Sunday, 25 December 2022 12:23

REVIEW: Bose QCE II challenging Pixel Buds Pro Featured

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By coincidence, these two review objects arrived at about the same time. And since these are two contenders fighting on largely the same ground, and since ithere`s also been 50 years from memory since I read the Morgan Kane classic Duel in Tombstone, it was inevitable that this review would be a duel.

 

There is actually a slightly different background for these test objects in my case. Because while I picked up the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II at the same time as I returned the QC 45 from the same manufacturer, the Pixel Buds Pro were sent later in connection with Google's Norwegian launch of its Pixel mobile phone collection in Norway.

BOSE QUIETCOMFORT EARBUDS II

QuietComfort 20

With a product name that ends in "II", it doesn't take very much intelligence to realize that there is a predecessor with the same name. Because in addition to the fact that Bose has been an uncrowned king in the exercise of noise-cancelling headphones since the dawn of time with good company from Sony in recent times, they have also had a history with earbuds - both wired and wireless. While the wireless QuietComfort 20 and iOS model 20i were launched in 2015, it wasn't until 2020 that Bose launced their first wireless earbuds – the first generation of QuietComfort Earbuds. Or QCE among friends. And this first generation QCE was quite a hefty size, and the case was even more brutal.

And in addition to the Sport Open Earbuds that were launched at the beginning of 2021, our review sample arrived in September this autumn. They are the 2nd generation of QuietComfort Earbuds, called QCE II, and have a retail price of NOK 2,999. They still have a rather bulky case, but are still very much more moderate than their predecessors.

 

GOOGLE PIXEL BUDS PRO

Pixel earbuds

Pixel also has a fairly recent history in the earbuds category. And then I'm not thinking in Norway, because here, among other things, Pixel mobile phones and earbuds were launched via official channels on 6 October this year. But also internationally, Google got started late with its Pixel Buds, but still significantly earlier than Bose with its wireless models. On the other hand, these debut models of the Pixel were not completely wireless, but had a cable between the right and left ear buds. In contrast, the sequels that came in 2019 were completely wireless.

In 2021, a new model series called Pixel Buds A-Series arrived, and it joined the Norwegian launch this autumn with a price tag of NOK 1,199. The Pixel Buds A series does not have noise cancellation, but the Pixel Buds Pro does – our review models for NOK 2,399. 

 

THE TERRAIN

The sharpest competitors to the Pixel Buds Pro and Bose QCE II I've tested over the past two years are the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, Beoplay EQ and B&W PI7. These are earbuds which, at the time of launch, range from NOK 1,999 for the Huawei models to well over four thousand Swedish kroner for the other two. The B&W PI7 has admittedly received a significant price reduction over time. These have so far been my favorite wireless earbuds in terms of sound quality, but the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 were so close that it had to be decided with a target photo when I tested them earlier this autumn. And the B&W PI7 have been the only blue tooth models that could breathe down the neck of the wired Sennheiser IE 300, while the distance to the much more expensive IE 600 has been a little too great.

I have chosen to post a test track as a continuation of the test run that was used for the FreeBuds Pro 2, Beoplay EQ and B&W PI7, where the comments for each track in the track are kept as a reference together with the comments for the Pixel and Bose models.

But of course we must not discount the fact that there are also other current competitors that I have not yet tested. The Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are perhaps the most interesting. Not to mention the competitors from the two major ecosystems that compete with Google – Apple and Samsung. And then of course there is AirPods Pro 2nd. gen and the Galaxy Buds Pro 2 we are talking about.

Case

QCE II

As indicated at the outset, the QuietComfort Earbuds II have a rather towering case, although it is dramatically much smaller than the case of its predecessor. The size is probably about the same as the B&W PI7, although Bose's case has rounded shapes which mean that it still slides easily up and down the pocket. And what's more, it seems considerably more hardy, and with a durable finish that is far better than the PI7's case, which was otherwise the PI7's weak point.

But Bose's case also has its Achilles' heel, and it is the wireless charging that is absent - a not inconsiderable point of appeal on models costing three thousand.

On the other hand, I think the crib solution inside the case works well, and it feels somewhat easier to take out the earbuds than on the Pixel Buds Pro.

There really isn't much to say about the design of the case. It works well enough, without being very elegant. But it is the plastic quality that saves the impression, and the relatively high net weight of just under 60 grams confirms an impression of quality. And after all, it means far more than if you lug around an extra 10 grams in your daily chores.

Pixel Buds Pro

Although the case on the Pixel Buds Pro is very simple, Google have managed to create a very elegant case using very effective means. The almost flattened egg shape (don't try this at home) has a matt surface in high-quality off-white plastic, and a thin black stripe accentuates where the lid is located. Under the lid of the bright case, there is a black interior that provides room for the two earplugs, and here it takes some practice before you can easily pick the earplugs out.

The weight of the case is quite low, with a net weight of just under 43 grams. There is still enough to ensure that the feeling of quality is maintained.

