Last year I reviewed the newly released Bose SoundSport and SoundTrue in-ear headphones and was extremely impressed with them. The sound clarity and range they produced far exceeded any in-ear headphones I have even used before. The comfort and fit of the earphones matched the quality of the sound. Needless to say I was a newfound Bose fan.
When Bose announced an Android version of their QuietComfort 20 noise cancelling in-ear headphones I jumped at the chance to review them. Could they live up the high standard that I have come to expect of Bose since my previous review of their products? I expected and hoped for the same high quality sound with the addition of the much sought after noise cancelling effect. Read on to hear if they managed to meet my expectations.
In The Box
In the box are, obviously the headphones themselves, complete with inline remote control, clothing clip, and rechargeable battery all in one piece. Refreshingly the battery is rechargeable using a micro-USB cable instead of the proprietary cable favoured by many headphone manufacturers. There is a well-constructed, stylish case for the headphones which also has a little pocket inside to house the small USB charging cable included. To ensure a tight, secure and comfortable fit there are three sizes of the StayHear+ tips included- small, medium and large.
The Bose QC20 have a different earbud design to those on the SoundTrue that I reviewed last year. While they may look different they are still as effective. The earbuds have the same “shark fin” as the SoundTrue which help to hold the earbud in place, although the design of the headphones themselves is not such that you will be able to be very active while using them. The earbuds have what Bose have coined the StayHear+ tips with a gradation in the tip apparently to prevent them from falling out. This tip, combined with the “shark fin”, help the buds to stay in the ear well, with no hint of them ever falling out accidentally.
As per the SoundTrue there is an inline mic designed for Android use. When plugged into my Nexus 6 I was able to turn the volume up or down and pause and resume it using the middle button. Long pressing on the middle button also opened Google voice search which was a handy little feature with the mic inside the remote picking up any uttered commands. The side of the remote has the button that turns on the Aware Mode (turns off noise cancelling) allowing for outside sounds to be heard while still having the music/sound playing in the earbuds. My only issue was that there is no way to skip a song using the inline remote.
Using the headphones for phone calls worked well too. The noise cancelling made the phone call clear without any background noise. The buttons on the remote worked perfectly with volume being able to be raised or lowered, the mic muted and long pressing the centre button hung up the call. The mic was clear and without distortion to the caller on the other end of the line.
The cable on the headphones are just as for the SoundTrue in that it is not a solid colour. The white version I had was a white cable with a blue stripe circling it all the way along, including outlining the buttons on the remote as well. The headphones are available in both black and white.
At the end of the cable, close to the headphone plug is the battery and control module for the noise cancelling. There is a switch to turn on the noise cancelling as well as a couple of LED lights to show when the power is on and when the battery is low on power. It is the presence of this here that makes me think that being active while using these headphones may be difficult. Being only several centimetres from the plug does not allow for much flexibility in positioning of this module and as such it can be a bit cumbersome and unwieldy. The module would have to fit into the same pocket as your phone if you were to be attempting to move around while using these headphones. Of note is the charging of the control module- it is microUSB. I have too many headphones that require proprietary cables to charge them so this was a breath of fresh air.
I’ve been spoilt with the Bose SoundTrue earphones I have been using since last year and now i compare all earbud headphones to those. I didn’t think it was possible but I have now found a set of earbuds that are even more comfortable than the SoundTrue earbuds. The addition of the StayHear+ tips allows for a softer fit which even after wearing for over two hours on a plane flight were as comfortable as the first minute I put them in.
With the three different sizes for the tips in the box there is no doubt that unless you have Vulcan ears you will have no problems finding a comfortable fit as well.
So, the headphones look good and feel extremely comfortable but of course the most important thing is how they sound. In everyday, relatively quiet environment the sound was a bit lacklustre when compared to the SoundTrue headphones. While the sound was still acceptable and better than all other earbud headphones I own bar the Bose SoundTrue it was a bit “muffled”. They seemed to lack the crispness and clarity of the SoundTrue, especially in the lower register. This was for all types of music and not just my usual music, heavy metal. The sound was certainly acceptable for most listening but if you are an audiophile I suspect you may be disappointed by the range and quality these $399 headphones produce.
Switching over to some hiphop showed that the headphones do have a decent amount of bass to them considering the small size of them, but once again they lacked the crispness of the SoundTrue headphones. After borrowing my wife’s phone to test out some other types of music (I didn’t want to taint my Google Music All Access recommendations with pop music) it seems that the headphones suffered the same issues.
I talk about them being a bit muffled but that is me being very picky with them. As I said they are still better than everything other in ear headphone I have tried except for the SoundTrue. They are certainly acceptable as an everyday headphone.
Where the headphones come into their own and blow away all other in-ear headphones I have ever tried is in a noisy environment. During a two hour flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on the weekend I was blown away by the noise cancelling feature. First I tried out the SoundTrue headphones and even with a perfect in-ear fit there was still quite a bit of engine noise drowning out the music and listening to a TV show on my Nexus 9 was not a pleasant experience with the background noise drowning out a lot of the dialogue.
After plugging in the QC20’s and turning on the noise cancelling I was blown away. The background noise nearly totally disappeared. If someone next to me was talking to me I could hear them, nearly, but not make out what they were saying. As such I was able to comfortably watch the TV show on my tablet and hear the dialogue from it perfectly without any background drone from the plane’s engines (or crying babies). Unfortunately they worked a little too well and I got in trouble from the flight attendant for not lifting my tray table when told to (their “noise” was cancelled out) and then after lifting tray table I continued to play Riptide GP2 all the way down to the ground even after they had told everyone to stop using electronic devices. Luckily I didn’t get caught doing this but was amazed at how good the noise cancelling actually worked.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 are not a cheap pair of headphones. The sound from them is not as good as their cheaper cousins, the SoundTrue and SoundSport but the noise cancelling feature is worth it’s weight in gold if you are often in a noisy environment such as a plane or the train. There are obviously plenty of decent over the ear noise cancelling headphones but these are usually bulky and difficult to transport, especially if you already have your bag chock full of other tech for your trip away. The Bose QC20 fit inside the included case which is approximately 14 x 5 x 2.5cm – much easier to fit inside your backpack/carry-on luggage than those large noise cancelling over-the-ear headphones.
The Bose QC20 for Android can be purchased from the Bose online store for $399 and at your local bricks and mortar store for a similar price. JB Hifi have them listed at the same price as Bose but, depending on your bargaining skills, I am sure you would be able to get them cheaper if you asked.
While expensive I can highly recommend these headphones to anyone who does a lot of travelling and is looking for a decent sound no matter the surrounding noise in their environment without having to sacrifice room in their luggage.