Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Average User Rating:
3.8/5,
  1. AutumnCrown
    4.5/5,
    "Comparison to the QC15 and Bose Soundtrue in-ear"
    Pros - As good noise cancellation as Bose's over-ear models; strong bass response; pretty comfortable
    Cons - Thinner sound than QC15; somewhat strident
    Build Quality: The build quality is exceptional. I have owned my pair of Bose Soundtrue in-ear headphones for about a year, and they have been pulled on, sat on, and generally abused, but they don't seem to be at all worse for wear. The QC20s have a similar design, except that they have much thicker cords, so I am not at all worried about the longevity of this pair of headphones.
     
    Comfort: The comfort is good, but not perfect. They do not sit quite as comfortably in my ears as the soundtrues (which are by far the most comfortable in-ears I have used). They penetrate somewhat further and are somewhat tighter feeling, though they are still plenty comfortable for a long flight if I don't jam them in too far. You may get better results than me, either with the default or the smaller or larger inserts provided. They are also a bit less comfortable than the QC15s and 25s. However, I tend to sleep leaning my head either to the side or leaning forward with my head on the tray table, and these allow a greater range of movements and head positions than the QC15.
     
    Noise Cancellation: Almost universally acknowledged to be the best there is, so there isn't much to say in this regard. They are certainly in the same league as the QC15 - perhaps even better, and from what I've heard, same with the QC25 as well. How good are they? Traffic becomes mostly inaudible. An airplane cabin becomes a room with an air conditioner.
     
    Sound:
    Soundstage: A pretty limited soundstage, but this is to be expected in a closed noise-cancelling headphone. They may be marginally better than the soundtrue, but are worse than the QC15 in this regard.
     
    Bass: Good bass response, deeper and bigger, though perhaps somewhat less smooth sounding than the Soundtrue or QC15.

    Mids: The weak point of the QC20s in my opinion. The mids here are thin and I wish it could perform as well as either the Soundtrue, which is good, or the QC15, which is pleasantly warm and detailed, in this regard. Not a dealbreaker though once the brain burn-in kicks in. I find the QC15 somewhat fatiguing in the way that Bose headphones typically are, where the pleasant warmth means a loss of fine detail and added muddiness. Perhaps the new QC25 is better in this regard. Thankfully, the QC20s don't have this at all. The upper mids are emphasized to the degree that they can sound strident.
     
    Treble: The treble response is strong, but not overly emphasized. In fact, it may seem recessed to those used to bright sounding headphones.
     
    Detail: I find them to be at least as detailed as the QC15s, and slightly better than the Soundtrue. 
     
    Overall sound: The QC20 is a somewhat bright, dry and analytical sounding headphone. It is a bit strident compared to the Soundtrue or QC15 at similar volume levels. If you prefer the typical warm, pleasant Bose sound, go for the QC15 instead. The QC15 does a better job in a lot of music, particularly pop and rock due to its warm, smooth mids. However, the QC20 did better than the QC15 when I listened to Beethoven's symphonies and Rachmaninoff's piano concertos, and Nick Drake's sparse vocals and guitar. 
     
    Conclusion: The QC20 is the in-ear headphone with the best noise cancellation, and the sound can be very good if you don't expect the world, or if you prefer music that favors a brighter than neutral, dry sounding headphone. If you prefer in-ear headphones due to their flexibility, get these over the QC15 or 25. However, if you prefer comfort over flexibility, you may prefer the over-ear headphones.
  2. enthusiast
    4.0/5,
    "NC works really well, but sound lacks through all of the frequency spectrum. (Update July 2015)"
    Pros - Build quality is very good and NC works fine.
    Cons - Sound is by all means not audiophile.
    Long-Term Usage Update July 2015
     
    After using the headphone for 3 months i need to do a revision of my original rating, and ameliorate my rating from 2.5 stars to 4 stars. I am coming to the conclusion that due to their extremely good noise cancellation these are the best day-to-day in-ears I owned so far. That feeling when you are on a bycicle in rush hour and don't hear enourmous trucks or loud engines from old cars rushing 3 meters next to you is almost undescribable and must be experienced. It is a lot like if sitting in a well-isolated BMW and listening to your favorite music, not recognizing the terror of rush hour noise on a 40mph (70 kmh) speed-limited 4-laned road. (In europe, 4 lanes are a lot!). At work, at home, everywhere I put these on, it is instant delight. Combine that with the relaxed, bassy signature sound of Bose and you are in relaxation heaven, no matter what happens around you. I became a lot more productive at work by using these headphones and only wish their sound would be a little more detailed or they could play a bit more louder, but the overall package is great and the high price tag is justified. In one word: Yes, they are a must-have.
     