And here Google has ensured that QI charging is in place. Together with a Pixel 7 or 7 Pro, I could also use the "Battery sharing" function, or Reversed Charging as it is also called. Very practical if you are on a trip and have a limited amount of chargers and charging cables. Or you have a lot of extra power on your mobile and have run out of earplugs. But this battery sharing must be activated every time you use it, a sensible move so that it doesn't happen accidentally.

Stage winner

In this stage, there will be a clear stage victory for the Pixel Buds Pro, especially due to size, design and QI charging.

BATTERY AND CHARGING

QCE II

The battery life on the earbuds is stated to be 6 hours, and since ANC cannot be switched off, this includes the use of ANC. The case allows for 3 extra charges, which should give a total battery life of 24 hours, which is slightly above average, considering that it includes the use of ANC.

Charging time for earbuds is 1 hour, while for the case it is three hours. And as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the QCE II does not have QI charging.

Pixel Buds Pro

The battery life of the Pixel Buds Pro is stated to be slightly lower than for Bose, with 5 hours of use of ANC, and 24 hours in total including charges in the case. Without ANC activated, a total of 11 hours are stated, and a total of 31 hours with charging in the case.

The charging time on the Pixel Buds Pro is not stated, nor have I measured it. But I've really enjoyed QI charging.

Stage winner

A cautious stage victory for Bose here, as I have emphasized battery life with ANC

CONNECTIONS

The situation here is that while Bose provides the very latest version of Bluetooth, BT 5.3, the Pixel has BT 5.0. Both parts are more than approved. It is perhaps a little surprising that both models have Bluetooth codecs limited to SBC and AAC.

DESIGN AND COLORS

Since we discussed the design of the case in an earlier section about the case, this section is limited to dealing with the design of the earpods.

QCE II

Bose has taken slightly new paths with its design of the QuietComfort Earbuds II. And a creative design is always welcome, especially when, in addition to looking after appearance, it has a functional motivation. Because where with the previous model, Bose had a giant disc that was almost like a techy ear ornament, they have now reduced it to a bar somewhat similar to the concept Apple and many others use, but with the iportant difference that it is a little shorter and wider than the most. This also leaves room for a kind of touch surface on the outside of this bar.

But another perhaps even more important part of this design concept is that they have further developed the mini wing which contributes both to a good seal and to keeping the earplugs in place. And to ensure a personal fit, which is so important in earpods in particular, Bose has supplied three different sizes of this wing, which can thus be easily adapted to the user. This is seen as a very good solution, because QCE II has both good comfort and a perceived secure fit which means that the earpods will not easily fall out.

Bose QCE II can be delivered in both black (Triple Black) and white (Soapstone) versions. The review sample is in black, and I think that this is perhaps the most practical variant - not least considering the ear adapters after prolonged use.

Pixel Buds Pro

Google has chosen a completely different design concept with its drop-shaped design. This concept also has its roots, and both B&O's early model Beoplay E8 that we reviewed a few years ago and recent editions of Samsung's Galaxy Buds2 and Buds2 Pro are quite related. But Pixel has found their own expression of this concept with the help of the color scheme – at least on the review sample which is in the color Fog, where the touch surface is in a bright contrasting color to anthracite, which is the color of the rest of the construction. This is in contrast to the Charcoal color choice, which appears as plain anthracite.

The positive thing about the Pixel Buds' design concept is that it appears a little discreet, and not dominating.

But there are also some slightly unfortunate side effects of this design. The earplugs appear to have an unclear direction, and it is not entirely obvious which way they should be inserted into the ear, apart from the fact that the ear adapter should of course face inwards. After a bit of getting used to it, you soon discover that it is just a matter of inserting it one way or another, and then rotating it backwards until it butts into the cerebral cortex. Then you should consider stoppog...

Pixel buds are not perceived to have quite as good protection against falling out of the ear as Bose has. I occasionally find that I need to check that they are firmly in place during use when walking outside.

Stage winner

Here I have strong doubts, since there are strengths and weaknesses in both. So I land on a draw.

COMFORT

QCE II

As I just hinted in the design section, the QCE II has good comfort. They can be used for a long time without causing any kind of discomfort, and must obtain a score well above average in this exercise. They are still not quite up there among my favourites, which are open rod-constructions similar to what I have experienced with the Huawei FreeBuds 3 and 4.

The concept of comfort on earplugs also includes the fact that they are felt to be firmly in place, and this contributes to the QCE II getting a good score here.

Pixel Buds Pro

Although there is fairly even competition between Bose and Pixel in this exercise, where they both score well in comfort, there is no denying that I experienced the Pixel Buds Pro as even a notch better than the QCE II. But only a small notch. It is hardly noticeable that you have the earbuds in your ear, and again I have to point out that it is only the open rod concepts that are perceived as better.

