might be worth exploring.  If you figure out the mode thing, I’d love for you to let me know.  It still happens daily. 



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