    Original review
     
    I decided to do this review because of the uncertainty what you get in terms of sound when you get a product from the Bose brand.
     
    I own/ed:
     
    Headphones
    Sennheiser Adidas Sport
    Sennheiser Momentum
    Sennheiser HD 25-SP II
    Fostex TH-600
    Beyer 990 DT
    Beyer DT1350
    Sony In-Ears for €150
    Beyer T51i
     
    Loudspeakers
    Epos Speakers
    Bose Soundlink Mini
    Samson Rubicon
     
    Sources
    Creek
    RME
    Echo
    Apogee
    Focusrite
    Asus Xonar
    AudioEngine D1
     
    I bought the Bose 20i for about 240€ for the reason they are intended for. Let me explain: I work as a software engineer in an office that shares its room with a kitchen, a table soccer and a socialising area. Unbelievable right? Mangement does not understand that creating solutions in math and computer science needs silence, so they gave us these 20 eur headphones from IcyBox, a manufacturer of external HDD cases, crazy right? Needless to say the IcyBox Noise Canceling Over-Ears were buggy, heavy and clamping like a Boa Constrictor after a 2-week hunger strike. So I went for the 20i from Bose and the QC25 which are yet to arrive.
     
    Sound Quality
    I did A/B test them against the Beyer T51i, on very well made, extremely open sounding headphone with remote control and portable as well. As source I used my iPhone 4s which has a well made soundchip in it, I think Cirrus Logic, not sure bout that. I also plugged them in into the AudioEngine D1 which is one of the best DACs I owned so far and sounds on par with Apogee converters.
     
    After seeing Mike Stern live in Innsbruck, Austria I had to throw the CD I bought from Mike at them. Format of the files were is OGG Vorbis, which is after Apple's AAC the best mobile digital format I can think of, bar none.
     
    To let the Genie out of the bottle, the Bose are no audiophile headphones. Guitars of Eric Johnson and Stern sound lean and thin in comparison to the Beyer. When you plug in the Beyers it is like a curtain is lifted, all that resolution. Yet - the sound is very different and it is an unfair test, I know. Bose's sound signature is supposed to be a relaxed, laid-back one. And in that terms they deliver. You will get the signature Bose sound, meaning, they are listenable, not harsh and there is a good level of detail, voices and lots of ompfh-Bass. I liked it. But don't mistake these for Audiophile Phones. When I plugged them into the iPhone, sound quality considerably went south, throwing Laura Marling at them, details get muffled away, imaging is maybe 15% of the Beyers On-ears, which were cheaper than the Bose by the way. Yet, when properly ampliefied the Bose can sing if they want to, meaning, you need the right kind of music for them. I did not like how they reproduced HipHop or Laura Marling on the iPhone, yet with Mike Stern and the AudioEngine, guitars sounded great, but keep in mind Sterns recordings are top-notch and would very likely even sing on some sub-100€ ghetto blaster. No offense, but the Bose is doin nothing out of the ordinary here, there are also some spikes and Muffles around some frequencies in the mids and highs. Cymbals sound very muffled and distorted. Sorry to dissapoint. On the upside electronical music like the next-gen one at SoundCloud was very listenable. Overall they sound OK, certainly not more than OK, so I rate them 2 points for sound. To be honest, in terms of audiophility, sound rating should be 1 star only, but hey they are Bose so I turn a blind eye here.
     
    NC
    This is why they get 2.5 stars from me overall. Noise Cancelation works really well, they will block a lot of noise! Let it be heavy doors that are getting closed, let it be the keys clicking on my loud mechanical keyboard or mouse clicks, let it be water running, or a tea water cooker. So yes, NC works great, and even when you play no sound, but then you will be able to hear the static, which you probably hear in every NC phone on the market. I really have to take these to work to judge them in a ultra loud environment but my guess is, they will excel.
     