One effect of the Pixel Buds Pro building so little out of the ear is that they also work well for those of us who like to take a nap with music in the ear after dinner. You may lie with your head on the side without it becoming a significant comfort problem.

Stage winner

Both candidates are good in terms of comfort, but I have to give the win to the Google Pixel. The deciding factor was that for longer periods I have kept the earplugs on for a long time after listening to music has ended. I was even about to take a shower on a Sunday morning with the earplugs on.

STAFF

QCE II

We have previously discussed the touch surfaces on the QCE II, and this is where all direct control of the earplugs takes place. And basically the commands are the same for the right and left earbud, but you have the option to go in and override this to your own preferences for "press and hold". I chose to have the voice assistant on the left plug, and switch between ANC modes on the right bud.

The various commands follow a familiar pattern that is quite recognizable from other devices. It includes volume up and down, which is controlled by swiping up or down on the trackpad. This works quite well, but is excessively slow. A slightly increased exchange would have been an advantage. I have probably already in another context used the comparison that it can feel a bit like biking down the Lierbakken in 1st gear on a 24-gear bicycle.

Apart from that, it is felt that there is quite a lot of accuracy in this operation, with little "hit & miss".

Pixel Buds Pro

The Pixel has an operation that is very similar to the operation on the QCE II. It also has a touch panel, but unlike the long panel on the Bose, it is circular on the Pixel. There is an advantage with pressure control, but a disadvantage with stroking movements – i.e. volume up and down.

The various commands are actually exactly the same as on Bose. But it is still a little easier to make mistakes here. I experienced e.g. accidentally changing ANC mode several times during the testing, when I should actually double-tap to skip to the next track. Even when adjusting the volume, it is easy to accidentally pause the music. I think that this can be solved by having the possibility of a slightly stronger distinction between pressing and tapping nos, which seems plausible can be changed with a software update.

Stage winner

Both candidates are good at operation, but I have to give the victory to Bose, as they have less of an element of malfunction.

APP

QCE II

Bose has a very good app called the Bose Music App, which I got to know well in my test of the Bose QC45 that was published earlier this autumn.

A very nice detail in this app is that it has a section for which device should be the source if several are connected at the same time. There is also a test of fit, and it has a notorious tendency to insinuate that the fit is good on the left ear, but not as good on the right ear. Bose will be hearing from my lawyer.

Battery status on both earbuds is displayed, and you may enter and set ANC modes. We will return to this in a later chapter.

All in all, a very good score for the Bose app.

Pixel Buds Pro

The Pixel also has a good app for controlling the earbuds. But there are still a couple of surprises. First, there isn't an app for iOS. This means that you cannot make certain adjustments that you have access to in the app. This could be the new EQ function that came with the last software update in the autumn. Or find my earbuds, or the ear tip adjustment that Pixel also offers. But it's important to emphasize that the Pixel Buds Pro work perfectly with an iPhone. The connection goes smoothly - there are only the aforementioned adjustments you may have to make on an Android-based device.

Together with a Pixel mobile, everything goes extra smoothly, since the Pixel Buds app appears automatically the first time you open the lid of the case when you are near a Pixel mobile. And then it's also a wonderfully comfortable Google synergy that you get access to a great many of the functions in the app when you press the volume control buttons on a Pixel mobile. This is an extra good argument for choosing the Pixel Buds Pro if they are to be combined with a Pixel Mobile Phone, such as the Pixel 6a, 7 or 7 Pro, of which we have just published tests. It is still somewhat surprising that the Google Pixel Buds app is not saved with an App icon on the Pixel mobiles, but must be loaded via Google Store every time, despite the fact that the app is obviously already installed. This is in contrast to the Samsung Galaxy S10, where the Google Pixel Buds app is stored with an icon. I assume that this happens on all other Android-based mobiles as well

Also on the Pixel Buds Pro, you can tweak press and hold by entering the app. And then it is somewhat important to note that if you want to be able to switch between the three modes for ANC, it is the left earbud that must be configured for this function. If you choose the right plug, you can only choose between off and on.

Multipoint Connection is also available here, as on Bose's app.

Stage winner

This one is a bit difficult, and both earbuds have very good apps. I think I have to give conditional result here. Pixel Pro takes the victory when combined with Android mobiles, and especially with Pixel mobiles. While Bose is the best choice in combination with iOS devices.

CUSTOMIZATION

Both Bose and Pixel have a fairly similar feature for testing the fit, as well as supplying three sets of ear adapters. But in addition, Bose has gone a little further by playing a short test tone every time you put on the earbuds. This should ensure an automatic EQ adjustment.

Stage winner

Good result for both, but a cautious stage win for Bose, both due to adjustable wings and test tone that is played automatically every time.

EQUALIZER

QCE II

Bose had a three band equalizer from the start. It is a three-band tone control, with graphic display. That's all well and good, but Bose has the same sin of omission as the Pixel, in that they haven't stated the frequency of the respective controls.

