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Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20 Headphones Review

Tested using Methodology v1.4
Updated Apr 26, 2018 at 04:01 pm
Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20 Picture
6.9
Mixed Usage
6.5
Neutral Sound
7.2
Commute/Travel
7.1
Sports/Fitness
7.2
Office
5.4
Wireless Gaming
7.0
Wired Gaming
7.0
Phone Calls
Type Earbuds
Enclosure Closed-Back
Wireless No
Noise Cancelling Yes
Mic Yes
Transducer Dynamic

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.

Our Verdict

6.9 Mixed Usage

Decent for mixed usage. The Bose QC20 are a versatile enough for most use cases. They have strong isolation that makes them a great choice for the commuting, they're also compact and stable enough for sports. They have a comfortable earbud fit that does not leak much so you can use them at the office. Unfortunately, their sound is subpar when compared to more recent releases by Bose like the Soundsport Wireless or QuietControl 30.

Pros
  • Excellent noise isolation.
  • Simple, durable design.
  • Comfortable stable fit from the StayHear+ tips.
Cons
  • Slightly bass-heavy audio reproduction.
6.5 Neutral Sound

Mediocre for neutral listening. They're comfortable for long listening sessions but they have a slightly dark sound that overemphasizes bass at the expense of instruments and vocals. They also have a slightly closed sound due to their closed, noise cancelling design so they won't be the ideal choice for more neutral listeners.

7.2 Commute/Travel

Above-average for commuting. They're comfortable and compact. The noise isolation significantly reduces the ambient noise of regular commutes. They also have a good battery life and a simple and efficient control scheme. Unfortunately, their sound quality may be a deal breaker for some.

7.1 Sports/Fitness

Good for sports use. The Bose QuietComfort 20 have a stable and comfortable fit that won't fall while exercising. They're also small and easy to carry around. Their noise isolation will cancel the ambient noise of any ambient gym but they may be too closed for runners that need to monitor their surroundings.

7.2 Office

Above-average for office use. They donโ€™t leak much, and their noise isolation will block a lot of office chatter from seeping into your audio. They're also comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, and they have a long battery life. Unfortunately, their sound quality may be a deal breaker for some.

5.4 Wireless Gaming

Average for gaming. They have a comfortable fit and a low-latency wired connection that makes them decent for gaming. Unfortunately, they have a mediocre sound and microphone quality, and you can't customize them like most gaming headphones.

7.0 Wired Gaming
7.0 Phone Calls
  • 6.9 Mixed Usage
  • 6.5 Neutral Sound
  • 7.2 Commute/Travel
  • 7.1 Sports/Fitness
  • 7.2 Office
  • 5.4 Wireless Gaming
  • 7.0 Wired Gaming
  • 7.0 Phone Calls
  1. Update 2/17/2020: Converted to Test Bench 1.4.
  2. Update 11/21/2019: Converted to Test Bench 1.3.1.
  3. Update 11/21/2019: Converted to Test Bench 1.3.
  4. Update 2/16/2018: Converted to Test Bench 1.2.
  5. Update 9/28/2017: The microphone has been tested with our new methodology, as explained here
  6. Update 8/10/2017: Converted to Test Bench 1.1.
  7. Update 3/1/2017: Converted to Test Bench 1.0.

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Test Results

perceptual testing image
Design
Design
Style

The Bose QuietComfort 20 are good-looking earbuds. The cable is rubberized and black, with blue accents for style. The flat rectangular noise isolation generator is latex coated and also has the same blue accent for the on/off button. The StayHear+ tips are curved and designed to fit most ears.

7.5
Design
Comfort
Weight 0.09 lbs
Clamping Force
0 lbs

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.

7.7
Design
Controls
OS Compatibility
iOS
Ease Of Use Great
Feedback Decent
Call/Music Control Yes
Volume Control Yes
Microphone Control No
Channel Mixing
No
Noise Cancelling Control On/Off
Talk-Through
On/Off
Additional Controls No

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.