    Comfort
    These are comfortable headphones for sure. So the label QC - Quite Comfort is not a lie. Compared to my Sony in ears, which do not nearly sound as muffled and toned down as the Bose 20i - and did cost half - I would say they are maybe a bit more uncomfortable than a tiny in ear like the Sony. I did not find any small tips in the packaging of the Bose, but then again I did not search for them, since the ones pre-fitted on the Bose are a good match to my ears. The little silicon ear flaps on the headphones to a good job, keeping them in your ear, and the little clamp on the cable does a great job as well. Cable is a bit short for my taste, but it will be enough from your jeans poket to your ear. Btw. the paint job on the cable is aweful, it is ugly, oh yes, it is. Why, Bose, why?
     
    So in conclusion a well-made and overpriced phone (for its sub-standart sound), comfort is great, and Noise Cancellation works marvelously well. If Bose could manage to raise the sound quality on the next generation, it might be worth another review.
     
    Thanks for reading!
    --
    http://meshfields.de
  3. yialanliu
    4.0/5,
    "No competition so only option"
    Pros - Best noise cancellation out there to be honest...
    Cons - Uncomfortable for long usage
    So I bought these because I wanted to sleep and I can't sleep with over ear headphones on a window seat since the moment you put pressure on the bands, it goes haywire(the noise cancellation).
    These solved that issue.
     
    However, I can only keep them in for 2-3 hours before my ears hurt. I tried both the medium and small tips and it still hurt. So for me, I had to return them. But other than that they are good.
     
    Honestly, if you are buying these for sound, then look elsewhere. Only reason to buy these is for the long flights you have.
  4. dbdchc
    4.5/5,
    "Arguably the most practical headphone purchase one can make"
    Pros - Comfort, noise cancellation, very good sound quality in spite of noise cancellation, aware mode (surprisingly not a complete gimmick), durable cable
    Cons - Sound quality not the best in class for price (understandably so), clunky battery pack, not a fan of the color scheme, cable memory (trade-off)

     
     
    Please disregard the sliders on the left hand side, as they are broken.
     
    Prefatory Notes:
    I purchased this product and am therefore not so easily oblivious to the effects of buyer’s remorse potentially inflicted upon me, unlike those who received free review units and are more liable to completely fall prey to the novelty of new gear.    I say this so that prospective readers looking to find out if the QC20/QC20i is a worthy purchase can read about it from someone in a more relatable position, which is invariably less in those who received free review units.  I have nothing against reviewers who receive free review units, except that I can't help but feel the need to scale their findings down a bit due to the inherent bias in avoiding the route of purchase.
                   Lastly, this is my first Bose product purchase (and noise cancelling headphone purchase), which precludes me from being a Bose fan-boy.  My impression/expectations going into this purchase was that the noise cancellation would be far above average with excellent comfort at the justified expense of some sound quality.   In addition, I purchased the QC20 which is the android/blackberry/windows friendly version.  The only difference between the version I purchased and the QC20i is the application of the play/pause/volume adjusting remote buttons and in-line mic, which I didn't use.
                   I don't consider myself an audiophile, but I do share a great appreciation for music and our various means of listening to it.   What I regularly listen to consists of my Spotify account with the highest available download quality, as well as various MP3/flac/wav files.  This is my first written review, so feel free to provide comments/criticism regarding the format of my review and how I can make it better.
                   So far, I have spent about a couple months with these headphones, and I will detail what I’ve found while using them as coherently as I possibly can.
     
    Introduction:
    Unless you’re a news reporter or an audio engineer, you probably want headphones more than you actually need them. I draw the distinction between needing and wanting headphones because if you're among those of us who purchase them out of want, the QC20/QC20i is likely going to be the most practical choice.  
                   The reason, in short, is that the QC20/QC20i has the capacity to be less isolating than an earbud, yet as isolating as a well-fitting silicone tip In-Ear-Monitor (via switchable modes at the press of a button), all with nearly as much comfort as an earbud, and with nearly as much stability as an over-ear worn IEM due to Bose’s proprietary eartips.   To my ears, they’re not quite at the sound quality provided by the JVC FX850 (in my opinion one of the best IEMs in the price bracket for those who like an incredibly natural and tastefully bass-emphasized sound signature), but I didn’t expect them to be, and the differences are not as apparent in noisy environments.  They are easily drivable from a smartphone/tablet, which goes almost without saying considering the target market.
                   What comes with the package is a series of small, medium and large ear tips (medium is attached by default), an instructional booklet, soft case (probably better suited to be a coin purse) and a registration manual in the event that a warranty needs to be activated.  Last but not least, the earphones are included as well.
     
