In-ear noise-cancellation earphones are a rarity in the headphones market, due to problems with housing the circuitry. Bose has recently stepped up and released the QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones, which promises noise reduction rivaling other on-ear and around-ear options. With its impressive track record in making the world a more silent place in mind, the pair is definitely an anticipated addition to the market.
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Design and Comfort
Bose headphones have always been more inconspicuous than their peers, and the QuietComfort 20i is no exception. Its dark gray and light gray-hued ear pieces are quietly appealing and draw no complaints. The eye-catching part, though, is the fins attached to the ear pieces – added on for increased stability. Necessary, because the ear pieces are pretty sizable and sit on the bowls of your ears.
Nonetheless, with three sizes of Bose’s proprietary StayHear tips, the QuietComfort 20i manages to fit in snugly. Once you find the right size, a magical seal materializes – but with that some soreness is a given. Bose’s previous model, the MIE2i is better in this regard. If you’re not a fan of the fins, normal sleeves can still be purchased from Bose. Just be careful when removing them from the ear pieces, though.
Another physical aspect of the QuietComfort 20i is the control module positioned at the end of the cable. In-ear noise-cancellation earphones customarily have bulky inline compartments to house the circuitry, but Bose has made the deal sweeter by making it slim and narrow. A huge step forward for what has previously been the bane of the earphones’ existence. A USB cable is also included in the accessory package to charge the control module with, as well as a clothing clip and carrying case.
The presence of an inline remote and microphone may make or break a pair of earphones, and most auspiciously the QuietComfort 20i is graced with the feature. The compartment accommodates three buttons for iPhone or iPod control compared to the single button on the QuietComfort 20, which is Android, Windows or Blackberry-friendly. It hangs at a comfortable length – between your collarbone and chest – and also houses an “Aware Mode” button.
As the name suggests, the QuietComfort 20i brings noise-cancellation to the table. The active cancellation feature is aided by the ear sleeves and ear pieces – the seal and size physically providing blockage at the entrance of the ear canal. Unlike the QuietComfort 15 which is powered by an AAA battery, the QuietComfort 20i outputs music even when the feature is off. A wondrous thing, even if the passive mode affects the sound quality somewhat.
The aforementioned “Aware Mode”, which is switched on by the dedicated button on the remote, allow you to still retain awareness of your surroundings without turning off the music. Voices waft through but sound a tad electronic. Nonetheless, the mode undeniably helps you become a good pedestrian, or ensures you don’t miss your stops. The fact that these earphones need such a mode possibly speaks volumes.
The sound quality you can expect from this pair regrettably depends on the mode you are in. In active mode, the reproduction of the highs and lows is wonderful. Purists may thumb their noses at it for its less than neutral audio – Bose’s sculpted sound is a known fact – but that’s not to say that the output isn’t enjoyable. Genres like pop and rock receive solid replication, and focus on the low and high mids guarantees articulate vocals. The overall result is nothing to complain about.
On the other hand, the quality degrades in passive mode. If you want to conserve the battery just for fun, don’t. The stark contrast between the two almost makes you pine for the crispier audio in active mode, even if it’s not perfect. In this regard, its closest rival the AKG K391 is superior; the quality dichotomy is not so evident. It churns out excellent sound in both modes, while still costing about $100 less than the QuietComfort 20i.
Make no mistake; Bose is perhaps the best in the noise-cancellation showdown. Like its contenders, the QuietComfort 20i blocks out ambient noise well – from the whirring of the air conditioning unit to the humming of trains. However, it has managed to perform a feat so unbelievable that you’d be happy to disregard all its previous flaws; blocking out the human voice. High-pitched noise has previously evaded earlier cancellation circuitries, but not now. The world is reduced literally to a whisper – so who cares if there’s a slight hiss from the noise-cancellation at times?
At a hefty $299, the QuietComfort 20i require more than a passing consideration. Nonetheless, a closer look shows that all expectations are met; the design is solid and convenient, the audio above average, and it is absolutely the best in the market for noise-cancellation. The last part is what makes it in the winning pair rather than the AKG K391. Get it for the technology, because you won’t find it elsewhere.