And then there are four predefined EQ positions, which fortunately have intuitively descriptive names, unlike those who use more romantic names for their EQ presets. For Bass Increase, Bass Reduction Treble Increase and Treble Reduction should not be easily misunderstood. And anyway, it is infinitely more precise to use the graphic regulation.


Pixel Buds Pro

The Pixel Buds Pro initially had no EQ settings available, and they received some criticism for that. But with the latest software update, which incidentally has the interesting name 3.14 – not 3.14159265359 – this was one of the updates.

In the Pixel's EQ, there are five bands that also have sliders, but not the same frequency curve display as in the Bose app. But it hardly matters, because you get far more precise regulation here than with the three in Bose. And then I still want an indication of frequency, instead of Upper treble / treble / medium(!) / bass / low bass.

It is also an advantage that you may save the settings you make, in addition to the fact that you also have access to 6 predefined EQ settings.

Stage winner

Here it will be a stage victory for the Pixel Buds Pro

ANC

QCE II

Bose themselves claim that with the QuietComfort Earbuds II they have created the world's best noise-canceling earbuds. And self-bragging should be listened to, because it comes from the heart. And what's more – in Bose's case, it comes from a heart that for many years has pumped for a manufacturer that has been the DeFacto world champion in ANC.

But my task in this or other reviews is not to automatically assume that everything is as the manufacturer says, so I have to base myself a bit on what I hear as well. And I hear that the Bose QCE II has significantly better noise cancellation than the vast majority of earbuds I've tested. This applies in most frequency ranges, but I get the impression that it is extra good in the bass region.

The attention mode, which is the one I'm actually more concerned with than the noise cancellation is perhaps even more impressive, and right up there. Only Apple has a reputation for being able to measure forces with QCE II in that exercise, but I have no personal experience with that.

A small sigh of relief at the end – I wish Bose had a setting that turns off ANC completely, and not just the ability to choose between noise reduction and attention. I know there are many other audiophiles who want the same in ANC headphones, and most manufacturers offer this. This was also the situation on the QC45. But there is actually a workaround that solves this, because Bose has the option of several custom ANC styles. And I chose a style called music, where I set the ANC level to 0. But I reckon you won't achieve any degree of battery saving with this method, which by all accounts you would achieve by turning off ANC completely. In any case, all other ANC headphones work in such a way that battery life increases when ANC is turned off.

By the way, different definable styles is useful for several areas of use. Because you may save different styles with different level of ANC. For me it has no utility, but for others it may be different.

Pixel Buds Pro

Although the Pixel Buds Pro have good noise cancellation, they don't quite manage to reach Bose's level. But that said, they are certainly good, and above average for what I have achieved. Ambient sound is also good, but here I think there is a slightly special sound to the sound of the surroundings, even if the music sounds good.

Pixel buds Pro - ANC and sound quality

When I used the Pixel Buds Pro for the first time, it was in Noise Reduction mode, and I was walking from Løkka to the city center to meet some friends. Then I switched ANC off, and got a little "what??". I experienced something that I have experienced to a greater or lesser extent with some other manufacturers, but never to the same extent as with the Pixel Buds Pro. Because the sound changed fundamentally, and in a way that doesn't work for me at all. The full and quite pleasant sound balance with ANC switched on, which also changes to a small extent with "ambient sound" switched on, is changed to a sound balance that lacks fullness and warmth. I have previously experienced this to the greatest extent on some Huawei models, and always used these with noise cancellation whether there was a need for it or not. And that also applies to the Pixel Buds Pro. Therefore, I have also used ANC switched on in both the test track and other listening sessions during the review. Now that the latest software update has provided a good usable EQ I could certainly have compensated with this instead, but with ANC on there is no need for that. The tonal balance works excellent for me without the use of EQ.

Stage winner

In the exercise ANC, it will be a clear stage victory for Bose.

DRIVERS

Life has taught me that I should avoid preconceived notions when it comes to the relationship between the size of the drivers on earbuds and sound quality. I have not been able to find any clear connection, and not at all an indication that bigger is better . So when I register that the Bose has drivers with a diameter of 9.3mm while the Google Pixel Pro has drivers of 11mm, it is just a fact to register without me adding anything more to it.

Stage winner

No stage win here.

WE PLAY MUSIC

Then we have come to what has gradually become a stage of rich tradition, with a test track on a good number of more or less fixed tracks, which of course are updated over time. This time I have chosen to stick to the test track that started with B&W PI7 and B&O EQ, and which was eventually expanded with Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2. The comments from these are for reference, but a new round has not been played with these this time around.

I have gradually started to phase over to Qobuz in the test trail, but because of the history it is still TIDAL this time.

In the test track, playback was used without any EQ settings, but both were played with ANC noise cancellation. QCE II because it can't be turned off, and Pixel Buds Pro because the sound balance doesn't work for me without ANC enabled. And anyway, it`s fair that both modela have NAC actiovated.

