Beats vs Bose headphones: which are the best?
By Oliver Trebilcock
Not all Beats and Bose headphones are good. We’ve found some are uncomfortable to wear and others with surprisingly disappointing sound, despite high prices. There are even dreaded Don’t Buys. We pit two of the highest-profile headphones brands against each other to discover the best.
Beats and Bose are two of the most popular headphone brands and have built their reputations on aiming for sound and build quality that’s a cut above rivals. Whether you’re looking for affordable quality headphones or a premium pair, Beats and Bose promise the best headphones you can buy. But as we can prove, picking a top brand is no guarantee of avoiding disappointment or even Don’t Buys.
Headphones from Beats and Bose promise excellent sound and comfort, supreme build quality and they come packed with the latest technologies. You’ll find pairs with features such as Bluetooth, voice control with Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa, equalisers to adjust the sound to your tastes, and active noise-cancelling to cut out background noise. They can also come with dedicated apps for your smartphone or tablet, which bring additional features to personalise the headphones to you.
Whatever your budget, both of these top-tier brands have a range of attractively styled, feature-packed headphones. But deciding which is best can be a challenge, particularly when comparing them on the internet, where you can’t hear how they sound, or how comfortable they will be to wear. Plus, we’ve found many wireless headphones that don’t even come close to matching claimed battery life – so even the facts manufacturers give you are hard to trust.
Our independent lab tests give you comparable results you can rely on. Below we compare the best Beats and Bose headphones, from lightweight in-ear or earbud headphones to on-ear and over-ear pairs with a headband. We also compare the scores of Beats and Bose headphones to discover which brand performs the best, as judged by our panel of discerning experts with decades of experience between them. Click or tap the sections below to find out how these high-end brands perform.
Best Buy headphones – head straight to our top-scoring headphone reviews.
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
These are fantastic in-ear headphones whether or not you’re the sporty type. Once inserted properly, they’re so comfortable you almost forget they’re there. They have in-line controls and produce superbly well-balanced, detailed sound with a good level of bass. They have a more open sound than most in-ear pairs, and you can fix the wing tips for an even more secure fit during exercise.
It’s unusual to find in-ear headphones with noise-cancelling technology, and these Best Buys are the gold standard. If you love a lightweight pair but want to cut out background noise, these will give you not only peace and quiet but also some of the best sound our lab has seen – plus a 16-hour battery life. Find out how effective the noise-cancelling is in our expert review.
If you want to save yourself from the daily chore of untangling wires, truly wireless headphones could be ideal. The Bose SoundSport Free are a rival to Apple’s AirPods, and they 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.
Corded wireless headphones are a nice compromise for those who want to minimise wires, maintain reasonable battery life and keep the earpieces attached together. This pair has seven and a half hours of battery life, which is good for headphones of this type. Sound is natural and punchy, with detailed treble and good bass. Read our full review to see if there’s anything you should watch out for.
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
These headphones are comfortable and the sound is entertaining, with detailed highs and solid bass. The lack of noise-cancelling technology means you save a great deal of money over other pairs while keeping a similarly premium build quality. You can control your music and take calls on the go, as you’d expect. Read our full review to find out why these could be a great choice.
These are an impressive, versatile pair with a lengthy battery life and a premium build. They’re very comfortable and the sound quality is superb. There’s a high level of detail in music, bass is good and our panel found them a pleasure to listen to. Check our full review to find out whether it leaks audio to your surroundings, and how these compare with rivals.
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 headphones are impressive value for a noise-cancelling pair. The sound is nicely balanced with a good sense of depth, with genres from pop to jazz and classical all handled well. They’re comfortable and durable, despite being lighter than they look. They fold up neatly in the supplied travel case, and offer a hefty 35 hours of use.
These headphones may be extremely popular, but our tests show that they’re no longer the best around. Rival headphones can have better sound quality and comfort, a much longer battery life and superior noise-cancelling technology too. When spending this much money, you should make sure you’re getting the very best.
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.