Battery life limitations, a lack of visceral confidence in a reliable connection and diminished sonic fidelity has kept me from fully embracing Bluetooth in-ear phones. The Shure SE215 are good though. If these concerns mimic your own, you may have the same change of attitude I did after hearing and experiencing the new Bose QuietControl 30 in-ear, active noise canceling (ANC) Bluetooth earphones. Bose claims the QC30s, due to go on sale in September at a typically Bose pricey $299.95, will be the most advanced in-ear headphones ever. For once, a company’s hyperbole may be matched by reality.
I got a chance to demo the QC30s at Bose’s introductory event. While looking forward to a full-throated, real-world review experience in a couple of months, I can already pronounce the QC30s will change the way consumers and the headphone industry views Bluetooth and noise canceling phones.
The QC30s are not the first headphones to combine Bluetooth and noise canceling, but they are the first in-ear headphone models with both conveniences. They’re also the first with a collar-type design, ensuring a longer (10 hour) listening life than most around-the-neck, and will be the first with a brand new technology—adjustable noise cancellation.
So the question remains: will the Bose QC30s make our best noise canceling headphone list?
Adjusting to Your Surroundings
Normally, ANC headphones are thought of primarily as airplane engine noise solutions, to be discarded once on the ground for perhaps more convenient or higher-fidelity wired headphones. After all, wearing ANC headphones when you’re out and about, when being aware of your surroundings is more important than complete isolation, can actually be bad for your well-being.
Out and about on the ground is where the value of the QC30’s ANC adjustment comes in. The in-line controls on the right cord include not only standard volume up/down, but a second adjacent toggle to shift the ANC level anywhere from 0 (minimal) to 100 (full); the ANC will also be able to be adjusted via the Bose Connect app, which will be updated when the QC30s hit store shelves. Bose blared the sounds of the Boston subway while we wore the QC30s; as we adjusted from none to full, the noise slowly dissipated then magically disappeared completely.
In the real world, however, it’s not the raising of the ANC levels that I find compelling, but the lowering of them. Being able to adjust what you can hear of the outside world will help you to be more ambient aware, to hear announcements or alarms or if someone is simply trying to get your attention. With the ANC down to 0—but not quite off—I could still hear the murmur of conversation of the event around me.
As noted, the QC30s are in the around-the-neck collar-style pioneered by LG’s HBS-series earphones. The collar allows Bose to provide the QC30s its 10-hour Bluetooth/ANC battery life and to tuck away the ANC circuitry; other ANC earphones include a clunky and inelegant in-line box with separate controls.
Unlike the LG HBSs, the cords and earpieces of the QC30 do not spring-retract into the collar, but dangle and drape across your collarbone when not in your ears. But the collar is feather-light. Along with many reporters, I forgot I had them on and had to be gently reminded to remove and return them.
When in your ears, the QC30s include three sizes of Bose’s snug StayHear+ silicon tips along with ear lobe wings to stabilize the fit. It does take a bit of an initial procedure to insert and secure the winged earpieces so they’re both secure and comfortable—and they are. But done once means easy repeating.
Their compact size, along with their active noise cancelation adjustment capability, make them even more ideal for airplane carry-on and usage than their bulkier over-the-ear Quiet Comfort counterparts.
Like many Bluetooth phones, the QC30s give you a voice battery level update so you’re not caught short on power in the middle of your usage. NFC also is included for easier pairing to NFC-equipped Android devices. (Apple uses NFC only for point-of-sale Apple Pay.)
Based on my experience with previous QuietComfort over-the-ear phones with which the QC30s share the same ANC technology, the QC30s, aided by their physical in-ear canal-blocking, should likely eliminate the 85–105db of airplane engine hum.
Equipped with dual mic pickups, Bose claims the QC30s will hear and transmit only what is spoken into them near your cheek and reject any surrounding cacophony, human, machine or nature; of course, their ANC will make incoming voices clearer. Not only will both ends of the conversation contain less “can you hear me now,” but Siri or OK Google commands, as well as dictation, will be better understood and acted upon. I didn’t get a chance to test these clearer conversational claims, but will when I get my official review sample.
We were given only one music track to audition—”Sal y Pimiento” by Billy Gibbons and the BFG’s, a track with which I am unfamiliar which makes it difficult to assess the QC30s wider aural capabilities. But I heard what was important, especially where Bluetooth was concerned: a wide, airy separation with plenty of natural bass. Whether the fidelity of the QC30s match that of decent wired buds remains to be seen. For golden-eared types, it likely won’t, but I was not immediately put off by their sound as I am by most other Bluetooth headphones, with or without ANC.
To achieve and maintain its plus sonics, Bose says the QC30s are equipped with volume-dependent EQ that balances the sound when ANC is laid on at its heaviest. Bottom line: I can say sound quality survives admirably despite Bluetooth’s added inferior compression and the burdens of ANC, and I am looking forward to getting and listening to a pair.