Bose is known for their noise canceling headphones but the QC20 is their first attempt to incorporate noise reduction in a pair of earbuds. And they do so quite successfully.
QuietComfort 20i consists of a pair of fairly large ear buds made of silicone rubber. On the sturdy headphone cable you find a box with remote and mic. Since they can not fit the small ear buds with amplifiers and electronics, they are moved to a separate, slightly larger flat box on the cable.
Headphones with active noise cancellation works by a pair of microphones registering all sound from the environment and then plays them out-of-phase in addition to the music signal being played in the headphones. If the out-of-phase noise is identical with the outside noise, all extraneous sounds cancel each other out. The idea is brilliant, but it needs a lot of technology that inevitably affect the signal.
I admit that I harbored some skepticism towards having electronic noise canceling headphones. But I also acknowledge that I was wrong. Bose QC20i sounds very impressive, even if they are using a lot of electronics.
Without the electronic ‘magic’ the QC20i sounds excellent, and the bass is really nice coming from a pair of earbuds. But turn on the noise-cancelling function and the result is magical. Firstly, everything becomes quiet! Really quiet. The rustling of the computer fan disappears. The same goes for the sound of my anything-but-silent PC keyboard. To test further I wore the QC20i when I vacuumed the entire house. The headphones did not just stay in place, which is an achievement in itself, the vacuum cleaner noise was reduced to a weak soft wind hum. But it is primarily about music, and here the electronics apparently help to reproduce it very well.
The sound image has plenty of air. The midrange feels clean and open, and the compression that is typical for earbuds (including QC20i before the electronics are switched on) is missing entirely. The vulnerability of Sinéad O’ Connor’s ‘Scarlet Ribbons‘ is abundantly clear.
Even when playing more energetic music, the QC20i retains its composure. Judas Priest’s ‘Pestilence and Plague‘ powers along with hard hitting drums, electric guitars and the fleshy Italian choral singing without the sound clogging. And then there´s the bass. It is one of the best I’ve ever heard in a couple of earbuds. Nero’s remix of deadmau5’s ‘Ghosts ‘n’ stuff‘ shakes the whole cranium. If you want more you´ll need to step up to a pair of bass-heavy DJ headphones.
The treble is lacking that last little airiness when compared with, for example, Ultimate Ears. The decay of cymbals feels somewhat short and room acoustics is given an artificial touch. The differences are small, but when the price is nearly $300 you are allowed to make some demands.
The Bose QC20i‘s ability to create silence in noisy surroundings is impressive. But the electronics are not in themselves completely flawless. In a quiet room, you hear a faint but distinct hiss from the amplifier.
The internal battery is said to be enough for 16 hours of music, but if that's not enough - and you're not near a USB port that can recharge the battery - it is possible to listen to the QC20i as ordinary, passive earphones.
Bose noise canceling headphones are popular among business people as signaling that they can afford to buy the silence on airfare. But the Bose QuietComfort 20i can withstand to run with music on as well. It is impressive that Bose has managed to pack in as much sound quality in such a small package. The cost is perhaps more expensive compared to passive in-ear headphones, but you get both top-notch noise reduction, heavyweight bass and an open, clean sound for the money. Simply impressive.
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- Bose® noise cancelling technology, shut out the world and focus on your music
- Aware mode to hear what’s around you at the press of a button
- Deep, clear sound from the Active EQ and TriPort® technology
- Soft, and secure for hours of listening from proprietary StayHear®+ ear tips
- QC®20 headphones — Apple devices (Including cable and StayHear®+ tips):52" L (1.55 oz)
- StayHear®+ tips:1.25" H x 1" W x 0.5" D
- USB cable:12" L
- Clothing clip:1" H x 0.25" W x 0.5" D
- Control module:3.5" H x 1.25" W x 0.375" D
- Case:1" H x 5.5" W x 3.1" D
In the box
- QuietComfort® 20 headphones — Apple devices
- 3 pairs StayHear®+ tips (S, M, L)
- Clothing clip
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (built-in)
- USB charging cable
- Carrying case
Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Charging time: 2 hours
- Battery life: 16 hours per full charge