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Updated: 3 May 2022

Beats vs Bose headphones: which are best?

Not all Beats and Bose headphones are good. Despite their high prices - some are Don’t Buys. We pit two of the biggest headphone brands against each other to find out which are the best.
Oliver Trebilcock
Bose v Beats headphones

Beats and Bose claim the build and sound quality of their premium headphones is a cut above rivals. But our expert tests prove picking a top brand can be costly and is no guarantee of avoiding disappointment.

Whether you’re looking for noise cancelling headphones, great sound quality or good battery life, we reveal the best models on the market.

Head straight to our top-scoring headphone reviews from our rigorous lab tests and read our guide to buying the best headphones.

In-ear Beats vs Bose: what to look out for

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, join Which? to get instant access. 

Best in-ear Beats and Bose headphones

  • 72%
    • best buy
    • eco buy

    These high-end truly wireless headphones are designed for regular travellers with exceptional active noise cancelling to block unwanted ambient sounds, and an excellent level of detail and clarity to the sound. The battery lasts for seven hours of continuous music playing and the charging case holds two additional top-ups. They’re also comfortable and fit well.

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  • 68%

    These truly wireless headphones are specifically designed for sports and exercise, with special eartips that aim to give you an extra secure fit in your ears. They’re also sweat and weather resistant. The sound quality is great, with a lovely drive and beat that will help keep you motivated. The fit is on the tighter side, but this is good while you’re working out. The battery lasts for five hours between top-ups from the charging case.

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Pricing and recommendations correct as of May 2022.

On-ear Beats vs Bose: what to look out for

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.

Best on-ear Beats and Bose headphones

  • 68%
    • great value

    The Beats EP are wired on-ear headphones. Their lack of wireless connectivity makes them more affordable and a popular entry-level model for the Beats headphone range. But is the sound quality good enough, or would you be better off with another model? We sent them to the Which? lab to find out. Read on for our full review of these wired headphones.

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Over-ear Beats vs Bose: what to look out for

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.

Best over-ear Beats and Bose headphones

  • 71%
    • best buy

    These are a good set of wireless headphones, with decent sound quality and strong noise cancelling performance. Well-built and with excellent battery life, they’re a solid investment.

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  • 66%

    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.

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What to avoid when buying Beats and Bose headphones

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

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.

Beats vs Bose headphones test scores

Brand 1
Brand 2
Best score85%67%
Average score66.5%56%
Worst score57%40%

Scores correct at January 2020.

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 tests.

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.