Beats vs Bose headphones: which are the best?
By Oliver Trebilcock
Not all Beats and Bose headphones are good. We’ve found uncomfortable and poor-sounding pairs, despite their high prices - some are even dreaded Don’t Buys. We pit two of the biggest headphone brands against each other to find out which are the best.
- Best in-ear and earbud Beats and Bose headphones
- Best on-ear Beats and Bose headphones
- Best over-ear Beats and Bose headphones
- Beats and Bose headphones to avoid
- Beats vs Bose headphones: which score the best?
- Beats vs Bose headphones: which are the most reliable?
Best headphones – head straight to our top-scoring headphone reviews from our rigorous lab tests.
Best in-ear Beats and Bose headphones
If you’re looking for superior sound quality, you might believe you need to spend well over a hundred pounds on flagship headphones from Beats or Bose. However, we’ve found this often isn’t the case – particularly for in-ear headphones.
Earbud and in-ear headphones do away with the bulkiness of on-ear and over-ear headphones, instead offering stylish, lightweight and discreet designs. In addition to traditional wired pairs, wireless Bluetooth pairs with a cord between the two earpieces, and truly wireless headphones with no wires whatsoever, are becoming increasingly popular. Our reviews reveal which perform the best and which you should go for.
Beats’ range of in-ear headphones includes the BeatsX and Beats Powerbeats 3 wireless headphones, and Beats urBeats 3. Bose’s suite of in-ear headphones features the Bose SoundSport Free, Bose SoundSport In-Ear and Wireless, Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones, and more.
Our testing doesn’t factor in price, so whatever your budget you can find a quality pair of headphones. We’ve found plenty of models that punch above their weight, whose scores match their more expensive peers despite their low prices. Here we’ve picked out the Beats and Bose in-ear headphones that did best in our tests.
Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access by joining Which?.
In-ear and earbud Beats and Bose headphones
This pair of headphones is an unusual one: a noise-cancelling in-ear pair. Designed for use on the go, they also have an ‘aware’ mode, which actually pumps outside noise into your ears. Usually in-ear headphones plug your ears, but with these you’ll be able to hear things around you if you want, such as announcements in an airport or traffic in the street.
If you want to save yourself from the daily chore of untangling wires, truly wireless headphones could be ideal. These big-brand headphones come with a charging case that provides two full charges. They are suitable for exercise and are sweat and weather-resistant, plus the sound quality is strong. Find out how our expert panel rated the comfort of these headphones, and whether there’s anything you should watch out for.
This lightweight Bluetooth corded in-ear pair has plenty of detail in the treble frequencies, and sound is natural and punchy with a lovely strong bass. They have a cord which you wear round the back of your neck and are generally comfortable to wear, with a good snug fit in your ears. The earphones have small magnets on them, to minimise tangling, with them tidily clipping them together around your neck when not in use.
Best on-ear Beats and Bose headphones
On-ear headphones are often less bulky than over-ear models, making them more discreet and easier to store. They can also be more comfortable for those who don’t get on with in-ear headphones, or find they keep falling out of their ears. As they come from premium manufacturers, you can expect Beats and Bose headphones to feature great sound, sleek design and premium build quality.
However, all the technology in the world doesn’t guarantee them to be Best Buys. We’ve discovered scores of expensive headphones with very unbalanced sound, including excessively powerful bass that ruins the detail in the sound, or screeching high frequencies that will tire your ears over time and make listening with them a chore. And since premium headphones come at a heavy cost, purchasing one of these models would be an expensive mistake.
Bose’s range of on-ear headphones includes the Bose SoundLink On-ear, and Beats’ range features its Beats Solo 3 headphones and Beats EP headphones, among others.
The members of our panel of music industry professionals don’t care about price, brand power or stylish looks. All they focus on is the sound quality, and whether it’s good enough. They slice through flashy marketing and pointless technical details to tell you what you actually want to know. All headphone manufacturers claim amazing sound – our experts judge which genuinely perform the best. Learn which are the best on-ear Beats and Bose headphones below.
On-ear Beats and Bose headphones
On-ear headphones are often less bulky than over-ear models, making them more discreet and easier to store. These on-ear headphones fold into a conveniently compact shape when not in use. Sound is good, with jazz sounding warm and speech coming over naturally, although bass can be a touch heavy at times. Voice control allows for hands-free calls and the build quality is impressive as well.
