Bose QC20 headphones review

Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones

If you like the idea of noise cancelling headphones but don't want a big pair then the good news is that the QC20 headphones are Bose's first in-ears to feature the technology. They are available for £239 and come in a version for Android, Windows and Blackberry handsets and a QC20i model for use with Apple products like the iPhone.

The QC20 headphones are extremely comfortable so live up to their name. I personally always have trouble with wearing in-ear headphones. Either they quickly become uncomfortable or simply pop out of my ear.

However, the design of the QC20 StayHear+ tips means that they stay nicely in place using an extra section which sits in your ear. As with most headphones, there are three different tip sizes which you can carry around with you in the soft case.

The main selling point of the QC20 headphones is the noise cancelling feature. This does what it says on the tin and cancels out the noise around you. Two tiny microphones on each ear bud 'listen' to the noise around you and those frequencies are then taken away, leaving you with just your music or whatever you're listening to.

After a number of weeks using the headphone, the noise cancelling is fantastic and is able to get rid of almost everything which is normally annoying. On a train it cuts out the noise of the train, when you're walking cars and even your own footsteps disappear and on a plane that background drone is no longer apparent. There are plenty more use cases too, such as a noisy office environment.

This far more useful when you're out and about rather than sitting at home and while it does an excellent job, there are a couple of caveats. When on a train we found the QC20 headphones occasionally crackled when going through tunnels and popped loudly when another train passed on an adjacent track. The headphones also tend to pop when coming out of aware mode.

Those are minor issues and if you've never heard the difference noise cancelling can make, you're likely to be blown away. It really puts you in your own little stress relieving bubble which also means you can play music at a safe level.

It's not always convenient or safe to have noise cancelling switch on but instead of take the headphones out of your ears, they have a little trick up their sleeve. Bose has developed an 'aware' mode which lets some of that ambient noise through to your ears. This sort of semi-noise cancelling means you can hear potential dangers, announcements or someone talking to you – all at the click of a button on the in-line control.  

The control also has a microphone for hands-free calls and a button to answer/end call. The QC20i model has additional volume buttons.

Bose QC20 moduleThere's a little box near the headphone jack which is where the noise cancelling magic happens. Inside are a battery and the digital signal processing circuitry. You'll need to switch this on for the headphones to work properly and the battery lasts around 16 hours of play time. You can use the headphones if the battery runs out but they just sound very plain and lose a large amount of velocity. Two green LEDs indicated whether the power/charging status and if you're in aware mode or not. Our only gripe here is that the module is too close to the headphone jack making it difficult to place it in a suitable position in relation to the device it's connected to.

The noise cancelling makes music or whatever you're listening to better since the audio isn't competing with the outside world – it brings clarity. Although the Bose QC20 headphones offer Active EQ and the firm's TriPort technology the audio quality of the headphones aren't quite as good as we'd hoped.

It's a shame considering the price but as we said, it's the noise cancelling which is the real selling point. It's not that the QC20s sound bad, far from it, but they're not knock-out in the performance stakes.

The headphones have good frequency range but the response is a little on the flat side, so while everything in a track is covered, nothing stands out or sounds particularly bright. Bass is nice and punchy and rich but the mid-range tends to come across distant. There's essentially a slight lack of definition and detail which you'll find elsewhere.

Although that's a bit of a down point, I would trade the acoustic limitations of these buds for the noise cancelling any day.

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Bose QuietComfort 20: Specs

  • Acoustic noise-cancelling
  • TriPort technology
  • In-line control
  • 16 hour battery life
  • Carry case
  • Bud in small,medium and large
  • 44g
  • Acoustic noise-cancelling
  • TriPort technology
  • In-line control
  • 16 hour battery life
  • Carry case
  • Bud in small,medium and large
  • 44g

OUR VERDICT

The Bose QC20 headphones make for an impressive set of in-ears which you're unlikely to regret if you travel a lot. Although sound performance isn't the best, the sensational noise cancelling, comfortable design and handy aware mode make these a great buy.