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In the box
Bose QuietComfort 20
The Bose QC20 are average mixed usage headphones with excellent noise cancellation for commuting and loud environments. They're well-designed, durable, comfortable and compact and stable enough for the gym. Unfortunately, their audio reproduction is subpar when compared to some of the more recent releases from Bose like the SoundSport Wireless or the QuietControl 30. On the upside, they barely leak and will block enough noise to be a solid recommendation for frequent commuters.
See our recommendations for the best Headphones for Commuting.
- Excellent noise isolation.
- Simple, durable design.
- Comfortable stable fit from the StayHear+ tips.
- Slightly bass-heavy audio reproduction.
Update 9/28/2017: The microphone has been tested with our new methodology, as explained here
Update 8/10/2017: Converted to Test Bench 1.1. Learn more about our new versioned test bench system here.
The Bose QC20 are well-designed, comfortable earbuds. They are lightweight, durable and the "StayHear+" tips offer a cozy and stable fit. The buttons are well laid out, and the control module is flat and portable. They come with a decent pouch that makes them easy to have on you at all times. Unfortunately, the rubber finish on the control module will wear off a little over time.
The QC20 have a comfortable earbud design that doesn't enter the ear canal like most in-ear headphones. This makes them comfortable enough to wear for long listening sessions without any listening fatigue. Unlike the over-ear Bose QuietComfort 25, these headphones don't cause too much discomfort when the noise-cancellation feature is enabled.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 have a straightforward and efficient control scheme. The buttons are well spaced out and provide all the essential functions; call/music, track skipping and volume controls. The buttons deliver good feedback and the Control Module is very thin and easily fits in tight pockets.
- 100% Avg.Temp.Difference
The Bose QC20 have a breathable design that won't make your ears sweat more than usual. They trap a bit of heat within the notch of your ear due to their earbud tips and stability fins, but they won't cause a big difference in temperature even during more intense workouts.
The Bose QC20 are very portable headphones. They don't take too much space and will comfortably fit into your pockets, purse or bag. The control module makes them a little larger than basic in-ear headphones but is flat enough to not add additional bulk to the design.
These earbuds come with a soft fabric case that will protect the headphones from scratches and prevent them from getting tangled in your bag. It also doesn't add much bulk to the already small headphones so it will still fit in your pocket or bag. However, the soft fabric will not shield your headphones from water damage or high physical stress.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 have a good build quality. The control module and earbuds are dense and durable enough to withstand multiple accidental drops. The cables are also thick and won't easily get damaged by wear and tear unlike some of the cheaper in-ears we've tested. However, the latex cover on the Control Module peels off relatively easily after repeated use but doesn't actually damage the module so it's more of a cosmetic issue.
These are stable earbuds that won't easily fall out of your ears. They offer a variety of stability tips that help them maintain their stable fit. They work well as gym headphones and are stable enough to be used while running. Unfortunately, they're not wireless, and the long cable can easily get hooked on something, which will pull the headphones out of your ears.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 are a sub-par sounding pair of closed-back earbuds. They have a powerful and extended bass, capable of producing deep thumps and rumbles. They also have a good mid-range, and very good imaging. However, their bass is quite excessive and boomy, which drowns out vocals and lead instruments. Their mid-range is slightly recessed, and their treble is quite uneven and lacking in airiness. Additionally, they perform quite consistently across multiple users and re-seats, but like most other headphones, they don't have a large and speaker-like soundstage.
The bass of the QuietComfort 20 is good. LFE (low-frequency extension) is at 21Hz, which is great, meaning they can produce very deep thump and rumbles. However, the entire bass range is consistently above our neutral target by more than 4dB. This makes the overall bass of the QC20 excessively heavy, which sounds boomy and drowns out vocals and other instruments in the mid-range.
The Bose QC 20 has a mid-range performance. Low-mid is overemphasized by more than 3dB, which is the continuation of the bass overemphasis. This thickens the vocals and makes the mid-range sound cluttered and muddy. Additionally, the dip/recess centering 800Hz pushes vocals/leads slightly to the back of the mix, by giving more emphasis to the bass and treble frequencies.
