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Review of Bose QuietComfort 20i Headphones

Imageby Frank Beacham

As a longtime owner of Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling, over-the-ear headphones, I liked the technology and was pleased to learn of a new model coming with improved noise cancelling circuitry in a much smaller in-ear version. 

When the new Bose QuietComfort 20i phones were introduced at a demo of the headphones at a Bose event in New York City several weeks ago, I knew immediately that I wanted a pair. I ordered them when they became available in early September.

Though I like the quality and comfort level, my main issue with the larger Model 15 headphones was size. They were simply too large and bulky to have on me all the time. So I relegated them for home use and they were terrific.

The new Bose model 20i phones, in less than two weeks of use, have opened a whole new dimension for both work and play. The "i" is for the Apple iPhones/iPad version, which I bought. There's another version for Android, Blackberry and Windows.

For play, the 20i model sets a new standard for quality. I have used them regularly to listen to music and make phone calls on my iPad Mini. Let me just say, they are a dream--without the bulk of the larger phones.

However, from the outset, I had an alternative use in mind for the 20i headset which required some experimentation. Could these headphones be used for monitoring in professional sound mixing on locations with noisy backgrounds? 

I record a lot of sound and have tried noise cancelling headphones before, including the Bose QuietComfort 15 model. But in that application none quite lived up to my expectations. 

I am happy to report that has changed with the Bose QuietComfort 20i.

This week, in a very noisy crowded New York City nightclub, I mixed an eight-track recording of a rock band using the 20i headphones. The aggressive noise reduction knocked virtually knocked out most of the ambient noise. I could actually hear the mix without turning the volume up all the way. Working with these phones beat the large $300 AKG studio phones that I normally use for music monitoring and they sounded just as good.

There was another important issue for me: comfort. I normally cannot wear in-ear type phones for a long time. They tend to get uncomfortable and, after a while, begin to hurt my ears. These didn't. I wore them six hours straight and forgot they were there. Not only were they extremely comfortable, but they stayed in my ear due to a soft little plastic rim that holds them in your ear.

The headphones have a feature called "Aware," which is a button you push to lower the volume. However, it didn't work in the configuration I was using. I wish it had. I had to pull off one of the ear plugs each time someone tried to speak with me, which got a bit annoying.

These are not your standard issue noise cancelling headphones. A Bose rep told me the development time on these was nearly five years and it was a huge, expensive project. The 20i clearly breaks new ground in lowering background noise. They are also a bit expensive: $299. But if you want the best money can buy, these are the best noise cancelling headphones available.

Though the Model 20i is designed as a consumer product to work with iPhones and iPads, the special multi-connector mini plug works with any 3.5mm headphone jack. So it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to find the 20i is pretty much a universal headphone set. When you want to use it with a professional recorder equipped with a 1/4-inch phone plug jack, simply plug it into a standard mini to stereo phone jack adapter. It works just fine.

The headphones use an internal lithium ion battery that charges using an included mini USB cable. Bose does not include an AC adapter. The battery has a 16 hour life, but in its standard configuration it comes without the adapter. Buy an accessory charger and have it with you at all times. Otherwise, you'll have to find a computer to charge the battery.

The Bose QuietComfort 20i is are extremely high-quality in-ear phones that have a definite role in professional sound mixing, especially on noisy locations. I have tried a lot of headphones over the past 30 years of mixing audio and have found none better anywhere at any price. This is noise cancelling at its very best, in a very light weight, comfortable to wear, portable package.

Bose QuietComfort 20i