Best over-ear Beats and Bose headphones
Over-ear Beats and Bose headphones include some of their most expensive pairs you can buy, so it’s even more important to choose wisely. The best over-ear headphones promise the most comfort of any headphones. However, we’ve found even expensive models can have rapidly deteriorating earcup fabric, and some that are hot, heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Our expert listening panel includes people with a range of ages and ear sizes, so you can find out the most comfortable headphones around, even if you have small or large ears.
Some over-ear headphones produce such overwhelming bass or screeching treble that they become unbearable over long listening sessions. Many over-ear headphones also disappoint on sound quality compared with rivals. When you’re paying top dollar for a flagship pair, you should expect the very best.
Top-of-the-range over-ear headphones from Beats and Bose – such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, Bose QuietComfort 25 and Beats Studio 3 Wireless – also feature active noise-cancelling technology, which is made effective by the headphones completely enveloping your ear. This is a feature that typically adds a £100 premium or more to headphones, because blocking out unwanted background noise requires a powerful computer chip built-in to the headphones, and a high-powered battery to back it up.
Our expert tests rate this noise-cancelling technology as well, so you can compare which will block out the most noise and give you the most peace and quiet on your commute. And beware: just because headphones are good at blocking out noise, it doesn’t mean they don’t leak noise to the surroundings. In fact we find many pairs that are guilty of this, even flagship models from top manufacturers. We make sure you don’t get caught out.
Find out which are the best over-ear Beats and Bose headphones to buy in the table below.
Over-ear Beats and Bose headphones
These over-ear headphones have active noise-cancelling technology to block out background noise. They’re very comfortable and sound quality is decent. Speech is clear and engaging, but the bass can be a touch heavy at times. Battery life varies depending on how you use them. We managed between 22 and 35 hours of playback, which is impressive regardless.
Beats and Bose headphones to avoid
Headphones that look good on paper aren’t guaranteed to have the precise, balanced sound quality that’ll make the most of your music whatever you want to listen to. And you need to be particularly careful if you’re looking to save money on buying a cheaper pair of headphones. That said, we’ve found plenty of Don’t Buy headphones costing more than £100 or even £200 that are uncomfortable and have disappointing sound. So paying more is no guarantee of getting quality.
Our expert lab tests expose that no headphone brand’s speaker range has a perfect record – not even Beats and Bose. Both have headphones in their ranges that aren’t a match for the competition. Our testing over the years has exposed disappointing headphones from both Beats and Bose, with the worst offenders currently on sale in the table below.
Avoid an expensive mistake with sub-par sound and comfort – and even dreaded Don’t Buys – by steering clear of the headphones in the table below.
Beats and Bose headphones to avoid
These in-ear headphones are comfortable and have a 13-hour battery life, but they simply do not sound good. The overly strong bass dulls the entire sound, muffling detail in higher frequencies and muddying detail in speech, so much so that you’ll struggle to listen comfortably to your favourite radio programmes or podcasts. Steer clear of these headphones to avoid serious disappointment.
When premium brands release lower-cost headphones, the result sometimes feels like you’re paying for the brand badge. These are essentially overpriced standard headphones that other brands can provide for much less. These are uncomfortable and the sound is very poorly balanced. The tone is harsh, flat and thin, with little definition to the bass. Buying these would be a costly mistake.
Beats vs Bose headphones: which score the best?
Beats and Bose have some of the very best headphones in their line-ups and are in fierce competition with each other, both with their loyal fans. However, not all their models are equally good and, as the chart below reveals, there’s also huge variance in the quality of the headphones across each brand.
Even more starkly, the chart shows a clear leader between the two brands in the quality of the headphones, revealed in our expert lab tests. However, the lower-scoring brand also has certain strongly performing types of headphones that easily outperform the top brand, so it’s important to look a little deeper depending on what you’re looking for as well.
Which? members can see which brand has the best, worst and higher average scores below.
Scores correct at January 2019.
Beats vs Bose headphones: which are the most reliable?
Beware that one of these two brands has performed particularly poorly in our reliability survey of hundreds of owners, with a whopping 45% of owners experiencing deteriorating earcup fabric even on some of the brand’s most expensive pairs. We’ve also found expensive headphones that suffer severe cable damage and loss of sound, even soon after they were bought. Our survey results prove paying more is no guarantee of avoiding this.
Make sure you avoid a costly error by checking how Beats and Bose headphones perform on our headphones reliability page.
Are other headphone brands worth considering as well?
Beats and Bose aren’t the only top headphones brands in our testing. Rivals include AKG, Apple, Audio-Technica, B&O, Sennheiser and Sony.