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Apple AirPods Pro vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: which noise-cancelling earbuds are best?

airpods pro
(Image credit: TechRadar)

Noise cancellation was once the exclusive preserve of over-ear headphones, but the past few years have seen enough advances in the technology to bring ANC to true wireless earbuds, too. 

Of these noise-cancelling wireless earbuds, the Apple AirPods Pro are probably the most-well known, having been released following the success of the original AirPods – but since their launch in 2019, lots of other brands have been getting in on the action, including Bose. 

Bose had already made a name for itself in the realm of noise-cancelling headphones with its much-loved QuietComfort series, and its latest earphones, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds follow in that tradition by bringing best-in-class ANC to its wireless buds.

Both the AirPods Pro ($249 / £249 / AU$399) and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ($279 / £249 / AU$399) are very capable pairs of noise-cancelling earphones at similar price points – but which ones should you buy?

With Black Friday deals set to start rolling in from the beginning of November (though some early deals are already available), you may be wondering which of these earbud models are best suited for your needs – that’s why we’ve put together this guide comparing the AirPods Pro and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. 

What's good about the Apple AirPods Pro?

airpods pro

(Image credit: Apple)

Easy pairing with iOS devices

One of the best things about the AirPods Pro is how well they integrate into Apple’s wider ecosystem, including how quickly and seamlessly they pair with iOS devices (though they do also work with Android devices). 

A new feature, called auto-switching, is testament to that: following a recent software update, the AirPods Pro can now, in Apple's words, "magically switch over between devices", detecting automatically which iOS device you are using.

As well as that, you can use the recently announced Apple HomePod mini (and older Apple HomePod) to transmit voice messages to AirPods in your home, thanks to a new Intercom feature.

Dolby Atmos spatial audio

Another new feature for the AirPods Pro is Spatial Audio, which brings virtual 5.7.1 surround sound and Dolby Atmos immersive audio to the true wireless earbuds.

Dolby Atmos works by positioning sound all around you within a virtual sphere, and it’s perfectly suited for cinematic soundtracks – for example, if you're watching a Dolby Atmos film that shows a plane flying overhead, it will sound as though the plane is really passing above you. So, if you watch a lot of films on the go using an iPad or iPhone, the AirPods Pro are a good choice.

Right now, it seems the feature only works with Apple TV Plus titles, and you'll need to upgrade your device to iOS 14 to try it – we're hoping that it will be supported by more platforms as time goes on, though.

Hearing health tracking

The AirPods Pro – along with the AirPods and Powerbeats Pro – send exact volume levels to your iPhone, so you can make sure you’re not listening to music too loudly. According to Deafblind UK, experts recommend that you keep your listening to between 60 and 85 decibels to protect your hearing health; and with the AirPods Pro, you can do just that.

Cheaper than the Bose QC Earbuds

If you’re on a budget, neither the Bose nor the AirPods Pro are particularly cheap – but Apple’s earbuds are slightly less expensive, and they could be subject to some hefty discounts over Black Friday.

In fact, we saw the AirPods Pro drop to their lowest ever price over Amazon Prime Day in October, coming down to just $199 / £199 – a big discount compared to their launch price of $249  / £249. 

You can expect the Black Friday AirPods deals to start coming in from the beginning of November, and we think we’ll see these all-time-low prices again – whereas the more recent Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are less likely to see any dramatic discounts. 

What's good about the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds?

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

(Image credit: Bose)

Best-in-class noise cancellation

The noise cancellation offered by the AirPods Pro is good, but it’s easily surpassed by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – it’s even better than the tech in the best true wireless earbuds of 2020, the Sony WF-1000XM3.

There are 10 different levels of ANC on offer here, with the highest blocking out pretty much everything except for very high-frequency sounds – and even at level 5, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear much of what’s going on around you.

If you really need to hear what’s happening around you, you’ll need to drop down to level zero, which is the transparency/ambient mode on the QC ‘Buds, which matches the AirPods Pro by making ambient sound seem almost natural when ANC is switched off.

So, if you’re looking for compact earbuds to use while commuting or working in a shared area, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are the best option for blocking out environmental sound.

Rich, clear sound

Bose headphones are renowned for their well-balanced sound, and the QuietComfort Earbuds are no different, with a clear, detailed, and dynamic presentation. 

When you're listening to any genre of music it feels like it’s playing around you, not directly into your ear, thanks to a wide soundstage, making them a pleasure to listen with. While the AirPods Pro do sound good, they aren’t particularly well-suited to classical music, with their vocal and bass-heavy profile making them more appropriate for rock and pop.

Workout-friendly design

The AirPods Pro may be immediately identifiable, but not everyone likes the protruding ear stems – and this is something the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds do away with, with ovaloid housings and ear fins that keep them securely in place.

Both the Bose QC Earbuds and AirPods Pro come with IPX4 water-resistance ratings, making them suitable for use while working out – though we daresay the snug fit of the Bose earbuds will make them feel more stable while running.

Takeaway

Both the AirPods Pro and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sit comfortably among the best true wireless earbuds you can buy in 2020, but if you’re looking for best-in-class noise cancellation and sound quality, the Bose earbuds are probably your best bet. 

Saying that, the AirPods Pro are so well-ingrained into the Apple ecosystem that we’d recommend purchasing them if you already use an iPhone or iPad to listen to music – and their new auto-switching feature means they’re incredibly easy to use while switching between devices. 

They also come with the benefit of Spatial Audio, which makes them the best choice if you want to use your earbuds for watching movies. Plus, they do sport a longer battery life than the Bose earbuds, and a sleeker charging case (both models’ charging cases can be charged wirelessly, so there’s no one-upmanship to be had there).

Neither of these wireless earbuds come cheap, but the AirPods Pro are slightly less expensive than the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – so, if you’re on a strict budget, Apple’s earbuds will serve you well. Plus, they’re bound to be discounted over Black Friday, whereas the newer Bose earbuds are probably too fresh to see any dramatic price cuts.