When Bose decided to build a pair of in-ear headphones with a noise-canceling feature, it faced a quandary: how to stuff that technology into a tiny package.
So Bose wisely decided to add an in-line control module at the base of the cord for its QuietComfort 20, the in-ear option in the company's line of noise-canceling headphones. With this design, the module does not weigh down the cord or tug at your ears; you can easily slip it into a pocket with your music player.
The noise-canceling feature works remarkably well. Two tiny microphones in each ear bud send signals to the control module, which responds instantly to counter unwanted sounds. Bose says the reaction time is less than a millisecond. The effect enriches your listening experience, making your music sound fuller and deeper. I tried the headphones on a variety of pop, rock and classical albums, and the music was consistently clean and free of distortion.
Even with the noise-canceling feature turned on, a small amount of sound still slips in, typically the voices of other people, but this is common with noise-canceling headphones. The noise can be reduced by readjusting the ear buds to create more of a seal in the ear. Several soft, comfortable ear tips, which include stabilizers that help secure the tips, are included.
The headphones come with a cloth carrying pouch and a mini-USB cable for charging. Bose says the battery in the control module lasts about 16 hours on a full charge. And, unlike some other noise-cancelling headphones, these still work when the control module is turned off or the battery runs out.
Another nifty feature is something Bose calls the "aware" mode, because it lets more outside sound in, allowing you to be more aware of your surroundings. This means you can chat with the barista at your favorite coffee shop without removing your headphones. It also helps when walking around the streets of New York; ignorance is bliss, but not if you get hit by a taxi.
The in-line remote control in the yoke of the cord includes a microphone for phone calls; a clip allows you to fasten the cord to a collar or lapel. A second model, the Bose QC20i, has an in-line remote intended for Apple iOS devices.
All these features don't come cheap; the QuietComfort 20 headphones cost $300. But you would be hard-pressed to find better noise-canceling technology.
Correction: September 18, 2013, Wednesday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article described incorrectly a feature of the headphones. While the headphones still work (without noise-cancelling) when the control module is turned off or the battery runs out, that is not what Bose calls the "aware" mode. In aware mode, which is activated by pushing a button on the midcord remote, some sound is allowed to bypass the noise-cancelling circuitry.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.