BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling – Review

BOSE QuietComfort 20

BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones

 | Active Noise Cancelling | Dynamic Driver |

? We are reviewing the BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones, the first active noise cancelling in-ear headphone from BOSE which has established as a highly desired earphone by a vast public. After our BOSE QC20 soundtests applied during this review we will find out if they are up to their popular reputation.

The BOSE QuietComfort 20 features a single dynamic driver, electronic active noise cancelling technology (that BOSE calls Acoustic Noise Cancelling), an “Aware mode”, TriPort® technology, Active EQ, and a lithium-ion battery that powers their ANC.

BOSE made this model name quite long that it lead to different naming and abbreviation of the model name. Nowadays they can be found under these different names:

  • BOSE QC20i – the “i” at the end of the model name denotes that this is the model compatible with iPhone®, iPad® and iPod®
  • BOSE QC20a – the “a” on it’s name identifies it as the Samsung and Android™ compatible model
  • BOSE QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones
  • BOSE QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones – same as the BOSE QC20i, refers to the iPhone®, iPad® and iPod® compatible model
  • BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones – the lack of the “i” on the name usually refers to the Android compatible model
  • BOSE QC20 headphones
  • BOSE QC20 Noise Cancelling headphones
  • BOSE QuietComfort 20 headphones

Through out this review we might refer to them with any of the just mentioned names and we will be always referring to the same unit that we are testing.

The housings of the BOSE QC20 are made of plastic and light-weighted; the dynamic driver inside the housings apparently is placed sideways like what we have seen on the SONY MDR-EX800st, Sony MDR-7550 and Sony MDR-EX1000.

The cables are substantially thick and very rubberized which helps to reduce the chances of tangling issues. Through out the cables you will find 2 different modules; first you will find the 4-button remote/mic (which is also the cable bifurcation section) and near the 3.5mm plug you will find a much larger piece that is the Acoustic Noise Cancelling module. The 4-button remote/mic has 2 volume dedicated buttons to set the volume up or down, a multi-function button that will allow you to play/pause music, access Siri / Google Search and answer/reject calls and a 4th button on the side of the remote that serves as a switch between the active noise cancelling mode and the “Aware mode” (keep reading ahead to find an explanation of each mode). The Acoustic Noise Cancelling module holds inside the whole ANC circuitry and the lithium-ion battery and is also the section where you will find the micro USB charging port and 2 status LEDs.

The BOSE QuietComfort 20 is compatible with Android and Apple devices but you will have to buy the corresponding model for the correct compatibility (BOSE QC20i for Apple devices and BOSE QC20a for Android and Samsung devices). If after getting one you are still dubious of which version you got you can look to the back of the remote where you will see a sticker with a QR-Code and an “S” marking engraved if you bought the Samsung Galaxy and Android compatible model.

You can buy the BOSE QC20 in:

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Advanced Features

The BOSE QuietComfort 20 technical specifications present some advanced features such as:

  • Acoustic Noise Cancelling: Active noise cancelling technology that electronically reduces the noises
  • Aware Mode: Mode that lets some sound in, allowing you to hear your surroundings
  • LED status: The ANC module holds 2 LEDs that inform the battery status, power and mode selected
  • TriPort® technology and Active EQ : BOSE’s technology that theoretically provides deep and clear sound
  • Proprietary StayHear+® tips: BOSE’s only eartips that give a secure and soft fit


Operation & Control

The 4-button microphone/control of the BOSE QC20 allows you to:

Middle Button:

  • Press and hold: Use of voice control (Siri for Apple devices and Google Search for most Android devices)
  • A single press: Play, Pause music
  • Double button tap: Skip track
  • 3 times tapping: Previous track
  • Press twice and hold: Fast forward track (only available with Apple model)
  • Press thrice and hold: Rewind track (only available with Apple model)

Volume UP Button:

  • A single press: Volume up by 1 level

Volume Down Button:

  • A single press: Volume down by 1 level

Side button:

  • Single press: Switch between Noise Cancelling Mode and Aware Mode

Calls Commands:

  • A single press: Answer/Ends calls
  • A 1 second press and hold of Middle Button: During incoming calls, reject call

LED Status Light: The two LEDs on the ANC module of the BOSE QuietComfort 20 lets you keep informed of the status of the headphones. One LED is associated to the power and battery and the other one to the mode selection.

  • Mode selection LED:
    • Green LED On: Noise Cancelling On
    • Green LED Off: Aware Mode On
  • Power / Battery LED (while in use):
    • Green solid: Power On, more than 3 hours of battery left
    • Green blinking: Power On, less than 3 hours of battery left
    • None: Power off or no battery charge left


  • Power / Battery LED (while charging):
    • Green solid: Charging complete
    • Amber blinking:  Charging
    • Red: Error (you should refer to the Temperature Range section in the User Manual)

BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling - Review

Tests & Scores



BOSE QuietComfort 20 weight in Ounces and BOSE QC20 weight in grams.

