Bose QuietControl 30 (Acoustic Noise Canceling) Headphones

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I spend a good amount of time listening to music every day…at work, in the car, at home, doing yard work…and I also spend a decent amount of time reading and watching reviews on headphones.  Sound review is an incredibly subjective thing, and so more often than not, it’s not about whether a pair of headphones’ sound is good or bad.  In most cases, it’s a game of business decisions, where the manufacturer is positioning a pair of headphones in a certain market with a certain use case in mind.

I have a love for Bose products, from my wireless Bose Soundsport wireless headphones, to my Bose Mini II Soundlink bluetooth speaker, or even to my (VERY) short-lived experience with Bose’s QC35 Acoustic Noise Canceling over-ear headphones.  I’m a bit of a brand-snob when it comes to Bose, where in most cases I’ll buy a product just because it’s a Bose product.  I’ll admit that while that’s not the strongest case for an objective review, I absolutely won’t buy a Bose product that I don’t need (or feel like I need).

And, if we’re all being honest, most of today’s tech goodies are such that a buying decision is at least partly based upon feeling like we “need” them, regardless of whether or not we have a great handle on what “need” means.

Thus enters the question—why choose this over anything else?  The only reason, as far as I’m concerned, is access to Bose’s Acoustic Noise Canceling technology.  Most reviewers argue that this is one of Bose’s best offerings when compared to the competition, even more than sound quality, design and comfort.

I will warn you, though: this may not be what you expect out of Bose when it comes to ANC.  During my short time with the QC35’s I learned a great deal about what to expect from high-quality ANC.  The only problem with those, though, was that they made me motion-sick (it was a very, very sad day; also, it’s not entirely unheard of, do some research about it).  So admittedly, I was very curious about how these would fit into my lifestyle, considering they are collar-style ear buds, where the QC35’s are over-ear.

There aren’t a ton of mainstream ANC headphones in this price range, but there are quite a few value-priced options that you may not have heard of.  The sale here is, does the style and performance justify the price?

The QuietControl 30’s are a collar-style, in-ear headphone with ANC.  The collar, undoubtedly, is where the battery and ANC capabilities live, and while I’m not a huge fan of the collar, it definitely reduces the size of the earbuds when compared to the Bose Soundsport buds, which are massive and collar-less.

The sound is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Bose’s headphones: great for vocals and acoustics, blending in the mids and highs (one of those subjective things that some people like and others hate), and tolerably little bass.  They do a great job from a soundstage perspective considering their size, and the buds are comfortable and secure in the ear.

So let’s talk about the ANC.  This is one of the weirdest presentations of ANC I think I’ve ever experienced, because not only are they noise-canceling, but the noise-canceling itself is adjustable.  Think about what you expect that to be like—got it?  OK, good, now forget it—because it’s anything but that.

So on the ANC spectrum, when it’s ON you expect that the “white noise” background to be severely muted, in essence amplifying the music being played (if you’re playing music—because these are certainly capable of being worn without playing music, which might be a decent use case for them).  But what about when ANC is OFF?  Well, my first thought is, they’d be like any other headphone that has ANC that can turn on and off…with it turned off.  Basically, like headphones.

That is where these are a bit different than the norm.  Suppose the “ANC-ness” of the headphones was a number line, where maximum ANC goes off to the left (and thus mutes outside ambient noise); then non-ANC would be right in the middle (at zero, so to speak).  What is different about these headphones is that, when the ANC is turned “down” all the way, it actually brings in and amplifies outside ambient noise along side your music.  In my number line scenario above, this would be to the right of the center.

It’s as if the intention is for the device to bring in that outside noise as an aide to you.  But how it does it is tinny and mechanical—the amplification of things you usually don’t hear, like your feet shuffling across carpet, or breathing through your nose, or the rustling of bedsheets or perhaps a light jacket.  All of these things enter the foreground in a very unusual and awkward manner, which make this a very unique product.

In most reviews, I find the “what” far more important than the “who,” because in most of the products I’ve reviewed I feel that mostly everyone could benefit from the product.  Sadly, that’s not the case for this one.

