James Harrison is a graduate IT & Systems Officer currently completing his Masters in Business Process Management. Over the course of a day, he's constantly confronted by noisy people, places and/or devices. He's also the final winner in our recent Bose QuietComfort 20i competition. James has had his noise-cancelling Bose earphones for a couple of weeks now — and this is his road test experience at drowning out distractions, without actually drowning someone...
So there is nothing I wouldn’t do to cut out distractions whether it is at work, on the bus or at home.
My current headphones are the standard Apple EarPods with the integrated Remote and Mic.
These, while fairly comfortable, tend to slip out while exercising or just bending over. They also offer no type of noise cancellation — be it passive or otherwise — which in turn leads to the volume needing to be increased to max and risking permanent hearing damage.
Or some disparaging looks while riding in Queensland rail’s quiet carriage...
These are the first in-ear headphones from Bose with full-on noise reduction. The company had to re-engineer its acoustic noise cancelling tech to shrink things down.
The QuietComfort 20i buds fit cosily in your ear, staying put thanks to StayHear+ tips. On the cable, you’ll find an inline microphone (supporting almost any smartphone) and 3 button remote for use with gear like your recent iPhone, iPad and MacBook.
Finally, there's ‘Aware Mode.’ This lets you have music keep playing rather than cut out when you need to talk, a common gripe with some other noise cancelling headphones.
Out Of The Box
The initial feel I got while opening the product was “Jeeze this thing is huge!” Of course I should have expected this as they had to incorporate the noise cancelling circuitry and battery pack in the design.
Like most products by Bose you can’t fault the construction, it is solid, sleek and maintains a calm presence. Though no matter how well made, it’s hard to get past that brick of a battery/control stick residing at the cables end. I mean how they can justify having such a cumbersome object attached to what is commonly a light device... Wait this thing has a 16 hour battery life? Objection retracted.
Most other developers use an AAA battery for power and can last up to 10 hours, so I see it as an advantage for Bose to opt for a rechargeable battery that functions longer than the competition.
The only suggested steps before use on this device was a full charge, so it was slightly annoying to have to wait two hours before throwing my music collection at it. Also included were 3x ear buds for differently sized ears but on test the stock set seemed to fit perfectly.
I tried the controls on both Apple and Android mobile devices without as much as a hitch and I was very happy with the placement of the remote and the movable clothing clip.
The audio quality is just exceptional when the device is turned on as I can only assume the signal is amplified while the juice is running. While the power is off the sound is noticeable quieter and less crisp, so I would only have it off in an emergency.
At work: The active noise cancellation works a treat while I’m in the office as it cuts out the constant drone of the server fans/air conditioning. It also works well at blocking out my desk phone even with the aware mode active and I can see this getting me into a fair amount of trouble.
Hands down with the noise cancelling active these prove to be the best sounding earphones I have ever had the pleasure of using.
At the gym: After a day or so using the earphones I decided it would be a good time to test them in the gym. This went better than expected as not once did I accidently rip them out, thanks to the clothing clip. The ear tips on the other hand while confortable did fall out a few times but after changing to the larger sized tips they held like superglue. I can say that without question these are the best work out earphones I have ever used due to the combination of audio quality and smart stability options.
Streaming radio: I normally use streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and DI.fm because they are just more convenient and cheaper solutions. Just to test the difference in sound quality I used both my old Apple headphones and the new 20i’s at both normal and high quality streaming (thank you Spotify 30 day free trial). The resulting conclusion is most of us have been missing around 15% of the highs and lows using other headphones at lower quality. Classics like Bohemian Rhapsody sound like newly varnished masterpieces while electronic artworks by Daft Punk completely overwhelm you with normally indistinguishable intricacy.
Should You Buy?
The 20i’s are just exceptional overall even though I wouldn’t find a real use for the “aware mode” that limits noise cancellation to increase awareness of your surroundings.
The only reason I wouldn’t be recommending them to everyone is the price. $399 may just not be feasible for most people for a set of earphones. For the same price you could get a high quality android device or most way to a next gen console. That being said after using the Bose QuietComfort 20is for 2+ weeks, I could almost be convinced that I needed them just to get through a stressful week. If you have the money to spare the 20is are more than worth it, but consider waiting till they drop in price.