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Accessories & Packaging

The BOSE QuietComfort 20 unboxing results in 3 pair of silicone eartips, a cable clip, a branded soft carrying pouch and a micro USB charging cable. The packaging of the BOSE QC20 is fairly large with a design and dimension similar to the one of the BOSE QuietComfort 25 over-ear headphones.

The eartips included with them are called StayHear+® tips and have a “wing-styled” form factor somewhat like the Jaybird Freedom or Jaybird X3 but are much more rubberized and clearly less rigid.


BOSE QuietComfort 20 - Accessories
BOSE QuietComfort 20 – Accessories


Bass & Sub Bass

Noise Cancelling OFF

The BOSE QuietComfort 20 have strong mid-bass punch and some sub-bass depth but their bass is more centered on their mid-bass. The style of their lower frequencies will provide a full-bodied sound with a heavy middle and upper bass and somewhat absent lowest bass range.

Applying an EQ, there is a high increment of the depth with also an overall muddy sound.


Noise Cancelling ON

By turning on their Acoustic Noise Cancelling, the BOSE QC20 showed a higher volume output and an distinctly modified response of their lower frequencies making their mid-bass sound punchier and mostly their sub-bass becoming radically deeper in comparison to before.

Using an EQ gives them a stronger mid-bass and an insane increment of their lower end’s depth.


If you were wondering why we had not mentioned our extreme bass tests for the BOSE QuietComfort 20; our test involves feeding the earphones with intense levels of amplification with a Fiio E12 Mont Blanc, the additional stress that this tests apply over the units can damage their drivers and nevertheless we put our earphones through the test but in the case of the BOSE QC20 the additional power supplied by the amplifier could fry the Acoustic Noise Cancelling circuitry. Therefore, we have not ran them through these tests.

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BOSE QuietComfort 20
BOSE QuietComfort 20


Mids & Vocals

Noise Cancelling OFF

The BOSE QC20 mids have strong mid-bass bleed that makes their lower vocals congested. Higher mids are evidently not as rolled-off, sound crisp and at times become harsh. The overall mids are muddy and very warm (maybe excessively warm).

With an EQ there is a strong improvement of their lower mids with much more clear sounding male vocals and a prominent reduction of mid-bass bleed. Their mids warmth becomes better balanced while not becoming thin nor tinny. The sporadic harsh peaks can become more frequent.


Noise Cancelling ON

After turning their ANC on, mids become clear with a much more controlled and less present mid-bass bleed, energetic and vivid vocals that definitely do not sound congested. Higher mids become crispier too but risk to become a bit too forward with frequent harsh crests. On the contrary, alternating from Aware Mode to Noise Cancelling Mode shows no sound variation.

With an EQ, you can empower their mids and they will become much more present but sincerely this is not the EQ path that we recommend for the BOSE QC20. Instead, you might prefer to use an EQ just to reduce the harsh higher peaks and leave alone their lower and middle mids. A slight reduction of dB at +/- 2kHz and 4kHz will show an evident smoothing of their harsh higher mids without affecting much of their overall clear and energetic mids and vocals.



Highs & Treble

Noise Cancelling OFF

The BOSE QuietComfort20 highs are very dark and resolve no detail. The strong recession of their highs does give a positive sound characteristic that some will appreciate, the 100% free of piercing and sibilant highs peaks at any given moment with any track. Certainly, highs are not their strongest asset if you are looking for clarity, brightness and detail but if you want non-fatiguing highs you could welcome them.

An EQ gives them a much needed help with added brightness, bit of detail and a more open sound. Still their highs are dark and not the greatest.


Noise Cancelling ON

Much like what happened with mids, vocals, mid-bass and sub-bass; the BOSE QC20 also show an absolute makeover of their sound in the higher frequencies and offer a much higher volume output (aprox. 25% stronger). Switching from Noise Cancelling mode to Aware mode makes no difference in their sound.

With Noise Cancelling turned on, their highs are miles brighter and substantially more detailed. The extremely dark and muddy overall sound that was present while using them with their Noise Cancelling off, now becomes much more open, clear sounding and way way brighter by turning the ANC on. On the other hand, piercing highs show up and some sibilance can be perceived, depending on the song being listened to.

An EQ this time makes their highs much brighter and open with also a strong increase of piercing highs.


BOSE QC20 - ANC Module
BOSE QC20 – ANC Module
BOSE QuietComfort 20 - ANC Module
BOSE QuietComfort 20 – ANC Module


Sound Leak

The sound that leaks out of the BOSE QuietComfort is considerably low, people nearby will not hear a thing from your earphones if you are listening to music at a moderate volume. If you crank up the volume all the way up a mild quantity will be perceptible but only on fairly quiet situations.