    Notes on the comfort/materials:
    The cable consists of a thick and durable (so far, anyway) gray/white swirl pattern coming from the ear pieces and into the plastic y-split remote, followed by another length of cable into a wafer-sized rectangle that houses the rechargeable battery and on/off toggle switch.  The remaining length of cable ends at diminutive 90 degree angled plug that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.  However, for people who plan on using the QC20 with a smartphone, the plug will fit the vast majority of smartphone cases.   As far as cable microphonics is concerned, it isn't completely absent, but it isn't painfully distracting either.  I would advise using the included shirt clip to further reduce the incidence of microphonics.
                   At this price point, the current standard would warrant the implementation of detachable cables.  However, I think it’s forgivable that they’re not available in this package due to the complications provided by the noise cancelling circuitry.  In addition, the cable seems durable enough for long term usage due to the cable quality and thickness. While it’s a soft and flexible rubber material, it’s prone to somewhat annoying levels of cable memory.  This means that in order to maintain an ideal fit, one would have to rotate the ear pieces one way or another with each use.
                   The control module that houses the battery and on/off switch can be a bit cumbersome to use at first, but some very inexpensive dual-locking Velcro solves the problem rather handily.  Even with the fix, there’s still enough cable for the average person to use comfortably without any discernible pulling (I’m 5’11 for reference). 
                    The proprietary ear tips take a bit of getting used to.  They’re a bit less comfortable than typical earbuds, but they feel substantially more forgettable than the typical universal IEM.  I have no problems using either, but when it comes to wearing to sleep, the QC20/QC20i is far more comfortable than IEMs.  I was most comfortable with the medium size winged tips and as much as I would swing my head/neck from side to side, they wouldn’t pop out.  At first, I did experience some soreness after about 3 hours, but after repeated sessions my ears grew used to the winged tips. 
                   I’m not sure if the QC20/QC20i would necessarily hold up for long in the rigor of a workout, but they do seem handle my daily pedestrian commute quite capably.  Overall, I found the QC20/QC20i are very light and comfortable enough for long-term use.  They might not be the be-all end-all of earphone comfort, but they're certainly closer to that end of the spectrum than not.
     
