The BOSE QuietComfort 20s are the latest members of the popular QuietComfort family, which for various reasons seem to have become almost standard field kit among business travellers and frequent flyers.
But unlike the BOSE QC3 and QC15 headphones which fully encase the ear, the QC20s are compact travel-friendly earbuds.
They still boast the same astounding noise-cancelling capabilities as their larger siblings so they can push down the chatter, clatter and constant mind-numbing drone of aircraft engines. Yet they’re just as practical for your daily commute on the train or bus, or even at home.
The overall effect is eerily silent and the noise-cancellation circuitry seems even more effective for reducing general cabin conversation, although their magic remains ineffective on crying babies.
In addition to smacking down ambient noise, the BOSE QC20s are solid performers with a bright top-end response and broad mid-range, although the flatter bass response makes them less ideal for doof-doof.
I’ve been using a pair of QC20s for the past month, which means enough international trips that the headphones themselves could qualify for Gold frequent flyer status.
So why would you buy these instead of, say, the QC15s or 30s?
One reason is size: the QuietComfort 20s demand much less space in your hand luggage.
This might not be a deal-breaker on international flights but for short domestic trips, especially when you’re travelling in ‘carry-on only’ mode, it’s a relief not to be weighted down by larger headphones.
And they’re exceptionally comfortable, with soft snug-fitting silicone ear tips which also assist in blocking out noise and can be worn while you sleep, if you’re the sort who likes to drift off to music.
But the QC20s are also far more versatile than conventional headphones because a tiny microphone in the inline control unit lets them double as a hands-free setup for your smartphone.
Using them with your smartphone takes some getting used to, but only because the person you’re talking to sounds extra clear for cutting through the noise while your own voice sounds muffled to you, because you’re hearing it internally, through your head rather than your ears.
A quick fix for this is to remove one earbud during a phone conversation.
(BOSE sells two versions of the QC20, so be sure to get the one designed for your smartphone. The base model QC20 works with most Android, Windows and BlackBerry devices, while the QC20i is designed specifically for iPhones.)
A switch on the inline control unit located partway down from the earphones temporarily allows the outside noise in so that you can hear the cabin crew when it’s time to order your meals or drinks.
While I usually don’t like earbuds which need to be inserted into my ear canal, the clever design of the QC20s means they don’t need to be jammed in.
The tiny speakers rest against the opening of the ear canal while the triangular wing of the silicone eartip fits into the contour of your ear to hold it in place.
As a result the earbuds rest in the bowl of your ear rather than being stuffed deep into your ear canal. Just as important, they stay in place unlike some earbuds which they too easily and too often tumble out.
One of my only criticisms of the QC20s is that this control unit is located too close to the earpieces themselves. It sits up around your neck rather than further down near your breast pocket, where it could be clipped for easy access (if the unit had a small alligator clip, which is also something I’d like to see in any future revision of the QC20s).
A more basic oversight, and a surprising one for BOSE, is that a double-pin airline adaptor plug isn’t included on the handy QC20 carry-bag, despite being standard kit on the QC15 and QC30 models.
The QC20s can still be plugged into a single audio socket of your aircraft’s inflight entertainment system but of course you’ll get sound only through one channel and thus one ear.
The QC20s rely on a rechargeable battery, which is tucked away in a flat section towards the end of the cable.
This charges up over any USB port, including those now found on many aircraft, but it takes only four hours of being jacked in to supply the QC20s with a full 16 hours of juice.
And unlike other BOSE QuietComfort headsets, if the battery runs flat the QC20s still continue to work just like regular headphones. You won’t get noise cancellation of course, but it’s a big step forward from models like the QC15 where a dead battery means the cans don’t work at all.
In summary: I rate the QuietComfort 20s so highly that I bought a pair myself.
BOSE QuietComfort 20: $399 through Bose stores and dealers, and Bose.com.au.
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