8.9
Design
Breathability
Avg.Temp.Difference 1.1 C

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.

8.3
Design
Portability
L 4.7 "
W 1.6 "
H 1.2 "
Volume 8.8 Cu. Inches
Transmitter Required No

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.

7.0
Design
Case
Type Soft case
L 5.1 "
W 2.8 "
H 0.8 "
Volume 11.2 Cu. Inches

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.

7.5
Design
Build Quality

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.

7.5
Design
Stability

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.

Design
Headshots 1
Design
Headshots 2
Design
Top
Design
In The Box

  • Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphones
  • 3 pairs StayHear®+ tips (S, M, L)
  • USB cable
  • Carrying case

Sound
Sound
Sound Profile
Bass Amount
0.27 db
Treble Amount
-4.38 db
7.8
Sound
Frequency Response Consistency
Avg. Std. Deviation
0.43 dB

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.

Sound
Raw Frequency Response
7.4
Sound
Bass Accuracy
Std. Err.
3.65 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
22.45 Hz
Low-Bass
1.58 dB
Mid-Bass
4.02 dB
High-Bass
4.8 dB

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.

7.7
Sound
Mid Accuracy
Std. Err.
3.03 dB
Low-Mid
3.16 dB
Mid-Mid
-3.15 dB
High-Mid
-0.02 dB

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.

8.0
Sound
Treble Accuracy
Std. Err.
2.65 dB
Low-Treble
1.71 dB
Mid-Treble
-1.73 dB
High-Treble
-20.85 dB

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.

6.3
Sound
Peaks/Dips
Peaks
2.69 db
Dips
1.51 db
8.6
Sound
Imaging
Weighted Group Delay
0.36
Weighted Amplitude Mismatch
0.83
Weighted Frequency Mismatch
1.68
Weighted Phase Mismatch
2.05

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.

0.5
Sound
Passive Soundstage
PRTF Accuracy (Std. Dev.)
N/A
PRTF Size (Avg.)
N/A
PRTF Distance
N/A
Openness
0.9
Acoustic Space Excitation
1.1

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.

0
Sound
Virtual Soundstage
Head Modeling
No
Speaker Modeling
No
Room Ambience
No
Head Tracking
No
Virtual Surround
No App
7.5
Sound
Weighted Harmonic Distortion
WHD @ 90
0.179
WHD @ 100
0.241
Sound
Test Settings
Firmware
No Firmware
Power
On
Connection
Wired
Codec
PCM, 24-bit, 48kHz
EQ
No EQ
ANC
On
Tip/Pad
Silicone (small)
Microphone
In-line
Isolation
9.1
Isolation
Noise Isolation
Isolation Audio
Overall Attenuation
-24.42 dB
Bass
-23.88 dB
Mid
-20.86 dB
Treble
-28.06 dB

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.

9.1
Isolation
Leakage
Leakage Audio
Overall Leakage @ 1ft
26.86 dB

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.

Microphone
Microphone
Microphone Style
Integrated
No
In-Line
Yes
Boom
No
Detachable Boom
No
7.5
Microphone
Recording Quality
Recorded Speech
LFE
515.36 Hz
FR Std. Dev.
2.53 dB
HFE
17984.02 Hz
Weighted THD
0.955
Gain
20.19 dB

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.

6.0
Microphone
Noise Handling
Speech + Pink Noise
Speech + Subway Noise
SpNR
12.17 dB

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.

Active Features
7.9
Active Features
Battery
Battery Type
Rechargable
Continuous Battery Life
19 hrs
Additional Charges
0.0
Total Battery Life
19 hrs
Charge Time
1.8 hrs
Power-Saving Feature
No
Audio While Charging
Yes
Passive Playback
Yes
Charging Port micro-USB

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.

0
Active Features
App Support
App Name No App
iOS No
Android No
macOS No
Windows No
Equalizer
No
ANC Control
No
Mic Control No
Room Effects
No
Playback Control
No
Button Mapping No
Surround Support
No

These headphones have no compatible app.

