Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones – a great travel companion

The box of the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

The box of the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

I recently won a pair of Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones (QC20) at a conference.  Technically, most people would call these earbuds, so whatever you want to call them,  I’ve always known of the Bose name but I could never come to spending the money on their products.  However, since I got my pair free, I was excited to try them out.  Planes are noisy and I fly a lot.  I’ve considered buying noise cancelling headphones but was never sure if they were worth the money.  These ear buds have changed my mind.

If you have used inexpensive earbuds like me, you know how loud you have to turn up your music or movie when you are on the plane just to hear it.  I’m sure I have permanently damaged my hearing as a result from all of my flights.  With regular earbuds, I find that you are forced to push them into your ears just to hear the bass.  Not so with the QC20  Now, I’m no audiophile by any means, so I am looking at these strictly from a travel perspective.  To the rank audio amateur that I am these earbuds sound impressive.  You can have the volume down low and still hear a rich full sound with plenty of lows and highs.

Bose QC20 headphones with StayHere+ Tips

Bose QC20 headphones with StayHere+ Tips

Getting started

Bose QC20 Headphones

Bose QC20 Headphones

The QC20 is ready to go as soon as you unbox it.  Simply plug it into your tablet or phone and you are ready to go.  By default, they operate in aware mode.  This allows for some noise cancellation but you can still hear things around you.  This is good if you actually want to hear what the flight attendant is saying on the intercom.  Flip the noise cancellation on though using the control module and you can shut out the rest of the world.  I found that as long as you had music playing, you really couldn’t hear much around you.  The roar of the airplane is completely gone.  I did find that in between songs, you could hear a bit more around you.  I think that’s to be expected though.

Another problem I have with cheap earbuds is that they constantly fall out of my ears.  The QC20 features the Bose StayHear+ tips.  These tips have a gel curved hook that keeps the earbuds from falling out.  In all my use they have never fallen out.  There is almost a suction effect when you put them in that keeps them in place.  Bose recognizes that not everyone’s ear are the same, so they have included StayHear+ tips in small, medium, and large sizes.  The medium are pre-attached so you can start listening right away.

Know your QC20

The control module on the Bose QC20 allows you turn on noise cancelling mode.

The control module on the Bose QC20 allows you turn on noise cancelling mode.

If you are have never used noise cancelling headphones before, they are slightly different than a typical pair of earbuds.  Plugging them into your phone, laptop, or tablet is the same.  However, you will notice a small control module on the cord.  The control module serves the control to turn on noise cancelling mode as well as the battery that powers it.  It has indicators to indicate the battery state as well as whether noise cancelling is on or not.

The QC20 features an alligator clip which you can clip onto your shirt to keep the cord in place.  For men this works well with your button-up shirts.  Just above that is the inline control for the mic.  You can use this to mute the mic when you are on a call. Finally, the earbuds themselves look different than typical earbuds because of the StayHear+ clips attached.

Taking Phone Calls

The QC20 has a mic on it too which will let you take calls when attached to your phone.  There is an inline control on the wire that will let you mute and unmute as well.  I found that the sound quality on calls was good.  I also talked to my wife who was using her pair and I could hear her perfectly.

The inline control on the Bose QC20 allows you to mute the microphone when taking phone calls.

The inline control on the Bose QC20 allows you to mute the microphone when taking phone calls.

Inside the box

Inside the box, you will find the Bose QC20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones, a storage pouch, USB charging cable, small and large StayHear+ tips, and instructions.

Case for the Bose QC20 headphones.  The extra StayHear+ tips are also located inside.

Case for the Bose QC20 headphones. The extra StayHear+ tips are also located inside.

Battery Life

The battery life while in noise cancelling mode is rated at 16 hours.   The QC20 charges relatively quickly in about 2 hours.  I haven’t ran into a battery issue with mine yet.  The nice thing is that they still function if the battery dies because they just revert back to aware mode.  You just don’t get the full noise cancelling effect.  The indicator on the control module will blink to let you know when the battery is running low as well.

Traveling with the QC20

The QC20 is designed for travel in mind.  I recommend storing them in the travel pouch before putting them in your bag.  It’s easy for the control module or the clip to get hung up on other things and this will keep them safe.  If you like to listen to music while you are walking through the airport, using the QC20 in aware mode works well.  When you get a call, you can stop the music and answer your call easily and then go right back to your music when you are done. On the plane, they keep the noise out.  Once you turn on noise cancelling mode, you can turn out the world.  If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the flight attendant coming by to offer you a drink.

While you are in flight, you’ll really notice the second you take one of the earbuds out of your ear how much noise they really block out.  I found that you could listen to music or watch videos and they perform great on the plane. When it comes to travel, I have been in the market for something better for a while.  Sure, I could have bought a pair of Beats by Dre headphones, but they are huge.  I simply don’t have the space in my bag nor do I want the added weight.  I’m sure they sound great, but I travel light.

Worth the money?

I think the lesson I have learned is that if you want headphones that sound good on a plane, you are going to have to pay a little.  At $299, the Bose QC20 comes with a steep price.  If I were to lose this pair, I would have trouble paying that much.  If you’re in the market for a good pair of earphones and were already considering a premium pair then I would definitely give these a try.  The reviews on Amazon are certainly good.

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