Bose earphones that block out sound but keep you aware

One of my biggest annoyances when it comes to plane rides – encountering the screaming child who you can hear kicking up a fuss from the next section. Also, the really loud chit-chatters sitting behind you who just will not shut up or tone it down; I get that you’re excited about the trip, but the rest of us would like you to be a little bit more quietly excited, mmkay?

Crying Graffiti
Can you hear the phantom screams in your head just by looking at this? I sure do! Pic by GaijinSeb via Flickr

Now most people will tell you that the obvious solution are good earplugs, but other than them being a tad uncomfortable, I don’t actually like shutting out ambient sound completely. I get the feeling that I’m just missing out on stuff, and worry that if there’s an emergency or an alarm going off but you can’t hear it… When I’m listening to music like this I usually leave one earbud out so I can hear things, but that means a crappy stereo audio experience.

Atlas Bose
All the pretty things at the Atlas showroom – I really just wanted to show off my new Hansel puffin dress!

Recently I was invited down to the Atlas Sound & Vision showroom to check out the launch of two of their new Bose products, and I must say I was especially impressed by this particular product – the Bose QuietComfort 20 (QC20) in-ear noise cancelling headphones. Generally noise cancelling headphones tend to be the large over-ear type, so the fact that this is in-ear is quite unusual.

Here’s an Instagram pic from the launch:

What caught my eye was the odd crescent-moon-shape ear piece – that thing is tucked into the top of the ear and is actually what helps the earpiece stay in place and creates that soundproof seal. Sticking this in your ear is amazing – I could see all those mouths moving and not a sound heard, not even the loud exclamations of wonder from the excited blogger next to me, pretty impressive.

Atlas Bose
Press for magic!

But what the real winner here is this new feature called the Aware mode. At the press of an innocuous grey button, it transforms a soundproof environment into one where you can pick up conversation and announcements, all while your music is playing and without the need to remove your earphones from your ears! The idea is that you can still have awareness of your surroundings while you enjoy your music, and you don’t have to keep taking your earphones off every time you cross a road or someone talks to you.

The effect is quite stark when you toggle between blissful silence and blessed awareness. So next time you think you can bitch about someone because their headphones are on, think again! You never know who might have this magic button on hand…

Atlas Bose
A snug fit – one of the demo tests was a really loud train station sound that you honestly couldn’t hear with the music playing!

Owning the QC20, however, comes at a premium – it’s SGD 499, so unless you’re a huge audiophile and are willing to spend that much… I love it to bits but it’s way out of my price range (the last pair of earphones I bought were like, $20, though you get what you pay for – the sound quality is not much to speak off though and it is reaaaally bassy), but I can see those who travel very frequently finding something like this a worthwhile investment – no more getting irritated by crying babies or having to stop your music when the stewardess asks you for your choice of food!

Atlas Bose
What you’re really paying for is that grey rectangle piece – that’s where the magic Aware mode happens. The technology involves something about microphones and software cancelling stuff out, but you just need to know that the Aware mode is pretty nifty. Photo courtesy of Atlas.

Some features

  • Rechargable battery (~16hrs) for the Aware mode, your music plays on even when there’s no more battery
  • Integrated microphone and controls to take calls – there’s an iPhone version and a Android/Windows/Blackberry version


Atlas Bose
The SoundLink Mini Speaker is compact but heavy

The other product that was launched is a little brick-like speaker about the length of your palm called the SoundLink Mini Speaker. For such a small speaker, the sound quality was very crisp, and whether you’re just a space saver or you want something compact that’s easy to move around, this speaker is a pretty good option. It connects via Bluetooth (though there are wires if you prefer) and a rechargable battery dock, so there’s no messy ball of wires to contend with. I think it would be great for my very small and cluttered table at home!

Atlas Bose
Speaker and its charging dock. Photo courtesy of Atlas

Though it’s smallish, it still has a bit of a heft to it but because of the pretty impressive technology inside – I’d try explaining it but technology tends to bore me, basically it produces great sound and doesn’t vibrate off the table! It’s also going for SGD299, which is definitely not as scary as the price of the QC20.

Thank you again Atlas and the Hoffman folk for inviting me to the show and tell. The main Atlas showroom is located at 10 Winstedt Road though it’s not the easiest place to get to (for Singaporeans who are led by their stomachs, it’s where Skyve Elementary Bistro and Bar is located). Do consider checking out their newly launched e-store instead – the QC20 and SoundLink are available for pre-order and scheduled to deliver around September or October 2013.

Need more travel inspiration?
Sign up now and get the latest blogposts straight in your mailbox. Also, exclusive discounts and perks to help you travel better! (No spam, just travel goodies!)

One comment to Bose earphones that block out sound but keep you aware

Leave a Reply