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Bose QuietControl 30 review: The ultimate neckband-style Bluetooth headphone

Bose in-ear wireless canceling is a great everyday headphone so long as you don't expect the most powerful noise-canceling.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read

Think of Bose's QuietControl 30 ($300, £230 or AU$449) as the ultimate neckband-style Bluetooth headphone. (That's the style that looks like a horseshoe draped around the back of a person's neck, which LG pioneered with its top-selling Tone series.)


Bose QuietControl 30

The Good

The Bose QuietControl 30 is well-built, very comfortable to wear, offers variable noise-canceling and excellent sound quality for a Bluetooth headphone. It's also sweat-resistant and can be used as a sports headphone. Works well as a headset.

The Bad

Pricey. Noise-canceling isn't as effective as QuietComfort 20 or QuietComfort 35. No wired option to plug into airline entertainment systems.

The Bottom Line

So long as you don't expect the most powerful noise-canceling, the QuietControl 30 works really well as an everyday headphone. You can use it at the gym or for running.

Because it's an in-ear model, a lot people, including me, thought it would be the wireless successor to the QuietComfort 20, which started out at $300 and now lists for $250. That wired model is Bose's smallest model with built-in noise-cancellation, which can block out droning sounds like airline engines or traffic noise. However, that's not exactly what the QC30 is. After using it for several says, I now think of it more as the noise-canceling version of Bose's SoundSport Wireless .

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The QuietControl 30 with its protective carrying case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This is why that's important: If you buy the QC30 thinking it's going to sound exactly like the QC20 and offer the same level of noise-canceling, you may be disappointed.

The wired QC20 sounds a little better, with slightly fuller bass and more dynamic sound. The QC20's noise-canceling is also a little stronger, as is that of the full-size wireless QuietComfort 35 model.

The QC30's noise-canceling is designed to be adjustable, which is why the product is called QuietControl. You can raise or lower it by pressing a set of button on the inline remote or via the Bose Connect app for iOS and Android devices. Most people will keep it at its highest level, but if you're running and want to hear traffic, you could turn it completely off.

In terms of competition, JBL has a headphone called the Everest Elite 100 ($200) that's a wireless neckband-style headphone with active noise-cancellation. This Bose sounds better and has much better noise-canceling than than the JBL -- it's really no contest.

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The inline remote has buttons for adjusting the volume as well as the level of noise cancelation.

Sarah Tew/CNET

So even though the QC30's noise-canceling isn't quite as effective as the QC20's, it's comparatively decent and when I wore the headphone in the streets of New York, it muffled a lot of ambient noise. In the office, the headphone cut out fan noise, but I could hear people talking around me, albeit toned down. The QC20 was slightly better at muffling everything, but I could also hear people's voices around me (I wasn't playing music during the test).

If you're thinking of using the QC30 on a plane, be warned that it doesn't plug into an in-flight entertainment systems because it doesn't have a wired option (like every other neckband-style Bluetooth headphone I've reviewed). So if you're a frequent traveler, the QC20 is probably going to be the better bet. However, the QC30 is an excellent everyday wireless headphone, as well as an excellent wireless sports headphone.

Not only does the build quality seem quite sturdy but the headphone fits very comfortably, with a semi-open design. By semi-open I mean that you don't jam the earbud into your ear. Thanks to Bose's Stay-Hear+ eartips, which come in three sizes, the bud sits more loosely in your ear yet remains securely in place. (I call it "semi-open" because the fit is fairly snug, but the tip doesn't completely seal your ear canal like a noise-isolating in-ear headphone would).

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The StayHear tips lock the buds in place in your ears.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The only downside to this kind of design is that ambient sound leaks in, negatively impacting your music-listening experience in noisy environments. But that's where the noise-canceling comes in.

Battery life is rated at 10 hours, decent for this type of Bluetooth headphone, and a protective carrying case is included.

While Bose doesn't advertise that the headphone is sweat-resistant, it is, and I used it on a few runs without a problem and prefer it in some ways to the SoundSport Wireless as a running headphone. Some people don't like the feeling of having neckband coiled around their neck while running, but it doesn't bother me.

I should also note that because the electronics and battery are stored in the neck band, the QC30's buds are smaller than the SoundSport Wireless buds and don't stick out from your ears as much. (They're more the size of the buds on the wired SoundSport or QC20 and look like they're sitting in your ear at a slight angle.)

The QC30 has a similar sound profile to the SoundSport Wireless. It's a pleasant sounding headphone with nice, full bass (without sounding bloated) and good detail. It also sounds pretty natural for a Bluetooth headphone. With some tracks we thought there was a touch of harshness in the upper midrange that exhibited itself in some electric guitar licks and the upper range of some voices. (Neil Young's voice sounded a touch grating in his "My Boy" track, but that could just be Neil Young.) However, that's a minor grievance that most people won't notice.

You can certainly ask for more from a $300-wired headphone. For instance, Bose's $150 SoundTrue Ultra, a wired in-ear model, sounds better, with crisper, richer, more textured sound that allows you to hear each instrument when you're listening to a track. But for a Bluetooth headphone, the QC30 is one of the better sounding ones you'll hear, especially for an in-ear model.

Bose QuietControl 30 (pictures)

See all photos

The QC30 is designed to be used as a wireless headset and it's very good but not outstanding as a headset. It muffles ambient sounds like wind and crowd noise so callers can hear you better -- and you can hear callers better. There's also a side-tone feature that allows you to hear your own voice in the headphones as you speak so you don't raise your voice while talking.

I made some calls in New York's noisy streets and most of the time callers said they could hear me fine -- and I was able to hear them. But the QuietComfort 35 offered superior performance as a headset.

In the final analysis, I really liked the QuietControl 30 and think it works really well as an everyday headphone and one you can use at the gym or for running. If you're hoping it's going to be a wireless replacement for the QuietComfort 20 , you're probably going to be disappointed. This is really a souped-up version of the SoundSport Wireless in that it alleviates the SoundSport Wireless' problem of allowing in ambient noise. It also has better battery life than the SoundSport Wireless.

I'm not sure that's all worth an extra $150 -- yes, the QC30 is expensive at $300 -- but it's a very likable headphone and the ultimate neckband-style headphone.


Bose QuietControl 30

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Sound 8Value 7