Review: Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Link: Bose QuietComfort 20i Noise Cancelling Headphones

For years I’ve used the Bose QuietComfort 15 as my “travel” headphones, and they’re great. There’s lots of debate over whether or not Bose is worth the money, and while I haven’t done too close of a comparison to other products, I do know the quality is damn good, and I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve had two pairs of Bose headphones in the past eight years, and they’ve served me well for millions and millions of miles.

That being said, I’ve found myself not taking them on a couple of recent trips for a few reasons:

  • They are a bit bulky, and I do everything I can to travel as light as possible
  • Nowadays many airlines give out high quality noise cancelling headphones aboard, so there’s less use for them
  • Many airlines have “built in” headphones that are connected to the IFE system, so you can’t even use yours to watch the IFE if you wanted to
  • For the most part my iPhone headphones do the trick if I want to listen to music at the gym or watch something on my iPad on the ground

Bose’s newest headphones are the QuietComfort 20i Noise Cancelling Headphones (they retail for $299), which are actually in ear. The huge selling point of these for me is that they’re tiny, so they hardly take up any carry-on space. I decided to pick up a pair recently through Amazon, since I had quite a bit of credit with them thanks to the recent Amazon & American Express Sync promotion.

So there are a few things that are different about these than their previous on ear headphones:

  • The QC20i comes with a rechargeable battery which lasts for 16 hours. The USB charger is included, and plugs into the “base” of the headphones and then any USB charger.
  • You have the option of listening to music with or without the noise cancelling feature. This is a moot point now since electronics are allowed in all stages of flight, but I found it frustrating in the past that you couldn’t use Bose headphones without the noise cancelling feature being turned on.

I’m not a tech guy so have no way of running any sort of “tests” on the quality of the sound, but I will say it’s really, really impressive, and comparable to the previous on ear QC15s I had. I had the headphones in my ears long enough to watch a movie and still felt comfortable afterwards. The added thing that’s awesome about these is that you can use them at the gym, while I would never have brought on ear headphones to the gym (not only because it looks silly, but it would’ve done too much damage to the leather).

Anyway, for the time being I’m keeping my Bose QC20i inside my QC15 case while traveling, but soon enough I’ll probably just travel with the QC20i and leave the on ear headphones at home in order to save space. This is a great product.

Anyone have a pair of these, or know of any comparable quality in ear noise cancelling headphones?

Here are a few pictures of the QC20i:

Bose-QC20i-1

Bose-QC20i-2

Bose-QC20i-3

Bose-QC20i-4

Comments

  1. Do you know if there is a plug-in adopter available to recharge the headphones from an electric outlet? I’ve only heard great feedback about this product and many people find it more comfortable over long periods than the over the ear counterpart.

  2. I work in audio, and Bose certainly has it’s deficiencies (“no highs, no lows, must be bose,” etc), but the one thing that’s the MOST important to me on a long trip is the actual comfort of the headphones–more important than sound quality by far. They’ll be on your ear for hours at a time, so you want to make sure that they don’t hurt your ears/neck/head. I take a lot of crap for recommending them, but I do so for this reason alone — they’re the most comfortable headphones out there IMO.

    I don’t like ear bud style headphones, because I can never get a set that fits well, and it just ends up hurting my ears after a while, but I might try these, because as you say… the QC15’s are really really bulky.

  3. These are really nice in-ears. I’ve tried them too, although couldn’t justify the price to buy them.

    I own 2 pairs of Digital Silence DS-101A earphones. They are also in-ear and have noise cancellation.
    Link on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Silence-Analogue-Cancelling-Microphone/dp/B004LY1LJA/

    And here’s the thing. Sure they aren’t as good as the BOSE ones, but they are 15 times cheaper. And they do have 70% of the noise cancellation of the BOSE ones.
    If you change the earbuds with another ones (don’t remember which exactly), which costs an additional 3$, you’ll have 85% of the result of the BOSE.

    And then it’s hard to justify to buy the BOSE.
    Another good buy is the Digital Silence DS421D, I’ve tried them too, they are slightly better than the DS-101A, and if the 101 breaks some day, I will probably buy the DS421D.

    There’s also another brand which is loved by audiophiles: Monoprice. They deliver quite good quality for a reasonable price. I only own their regular ear-buds 8320s. For a price of 5$, they are an absolute steal. The sound quality is simply amazing and comparable with earphones of 50$ and up. Didn’t try their noise canceling products yet though.