The unique way that Bose handles ANC in this product is what I think positions it best for certain people.  Those people might be office workers who work in a bullpen environment, who like to listen to music but also need to be able to hear everything else (your boss yelling, the phone ringing, etc).  Those folks would also be able to benefit from turning up the ANC to it’s highest, in the event they stay late at work and need to power through to get home before the kids go to bed (for those curious, I just described myself).

Another use case might be for that same person who, after they get home, wants to be able to watch that show on their computer or tablet, but need to be able to hear the kids shouting incessantly from their bedrooms that they need one thing or another.

These also might be a good product if you’re looking for a pair of wireless headphones to wear at night; even though you have to contend with the collar, the buds are small enough that they may be tolerable for side-sleepers.

And, if you found yourself where I was, getting motion-sick with the QC35’s, but still want access to a Bose product with ANC, I’m happy to report that I’ve had no ill-feelings during even extended use of these (although some might say that’s because they’re not as good—which I might be inclined to agree with).

But as I alluded at the top end of my review, I don’t know that the use case is prevalent enough to justify this for the masses.  That’s ok, it doesn’t have to be everything to everyone, as long as it’s something to someone.

Avoid the product if you hate collar-style headphones.  If you’re looking for an upgrade to your LG Tone headphones, this could be a good option.  Battery life has been in line with the other recent releases from Bose, and the unique approach to ANC is something that certainly sets it apart.

If you already have a pair of wireless headphones (that weren’t super cheap), you can probably live without these.  I wouldn’t get these as a pair of workout headphones, unless you were focusing on something like weight-training or spinning; the collar would get uncomfortable with high-activity workouts.

If the above descriptions make you think you need this in your life, you should buy it—only because I don’t think this is a product we’ll see on the market for long—nor will we see anything that truly competes with it at the price point.  I’d be shocked if Bose releases anything like this in the future or updates this after a generation.

Provided the product doesn’t perform well on its release, you’ll probably see some decent sales and discounts, open-box items, and other deals that will help you save some cheddar on your purchase.  If you’re curious, maybe wait to see if you can get a deal.  If you must have it, you don’t really care about the cost.

This is an interesting product in a lot of ways—and in those ways it’s almost as if it is tailored to my needs.  The bullpen environment, occasionally being able to use ANC at work, being able to hear (or completely shutout) the kids at night, side-sleeping…all of those things together make it great for me.  But if you don’t fit into 3 or more of those categories, I’m not sure this is the right product for you.

At the end of the day, this is going to get 2 stars—mostly because it requires a very specific use-case to be worth it, and I don’t see it replacing any of my array of other headphones, all of which are very good at doing what I need them to do (read more about that here).  And the sound isn’t all that great, either.

A unique idea, executed passably well, but in my option not worth the expense for a majority of people.

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2 thoughts on “Bose QuietControl 30 (Acoustic Noise Canceling) Headphones

  1. Bose has managed to combine the lightweight feel of earbuds with the amazing functionality of headphone-grade noise cancellation. On top of that, they have added the novel technology of controllable noise cancellation – all of these factors combined should propel the QC30 to a five star range – but some inherent problems bog it down.

    There are real problems, as other reviews here and on Reddit have mentioned, with the microphone. I’ve tested it on both the receiving and calling end, and it is bad enough to warrant taking off a star from the review. The battery life also causes a bit of an inconvenience as it’s not possible to use them while charging, but it’s not a deal breaker.

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    • I definitely see where you’re coming from Alex…and thank you for your comment!

      I’ll admit, I’ve used these more than I thought I would–but the two star comment from me is a result of the form factor (which I find to be inferior–not a fan of the “collar style” in spite of the appeal of them by many), the price tag, and the novelty around adjusting noise cancelation in that weird way. The sound quality is on-par with Bose, and I agree the microphone provides hit-or-miss performance. The use cases are there, sure, but pretty specific ones which don’t require this particular pair of headphones to fit. I don’t like technological “unitaskers.”

      For me, 4 stars means buy it, 5 stars means buy it and tell all your friends to buy it too. I don’t think I’d buy these myself, or recommend someone spend the money on it…hence two stars. But, that’s just my take on it–and anyone who can should get their hands on them and try them for themselves. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve purchased and returned within a day or two just for the sake of trying it out.

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