For the launch of their latest, boundary-shifting range of QuietComfort devices, Bose have chosen suitably grand surroundings; the former Williamsburg Savings Bank in Brooklyn is now Weylin, an event space that makes the most of an opulent exterior, all soaring ceilings, painted domes and imposing archways. Later, one of the hottest artists in the world right now will headline an A-list celebration of the brand’s latest evolution; the same morning, a small handful of journalists are guided through a live demonstration of what the new QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are capable of.
All bases are covered musically, with a live band guiding those in attendance through tracks including The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’, while a specially-curated playlist suggests that the devices handle the deep bass and dynamic production textures of the likes of Ice Spice and A$AP Rocky.
The new earbuds, in particular, arrive unusually quick on the heels of their predecessors, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which only arrived on UK shores in September of last year. So convinced are the company of the advances they’ve made with spatial audio, though, and its crucial importance given the shifting environments in which we listen to music on a daily basis, that they’ve bringing their new developments to ears worldwide with the Ultras. There are two simple modes of listening: Still, for when you’re in one place, and Motion, which adapts playback as you’re on the move to keep the sound in front of you at all times.
“The days of the Tuesday record drop, of me going to the independent record store, grabbing that record, coming home, sitting down in the living room, ripping through the liner notes, taking in the artwork and spending an hour in the company of that album – that’s really become a rarity,” says Bose’s chief marketing officer, Jim Mollica, when he sits down one-on-one with Rolling Stone UK. “The majority of music consumption is actually in these micro moments – you’re on the train, you’re walking down the street, you’re doing chores, you’re working out. The point is, you’re not stationary.”
There was an acknowledgement from Bose’s team that high-end active noise-cancelling, such as that integral to the QuietComfort range, can have the undesirable effect of making the music feel as if it’s trapped inside the listener’s head. With the Ultras, the aim was to keep the soundstage ahead of you, regardless of where you are or how you’re moving. “We wanted to bring the music to you as the musicians and the engineers intended it, and for it to hit you in the same way whether you were sitting in the studio or running across the Williamsburg Bridge.”
A stone’s throw from the bridge, hours after the launch of the Ultra range, Bose host the kind of party that suggests they’re continuing to make a clean break from their past reputation as being purely for audiophiles, by audiophiles; as cocktails flow and reams of influencers pose for photos, it seems clear that the company have their sights set firmly on the mainstream, something also evidenced by the evening’s live entertainment. DJ sets from Blu DaTiger and Jamie xx get the crowd in the mood, but the identity of the headliners is something hinted at by the surreptitious parking of a Barbie-pink Porsche outside the Weylin; sure enough, it’s New York native Ice Spice and rising Londoner PinkPantheress, who whip up a rowdy atmosphere with their own sets before joining forces to close the night with an incendiary run-through their collaborative smash ‘Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2’.
Even as they target the mainstream, Bose’s collaborative focus appears mainly artist-driven; they recently gave creative carte blanche to Donald Glover to conceptualise his own TV spot for the company, one in which he hints not just at his own return to music but a potential collaboration with Tyler, the Creator, too. “There was probably a time when our focus was purely on functionality and features, and that cache across as a little cold and sterile,” Mollica says. “But I think we’ve come to realise how much emotion is interwoven into any given experience of music, and we want to work with world-class artists, to give them platforms to communicate their artistry and their emotional narratives. That’s our raison d’être, now, whether we’re working with Normani, Charlie Puth or Gorillaz.”
Both of the launch’s headline artists are very much at the vanguard of the current cultural zeitgeist, but there’s perhaps a deeper reason to Bose hand-picking two young, female headliners for their launch. Earlier this year, they signalled their intention to work towards a more inclusive industry when they announced Turn the Dial, an initiative that will aim to address the fact that just 2.8% of music producers are female or non-binary. The project already has the backing of PinkPantheress, as well as H.E.R., who was also in attendance at Weylin.
In association with the nonprofit organisation She Is The Music, Bose will aim to lay the groundwork for more women and non-binary individuals to make their way into production and engineering roles; in a signal of their global intentions for the project, they will announce a partnership with a major UK female artist in the coming weeks. “That’s all part of wanting to co-develop things with artists,” says Mollica.
“We were getting feedback from people we work with, and somebody suggested we work with more female producers; we went looking for them, and realised there aren’t a whole hell of a lot of them. So, we started working with Turn the Dial, to bring awareness and opportunity to super-talented producers and engineers who are women and pair them up with emerging female artists. We want to help move ahead the social cause of giving studio access and exposure to everybody.”
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are available for pre-order now, and are available from UK retailers from October 10