And then I would like to remind you again that this test track only makes up a very small part of the listening sessions with the two candidates.

  • The Pixel Buds Pro played with AAC on the Pixel 7 Pro, with ANC activated.
  • Bose QCE II was played with AAC on the Pixel 7 Pro
  • PI7 played with AAC on iPhone 11
  • EQ played with aptX Adaptive on Samsung Galaxy S10
  • FreeBuds Pro 2 played with AAC on iPhone 11

Test track

  1. KARI BREMNES. SYK PIKE - LØSRIVELSE
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Slightly more balanced sound than QCE II. The bass is not quite as dominating as on the Bose, and the vocals also lack some of the sibilance of the QCE II.
    Bose QCE II:
    I get a bit of a first impression of a V-shaped frequency response. The bass is quite dominating, and at the same time Kari's vocals are a bit sharp.

    B&W PI7: There will be a lot of bass in this report, but even if Syk Pike is primarily about everything other than bass, it is inevitable to be amazed by the authoritarian rendering of Bjørn Kjellemyr's bass already in the intro. A nice and well-balanced reproduction of this track.
    Beoplay EQ : Fairly balanced sound, but with a focus on the percussive details
    FreeBuds Pro 2: 
    Deep and precise bass, which is well balanced. Kari's vocals are somewhat sharp. The rendition focuses on melody. Wholeness and the dramatic narrative.

  2. KEITH JARRETT. FOR MILES – BYE BYE BLACKBIRD
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Jack DeJohnette's creations still have a fine balance between music focus and detail reproduction. Nice microdynamics, which I'm used to on this track. The bass of Gary Peacock and Keith Jarrett's piano is also reproduced with fine sound, and with good detail reproduction.
    Bose QCE II:
    The cymbals are slightly more prominent here than with the Pixel Buds Pro. But there is an incredibly great punch in the drum set, and Gary's bass is perhaps a little more prominent than on the Pixel. While I appreciated the slightly warmer tone of the piano on the Pixel Buds Pro.
    but

    B&W PI7:
    The track opens with an airier and more detailed rendition of Jack DeJohnette's fabrications than I've experienced in quite some time. Gary Peacock's double bass remains restrained in the background while Jarrett's piano has a nice balance in the sound.
    Beoplay EQ: Very open reproduction of DeJohnette's intro throughout the register, but with extra attention in the treble. Nice piano sound, while Gary Peacock's bass is a bit thin.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Very nice and airy rendition of Jack DeJohnette. Nice bass. The piano is distinct, with a neutral sound.




  3. KOLBJÖRN FALKEID. ALT – SOLSKINNSDYPET
    Pixel Buds Pro
    Nice reproduction of Kjellemyr's bass, while I think the trumpet and vocals are a bit more balanced than with Bose.
    Bose QCE II: 
    Great emphasis of Kjellemyr's bass, while Arve Henriksen's trumpet becomes a little bright at the top. This also applies to Falkeid's vocals.

    B&W PI7 : On this gem of a release by Kolbjørn Falkeid who unfortunately passed away earlier this summer, I think Arve Henriksen's fabulous trumpet in the background comes out extra clearly. It illustrates PI7's ability to separate the events from each other. Beoplay EQ: Also on EQ, there is a lot of extra attention directed at Arve Henriksen. Kolbjørn Falkeid's voice a little sharp at the edge

    FreeBuds Pro 2: In the intro, it is Ketil Bjørnstad's piano that gets the most attention. Kolbjørn Falkeid's vocals are well reproduced.

  4. LEONARD COHEN. HAPPENS TO THE HEART – THANKS FOR THE DANCE
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Great reproduction, and good bass in Cohen's vocals.
    Bose QCE II : It's hard to avoid getting a little extra enthusiastic about an extra boost in the bass on this track, where Leonadr Cohen's vocals naturally dominate.

    B&W PI7: I almost gasp when Leonard Cohen suddenly enters the soundscape on this posthumously produced release. Authoritarian and skinless.
    Beoplay EQ: A slightly brighter sound on the EQ than on the PI7, but the same degree of presence
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Very good reproduction with a great sound in Cohen's vocals.




  5. ØYVIND KRISTIANSEN, JONAS KILMORK VEMØY. FORSAKEN - HYMNS OF COMPASSION
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    The Pixel Buds Pro have almost as intense bass here as Bose, and they handle this very well. Nice vocal reproduction.
    Bose QCE II: The intro on this track has a bass that dominates the vast majority of setups, and the Bose QCE II is certainly no exception. I'm a bit surprised that there aren't any significant sibilant challenges, because it occurs frequently on this track.

    B&W PI7:
    Great soundstage. No troublesome sibilants from Bete S. Lech's vocals, which I have experienced with other setups. Also very good bass reproduction
    Beoplay EQ: Very good bass in the intro. Slightly more sibilant vocals from Beate S. Lech than on the PI7
    FreeBuds Pro 2: 
    Deep and precise bass, where many others struggle a bit. Beate's vocals are great, and just a little bit sibilant.

