Bose is a go-to choice for noise-canceling headphones because the company’s original QuietComfort headphones debuted in 2000. The line has been updated over time with an on-ear model (the QC15s) and new over-the-ear models (the QC3s), however the QuietComfort 20 you see this is actually the company’s first in-ear headphone with active noise cancellation. It actually will come in two versions — the typical QC20 is for non-Apple products, and the QC20i is made for use with Apple products. Both cost a lofty $299.95.

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Last updated on May 23, 2022 7:22 pm

Why would you intend to spend that sort of dough on a headphone such as this? Well, there are several reasons, which I’ll tell you first. Then I’ll explain a few downsides to the merchandise, which may or may well not be deal breakers for you personally.

The pros
To begin with, the QC20s fit securely in your ears and are incredibly comfortable to wear. They weigh only 1.5 ounces and have a zippered cloth travel case that is clearly a fraction of how big is the case that is included with the over-the-ear QC 15s. Which makes them very travel-friendly.

Their design is quite similar to Bose’s MIE2i headphones, that you don’t jam into your ear like many in-ear models. Rather, they rest more loosely in your ears, which is why is them so comfortable to wear.

The headphones themselves follow the business’s TriPort design, carving out some extra space to increase Bose’s proprietary acoustic voodoo, and adding two microphones to monitor external noise. Much like all such active noise-canceling ‘phones, that external din — the drone of a jet engine, the crowd at the place — is countered by a mirror soundwave, enabling you to enjoy your music in relative peace. The processing chip found in the QC20 is a fresh model that’s exclusive to Bose.

The QC20s act like Bose’s MIE2i headphones and include the same eartips. Sarah Tew/CNET
The QC20s include three sizes of flexible “StayHear+” eartips, each which has wings to brace itself against the cup of the outer ear. I went with the most significant eartip, which offered me somewhat of a snugger fit, which supports the noise isolation, and, subsequently, makes the noise cancellation a lttle bit more effective.

The lithium ion battery power is embedded in a control pod on the cord. It’s rechargeable with a standard Micro-USB cable, and Bose pledges 16-hour battery life. Unlike the QC15s, however, the QC20s will continue steadily to produce sound — sans noise cancellation, of course — if the battery dies. (That sound is good in passive mode; everything just sounds boosted and a bit more dynamic when you start the NC.)

Bose QuietComfort 20 in-ear noise-canceling headphones (pictures)
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At the joint of the Y-cable resulting in the left and right earbuds is a smaller second remote for controlling volume. That one also offers the microphone to make calls and a switch for toggling what Bose calls “Aware mode.” Once engaged, it drastically ramps down the noise cancellation, to help you hear the exterior world — to speak to a flight attendant, for example. That is clearly a nice feature, and I thought the headphones performed perfectly as a headset.

The noise cancellation is pretty impressive. You don’t feel that a far more loose-fitting earbud such as this, which lets in as much sound since it does, works well as a dynamic noise-canceling headphone. Nonetheless it does. The headphone muffled most of the ambient NY street noise, and even though it can’t completely drown out subway noise, it did a fairly decent job.

The control pod and rechargeable battery are built-into the cord (the battery isn’t replaceable). Sarah Tew/CNET
Much like other Bose headphones, the sound is pretty good however, not great. The Bose sound signature is commonly safe. By that After all it’s made to take all you throw at it — all sorts of music, well recorded rather than so well recorded — and make it sound decent. Therefore the sound you get is nice and smooth however, not highly detailed. Even though you get a good amount of bass, it isn’t necessarily the tightest bass.

Of course, once you introduce active noise canceling to a headphone — and all of the digital processing it brings with it — you have a tendency to lose a small amount of sound quality. Noise-canceling headphones usually don’t sound as clean or clear as “passive” headphones, plus some introduce a faint hiss (though with the QC20s that hiss is quite minimal). Basically, if you’d prefer sound quality above other things, you probably shouldn’t get yourself a couple of noise-canceling headphones, and from a sound quality standpoint, the QC20s don’t measure to numerous in-ear models in the $300 cost range. This seriously isn’t a headphone that’s so excellent that you’d want to return and listen to all of your music collection merely to experience how it sounds with your favorite tunes.

The headphones easily put on the included travel case. Sarah Tew/CNET
But even though I’ve other, better-sounding headphones within my disposal, I still found myself gravitating toward using the QC20 as a day to day headphone as a result of how comfortable it had been and how it were able to muffle most of the NY street noise.

I also tested it on a plane ride to Seattle, even though I thought the entire noise reduction on the QC15 was slightly better, the QC20 was convenient, and its own in-ear, earbud-style design is wonderful for sleeping because you can rest your mind against a pillow or headrest with no your headphones getting back in just how. However, you could argue that going smaller has one potential drawback: you may well be more likely to reduce the QC20s when compared to a full-size pair. On the other hand, I have known persons who’ve left a good amount of larger items in seat pockets on planes, including iPads and QC15s.

The inline remote with microphone and ‘aware mode’ button privately. Sarah Tew/CNET
Some cons
OK, now for the downsides, plus they all involve the battery power and control pod on the cord. To begin with, it’s just a little awkward to really have the battery pack dangling from your own headphone. It is also worth noting that the battery isn’t replaceable, so once it peters out — and someday it’ll — you’re basically left with an MIE2i headphone with a dongle mounted on it. When I asked Bose about this, I acquired this detailed answer:

The lithium ion battery isn’t replaceable. The battery is likely to maintain steadily its full capacity (16 hours of customer use per charge) through 500 charging cycles. For much user who charges roughly every 2-3 days, this might be add up to about 3 years useful. After 500 charging cycles, the battery will continue steadily to recharge and operate the headphone, however the capacity will be reduced. This deterioration in capacity is common to all or any lithium ion batteries.
Lastly, if you forget to carefully turn off the noise cancellation, that i did several times, you’ll conclude with a dead battery overnight. Because of this price, there would ideally be some kind of computerized shut-off feature when the headphones aren’t used.

Close-up of the earphone and eartip. Sarah Tew/CNET
Despite those drawbacks, I liked the Bose QC20s a whole lot. Their sound may well not measure up from what you get from competing $300 in-ear headphones, nonetheless they sound good, are incredibly comfortable to wear, and provide excellent noise cancellation. In addition they take up hardly any room in your bag.

A lot of men and women will think they’re overpriced, and they’d be to think that. But also for a specific subset of the headphone-buying population, the QC20s are an outstanding product that’s strongly worth taking into consideration.

For instance, if you are a frequent traveler who doesn’t want to transport around a more substantial over-the-ear model just like the QuietComfort 15 or Beats Studio 2013 (which sounds much better than the QC15, however the noise-canceling isn’t nearly as good), the QC20 is a tempting alternative. It is also a great choice for someone who’s buying a strong noise-canceling headphone but doesn’t like wearing full-size headphones.

You need to be aware that as a result of the lifespan of the integrated lithium ion battery, that noise cancellation won’t work forever. If you are OK with that and do not mind their hefty price, I have no issue recommending the QC20s.