Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling In-Ear Headphone Review

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It was fortunate that when Bose introduced its flagship noise cancelling QC 25 over-ear headphones, that wasn’t the only offering that would get some noise-cancelling love. The company managed to fit the technology into an in-ear model, the QuietComfort 20. You might also like our 6 of the best in-ear headphones list.

I think how cool that is speaks for itself. In-ears are tiny, and it seems incredible that Bose could implement the feature while maintaining an earpiece footprint that is not too different from normal earphones (and at the same price-point as its much bigger brother). Continue our Bose QC 20 review to discover what these noise cancelling headphones are all about.

Bose QC 20 Specs

Frequency RangeUnknown
ImpedanceUnknown
Cable Length52"
Carrying Casegreen-check-mark
Eartip SizesS, M, L
Rechargeable Batterygreen-check-mark
Battery Life16 hours of playback
Charge Time2 hours
In-line Remote/Micgreen-check-mark
Price$299

Design

Like the QC 25, the build of the QC 20 is smooth, hard plastic. They’re oval-shaped and not too far from your traditional earpiece. A stem extends downward and thins down to a rubbery stress relief before you get to the cable.

Bose QC 20
Although the QC 20 can do noise cancellation, the earpiece shape/size isn’t much different from typical earphones.

The QC 20 is available in two color variants, black or white. The black unit (which we have) has a dark grey panel on the outer surface. If you look closely, you’ll see little holes all about it. Assumingly, the open design allows the noise cancellation to work.

The eartip is rather unique-looking; made out of soft and flexible silicone. It fastens onto the earpiece over the audio stem and around a notch for a doubly secure fit. There’s an ear fin on one end of the tip (which hugs within your ear, for extra support) and a flange that goes into your ear canal.

Bose QC 20
The eartips are not the easiest to remove, but they have a super-secure fit.

The cord material is a standard, rubbery affair. However, it has a little bit of flare from a green-colored lining that wraps around the entire length.

Bose generously throws in a rectangular, soft carrying case. It’s made out of a neoprene fabric and secured by a zipper. Inside, you find a short microUSB to USB cable (for charging the battery used for noise cancellation) and two extra eartips of different sizes.

Bose QC 20
Included soft carrying case has sufficient space and includes two additionally-sized eartips. It’s padded for protection and zips up.

Features

Bose uses the remote/mic component as the y-splitter for the earpieces. We’re used to getting 3-button remotes, but the QC 20 adds on a fourth button to toggle voice recognition functions, like Siri or Google Now. Only, make sure that you get the correct variant of the QC 20 for the ecosystem that you use. There’s separate Apple and Android versions.

Bose QC 20
4-button remote/mic on the cable’s y-splitter provides playback control (play/pause, volume up/down) and voice recognition functions (i.e. Siri or Google Now).

There’s another component further down the cord, close to the headphone jack. It’s an in-line battery that powers the active noise cancellation. The function is pretty simple. There’s only an on/off switch, for when you do/don’t want to active the feature.

Bose QC 20
In-line noise-cancellation unit. It’s slim, lightweight, and has its own Li-ion rechargeable battery. The blue switch on the side turns it on/off.

Usability

The fit of the QC 20 eartips is a little unconventional. Earphone tips typically go well into the ear canal and seal it. These don’t go in that deep. Hence, the flanges are wider to ensure there’s enough material to fill the space (or sound will leak).

The cable is considerately lengthy, at 52″. To help with the management of the long cable, Bose included a clip that can slide about the cable (detachable).

Bose QC 20
In-line clip (detachable) can be used for cable management or shirt attachment.

The battery unit has two LED indicators when you turn it on. They signify that the battery is running and the noise cancellation is active. The battery LED will also let you know when you’re almost out of juice.

Bose QC 20
Charge the noise-cancellation unit via a microUSB port on the side. Bose includes a 12″ microUSB to USB cable.

It’s a rechargeable Li-ion battery. You charge via a microUSB port on the side. Recharging time from an empty battery takes 2 hours. Bose says that a full battery will give you about 16 hours of playback. Fortunately, if you run out of battery, the earphones will still function. You just won’t get active noise cancellation.

Speaking of which, the noise cancellation works as well as I’ve ever heard from Bose. The technology’s efficiency isn’t compromised because of the QC 20’s small size. It’s still the real deal. If you haven’t used active noise cancellation before, just be aware that it doesn’t block out all external noises. It is efficient at cancelling out the low/mid-range frequencies, but higher-pitches noises still get through.

Sound

If you’ve heard a pair of Bose headphones before, you’ll be in familiar territory with the QC 20. They do a great job in maintaining Bose’s signature sound. What I really like about it is that it’s balanced and neutral. In other words, it doesn’t emphasize a particular frequency range, but let’s them all shine equally.

Bose QC 20
The QC 20 are made for portability and phone use. The in-line noise-cancellation unit looks relatively large, but it is lightweight and doesn’t really interfere with usability.

At the same time, it’s not a completely “reference” sound approach. The audio has a strong precense and is totally engaging. There’s enough detail to suit analytical listeners and enough oomph to suit folks who prioritize the listening experience.

The QC 20 aren’t compromised because they’re earphones either. They sound just as impactful to me as the QC 25 over-ears. Vocals are front and center and you feel the notes hit. However, the over-ears do give a slight edge over soundstage. It’s harder to reproduce an encompassing experience with earphones, but it’s still decently done. Interestingly, I found that the sub-bass delivery was more present than on the over-ear variant; it makes the bass feel fuller and deeper.

Regarding the sound quality between the noise cancellation on or off: I noticed the same behavior as noted for the QC 25. The sound appears slightly muffled with the feature off as compared to it on. Maybe that’s just a necessary evil of the technology. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, as people buy it to use the noise cancellation.

Final Thoughts

If you value portability and sound isolation, I have to say that the QC 20 must be a consideration. There aren’t many earphones out there that have active noise cancellation, nor that would do it this well.

Fortunately, that’s not the only thing it excels at. The overall device is thought-out. It has a sturdy build, comfortable fit, long cable, 4-button remote, and a long-lasting and rechargeable battery. The sound’s reproduction surfaces details accurately and the tuning is made to be engaging and fun. These headphones are a really safe bet if you’re in the market for good, maybe not the best in-ear noise-canceling headphones.

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Josh Noriega

I'm a tech enthusiast with a particular love for Android. I enjoy discovering new devices and features that add to our lives. My passion also extends to headphones, having an analytical ear. I'm thorough in my critiquing and provide valuable insight in my product reviews.

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One Comment

  1. Bad warranty – Break easily
    I purchased the QuietComfort in 2014 – my warranty finish in march 2015 – In may 2016 the left earbud started to making bass distorsion noise when noise cancellation was activated. The answer from Bose – you have to pay 209$ to replace it. Bad policies for an over expansive product – Do not buy

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