First noise-cancelling earphones from Bose may spark a quiet revolution

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 10:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 10:24am

Noise-cancelling headphones have been around for a while. The higher-quality ones have always been over-the-ear versions, but Bose has created an in-ear version that blows the competition out of the water.

The QuietComfort 20 acoustic noise-cancelling headphones bring musical tranquility to lovers of good sounds, but at the hefty price tag of HK$2,580.

They are the first in-ear noise-cancelling earphone set from Bose, and feature microphones that detect noise on the outside and inside of your ears. The control module then digitally filters out ambient noise by comparing the sound difference between the two.

Helping to increase the musical experience are the Bose ear tips, which comfortably and gently seal the ears, and help to block external ambient noise.

The control module, which does all the work, is a dongle that looks like a luxury lighter - rectangular and very slim. It has a built-in battery that can be recharged in two hours via a micro-USB cable, and delivers about 16 hours of play time.

The remote control for the headphones has, of course, the standard three buttons: play, volume up and down. But it also features a fourth to turn off the digital noise-cancelling for when you're walking along busy streets and need to be more aware of your surroundings.

Real-world tests of the QuietComfort 20 were impressive: busy streets in Tsim Sha Tsui became very quiet, cancelling out those annoying street marketers.

At the crossing of Des Voeux Road and Pedder Street in Central, the roar of traffic was brought down to a barely audible whisper. An airport lounge with crying babies was suddenly silenced, and the humming inside a Boeing 777 was gone, with the cabin feeling like the inside of a library.

Trips on the MTR or buses, no matter how noisy, became like private concerts.

A few minor design issues stop the headphones from getting a perfect score. An auto shut-off function would have been helpful to stop the battery from draining when you forget to switch off the dongle.

A way to clip the dongle to the mobile device would have been handy, instead of having it dangling off and around it.

The audio performance of the Bose headphones was only slightly above average, with a somewhat diminished sounding bass - disappointing considering the price tag.

It was also disappointing that the regular faux leather case that Bose normally includes was replaced by a neoprene one that leaves a bit of an iPhone sticking out the top, and can't store both the phone and headphones together at the same time.


Overall, these headphones are well worth the money. If you're looking for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that really do what's advertised on the box, then look no farther.

The closest competitor is the AKG K391 NC, which costs about a third less for about half the performance of the QuietComfort 20.

The QuietComfort 20i are for iPhone users.