As mentioned on the previous sections, the activation of their Acoustic Noise Cancelling or Aware mode will increment their volume output. In this case, if you turn the volume to the max. their sound leakage will be a bit more audible.


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Sound Isolation

This is the category where the BOSE QuietComfort20 have to defend their reputation as one of the most effective noise cancelling technologies to date but first we have to mention their passive isolation (meaning, while not turning on their electronic Acoustic Noise Cancelling). The amount of passive isolation of these earphones is good with a noticeable reduction of the surroundings but not the strongest one by any means, if we would have to rate them by their passive isolation they would probably get a 7.5 out of 10 but they have much more isolation to offer with their active noise cancelling.

The Acoustic Noise Cancelling of the BOSE QC20 electronically cancels surrounding noises by measuring the noises with their microphones and emitting an opposite sound curve, the result of the physics behind this (that should matter to you) is that you get a reduction/cancellation of these environmental noises. Additionally to the active noise cancellation, they have a special function called “Aware mode” that can be activated by simply pressing the button on the side of the remote/mic. This mode emphasizes specific audio frequencies to allow the perception of environmental noises; the convenience of this mode? For example, you could be at an airport awaiting the announcement of your flight but you would like to reduce disturbing noises, with this BOSE headphones you can turn their ANC on (that will reduce noises) and switch to Aware mode on-the-go by pressing the switch button to temporarily allow you to hear the flight announcement and then switch back to Noise Cancelling mode by pressing the button again. Another example, you are walking through the city with the ANC on to reduce the busy city rumble but reach a busy crosswalk were you would like to hear any noises for security reasons, press the side-button on the remote, switch to Aware mode, cross the road and press the button again to continue cancelling noises.

Getting to our tests of the Acoustic Noise Cancelling, while activating their ANC we measured a maximum of 33.6 dB of noise reduction at the most responsive audio frequencies, -7.3 dB on the least effective frequencies and a general reduction that averaged from 20 dB to 24 dB. These values translate into an extreme reduction of noises in situations such as flight travelling or train commuting. If you have never experienced the noise reduction of a highly efficient noise cancelling earphone (like the Xiaomi Mi Noise Cancelling Earphones) you will remain perplexed by the sensation and if you already own a noise cancelling earphone that provides a fair but moderate performance, the BOSE QC20 will let you discover a whole new level of cancellation.

Our measurements of the Aware mode, demonstrated a maximum reduction of 14.4 dB near the 80 Hz and a general decrease of 6.2 dB that extended through out frequencies from 150 Hz to 700 Hz. Above +/- 730 Hz and up to 2500 Hz, the Aware mode shows their intervention with an 8 dB boosting and topping to a maximum of +8.7 dB.


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BOSE QuietComfort 20
BOSE QuietComfort 20



When you get your hands on the BOSE QC20 you will realize the not so common shape and could make you have second thoughts about their comfort. As soon as you place them in the ears you will notice the greatly achieved ergonomics and comfort level of their fit, there are no sharp edges touching the ear’s surface nor rigid eartips/earwings that could generate some sort of pressure and pain after a while. Because of these reasons the BOSE QuietComfort 20 provide a pain-free experience with a fit that is secure and holds tight in the ears.


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Response to Equalization

Noise Cancelling OFF

An EQ for highs and mids had a lot of work to do. Equalizing their highs offered some improvement of brightness and detail but remained being dark, mids highly cleared up and sounded much better with a subdued strength of mid-bass bleed and less congested vocals, bass became deeper but muddy.


Noise Cancelling ON

When ANC was turned on, the response to EQ also improved. Bass gained a crazy amount of depth without becoming as muddy as before, mids removed their harsh peaks and highs showed a strong amount of brightness and overall much more open sound.


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Frequency Response (raw)

BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones Frequency Response

Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones - NC ON - Frequency Response Curve
Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones – NC ON – Frequency Response Curve
Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones - NC OFF - Frequency Response Curve
Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones – NC OFF – Frequency Response Curve

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BOSE QuietComfort 20 - ANC Module
BOSE QuietComfort 20 – ANC Module
BOSE QuietComfort 20 - ANC Module
BOSE QuietComfort 20 – ANC Module

BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones


TypeAcoustic Noise Cancelling | Dynamic Driver
Driver UnitDynamic Driver
Power CapacityN/A
Frequency Responseunknown
Battery life16 hours
Charging time2 hours
Charging CableMicro USB
Plug3.5mm Stereo mini plug
WeightApprox. 44g
Supplied AccessoriesNeoprene-like soft carrying case/pouch;
cable clip;
3 pair of StayHear®+;
USB charging cable

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We highly discourage anyone from trying to apply our testings to your own earphones, the risk of damaging or permanently breaking your iems is absolutely probable to happen. With our standardized equalization and amplification tests we push the limits of the earphones to the extreme. If anyway you decide to do so, we cannot be held responsible of the damage done to your equipment. Do it at your own risk.

BOSE QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones