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Noise-cancelling headphones have been the top choice of frequent fliers for years, but their transition to the world of earbuds has been rather slow. Flat or not, they are still full-sized headphones so they take up room in your overhead-sized, hyper-optimized, travel-worn luggage. At $300 the QC20s are not cheap, but before you just switch over to humming to yourself while wearing earplugs, you should know that the QuietComforts have some very good qualities to them. Bose today introduced the in-ear evolution of the awesome noise-cancelling headphones that have been hanging on the heads of weary travellers for years.
The headphones will be available later this year for around $US300 in an Android-friendly model, as well as a version with an iOS three-button remote. The headphones are designed as on-the-go counterparts to the over-ear and on-ear QuietComfort models you’re probably familiar with. In a demo at press event at Grand Central in New York today, Bose simulated some absurdly loud environments, like aeroplanes and a busy train station. The QC 20s are small like buds but because of the addition electronics inside, they’re bigger than what most of us are used to carrying around in our pockets. Bose’s older QuiteComfort headphones sound great, but what we love about them above all else is how comfortable they are. We’ll be interested to know if the headphones will still be that comfortable after hours and hours of use. Besides introducing new headphones, Bose also intruded its own version of the now-unibiquitous, Bluetooth speaker block. First of all, this little 680g, 5cm x 5cm x 18cm brick of aluminium is absolutely gorgeous. Many of us have experienced prolonged stretches of driving where we're seemingly oblivious to our surroundings, and we're left dumbfounded that we didn't get into a serious accident.


The first thing to note are those peculiar StayHear ear buds, which seal your ear, passively blocking noise like ear plugs, while providing the perfect conditions for the active noise reduction technology to work. To some extent this is not surprising — an active noise cancellation system requires its own power as well as bulk that does not lend itself to streamlined earbud designs. The QC3s are those slim, silver headphones that everyone who flights more than four times a month seems to own. If you want something smaller that still features active noise-cancellation which is effective enough to be useful, then Bose has a pair of QC20s with your name on them. The fit was not ideal for me, but after deciding on the right silicone ear pieces and getting used to the way they sit, I found the QC20’s oversized earbuds to be comfortable and well-suited to extended use. And at their core, the headphones are all about helping you block out the cacophany around you so you can just hear the darn music.
That’s data is beamed down to the little control stick that sits in line, right before the jack that plugs into your phone, computer, etc. A new study suggests that a specific brain function protects us from these bouts of absent-minded driving -- but that it completely breaks down while texting. That can't stop you from appreciating the efforts of others, like this secret underground cooler from Peter Gotting. Well, each bud contains two tiny microphones – one that senses the sound outside, and the other the sound inside your ear. I was, however, alarmed by the size of the attached rechargeable battery pack, which gives you up to 16 hours of active noise cancelling. Press the small grey button on the controller and your ‘phones will switch out of full noise cancelling, allowing you to hear announcements at the train station or airport, or a shop assistant or a friend talking to you, without you having to take your ear buds out.
The controls and battery hang in a slim rectangular box about two inches off the plug which seems like a strange addition to any set of earbuds, but it’s mandatory if you want active noise cancellation.


I’m not much of an audiophile, but I was happy with the low and mid-tones of the QC20s and accepted the tradeoff they made in the higher tones. As well as two passive radiators behind them to help flesh out the bass performance of the litte monster.
But I’m not sure even I would have the courage to take on the 700 players and 6,000-plus models on the headphone market, as Bose are doing with its brand-new set of in-ear buds, the QuietComfort 20s. These measurements are then sent to a brainy little electronic chip situated inside the headphone controller (the little box that also lets you answer calls and adjust the volume of tracks without delving into your bag in search of your phone). Bose took this challenge head-on with the QC20 in-ear headphones and showed us, once again, why the company is the industry leader in active noise cancellation. They are lightweight and easy to pack because the earcups turn 90 degrees so they can be stored flat.
This small unit is a non-factor when you are flying or on the train but rather annoying if you want to take your QC20s to the gym. This then sends out an equal and opposite noise cancellation signal in a fraction of a millisecond. In this case I resorted to putting it flat against my phone and holding the two together with a rubber band.



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