    Sound Quality/Noise Cancellation/Aware Mode:
    I have to admit, I’m not very good at describing what it is I hear, but I’ll try my best.  Given that the QC20/QC20i more closely resembles an earbud than an IEM in terms of comfort, ergonomics and passive isolation, I wasn’t expecting a great deal of bass extension.   However, with the noise cancellation activated, I was surprised to hear how deep the bass extended, which lends itself to having a rather expansive soundstage.   There isn’t a great deal of bass quantity, which means that bassheads (I don’t use the term pejoratively) most likely won’t be satisfied without some software equalization, but it reaches way deeper than I anticipated.   Upon closer examination, I didn’t feel that any of the frequencies were competing against each other for dominion, leading me to think that the headphone is closer to neutral than focusing on any particular frequency range, and I’m confident that there were no issues with the seal (or else the sound would have become noticeably tinny and diffuse).  To my ears, they sound balanced and devoid of sibilance, although they aren’t quite as detailed as the FX850, my similarly priced comparison.   I hesitate to say that trebleheads (I don’t use this term pejoratively either) won’t be 100% satisfied either, but they disappoint far less than I think most would expect, given the reputation that the predecessor Bose noise cancelers have projected towards their reproduction of the upper frequency.   Also, I think it's important to note that despite my earlier mention that the QC20/QC20i more closely resemble earbuds in terms of passive isolation, they leak practically no sound except at levels exceeding safe listening volumes.
                   As a side note, you’ll get approximately 14-16 hours of usage on a full battery (taking into consideration how many hours are used consecutively as well as the slow passive drain that happens when not in use).  I charge it around once every 4 days to a week, and a flashing indicator will let you know that a charge will be soon required.   Also, the battery pack is not replaceable, which means that after approximately 500 charges the maximum capacity of the lithium ion battery will unfortunately begin to decrease.  However, with a semiweekly charge, the battery will not degrade until nearly five years of use.   In my opinion, that's a fair amount of longevity for something of this price and utility.
                    The noise cancellation to my ears is about as good as a properly fitted universal silicone IEM tip on a non-vented IEM, although it leaves the higher frequency more untouched than the lower frequency environmental noise.   Considering that the QC20/QC20i by its very nature is closer to an earbud than it is an IEM, that level of cancellation is quite remarkable.  There is a minor hiss with the noise cancellation activated, but it's capable of eliminating far more than the hiss adds, and is incidentally pleasant enough (in my opinion) to drown out most external noises that may interrupt sleep. Granted, this isn’t isolation on the level of Custom IEMs or Etymotic triple-flange, but it’s quite good and absent the hassle of customization (for CIEMS) or the feeling of corking your ears, thereby turning your IEMs into a stethoscope for microphonics (an issue with Etymotics triple-flange ear tips). To put the level of noise cancellation into perspective, I can still hear my music mostly unaffected and with very mild distraction in the event of an approaching train.   For all of the noise that it's not able to block, it will sound very distant due to the missing lower frequency noise and is thus easy to selectively disregard. 
                   I’ve read elsewhere in the forums that these aren’t isolating enough for the intensity of New-York train commutes, but for everything else they should get the job done.  One thing to note is that in pressure variable areas like being inside of a car as the doors are closing causes an odd and unexpected pop when the noise cancellation is already activated.
                   The aware mode is probably the most unique feature about this headphone that you won’t get in any other within the noise cancelling realm or otherwise (at least to my knowledge).  The side button on the y-split remote, when pressed, will cause the noise cancellation microphones to instead become open windows into the surrounding environment. The music or whichever media will still be playing as is, but will be noticeably more subdued (unless the outside environment is already relatively quiet) due to the re-entrance of the environmental noise.  This makes conversational interactions less cumbersome because you won’t be needing to reinsert the earphones in order to respond (a huge bonus for me considering how finicky the cable can sometimes be), and the split second reaction time that conversation requires will benefit from this convenience, at least  in my experience.  It's also a great benefit to have in the midst of traffic-intensive pedestrian commutes when situational awareness is paramount.  The environmental noise filtering in won’t sound especially natural, but it's close enough without having to sacrifice one's music entirely.
                    With the noise cancelling off, the sound quality is without question diminished, but the availability of use in the event of a rundown battery is nice, as it’s not a readily available feature in a lot of noise cancelers. The listening experience is not terrible, but it's not nearly as good as with the noise cancellation activated. 
     
    Final Notes:
    All of that said, if you’re looking to purchase a pair of earbuds/IEMs/headphones purely for sound quality and little else, this is not the best purchase for your money.   However, if you’re looking the full package of having great isolation and comfort with decent sound quality, the surprisingly less than gimmicky aware mode, along with a company that stands behind its products (or so I’ve heard but haven’t yet needed to test),  I do recommend this product as it succeeds in those criteria.  As of this review, you’ll be able to purchase the QC20/QC20i for about a hundred dollars less than retail on E-bay, but reserve some caution for the possibility of fakes.  Try to avoid buying used (unless you want to try your luck), because one surefire way to detect a fake from a genuine product is the presence/absence of the plastic outer-wrapping.  
                   Also, I neglected to go over the features offered by the non-aware-mode remote buttons and the in-line microphone because I used the QC20/20i out of a portable dac/amp rig (Smartphone, Pico Slim, HIFIMEDIY Sabre Dac).  Based on the feel of the switches, I imagine it’s very standard fare and nothing to really write home about, though they are nice features to have.  I'll continually add more to this review the more I use them.
     
    UPDATE:
    I've started using the microphone and play/pause buttons and they've become so convenient that I've ditched the bulk of the microUSB dac and Pico Slim in order to wear these out and about.  The increase in overall convenience is amazing and the detraction in sound quality when listening to them amidst environmental noise is practically indistinguishable. 
     
    UPDATE #2:
    Clocked in several hundred hours of usage and they're still holding strong.  I haven't been doing anything super taxing, just walking commutes, but they've exceeded my expectations. 
    Nek8888 likes this.
  5. Huckle
    2.0/5,
    "Really disappointing IEM"
    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) :wink:
     
     
    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.
     
     
    Comfort
    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 :wink:. 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.
    Cheers,