Hands on: Bose QuietControl 30 review

Variable noise cancelling from in-ear buds

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

These headphones have not only brought Bose's noise cancelling technology to a pair of in-ears, they've also made it variable to boot.

For

  • Variable noise cancellation
  • Comfortable fit
  • Nice full sound

Against

  • Neckband could be inconvenient
  • Bulky earbuds

When you think of noise cancelling headphones, your mind probably probably goes to over-ear headphones such as Bose's flagship QuietComfort 25's. You might be surprised to know that the company also brought the technology to its in-ear headphones with 2013's QuietComfort 20.

Now with the QuietControl 30 Bose is taking its in-ear headphones a step further by taking away the wired connection without sacrificing the noise cancellation of the buds.

But the really exciting thing about the QC30's is that for the first time Bose is giving users the ability to control the exact amount of noise cancellation the earphones apply to background noise.

Or as Dan Gauger, Bose's Senior Research Engineer put it, "you're at home you put one some music then you go out...and a bus drives by....what's your choice? You turn up the music. Here [with the QuietControl] you get to turn down the bus."

Design

The QC 30's might not have a wire connecting themselves to your device, but they're far from completely wireless.

Not only do the QC 30's have a wire running between them, they also have a horseshoe shaped plastic band that this wire connects to and that sits on the user's neck.

Bose QuietControl 30

The reason for this, I assume, is to give the headphones enough space to contain the device's battery, which powers both the noise cancellation and the Bluetooth connectivity.

It remains to be seen how inconvenient this neckband ends up being with everyday use, but in my brief time with it I found it to be nice and light as it sat on my neck.

The earbuds themselves are slightly bulkier than what we've come to expect from other in-ear headphones, but when they integrate a total of six microphones it's easy to see why the extra space is required.

They also feature Bose's StayHear+ tips, which allow the buds to be attached to your ear without needing to be completely snug in your ear canal.

Bose QuietControl 30

The result was a very comfortable pair of in-ears that felt like they could withstand a good amount of knocks without falling out.

On the cable which connects the right earbud to the neckband is the headphone's in-line remote.

As well as the standard three buttons we've come to expect from our headphone remotes there are a further two buttons, for altering the level of noise cancellation the headphones offer.

Performance

This variable level of noise cancellation is the standout feature of the headphones, which are the first to offer it.

You have around twelve levels of noise cancellation to choose from, ranging from no active noise cancellation at all, through to the same level offered by Bose's flagship QuietComfort 35's.

This level can be controlled in two ways. You can either use the aforementioned buttons to select between the twelve levels of cancellation, or else you can boot into a dedicated Bose app which features a pretty neat visualisation of just how much noise is being blocked out.

Given how convenient the in-line buttons are to access though, it's hard to see why anyone would end up using the app.

It takes a moment for the noise cancellation to switch to the level you select, but it's a surprisingly flexible system that's every bit as effective as an over-ear noise canceller.

Bose QuietControl 30

When I asked why the same feature hadn't been included in the QC30's bigger brother, the QC35, a spokesperson from Bose told me that the company expects people to use the QC30's while they're out and about, rather than while on a plane or train journey.

This raises an interesting question, and it's one that I raised with Dan Gauger when I had a chance to speak to him later in the day. Is Bose worried about encouraging people to use noise cancelling headphones when this might put them in danger around traffic?

"I think people need to be careful, and [while] we can't make them be careful...we're giving them all the tools they need," Gauger says.

In other words, Bose want people to make full use of the variable noise cancelling, rather than putting it up to its maximum level and becoming oblivious to the world around them.

In fact there might even be a health benefit to using noise cancelling headphones while on the go, since this will allow people to avoid having to listen to music at dangerously loud volumes to compensate for the background noise around them.

Bose QuietControl 30

But enough about the noise cancellation, how do they actually sound? Pretty good as it turns out. Their soundstage isn't quite as wide as their over-ear brethren, but the bass has a good amount of kick to it without becoming overwhelming.

The earbuds positioning on your ear also allows the entire frequency range to sing rather than prioritising the bass as I've found some in-ears to do in the past.

Early Verdict

The fact that Bose has managed to include noise cancellation in a pair of in-ear headphones is impressive, and the fact that it's managed to also implement its first ever variable noise cancellation is more impressive still.

We've set to see whether using a pair of noise cancelling headphones while out and about is necessarily a good idea, but having the ability to set the level of noise cancellation at a low level is a helpful feature when used in this way.

They're comfortable and sounded great in the brief time I had with them, but you'll have to wait for TechRadar's full review to see whether they measure up over long listening periods.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.