  6. SIRI SVALE BAND. DON`T EXPLAIN - BLACKBIRD
    Pixel Buds Pro: "
    Here, the Pixel Buds Pro was also a bit ongoing at the top", I wrote before discovering that the ANC had been switched off by accident. After another attempt, this is well balanced, and Bjørn Alterhaug's bass is lovely
    Bose QCE II: Fantastic nerve in Alterhaug's bass in what I am tempted to call tuneful bass. Siri's vocals have a slightly sibilant rendition, but are otherwise lovely.

    B&W PI7: The double bass of Bjørn Alterhaug stands out very distinctly, and with a fine tonal balance. The same applies to the Carl Haakon Waadeland
    Beoplay EQ: Very distinct bass, and Siri's vocals shine through incredibly well.
    FreeBuds Pro 2:Very nice bass from Bjørn Alterhaug. Siri's vocals are brilliant.

  7. FRANK ZAPPA. RUBBER SHIRT – SHEIK YERBOUTI
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Lovely, although the bass is not quite as dominant as on the Bose. And maybe not as deep either.
    Bose QCE II: Patric O'Hearn's bass on this classic Zappa track is magical, and very dynamically rendered.

    B&W PI7: Still impressive bass, and a wonderful transient willingness.
    Beoplay EQ: Here there is a fierce micro-dynamics, although the bass is not as deep on the EQ as on the PI7
    FreeBuds Pro 2 : Impressive bass and micro-dynamics.




  8. GREAT DEAD. DEATH DON`T HACE NO MERCY – LIVE / DEAD
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    This track has a very nice transparency, while there is some distortion in some places. And this is not Pixel's fault. But both transparency and reverse are handled very well.
    Bose QCE II: The extra focus in the bass that the QCE II provides is very nice and leads me to prefer the Bose on this track. Almost gives goosebumps.

    B&W PI7: This track literally has a bit of a variable track record when it comes to sound quality. The PI7 manages to reproduce this somewhat demanding track excellently, and the flip side of PigPen's organ appears as a natural ingredient. The same sometimes applies to Jerry Garcia's characteristic guitar.
    Beoplay EQ:
    A slightly fuller midrange is missing here.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Good transparency, and the sound of the organ is well and clearly reproduced.


  9. ERIK FRIEDLANDER. BOHEMIA AFTER DARK – OSCALYPSO
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Great reproduction, but Bose is preferred here.
    Bose QCE II: Also on this track, I really appreciate the extra boost in bass that the QCE II provides. Otherwise good detailing of this track.

    B&W PI7:
    A rendering packed with detail and perspective.
    Beoplay EQ: Incredibly good separation of the instruments, combined with extreme dynamics.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Distinct, and with good micro-dynamics and perspective




  10. NIGEL KENNEDY. VIVALDI: THE NEW FOUR SEASONS: SUMMER: 8 FEAR – VIVLDI: THE NEW FOUR SEASONS
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Good warmth in the original Vivaldi parts, and the twist in the Kennedy passages are probably as uncomfortable as they have to be.
    Bose QCE II:
    Significantly less heat here than with the Pixel. And the Kennedy passages are even more uncomfortable.

    B&W PI7:
    The essence of the PI7 is that they manage to keep track of the events even in Kennedy's crescendos. And at the same time, a fine and almost romantic sound is reproduced in the more authentic passages in this baroque piece by the master from Venice.
    Beoplay EQ: Misses a little warmth in the Vivaldi parts, while the Kennedy creations are reproduced very well.
    FreeBuds Pro 2:The Vivaldi passages lyrical, fine and balanced. The Kennedy passages, on the other hand, are reproduced well.

  11. LOUIS ARMSTRONG. ST. JAMES INFIRMARY – SATCHMO PLAYS KING OLIVER
    Pixel Buds Pro : Nice balance in the sound both on trumpet and vocals.
    Bose QCE II: The trumpet a bit active at the top, but the vocals have a nice balance.

    B&W PI7:
    Incredibly good perspective, which few other earbuds come close to.
    Beoplay EQ: An extreme presence, which almost surpasses the PI7.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: The trumpet airy and nicely reproduced, and with a great perspective. Louis' vocals are fine


  12. ARILD ANDERSEN. PATCH OF LIGHT – HYPERBOREAN
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Nice sound with good warmth, although other devices have reproduced this track with even more warmth.
    Bose QCE II:
    Slightly more emphasis on the treble on these Bose models.

    B&W PI7:
    Nice and balanced warmth in the string passages, while the instruments are well separated.
  13. Beoplay EQ: The strings are separated well, but I want a little more warmth.
  14. FreeBuds Pro 2: Great sound with medium warmth.

