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Bose debuts QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Earbuds with spatial audio

The company's take on spatial audio relies on virtualization instead of special content.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Thanks to an August leak, Bose's new lineup of QuietComfort headphones aren't exactly a surprise — at least in terms of their appearance. However, the key feature of the headphones and earbuds wasn't tipped until now. Today, the company officially announced the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, both of which pack in Bose's stellar active noise cancellation (ANC) but also feature the addition of the company's new Immersive Audio.

Bose says Immersive Audio makes spatial sound "accessible to all." That's because the company's take on the listening format doesn't require specialized content. The QC Ultra devices rely on virtualization and can work with any streaming service to put you in the "acoustic sweet spot,' using a combination of onboard components and new digital signal processing. Immersive Audio has two modes, Still and Motion, that are designed for use when you're sitting or moving. Motion utilizes head tracking to keep the sound in front of you at all times. And of course, you can opt to turn Immersive Audio off completely for just the stock Bose sound.

In a brief demo with the spatial audio tech on the QC Ultra Headphones, I was impressed with what Bose is able to do without dedicated immersive content. I experienced both Still and Motion modes in a tightly controlled demo with a live band and with a small selection of songs on a connected phone. There is a big difference in Immersive Audio and the standard Bose tuning and I'll bet most people will keep it active during movies and music. Sometimes you don't notice a major improvement with spatial sound, but with Bose's tech, everything was more dimensional and punchier with more clarity and detail. What's more, the company's robust ANC is as effective as ever, silencing simulated street noise without me ever noticing it.

The company is debuting a new design on the QC Ultra Headphones, one that has elements of both previous QuietComfort models and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The biggest change is to the headband where the company has replaced some of the placed with metal for a more premium look. This addresses a key criticism we've had of Bose products in the past, but it does so without adding unnecessary heft that sacrifices comfort.

Another big change is the new volume control. In the past, Bose opted for physical buttons, but here there's a capacitive touch strip that you swipe to adjust volume levels. It's right on the edge of the earcup, easily accessible with your thumb. There's still a physical multi-function button for playback control, changing listening modes and answering calls. The 3.5mm audio jack remains for wired listening and the QC Ultra Headphones charge via USB-C (there's no audio over USB-C though).

That new Immersive Audio tech does impact battery life. Bose says you can expect up 18 hours of use with it and ANC active. If you disable it, that figure jumps to 24 hours — still with active noise cancellation turned on. The company also says you can expect upgrades to call quality as the QC Ultra Headphones can pick out your voice from 360 degrees of ambient noise. The mics also help with improved ANC overall, as well as Aware Mode with ActiveSense for tuning into your surroundings.

When it comes to the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Immersive Audio is once again the headline feature. However, Bose says it also improved call quality with dynamic microphone mixing and adaptive filters. The company explains that the setup works in real time to prioritize which earbud is getting the least wind noise while also selecting from a number of noise filters to keep you sounding your best.

The design of the QC Ultra Earbuds has also been slightly refreshed, with a dash of silver on the outside touch panel. Bose also redesigned the stability band (or fit wing) to wrap around the underside of each earbud. That component also locks in place now, so you'll know they're properly installed. Once again, Immersive Audio affects battery life as the QC Ultra Earbuds will last up to four hours with it on. The company says you can expect two more hours of use with that spatial sound disabled. Bose will also offer an optional wireless charging case cover with these new earbuds, but it will cost you can extra $49.

Bose is also replacing the QuietComfort 45 headphones with new QuietComfort Headphones. Here, you get that classic QC design, Bose's powerful ANC, up to 24 hours of battery life and Bluetooth multi-point connectivity. These headphones, as well as both Ultra models, support Bose SimpleSync that allows you to pair them with select soundbars and speakers "for a personal listening experience."

All three new models are available for pre-order today. The QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are $429 and the QuietComort Ultra Earbuds are $299. Both will ship in early October. The QuietComfort Headphones will be available on September 21 for $349.