Bose QC20i

I have long been a fan of the Bose QuietComfort line of headphones; they really do make flying much more comfortable, and are certainly useful in other places as well. The main downside I found to their latest, the QC15's, was that they took up a huge amount of space in my bag. (I've been trying to learn to travel light, and lately don't even bring a laptop with me) 

So I was excited when Bose announced the QC20's in early June. These were the first earbud version of the QuietComfort noise canceling headphones.

I recently had a chance to try a pair on a transcontinental flight and back and the QC20i's (the version that includes control for iOS devices) are my new favorite traveling headphones.

First - the size. There is a small control box/battery a few inches from the 3.5mm jack, and then a controller pod in the middle of the cable, and then it splits to two cables to go to each ear. Even with the control box, the whole thing is really small and comes with a carry case around the size of an iPod classic.

Second - the sound. Noise canceling is as good as the QC15's. Put them in your ears, turn them on, and the sound of twin 737 jet engines quickly fades into nothingness. Sound quality is great for both music and spoken voice content. 

The QC20's also come with an "aware" mode which is great when you need to, well, be aware of whats going on around you. It seemingly uses the microphones to allow you to hear what is going on around you, and you can easily carry on a conversation without needing to take the earbuds out of your ears. A little socially awkward, yes, but it works really well. The noise cancellation requires battery power; a micro-USB connector on the control box keeps working for up to 16 hours between charges, and even when depleted, you can still listen via the headphones, but without noise cancelation. The included Bose StayHear tips are rather comfortable and hold the earbuds in place, even for a long period of time.