Anytime I talk about active noise cancelling headphones, people imagine large over the ear products like the AKG 495NC or the Bose QuietComfort QC15. These work well but are difficult to carry and sometimes uncomfortable.
Bose has recently released the QuietComfort QC 20 (for Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone) with a single control button or the QuietComfort QC 20i (for IOS devices) with 3 control buttons.
What really makes this product stand out is the incredible noise cancellation capabilities. The Base QC20 /20i doesn't target the audiophile community because it doesn't offer a neutral (aka flat) sound profile but rather one tuned for rock and pop.
This device is squarely aimed at users looking for fantastic noise cancellation with sound tuned to their most listened to genres (Pop and rock).
Bose devices typically use understated colors to blend into any environment and this product is no different. It is built using solid feeling plastic in grey and black. The silicon ear-tips are comfortable and the flanges are designed to hold the product in place even when exercising.
If you get the QC20, it comes with one control button to answer a call, end a call, start the music or stop the music. The QC20i comes with 3 control buttons (for iOS devices) which performs everything its more generic brother does but the additional 2 buttons perform skip and rewind.
The noise canellation circuitry box contains a button that turns on "Aware Mode" which uses the noise cancellation microphone to allow you to hear someone talking to you without having to take the headphones off. This is a nice touch especially when you use this while travelling.
A problem I have had with previous Bose noise cancelling headphones was the fact that they couldn't play music when the batteries died. Bose finally fixed this annoying "feature". The QC20 /20i now plays music even when the battery dies. The only impact of a dead battery is that the volume drops a bit but it is still very acceptable.
I have had about 7 different noise cancelling in-ear headphones over the years (like Sony, Sennheiser, etc) and the most annoying physical attribute is the large heavy battery compartment and noise cancellation circuitry. Bose has done a good job shrinking this and placing it at the tip end of the earphones so it is less bothersome.
The true test of headphones is the call quality and audio performance. I used this product with my iPhone 4s (my main daily use cell phone) and call quality is similar to that of a high quality headset. Making regular phone calls sounded as good as a normal cell phone call can sound. The other party didn't realize I was using a headset. When I made a call from my car driving at 100km/h with the windows down, the other party heard lots of loud wind noise which clearly indicates that the device isn't performing call noise isolation like the Jawbone product.
I then made a Facetime audio call (which is similar to HD Voice on networks that support it) and the call quality was pristine. You could hear every nuance clearly as if the person was sitting in front of me. Again this worked best in a relatively quiet environment since any external noise was picked up and added to the call.
I compared the noise cancellation of the Bose QC20i to 5 different products (Sony, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, etc) and the QC15i outperformed everyone of them. I tested it sitting next to the hotel in-room air conditioner or next to the engine on plane and it managed to almost completely wipe all the annoying background noise with ease.
Most noise cancellation headphones cannot drown out the human voice. So a test I like to perform is to sit in a busy public location like an airport or mall and test the human voice cancellation abilities. Again the QC20i performed remarkably well really quieting down everyone around me. In this test, it even outperformed the Base QC15 headphones.
The tips are not noise isolating tips which means they don't jam the ear canal which makes the noise cancellation performance that much more amazing (since it is all performed by the noise cancellation circuitry) but it also makes the tips comfortable to use during long trips.
If you are an audiophile, do not buy these headphones. They produce a sound signature tuned for pop and rock music. Although it produces a clean low end base response, it isn't tuned for heavy base like the Monster or Dr Dre products.
Sounds that would typically be found in the very low end spectrum (on audiophile grade flat sound signature headphones) end up in the low-mid range level. It isn't annoying or bothersome, it is just not tuned flat.
Mids and highs are also reproduced very well with a clean sound profile but a little louder than I typically want. It is important to remember that these earphones are targeting the general population and the tuning of this products sound profile is fantastic with pop music.
I wore them at the gym and the pop (top40 remixes) I was listening to came through very clean, very clean and enjoyable. I loved listening to these earphones because the sound profile was pleasing (with pop music) and the noise cancellation meant I didn't hear people talking around me or the crappy songs played in the gym.
The USB rechargeable battery should last 14-16 hours of use. I like devices that use standard disposable batteries but this is not too bad.
The QC 20i and QC 20 offer incredible noise cancellation. Some of the best noise cancellation I have ever heard. The sound quality is amazing for the right audience (people listening to pop or rock) and the device is well built and should last for years.
I have to recommend the Bose QC20 (and QC20i) even at its $300+ cost. It is a must for business travelers or those looking for quiet refuge in a jungle of noise.