Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

General Information

Shut out the world and lose yourself in your music - or let the world in. It's your choice with the first in-ear noise cancelling headphones from Bose. The Quiet Comfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones are engineered to let you enjoy better sound every day, everywhere you go. Turn on noise cancelling to reduce surrounding distractions and focus on your music. Or choose Aware mode to continue enjoying your music while also hearing what's going on around you. Inside these advanced headphones, exclusive Tri Port technology brings your music to life. Additional exclusive technologies provide dramatic noise cancellation rivaling any full-sized headphone on the market today. The proprietary Stay Hear+ tips create a soft, secure fit - with no need to force them into your ears. The inline mic/remote lets you easily control your iPhone, iPod or iPad. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides up to 16 hours of use, and a USB charging cable is included. And even when the power is off or the battery runs out, you can still use these headphones to enjoy Bose quality sound. What's in the Box Quiet Comfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones 3 pairs Stay Hear+ tips (S, M, L) Clothing clip Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and USB charging cable Carrying case.

Latest reviews

Pros: Comfortable in ear, noise cancellation is sublime (to me, it feels better than NC in Bose QC35)
Cons: Sound is unimpressive and also muffled in some sources, needs a good source to get the most out of the sound
The aware feature and the noise cancelling on these buds is simply amazing. I was very very surprised when I first put them on. I also have a pair of QC35s and to be honest, I was more impressed by the noise cancelation on these than on the 35s.

The biggest downside to these buds is the price and the sound, I was really expecting a much. much better sound coming from $250 earphones. Don't get me wrong, these by no means sound bad, but they don't sound great either.
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.
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!
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http://meshfields.de

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