The QC 20 has sub-par treble range performance. The response throughout the range is rather inconsistent. Low-treble is above our target by more than 2dB, bringing emphasis and projection to the upper harmonics of vocals and lead instruments, and giving a subtle V shape to the overall frequency response. The inconsistencies in mid-treble will make the production of sibilances (S and Ts) rather uneven. Additionally, the lacking high-treble means their sound headphones will lack airiness and brilliance.
The frequency response consistency of the QC20 is good. Due to their unique earbud design, if the user is able to achieve an air-tight seal with these headphones, then the bass delivery should be very consistent across multiple re-seat and individuals. The consistency in the treble range is also good, but it is dependent on the placement and more prone to inconsistencies.
The imaging is great. Their weighted group delay is at 0.36, which is within good limits. But the GD graph shows that it crosses the audibility threshold below 50Hz, but not enough to have a significant effect. Additionally, the L/R drivers of our test unit were quite well-matched in amplitude, frequency, and phase response, ensuring an accurate placement and localization of objects (voices, instruments, video game effects) in the stereo image.
The soundstage is poor. This is mainly due to their earbud design, since activating the resonances of the pinna (outer ear) is one of the key factors in creating a large and out-of-head soundstage and earbuds don't interact with the pinna. Also, their soundstage won't feel as open and spacious as that of closed-back in-ear's, because of their high degree of isolation.
The QC20 has a decent harmonic distortion performance. The amount THD in the bass range is low, and not highly affected by an increase in volume, which is great. However, the bumps centering around 500Hz and 3KHz are on the elevated side, and are affected by an increase in volume making the sound slightly harsh and brittle at those frequencies.
The Bose QC 20 have an excellent noise isolation performance. They cancel a great deal of ambient noise which is ideal for traveling and noisy commutes. The earbud design fits well into the ear and provides a tight seal that blocks high-frequencies passively and leaks no sound. This means you can mask even more ambient noise by turning your music up without distracting those around you. This makes them a great choice for noisy and quieter conditions.
The isolation performance of the Bose QC20 is great. Once the active noise cancellation is enabled, they provide more than 23dB of isolation in the bass range, which is excellent for cancelling out the rumble of airplane and bus engines. In the mid-range, important for blocking out speech, they achieved about 22dB of isolation, which is also great. In the treble range, occupied by sharp S and Ts, they reduce outside noise by about 28dB, which is above average.
The leakage performance is excellent. The significant portion of their leakage is concentrated in a narrow range in the treble. This means their leakage will sound very thin and mostly consist of S and Ts. The overall level of the leakage is also very quiet. With the music at 100dB SPL, their leakage at 1 foot away averages at 27dB, and peaks at around 41dB. Well below the noise floor of most offices.
The in-line microphone of the Bose QuietComfort 20 is decent. In quiet environments, speech recorded with this mic will sound noticeably thin, but quite clear and intelligible. In noisy situation, however, they will struggle to separate speech from background noise, and they wouldn't be suitable for use in environments louder than a busy office or a street.
The recording quality of the QC20's microphone is decent. In the bass range, they lack quite a bit, except for the area around 90Hz. This results in a recorded/transmitted speech that sounds noticeably thin. Their HFE (high-frequency extension) however, is at 18KHz, which is great. This, and the flat frequency response mean that speech will sound detailed and present, which makes it easy to understand.
- 100% SpNR
The in-line microphone is mediocre at noise handling. In our SpNR test, they achieved a speech-to-noise ratio of 12dB, indicating they are best suited for use in quiet environments. In moderate and loud situations, they will struggle to separate speech from ambient noise.
The Bose QC20 have a good battery life but no app support. They lasted about 19 hours on a single charge and would last even longer if you disable the noise canceling feature when you do not need it. You can also use them passively when the battery is depleted or while they are charging but, unfortunately, they have no auto-off feature to power down the headphones when inactive. They also have no app support so they won't be as customizable as some of the newer wireless in-ears like the Jaybird Run.
The Bose QC20 have a good battery life. They last around 19 hours and don't take too long to charge. They're also capable of playing audio when charging, which makes them good headphones use at the office or if you have access to a power source on the train or plane. Unfortunately, if you leave them on they will run out of battery because there is no auto-off timer.
These headphones have no compatible app.
- 10% Bluetooth
- 32% Wired
- 10% Base/Dock
- 22% Wireless Range
- 25% Latency
The Bose QuietComfort 20 only connect via a wired 1/8TRRS audio cable which does not have microphone compatibility with Xbox One or PS4.
