Review – Bose QC20

Anthony Caruana
11 January, 2016
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Bose QC20



comfort; sound quality


a little cumbersome



Until recently, noise-cancelling headphones were quite bulky and relied on covering your entire ear in order to insulate you from ambient noise. Earbuds struggled to properly block sound out – until now.

The Bose QC20 buds tick most of the boxes for a set of earbuds for travellers and those looking for a compact yet high quality listening device. The silicone earpieces fit well in our ears. Unlike most buds, the unusual moulding, which Bose calls its StayHear+ tips, look like something from a sci-fi prop room. However, they formed a tight seal with our ear canal and didn’t fall out while we were walking around. Even after wearing the QC20s for a couple of hours, we didn’t feel any discomfort.

The active noise-cancelling electronics are housed in a rectangular module that is about 2cm from the end of the 3.5mm headphone jack. That’s where the power switch is found, as well as an LED to indicate the charging status and battery level, and another to let you know the headphones are properly connected.

An inline control houses a volume control, as well as a central button that works as a play/pause control or answer/hang-up button. There’s also another button that disables the active noise-cancelling capability – a handy feature if battery life is limited.

Sound quality was excellent. We tested the QC20s in a number of different situations. While sitting on a plane, where the ambient noise of the engines can be a real hindrance to enjoying music or movies, the active noise-cancelling was very effective. The steady hum of the engines was all but removed. We found we could use the headphones, even disconnected from a music or movie source, just to dull the sound so we could rest.

While sitting in cafés, airport lounges and other environments where there’s a hubbub of background sound, the QC20s performed admirably, providing us with some relief so we could listen to our tunes while working or enjoying some relaxation time.

We listened to lots of different musical genres, movies and TV shows on our iPhone, MacBook and iPad. In all cases, we found the sound quality to be excellent. While true audiophiles may scoff at using earbuds to listen to music, we think they may be pleasantly surprised at the richness of the sound.

Unlike many of the headphones we test, Bose hasn’t tuned the QC20s to deliver excessive bass. Aside from ensuring the music we listened to was reproduced accurately, our experience is we can listen to music or watch a movie for a longer period before feeling any discomfort.

Active noise cancellation relies on power. The control module on the QC20s houses a lithium ion battery that Bose boasts will deliver 16 hours of playtime on a two-hour charge. The battery is sealed in the unit and, therefore, not replaceable. Charging is via a micro-USB cable that’s stashed in the neat zip case Bose includes with the QC20s.

What didn’t we like? That control module makes it difficult to put your iPhone in your pocket while connected to the QC20s. As it’s only a couple of centimetres from the end of the cable, it hangs somewhat awkwardly in our view. However, given the sound quality, portability and comfort, this is a relatively minor quibble.

At almost $400, the Bose QC20 headphones are priced at the premium end of the market. You can get your hands on the QC25 headphones for the same price if you don’t like buds. But if you like buds, then the QC20s will fit the bill for a set of noise-cancelling headphones if you have the budget.

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