The latest noise cancelling headphones from Bose are light, simple and very good — but they’re not exactly inexpensive.
Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: On the plus side
In noise cancelling terms, Bose is the premium brand to which others aspire, but they’re best known for their full headphone devices. The QuietComfort 20i are a little different; headphones of the in-ear type instead, which means they’re significantly smaller and lighter than previous Bose offerings, which is an important consideration for regular travellers who sometimes struggle to include headphones on their packing lists.
The buds themselves have a large area for the microphones that sit just outside the ear; these are so that the local ambient sounds can be captured, analysed and nullified — or as near as passes muster — with an equal and opposite soundwave delivered along with whatever audio you’re listening to at the time.
When you first put the QuietComfort 20i headphones in, there’s a certain amount of noise isolation, and you can indeed just use them this way, but when you switch on noise cancelling via the control pack that sits just above the 3.5mm plug, that’s when the rest of the world drops away. There’s a split second delay, and then it just… goes.
Or in other words, the QuietComfort 20i headphones work very well indeed. I’ve tested them in-flight, on public transport and even at home with noisy kids around, and they’re excellent at blocking out all but the loudest of ambient noises, delivering crystal clear audio as they do.
An in-line remote offers controls for volume and call taking; the set I tested were the 20i, indicating they’re for iOS devices. They’ll work in a noise cancelling sense on other devices — I did check — but you’ll lose the use of the inline remote. So if you’re a regular Android, Windows Phone 8 or Blackberry user, the regular QuietComfort 20 headphones would be the ones to buy.
Bose reckons that the battery in the QuietComfort 20i headphones is good for up to 16 hours. I’ve managed around 14 of heavy usage, but that’s still quite impressive given the small size of the battery pack.
Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: On the minus side
I’ve really only got three niggles with the QuietComfort 20i headphones. Firstly, Bose doesn’t supply a two-prong airline adaptor with the headphones, which is mildly annoying.
Equally, the location of the battery pack is sometimes troublesome. I do get why it’s not closer to the earpiece, because otherwise it might hang or drag on your ears, but at the same time it’s built such that it’ll only really work comfortably in a pants pocket. If you’re putting it elsewhere — such as in a shirt pocket — it’s a lot of bulk to accommodate at once. Again, a minor niggle. What isn’t a minor niggle is…
Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: Pricing
Bose prices the QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones at $399 locally. They’re certainly very good, and Bose undeniably sells itself as a premium brand with premium pricing. My issue here is that the US list price for the exact same headphones is only $299.
I know the Australian dollar isn’t what it was — although these decisions would have been made back when it was on or near parity, most likely — but it’s still a premium to pay simply to have them in Australia.
Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: Fat Duck verdict
The Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are great — of that I have no doubt. They’re comfortable for extended wear, the battery lasts a good long time — and they carry on working when flat as regular good headphones anyway — and the noise cancelling they offer is genuinely superb. The only real issue I’ve got with them is Bose’s local pricing, but then they’re hardly alone in whacking an “Australia Tax” on tech products.