- 79% Multi-Device Pairing
- 20% NFC
- 0% PS4 Compatible
- 0% Xbox One Compatible
- 13% Analog
- 9% USB
- 26% PS4 Compatible
- 26% Xbox One Compatible
- 26% PC Compatible
The Bose QC 20 have a 1/8 TRRS analog audio cable that does not have microphone compatibility with consoles.
- 4% Optical Input
- 22% Line In
- 4% Line Out
- 22% USB Input
- 4% RCA Input
- 9% PS4 Compatible
- 9% Xbox One Compatible
- 9% PC Compatible
- 2% Power Supply
- 13% Dock Charging
The Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones do not have a base station or a dock. If you want a noise canceling headphone with a dock, then try the Turtle Beach Elite 800.
These headphones are wired so they have no wireless range.
The Quiet Comfort 20 have a wired connection with negligible latency.
In the box
- Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphones
- 3 pairs StayHear®+ tips (S, M, L)
- USB cable
- Carrying case
Compared to other Headphones
The Bose QuietComfort 20 are good commuting headphones thanks to their strong isolation and compact design. They have comfortable earbud tips that you can wear for longer than most in-ear designs and they're fairly easy to use with a durable build quality. Unfortunately, they do not sound as good as some of the more recent releases by Bose and their wired design feels a bit limiting and compared to some of the newer wireless earbuds available on the market like those from Jaybird.
The Bose QuietControl 30 are the spiritual successor to the QC20 with a better sound quality and more control over their noise canceling feature. They're wireless, so they're a bit more convenient for everyday casual use and still isolate as much as the QC20 so they're a good option for commuting. They also have the comfortable StayHear + tips that you can wear for hours and are stable enough for the gym. The QC 30 are a good upgrade to the QC20, they sound a lot more balanced and perform better in most use cases, except watching videos, since they're wireless Bluetooth headphones. If you prefer wired design though then the QC 20 are a cheaper alternative for commuting.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 are the wireless update to the QuietComfort 25. They are over-ears so they won't be as portable as the QC20. However, they have a much better sound quality and their over-ear fit is a bit more comfortable for most users. They have strong enough isolation to be one of the best headphones for commuting and traveling, and they are fairly easy to use with a convenient wireless connection for casual everyday use but also an audio cable to reduce latency when watching movies. If you prefer over-ear designs, then go for the QuietComfort 35 instead of the QC20.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 are a good wired noise-canceling headset for commuting that sound better than the QC20s. Since both are wired, they won't be as versatile as the QuietComfort 35 or QuietControl 30 but they their isolation is still one of the best we've tested and should be suitable for the most demanding of environments. They also sound better, and they're more comfortable than the QuietComfort 20, but they won't be as portable since they are over-ears. If you need a compact noise-isolating headset for commuting or the gym, then go for the QC20 instead. However, if you prefer over-ear design, then the QC25 are a bit better overall.
The Bose SoundSport Wireless are a more sport-oriented headset with no noise canceling, unlike the QC20s. They're a bit more portable for the gym since they do not have a control module and they're wireless. Also, since they are not noise-canceling, you will be able to monitor your environments for obstacles and traffic which makes them a bit more suitable for outdoor joggers. Unfortunately, this also means they will not be the best choice for loud, noisy environments. If you use your headphones primarily for commuting, then get the QC20, but for sports and sound quality, the SoundSport Wireless are a lot better.
Questions & Answers
At the moment we normalize our headphone frequency responses full range (20Hz-20KHz), post compensation. So we flatten the response first, and then adjust the level so that the average reads 90dB SPL. This makes sure that the compensated graphs average to 90dB full range, instead of only at 500Hz (which is the way Tyll does it). This way the headphones tend to get the highest possible score against our target, since our target is at 90dB. Doing it at a single frequency like 500Hz or 1KHz doesn't really work for us, since not all headphones have the same response at those frequencies.
However, as you pointed out there are corner cases which could cause problems for our normalizing algorithm. Perhaps one way to improve it would be to apply the weighting curve we use for standard deviation to our normalizing algorithm as well. Kind of like applying a A or C filter to an SPL meter.
Before asking a question, make sure you use the search function of our website. The majority of the answers are already here.