Table of Contents_
It was fortunate that when Bose introduced its flagship noise-canceling QC 25 over-ear headphones, that wasn’t the only offering that would get some noise-canceling 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 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-canceling headphones are all about. And also check out what all the best headphones are all about too.
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.
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.
Related: If you like these headphones, you might be interested in our Bose Quietcomfort 25 Noise Cancelling Over-Ear Headphone review.
The ear tip 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.
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.
Related: Also check out our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
Bose generously throws in a rectangular, soft carrying case. It’s made out of 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 ear tips of different sizes.
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.
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 activate the feature.
The fit of the QC 20 ear tips 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).
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.
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.
If you’ve heard of 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 lets them all shine equally.
At the same time, it’s not a completely “reference” sound approach. The audio has a strong presence 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 the 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 technology. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, as people buy it to use the noise cancellation.
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.