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

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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.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

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.)

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 ($129 at Amazon).

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.

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).

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.