For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been using a pair of Bose over-the ear noise-canceling headphones when flying. It’s nice cutting out that obnoxious, loud drone of the engines, and I don’t feel as tired as when I don’t use the headphones. Plus, they sound pretty good – I either listen to music or watch video from my iPad.
But they have some drawbacks. They are pretty large – I have to carry them in the supplied case, which I hang around my neck, as opposed to the Apple earbuds that I can just tuck into my pocket. They also require a AAA battery, and while the battery life is pretty good (I don’t use them all that much) I could still find myself without working headphones (or else I have to carry a spare battery – at least the large case has a spot for that). These headphones only work when powered, so if the juice dies, they are dead weight. I also wear them when running the snowblower, and it’s hard to put on any kind of hat with them on.
Also, because they are so old, they don’t have iPod controls built-in or a mic for use with my phone. I did buy an in-line switch/mike adapter, but that made the cord extremely long. So I really wanted something smaller but with the same capabilities.
Bose has recently released the perfect version of their noise-cancelling headphones for my use: the QuietComfort 20i. They are small, in the ear headphones that seal the ear off from the outside world, and have small mics in them to listen to the outside sounds and cancel them out. You can also go into what Bose calls “aware mode” and get some of the outside world sounds. This is useful when you need to listen to announcements on the plane but still want to cut out the engine drone. And the whole thing fits into a small case (included) that slips into a pocket, so no more bulky headphones on trips.
I haven’t had a chance to try these on a plane yet, but I have used them in some other loud situations and they’ve worked wonderfully. You can charge them up off of a USB port as they have a micro USB port. The battery is supposedly good for 16 hours after a 2-hour charge; I haven’t test those limits yet. They come with several different size ear bud attachments to fit different sized ears, as well as the USB to micro-USB charging cord (the cord fits in the case as well).
But if the juice dies, or you just turn them off, they still work as non-powered earbuds. The 20i model also has a mic and all the necessary buttons to control an iPhone (including answering calls). There is another model for non iOS devices (with a different in-line controller).
The electronics are all in a very small, black, slim package near the end you plug into the device, and it is covered is a soft, rubbery case. This houses the switch and a small light that tells you if the device is on and the charge status. The earbuds are labeled R and L (and I suspect you’d have difficulty putting them into the wrong ear in any case). About the only thing I don’t like is the two-tone wires leading to the earbuds, but that’s a minor nit. These are now my everyday headphones – I don’t bother carrying the Apple earbuds anymore.
I am happy with the sound quality; however, my hearing isn’t necessarily the best, so it probably is best if you listen to them yourself. If you don’t have a Bose store near you, you can buy them and get a full refund within 30 days. No, they aren’t cheap at $299. But you can spread the payments over 12 months interest free, so you can can try them out for an upfront payment of just $50.
So if you’re looking for a pair of decent noise-cancelling headphones, you may want to give a listen to the QC20i.