Connectivity
0
Connectivity
Bluetooth
Bluetooth Version
No Bluetooth
Multi-Device Pairing
No
NFC Pairing
No
Line Of Sight Range
N/A
PC Latency (SBC)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX HD)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX-LL)
N/A
iOS Latency
N/A
Android Latency
N/A

These headphones do not have any Bluetooth capabilities. If you wan't a bluetooth headset with a similar design to the QC 20 check out the Bose SoundSport Wireless, the QuietControl 30 or the SoundSport Free. For more Bluetooth headphone options check out our best wireless recommendations here.

The Quiet Comfort 20 have a wired connection with negligible latency.

0
Connectivity
Non-Bluetooth Wireless
Non-BT Line Of Sight Range
N/A
Non-BT Latency
N/A
9.0
Connectivity
Wired
Analog Audio
Yes
USB Audio
No
Detachable No
Length 4.33 ft
Connection 1/8" TRRS
Analog/USB Audio Latency
0 ms

The Bose QC 20 have a 1/8 TRRS analog audio cable that does not have microphone compatibility with consoles.

Connectivity
PC / PS4 Compatibility
PC/PS4 Analog
Audio Only
PC/PS4 Wired USB
No
PC/PS4 Non-BT Wireless
No
Connectivity
Xbox One Compatibility
Xbox One Analog
Audio Only
Xbox One Wired USB
No
Xbox One Wireless
No
0
Connectivity
Base/Dock
Type
No Base/Dock
USB Input
No
Line In
No
Line Out
No
Optical Input
No
RCA Input
No
Dock Charging
No
Power Supply
No Base/Dock

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.

Compared to other headphones

Comparison picture

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. See our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds and the best earbuds for sound.

Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

The Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless are a better option for most uses if you want to go wireless; however, for a wired earbud, the Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20 are a good choice. The QC 30 benefit from the greater range of a Bluetooth connection. They also have a bit more control over their noise cancelling feature when compared to the QC 20. On the upside, the QC 20 have no latency, since they are wired. They also have a slightly stronger noise isolation performance than the QC 30. Also, since they have a simple wired design, they are a bit more portable and will easily fit into your pockets, unlike the QC 30.

Bose SoundSport Wireless
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

The Bose SoundSport Wireless have a similar design and overall score as the Bose QuietComfort 20 but have much different use cases. The SoundSport Wireless are a bit more practical for every day use and sports since there are no cables to hinder your movements. They also have a better-balanced sound quality that does not sound as bass-heavy/dark as the QC 20. The QC 20, on the other hand, are better travel and commuting headphones thanks to the strong noise cancellation that blocks a lot more noise than the semi-open of the SoundSport Wireless. They also have a longer battery life and no latency for watching videos since they are wired.

Bose QuietComfort 35/QC35 Wireless 2016
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

If you prefer a compact design you can easily carry around in your pocket, then go for the Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20. However, if you want a wireless over-ear, the Bose QuietComfort 35/QC35 Wireless 2016 are a great alternative. The QC 20 are wired earbuds that are comfortable enough to wear for long listening sessions. They also block a lot of noise in noisy conditions, thanks to their excellent noise canceling. They're a slightly better travel headphone for some, since they are a bit more compact than the QC 35, and their earbud fit is not as bulky on your head so you can fall asleep on the plane or train with no issues. On the other hand, the wireless QC 35 are a bit more practical for everyday casual use. They also have a much better sound quality, they're easier to use and versatile enough to use wired or wireless with most of your devices.

Jaybird X3 Wireless
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

The Jaybird X3 Wireless are a slightly better and more versatile in-ear/earbud than the Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20. The Bose have excellent isolation which makes them a far better choice for commute and travel than the Jaybirds. They also have a more comfortable earbud fit that you can wear for longer than the Jaybird. On the other hand, the Jaybird are better and more convenient sports headphone thanks to their wireless design. They also have a better default sound quality and come with an EQ so you can customize them to sound the way you like, unlike the Bose.

Bose QuietComfort 20/QC20 Price

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