  15. ARILD ANDERSEN. HYPERBOREAN – HYPERBOREAN
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Great sound, and very melodic and nice reproduction of Arild Andersen's bass, with good depth in the sound.
    Bose QCE II: Perhaps even better sound than with the Pixel Buds Pro, although the bass tends to be "deeper than life". And Paolo Vinaccia gets a little more highlighted.

    B&W PI7:
    Very good reproduction of both Arild Andersen's bass and the now deceased Paola Vinaccia's drums.
    Beoplay EQ: Arild Andersen's bass not quite as deep as on PI7, while Vinaccia comes across even better on EQ
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Impressively precise and distinct bass, and airy reproduction of Paolo Vinaccia




  16. FRANK ZAPPA. DEBRA KADABRA – BONGO FURY
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    A demanding track, which the Pixel Buds Pro gets away with quite well.
    Bose QCE II:
    A bit hard at the top.

    B&W PI7:
    This is a bit like Death Have No Mercy - a track that doesn't sound very good on all setups. Here the PI7 excels, and it must be assumed that it is the great resolution that has the credit for it.
    Beoplay EQ: The intro a bit thin, especially the cut.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Above average reproduction of a demanding track.



  17. FRANK ZAPPA. THE PURPLE LAGOON – ZAPPA IN NEW YORK
    Pixel Buds Pro
    : Nice and engaging reproduction, and good micro-dynamics
    Bose QCE II:
    Obviously more bass than Pixel, and it suits this track.

    B&W PI7:
    Already from the first note, the great clarity and the ability to separate the instruments from each other is demonstrated, together with a distinct willingness to transient.
    Beoplay EQ: This track is not reproduced as well on the EQ as on the PI7.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Here the FB PRO 2 excels in the bass - it will be a brilliant performance




  18. GYDA VALTYSDOTTIR. UNFOLD – EPICYCLE II
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Nice sound, with a little less warmth than Bose. But in return, the Pixel Buds Pro play with greater sophistication.
    Bose QCE II: Good sound. A little less refined than the best.

    B&W PI7:
    Here it is important that the strings can be separated from each other so that these musical wanderings appear as a slightly gray mass. The PI7 handles it well.
    Beoplay EQ: Good detailing and instrument separation comes at the expense of warmth.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Great sound, with a touch of warmer strings?




  19. HELENE GRIMAUD. SILVESTROV: BAGATELLES I – XIII: BAGATELLE I – MEMORY
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Good and airy reproduction of Ukrainian Silvestrov's Bagatelle I
    Bose QCE II: A little more fullness in the sound, even if the top is a bit ongoing.

    B&W PI7:
    Nice room rendering of this great recording with Helene Grimaud.
    Beoplay EQ: Here, too, there is good communication of the room. But the piano sound is better on PI7
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Magic reproduction of piano and room.




  20. KLEIVE, SHRIMPSRUD, DISSING. CHIMING IN BELLS - THE SIGNED DAY
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    The chiming of bells in the intro is a bit more moderate than with Bose, and the same goes for fret noise. The organ a little more moderate than with Bose.
    Bose QCE II: The chiming bells in the intro are a bit too chiming at the top, and Knut Reiersrud's fret noise can also be a bit excessive. But Iver Kleive's organ impresses.

    B&W PI7:
    In addition to all the other qualities, there is a great three-dimensional reproduction. The bass notes on Iver Kleive's organ playing are impressive.
    Beoplay EQ: Good room reproduction from Odense Cathedral. Povl Dissing's vocals a bit sharp. Fret noise from Reiersrud's guitar extra prominent. The sound balance too much dominated by an ongoing treble.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Lots of air in Odense Cathedral. PD's vocals are amazing. The crescendo at the end of a walk in the park 

  21. REIERSRUD, KLEIVE. TRACK 12 - SKYLINE
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Beautiful and airy
    Bose QCE II: Here I think Bose wins the duel, thanks to a little more volume at the bottom.

    B&W PI7:
    Very airy and well-balanced reproduction, where the details come through well.
    Beoplay EQ: This master EQ far better than Kimer i Klokker
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Magnificent and magical.. And traffic hum from the streets around OD is nice too.




  22. JAN GARBAREK. MISSION: TO BE WHERE I AM – IT'S OK TO LISTEN TO THE GRAY VOICE
    Pixel Buds Pro:
    Quite a different sound picture from Garbarek's saxophone than with Bose. Weber's bass somewhat less accentuated.
    Bose QCE II: Great reproduction of Eberhard Weber's bass. And Garbarek has a nice sound, until it gets a little too intense at the top. And it may lack a little sophistication.