  4. These are really nice in-ears. I’ve tried them too, although couldn’t justify the price to buy them.

    I own 2 pairs of Digital Silence DS-101A earphones. They are also in-ear and have noise cancellation.

    And here’s the thing. Sure they aren’t as good as the BOSE ones, but they are 15 times cheaper. And they do have 70% of the noise cancellation of the BOSE ones.
    If you change the earbuds with another ones (don’t remember which exactly), which costs an additional 3$, you’ll have 85% of the result of the BOSE.

    And then it’s hard to justify to buy the BOSE.
    Another good buy is the Digital Silence DS421D, I’ve tried them too, they are slightly better than the DS-101A, and if the 101 breaks some day, I will probably buy the DS421D.

    There’s also another brand which is loved by audiophiles: Monoprice. They deliver quite good quality for a reasonable price. I only own their regular ear-buds 8320s. For a price of 5$, they are an absolute steal. The sound quality is simply amazing and comparable with earphones of 50$ and up. Didn’t try their noise canceling products yet though.

  5. Just picked up a pair of these yesterday. Testing them on a few flights this week, seeing how they fare on some RJs.

  6. Rather than these sorts of active NC ‘phones I find that in-ear type that have a good seal are perfectly fine at blocking out unwanted noise. They are even smaller and lighter.

    I recently got some Klipsch S4a in ear phones that I like well enough. They only cost about $80 and include a microphone so you can use them with your phone. But if you only need them for listening then there are lots of microphone-free options out there. If I was going to spend $300 I would probably get something like Shure in ear monitors.

  7. I had the same thought to buy these with my AmEx Amazon credit, but was disappointed to find that the Bose earpieces (S-M-L) wouldn’t fit well in my ear when tested out at a Bose store, e.g. the lightest tug caused them to fall out.

    I have custom earbud molds fitted to Apple earphones that cannot transfer to use on these, otherwise I would purchase for sure! Drat!

    Maybe Apple will enter the noise-cancellation game!?

  8. I have a pair on the way – can’t wait! I couldn’t stand the QC15s because I could not rest normally with them on (turn to the side).

  9. I’ve had the original Bose, Bose 2, QC15, and now the QC20, and I have to say I love the QC20. It works fantastic on a flight and it definitely doesn’t hurt after several hours. Plus it’s portability is amazing. Works fantastic to cancel noise on red-eyes that I take about once a month.

  10. These are excellent for their size – really makes air travel bearable (but I often miss flight announcements if I get absorbed in what I am listening/watching).

    My wife even sleeps with them when my snoring bothers her.

    I grabbed a second pair from Sharper Image when they had those promos a few weeks ago. All in cost about $220 (vs $325 via Amazon and most other outlets).

    I tried other noise cancelling headphones but over ear gave me a headache and some had so much noise cancelling sound pressure they were torture (despite supposedly high ratings) – all were returned or ended up in a drawer.

  11. I bought the QC20i just before I took an F class RTW trip last month. So much more comfortable than the over the ear QC15 I have. What I especially liked was being able to sleep sideways and had no issues keeping the earbuds on for noise canceling. The silicon earbuds are very very soft and pliable and not hard plastic which make them uber comfy in your ears (2 different sizes are included to get a good fit). I had no discomfort keeping them in for many hours at a time.

    Stayed charged up throughout 11 hr + flights. The NC works much better than the QC15. Music sound quality is very very good IMO. NC is much more important to me.

    Best travel accessory I’ve bought in ages and worth the $$.

  12. I’ve had these since October and am very happy. I had QC 2 for years but I found them just too bulky and uncomfortable for long periods.

    So a few years ago I invested in a pair of custom fit Ultimate Ears. They are awesome and comfortable but don’t really work for travel as you can’t hear announcements well without removing them and it takes a few seconds to remove them.

    So when I saw the QC20’s had an “aware” button (press and you hear the world around you) I went for them and haven’t looked back.

    Somebody asked about the charger — it is a standard micro usb so nothing special is needed, I just use the same cable I use for my Android phone.

  13. @ Stuart Falk — Hmm, that’s a fantastic question. It doesn’t come with a charger that plugs into an outlet, but I assume there’s some converter out there that could be purchased to do so. It is odd that they don’t include that as well.

  14. @ Stuart Falk @lucky (#15), it charges with a standard micro-USB cable, you can plug it in any wall charger with USB output thingy.

