Really disappointing IEM

A Review On: Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Rated # 7 in Noise-Canceling
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Noise Cacellation
Posted · 10667 Views · 4 Comments

Pros: Comfort

Cons: Low sound quality ; noisy noise canceling mode

Hi everyone,

I spend so many hours reading your reviews that when I saw there wasn't any for the Bose QuietComfort 20i NC, I decided to write my first review ever.

So please be kind with me, I'm not a pro (and not a native neither) ;-)



You have to know...

...I'm not a huge fan of Bose products. I tend to find them expensive and not great sounding at all, with fake and disturbing bass and really unpredictable highs.




I never liked in ear headphones. Somehow, they never fit my ears and after 5 or 10 minutes I've always felt the need to remove the ones I wore. I'm not talking about this awful cable noise... Well, this was before I tested the Quiet comfort 20. Those are the most comfortable in ear I wore so far. It's probably due to their very clever sleeves made of soft silicon : they got a small extension that seals them in your ear but not profoundly at all. The result is I can wear them for hours and especially when I try to find sleep. Of course it never will be as comfortable as over the ears cans for me but hey : 9/10.


Sound quality

Noise canceling mode OFF : awful sound. Very muddy, no soundstage at all : the QC20 are clearly made to be listened to with noise canceling mode ON : 0/10.


Noise canceling mode ON : much better. For a Bose product, the bass doesn't sound fake and its extension is slightly better than average. The mids sound very flat to my hear and I had no fun at all listening to this particular frequencies. Highs are not so badly controled : of course, you won't have the precision you can have with the Audio Technica AD 900X for example, but it's not so bad. Regarding the sound quality, the main problem comes from the huge lack of details and soundstage : 5/10.


Noise canceling

= the reason you want to buy those very expensive iem. Well... Sure, it works, especially with the low frequencies (you can still hear voices and metallic sounds, for example). But the craziest thing is the noise canceling mode produces ...noise by itself ! It's not huge, but you'll sure hear it when the music is not ON and once you've noticed it, it's very disturbing : 4/10.


Conclusion = 4.5/10

Really disappointing iem. Neither the sound quality and the noise canceling are satisfying and I'm sure you don't want to buy iem only for their comfort ;-). I'm still waiting for the next improvements though because somehow if the noise produced by the noise canceling mode disapeared, and if the sound quality was slightly improved, especially in the mids, well, the QC20 would be a nice pick.


Hope this review could be useful to some of you.



Picked up a pair today.  None of the tips fit at all, so basically I'm listening to a $300 pair of poorly fitting earbuds.  Awful and no returns...
Thanks for the taking the time to write this review.  That said, I have a few questions. 
First, what kind of results were you expecting with the noise canceling? 
In my opinion, the critique of the active noise cancelling circuit in the QC20i should be compared mainly with those of other noise cancelling headphones because that is the demographic this headphone is targeting.  
Second, do you have experience with other active noise cancelling headphones to compare with in order to arrive at your opinion?  
I ask because if your point of reference is passive isolation from other types of headphones then it becomes a bit of an unfair comparison. 
Third, did you take into consideration the sacrifices and gains made when switching between IEMs and earbuds? 
Earbuds like these Bose are designed to be very comfortable and compared to other earbuds, these isolate a great deal more.   Compared to IEMs, which demand a deeper insertion and are therefore less comfortable to a lot of people, the fact that the QC20i has similar isolation levels (provided that a proper fit is possible, which is unfortunate for people like KraftD1 when it isn't)  is remarkable in and of itself for an earbud to achieve.
Fourth, why did you choose a headphone like AD900x to compare to Bose earbuds? 
If you were expecting them to have similar sound quality purely by virtue of price, I think you expected too much of the QC20i.   Plus, the QC20i serve different purposes as the AD900x as the latter can only be used at home amidst complete silence while the former has a greater number of possible use cases. 
Noise cancelling producing noise is a byproduct of the active circuitry and isn't really a flaw if you are familiar enough with the technology to expect it.   It's really not disturbing in the least, and the amount of noise eliminated as a result tends to be far greater than the additional noise from that feature.  
One thing to note with noise cancelling headphones is that active noise cancelling tends to have an invariably negative effect on the overall sound quality.  The QC20i obviously aren't the best earphones I've ever heard, but I think they're remarkably good, especially with how comfortable they are compared to IEMs (though I have no problem with IEMs whatsoever).
Hi dbdchc,
Sorry, it tooks me some time to notice your comment...
With noise canceling technology, I expect a noise reduction around 90 % at least (I don’t forget this kind of items are really expensive…) but I sure need the technology to be silent at 100 %. Let’s say with Qc20 the first part of the job is done and well done, but not the second one, and it’s unfortunately really disturbing to my ears.
My experience with other noise cancelling headphones is not huge, but I tried some : the Qc 15 (poor sound quality to my ears and disturbing « emprisonment feeling » when active mode is on) ; the Sony MDR 1RNC (good sound, great built quality but audible high frequencies interferences when active mode is on) ; and cheaper products like AKG’s or Audio Technica’s. I have to admit none of them were good enough on the sound quality aspect AND the noise canceling mode for me to seal a deal. I still got great expectations from the PXC 450, but I never had the chance to test it… But I’m thinking about ordering one, these days, and that’s the reason why I noticed your comment on head-fi today ;-)
I was probably a bit tough in my review, but my disappointment was as high as my expectations were. I mean : perfect noise cancelling cans are my dream, really (trouble sleeping, boring job etc.), and as far I’m concerned, I don’t have the feeling that the technology is ready. I got great expectations for the near future though, and that’s the reason why my review tend to end on a positive note.
My best,
PS. Yes, I tried the different ear buds without any change ;
PS 2. My bad to have used the AD900X example, let’s take IE80 instead, or even the cheapest RHA MA750.
NC works awesome on these headphones. If you are a friend of cool gadgets you will love these. They do cancel some sound, surely not all of it. You were expecting 90%? Get real. But I would say 70% is quite awesome. If you expect some futuristic NC technology of the year 2080 you should not expect this from a €240 product.
In terms of sound quality I agree, expect the bass is very false, it is overblown and fat, not true to the sound at all. Yes the SQ on these are a downer, but they can sing and can be fun if you power them properly. So if you plan to use them with some cheap mobile-phone DAC or with a computer stereo out from your AC97 motherboard soundchip better don't buy these.