    B&W PI7:
    Eberhard Weber's bass dominates in an otherwise well-resolved soundscape
    Beoplay EQ: Eberhard Weber far less dominant.
    FreeBuds Pro 2: Nice reproduction


 

SUMMARY LISTENING IMPRESSIONS

QCE II

We start in the bass, and there Bose is a very pleasant acquaintance. I feel that this is a bit more on the bass-heavy side than it is neutral, but on the other hand, headphones and earplugs are more a matter of personal preference than on a normal stereo, and furthermore, Harman's target curves are more references than linear response. And that's part of the fun with headphones and earbuds - it's okay to have fun. And the QCE II handles this extra push in the bass in an excellent way, without it becoming boomy, or affecting the clarity of the rest of the frequency range. And although on the majority of the tracks I preferred the sound in the Pixel, that was not the case for all of them. And the bass was always a plus with Bose. In this case, I noted the term "tunefull bass", and that characteristic could probably have been used on several tracks as well.

The midrange is a bit careful on the QCE II, and is expressed in the sound balance being felt to have a slightly v-shape.

This is emphasized by the fact that Bose is slightly forward in the treble. Many may prefer this sound balance, which it is tempting to characterize as analytical, but I think that the treble can be a bit excessive. Therefore, I preferred to dampen it a few notches in the EQ, while keeping the bass unchanged.

Overall, the Bose QCE II provides a good sound reproduction, especially due to a good bass. And then they benefit from careful damping in the treble.

Pixel Buds Pro

We also start with the Pixel Buds Pro in the bass, and although these earbuds are a little more balanced in the bass than the rivals from Bose, it is to a large extent a good and sometimes fierce bass reproduction. Soberly speaking, the Pixel Buds Pro are more correct in the bass, but without in any way leaning towards the cautious. I noted the term Tunefull bass for the Bose, and it was also applicable on some tracks with the Pixel Buds Pro.

The midrange was also well balanced on the Pixel Buds Pro, and this is reflected in the fact that I felt that they worked better with a natural but restrained warmth in strings and vocals. And when I write restrained, it's because I wouldn't define them as distinctly warm earbuds, just well balanced.

And then we have come to the treble, which is also restrained, but not carefully here either. I wrote earlier that I have no need for EQ on the Pixel Buds Pro as long as ANC is activated. Nevertheless, I might prefer that the treble is lowered a small notch on some tracks, while it remains unchanged on most of the music.

Stage winner

Overall, I prefer the tone and sound of the Pixel Buds Pro on most music compared to the Bose without EQ, but on some tracks I was still seduced by the Bose's bass capabilities. Stage victory for Pixel Buds Pro on sound reproduction.

Bose and Pixel against the old heroes

Now that we have clarified the sound reproduction of the Bose and Pixel Buds Pro, it may be useful to compare the sound reproduction with the previous heroes, where the B&W PI7 kept the place at the top of the podium, closely followed by the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, while the Beoplay EQ came in a very clarified third place.

Here it must be admitted that neither Bose nor the Pixel Buds Pro manage to push the PI7 and FreeBuds Pro 2 down from their respective top spots, but the Pixel Buds Pro sneaks into third place. It otherwise has a sound character that is not too different from the FreeBuds Pro 2, and they both benefit greatly from being used with ANC switched on for the best possible sound balance.

The Bose QCE also beats the Beoplay EQ on sound balance reproduced without EQ, and here there is an obvious difference in the bass reproduction that makes a difference.

WHEN THE SMOKE SETTLES INTOMBSTONE

Then the hour of reckoning has come in Tombstone, and when the gunsmoke has cleared it is time to lick wounds and summarize. I could perhaps have decided the winner of the duel by counting the number of stage wins, but that's not how it works for me. These stage victories are more to clarify the various aspects both for me and for the readers, and then I know that I and the readers emphasize the various stages very differently.

So for me it is obvious that this will be a choice of what is most emphasized in terms of sound quality and noise cancellation. Both models are very good in both exercises, but if you have the same sound preferences as me, and at the same time emphasize sound more than noise cancellation, the Google Pixel Pro is a natural choice. If, however, like many others, you attach great importance to ANC, and in addition perhaps have an iPhone, the Bose QCE II will be the best choice.

CONCLUSION

This time I've chosen a new approach in the review, and it's the first time I'm conducting a regular duel. And the experience really tempts to repetition, not least when you are faced with two comparable review objects that both assert themselves as well, as the QCE II and Pixel Buds Pro do.

Bose has a market-leading noise cancellation in their QCE II, combined with a very good sound. This is combined with very good all-round properties, and are particularly good at handling, in addition to the fact that they have a very well-developed app.

And Google has an excellent sound reproduction that is very close to my absolute favorites among ANC earbuds. This is combined with good noise cancellation and a number of other all-round properties. And Pixel Buds Pro have an added synergy benefit when used with Pixel mobile phones, although they work great with all mobiles.

 

RRP for Bose QCE II is NOK 2,999 RRP
for Pixel Buds Pro is NOK NOK 2,399

Read more about QuietComfort Earbuds II at Bose
Read more about Pixel Buds Pro at Google

 

Read 4252 times Last modified on Sunday, 01 January 2023 17:04
Karl Erik Sylthe

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