  15. I used the QC15 for several years but changed to the QC20i after trying my wife’s pair. I much prefer the QC20i because they are just as good, if not better, sound-wise and they take up much less space in my bag and I can lay sideways with them on.

    I charge them using my iPhone charger and my laptop.

  16. I’ve also gone from the QC15 to the QC20i. I was shocked at how good the NC on the 20i was when I bought them. I used them on one test flight and immediately after put the 15’s up for sale on ebay, sold at a great price leaving quite a low net price on the 20i.

    In addition, when I went from iPad2 to iPad Air, my laptop bag lost so much bulk & weight with the two device improvements… quite pleased!

  17. I would love to know how these compare to conventional earbuds. I’ve always used Sennheisers or Skullcandy earbuds in the $40-$60 range, usually models with good bass response (thumping bass at a reasonable volume is my top priority). Never thought much about the need for NC, but I’d consider Bose if they were comfortable and if the NC added that much more value (i.e. on red eye flights, where I think I already sleep pretty well anyway).

  18. Is it just me or does anyone feel it is much weaker in bass than its non-NC equivalent possibly because the NC feature cancels out some of the bass line? Oddly I do not feel the same with QC 15.

  19. Since I run outside a lot, I bought the SIE2 Bose sport in-ear headphones. It’s more than half the price of the 20i but for me it’s perfectly fine. I prefer in-ear headphones and have used several that cost under $50 but only lasted less than 2 months due to wear/tear where one headphone would stop working, etc.. I’ve had these Bose headphones for over a year now and never had an issue with them. It was definitely worth the $130 I paid for them.

  20. Used the QC15 for the past 5 years. Just switched to QC20s and love them. In my opinion, the QC20 noise cancellation works better than the QC15 – I compared the two during a regional flight. The reduced size is great for traveling, didn’t mess up my hair and I anticipate them being more conducive to sleeping.
    My only complaints (which are minimal) is that I do not recommend using the QC20s to workout – the headphones kept slipping out of my ears. This was probably due to my second complaint that the battery/switch that cannot be removed – it is slightly bigger than a business card located at the base of the cord. I was told that these headphones are okay to workout with by one Bose rep, but not okay by a different Bose rep.

  21. Curious where you have seen an IFE system that did not let you use your own headphones? I’ve never encountered that…even on airlines with nice headphones I typically use my own noise-cancelling headphones and have never run into one where I couldn’t.

  22. @ Bgriff — Some airlines have the headphones permanently “built” into the seats so you can’t remove them. Also many airlines have the three prong ones. Guess I should get an adapter.

  23. As a footnote, I used the Bose QC20i on UA, LH, LX, OZ, and DL and they worked perfectly fine without an adapter of any kind. Maybe others could provide more data points so we all know where it works..

  24. Late, but in case you’re still reading this — when airlines have the three-prong plugs, one plug is power for their proprietary noise-cancelling headphones; you can use a standard two-plug airplane adapter (as are included with all Bose headphones, for example) in the bigger two holes and plug in any noise-cancelling headphones that use their own power.

    As for airlines that have headphones built into the seats, I know what you’re talking about (though I’m not sure I can think of an example off the top of my head — Etihad First maybe?), but in my experience, there is always also a separate jack somewhere that you can plug your own headphones into.

  25. Well, the QC20i is a bit of a disappointment for me, and here are why:
    1 – I had to turn the volume way up (like 5 bars) to get the same volume as the QC15.
    2 – There is a slight high pitched hissing noise when the noise cancellation is on (may be this is me because I usually hear hisses and hums from electronics that most people either can’t hear or not paying attention.), and I found this same issues with other in-ear NC headphones.
    3 – I tried on all 3 different sized (L,M,S inserts, included) and none of them fits well. The L is way too large, so I counted that one out. The medium fits better, but still too big for my ears, however, the small one are not big enough to cover my ear completely, what a bummer.
    4 – At $300 is way too much for it. I think $200-250.00 are more reasonable.
    5 – There are no comparisons with the QC15 in terms of lower frequency responses, and there details aren’t there at low volume. Practically, the bass is muted out almost completed.

    Between the QC15 and QC20? I opted for the QC15.

  26. I recently bought a set of the QC20s and got vicious feedback through the right earbud. I travelled a week ago and my ear feels almost numb still.. The NC function is fantastic, but I’m quite concerned that this set may be faulty and have caused soem serious damage to my hearing.

    So beware.

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