Gizmodo Reader Review: Bose QuietComfort 20i Noise Cancelling Headphones

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...

Every minute of every hour we are exposed to pollution of the ear and it can affect our work performance, information retention and even our moods. The bane of my existence is hyperactive co-workers constantly breaking my focus on the job at hand.

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.

Should I wear this battery on the outside...or like this...

Getting Started

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.

In Use

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 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?

"Hands down with the noise cancelling active these prove to be the best sounding earphones I have ever had the pleasure of using."

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.


    Noise cancelling on an IEM? Sounds a bit redundant tbh. Mind u I buy cheap (but high quality) IEMs and have the music pretty loud, loud enough to drown out my backpack vacuum cleaner!
    For $399 I would hope these are the best sounding earphones you have ever used, struggling to think of a giz review of earwear more expensive than this!

    I also prefer to take the cable behind the ear with my IEMs, this usually greatly reduces microphonics whilst keeping them securely in place (yes in gym also).

    These arn't for me, usually I associate IEMs with natural passive noise cancellation and lightness (most compact) as a reason for using, the battery pack kinda kills that point. I'm particular about what DAP I connect my IEMs into, it would be smaller and lighter than the battery pack for sure.

    Last edited 17/01/14 3:19 pm

    It's strange to state 'the audio quality is exceptional' without giving us a reference point. If your current earbugs are $free apple bundled ones, anything will sound 'exceptional'.

    What other $400 IEMs have you used to compare?

      I've owned over 8 or 9 pairs of IEMs in the past, ranging from $30>$350 and have certainly learned that the most expensive IEMs most certainly does not trump the cheapest IEM, infact my Soundmagic E10's (got for $30) were one of my fav IEMs for a long time.
      Curious to see what $399 bose sound like..

        $399 Bose sounds like $199 UE/Earsonic/Shure/Westones.

          So twice the price for the Bose name then....

    yeah corded headphones are just bugging me now days. always pulling them out of my ears no matter what i do. I have a set of pioneer 80 buck ones. It has the adjustable inner bit. so you can make it smaller ect. they arent the bud type like the std Iphone ones are. they are much more slimline. and go into the ear. these provide decent noise cancelling. itsto the point where you drown out enough, to get a better experience without becoming oblivious to the rest of the world!.

    I am about to buy some jaybird bluetooth ones that look identical to these, but they are bluetooth. and they link up behind your head like a sunglasses strap does. so they are great for sport as well.

      What yer describing is the difference between earbuds and IEMs (In Ear Monitors), these are the ones that fit deeper into the ear canal providing that natural ear plug like noise cancelling feature.
      Most newbies to IEMS have no idea how to insert them properly, thus the sound quailty sounds awful to them, all the noise escapes, and even if they do insert properly they complain of discomfort. I try to explain that with enough use it goes away (I can wear mine 8hrs straight without being aware they are in my ears) but yeh... shame... earbuds = awful, IEMs = bliss.

        yep exactly. at first I felt pressure ect. but after they were great. id say they give about -10-15db if you fit them correctly. im happy with them. but Im always getting them caught on my bag, or my shoes tied to my bag. or my arm grabs them. or a pole or something always pulling them out! pain in arse!
        im happy with sound quality ect they are 18-20k hz/khz so they have great range.
        ultimate ears have a r driver in ear monitor going pretty cheap these days. so might look into them, but they are wired. so again my issue!

        these jaybirds are looking good-ish will have to check some more reviews ect

    So true. My preferred tip are large triple flange, not usually packaged with any IEM (I get them off ebay).

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