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First look at the Bose QC-30 Bluetooth noise-cancelling earphones

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Apple hates ports and will kill each and every one of them come hell or high water. The iPhone 7 / 7 Plus pushed the market away from wired headphones into the loving arms of Bluetooth. Audiophiles will explain that Bluetooth has limited bandwidth which means audio fidelity is severely compromised and they are right. Bluetooth can't match the quality of a good set of wired headphones, but let's be honest, most people aren't listening to high quality audio tracks fed through a good headphone amp and $1000 headphones. Most people are streaming their music via Google Play Music, Apple Music, Spotify or Pandora at 128/256 kbps (some are now streaming 320kbps). 

For the geeky reader, a CD ... Yes that plastic disk us old people use to play music from ;-)  So a music CD was 44.1 kHz x 16 bits x 2 channels = 1411.2 kbps, just for comparison.  

Let's dive into the new in-ear Bluetooth noise cancelling champ from Bose. 

This is more of a first look at the QC30 and a more in depth review will come later. The Qc30 seems to beat the QC35 when strictly comparing noise cancellation quality.  The QC35 has a 12 step noise cancellation intensity control. Where is this useful? When you may want "some" noise cancellation but still need situational awareness (e.g. using these while walking on a busy street). 

QC use to mean QuietComfort buy now means QuietControl. A slight branding update undertaken by Bose

So the branding change was done because you now (for the first time) have that variable noise cancellation strength. 

Design

Most users assume wireless and light weight go hand in hand but not when it comes to the QC30. The QC30 has that strange neckband that connects to the earbuds. When passing the device around, people liked the headband, were indifferent about it or absolutely ragefully hated it. Regardless of how you feel about it, itis universally regarded as ugly.

The ugly spaceship around your neck is the lifeline of the product housing the battery. Bose promises 10 hours of use per charge which is good for most situations (except the long haul overseas flights to Asia). 

Remember that the QC20 had that in line battery compartment which itself was ugly and relatively heavy. 

The other noticeable improvement is fit. I have normal medium sized ear canals and rarely have fit problems with in-ear headphones. The QC30 seem to fit better than the QC20 did which means improved sound quality and noise isolation

The audio control module has all of the standard controls you expect plus additional buttons to control the level of noise cancellation. After a couple of days, you can control everything by feel because of the unique shape of the control module. 

Sound Quality

Let's cut to the chase,  the noise cancellation delivered by the QC30 is truly spectacular. The noise cancellation of the QC30 is as good as the full sized (over the ear) QC35. The only difference is the QC35 benefits from much better noise isolation in addition to active noise cancellation.

I cannot stress how useful the variable noise cancellation strength feature is. It means you can use this on the plane, on the train or while walking on the street. 

Like every other noise cancellation headphone I have ever tried, sound reproduction typically suffers. The QC30 offer clean and clear low/mid ranges. The highs are were it suffers. Highs are drowned out by the other ranges and don't sound as clean as I had hoped. 

The Bose QC30 offers better sound reproduction than the QC20/20i and the sound-stage is more open and airy. So when comparing it to good headphones, sound quality suffers but is a step up when compared to its older sibling.

The bad

Sound is more bass heavy which may impact your enjoyment of some types of more balanced music.  The on/off slider is badly designed (difficult to figure out if the device is on or off when you aren't using the earbuds. 

The ugly UGLY neckband. 

I have to add the price here. At $299 its a rather considerable investment. Not surprising as this is typically the price range for Bose noise cancellation headphones but still....

Conclusion

There is no perfect device. The truth is that this type of noise cancelling headphone has always catered to a specific affluent customer base. Unlike previous years, the in-ear earbuds now offer noise cancellation on par with the on-ear big brother. 

Sound reproduction is good for noise cancelling headphones/earphone but not as good as "normal" ones. If your primary use isn't while on noisy transit and sound quality is important to you, you may want to look at a non noise-cancelling product. If you need noise cancellation, the QC30 offers sound quality better than its noise-cancelling competitors.

If you are looking for standard in-ear bluetooth headphones with decent sound quality and good battery life, take a look at the JLAB Epic 2