Noise cancelling without the big size and requirement of keeping batteries in your luggage? Sign us up.
Great noise cancelling headphones tend to be big and bulky, but a new pair from Bose aims to prove otherwise, packing in active noise cancellation into in-ear phones taking advantage of Bose’s proprietary StayHear+ ear tips.
The StayHear+ tips are silicone based and aside for looking like the traditional in-ear tip most other headphones have, also sports a little horn or wing that protrudes from the design, moulding to the inside of the ear and keeping the piece in place as you move.
Bose’s earpieces themselves are made from plastic, and sport a firm rubbery cable with a winding colour blend of dark grey and light grey making its way down the cord.
A microphone-equipped remote sits just below a short length of the cord, providing volume controls flanking the single button in the centre which acts for answering phone calls, and pausing and playing music.
On the back of the remote is a secondary button which will switch the noise cancelling off temporarily and let the outside world filter into your earpieces, making it possible for you to hear both the music and the world around you. Bose calls this “aware” mode.
While all active noise cancelling headphones require battery power, Bose has gone the extra step and removed the reliance on a replaceable battery, providing a rechargeable battery brick that can be charged over a microUSB port.
The active noise cancellation battery can be switched on using a switch on the small brick, with a light denoting whether noise cancelling is on (green) or whether aware mode is on (orange).
Similar to the Aware mode, though, the Bose noise cancelling earphones do not need battery power to work as headphones, but will need battery power for noise cancellation to work.
Several sizes of StayHear+ tips are included in the box (small, medium, and large), as is a clothing clip to keep the cable attached to what you wear, a USB charging cable, and a small fabric carrying case.
Bose makes two editions of the QC20 headphones, both noise cancelling, but one made for Apple’s iOS-based products (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and the other made for Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and anything else that doesn’t run Apple’s iOS. This version is technically identical, with the exception of the remote which doesn’t have volume buttons and merely has one button and the microphone integrated.
Reviewing the QC20i, we didn’t get to spend too much time aboard a plane, the best place for testing noise cancellation headphones, though not the only place, as more and more people begin to embrace the use of active noise cancellation in everyday transit activities, and the technology is just as useful here.
Positives for the QC20 include a rechargeable battery block, which not only takes its power charge off the microUSB standard that practically every device relies on, but is also rubberised for easy gripping.
Honestly, having a rechargeable battery there is a much better option than the several AAA batteries left floating around our hand luggage for the odd times we’re worried about running out of charge.
This addition also seems to slim down the whole package, making for a flatter charge pack that barely weighs as much as the single triple A you may normally use for your other pair of noise cancelling cans.
In fact, when you think noise cancelling, you generally think of flight, but that’s not always the intended use, and you might run out of juice while you’re listening through these earphones and running about on ground.
While it’s pretty easy to find a USB port to charge from these days, the Bose QuietComfort 20’s also work without the battery power, leaking in noise from the outside world as you play them. The sound through this mode isn’t quite as bright, thanks to noise cancelling electronics and an active equaliser not amplifying things, but it’s still decent for listening all the same.
Interestingly, this same sort of mode also exists while the battery and noise cancellation is engaged, with a cut off switch allowing you to bypass the noise cancellation and hear outside noise, ideal if you need to listen to people or your surroundings but don’t want to take the earphones out or stop listening to your tunes.
If you’re forced to stop listening to your tunes, the remote under your chin will help there, providing iOS users with playback and volume controls, as well as an on-remote microphone.
Bose has also included ear-stabilisers, and these are extra pieces of white rubber that basically fill in that folds of your ear and keep the earphones where they should be: in your ear.
Most earphones we try fail at that, and can fall out as you walk or run, but the Bose QuietComfort StayHear+ tips work a treat, and pretty much never fall out.
In fact, the ear stabilisers make them one of the comfiest pair of earphones you’re ever likely to try, and provided you don’t have a problem with the fact that these will go slightly inside your canal — they are in-earphones, not earbuds — you’ll find them insanely comfy, so much that when you’re forced to go back to another pair, you’ll wonder why other pairs of earphones don’t come with these things.
Over on the audio quality side, it’s clear that Bose really knows what it’s doing when it comes to interpreting sound.
Regardless of whether we pumped in jazz, blues, rock, or electronica, the headphones provided what sounded like was a warm and balanced sound across all the important spectrums, with decent bass, strong mids, and great highs.
These aren’t headphones you’ll want to wear if you you’re looking for the bassiest experience known in an artificially engineered can, and with noise cancelling switched on, the amplified audio was balanced and easy to listen to.
Mid-flight, these were some of the best noise cancelling earphones we’d ever tried, blocking us from the outside repetitive hum and generally making the flight so much better, regardless of the class we were sitting in.
With the active noise cancellation switched off, you lose a little bit of that warmth, though the clarity is still there, and it’s good.
While Bose does make some brilliant headphones and speakers, it hasn’t nailed the design completely.
We won’t jump up and down on the remote, because in the “i” edition, it’s made specifically for the iOS devices, and in the regular “i-less” one, it’s Android, Windows, and Blackberry. That said, you can get the 20i’s remote working on a non-iOS device, but it is limited in functionality, working only to pause and playback content.
But that’s not our problem with the Bose.
Rather, the power pack, which is rechargeable and means never having to buy another AA or AAA battery for your noise cancelling cans again, is on a short cable.
In fact, it’s a very short cable.
Truth be told, Bose’s decision to put the noise cancellation box on a short leash is a little surprising, and regardless of the handset you use, it’s too short a leash, forcing you to pull out the small flat box with your phone if you want to change tracks.
If you let go or it slips, the rubberisation on the box can also mean it sticks to the inside of your pants, and then disconnects from your phone or media player, stopping your music altogether.
An easy solution for this could be to grab a rubber band and make sure the box is stuck to the back of your phone, but it’s not the best solution. and ultimately, it would have been nice to see Bose provide a slightly longer cable so as to let you leave it in your pocket for the odd change of track.
Noise cancelling headphones are simply a must have when you’re catching a flight, doing their part to minimise the engine noise and just immerse you in sound, but the Bose QuietComfort 20’s do more than just give your ears a breather mid-air: they do it for regular day-to-day activities, and in a way that is comfortable across the board.
This reviewer normally carries a pair of Audio Technica over-ear noise cancellers when he hits a flight, but with the sheer size offered in the QuietComfort 20i, he might just skip the cans altogether and carry these permanently, both on and off the plane.
If you want a dose of premium sound whether on-ground or in-air, you’ll want to check out the Bose QuietComfort 20i earphones (or 20, if you don’t have an Apple iDevice).