There are a couple of advantages innate to this style of headphone. First, they’re far more compact than over-ear headphones; if you’re travelling light and you travel a lot, that’s an important consideration.
Second, they’re more comfortable to wear than the sort of wireless active noise-cancelling headphones that dangle the battery compartment from one ear or simply rest it on the back of your neck.
But there’s a problem. While the Bose QuietControl 30 are certainly lightweight and easy to pack away, they're not comfortable to wear at all.
It isn’t the in-ear fitments. Bose supplies two pairs of silicone tips with the QuietControl 30, each equipped with an extra wing designed to hook securely into the upper part of your ear. I found both comfortable to wear for long periods without suffering from earache. The larger pair seemed to block out a little more background noise, but there wasn’t much in it.
The QuietControl 30’s big issue is with the design of the collar part of the headphones: it’s too stiff and entirely the wrong shape. Essentially, unless you have a bull neck of Arnold Schwarzenegger proportions, as you wear it, the collar gradually creeps around until it’s hanging from your neck, off-centre to the left or right. This is annoying because it causes the cables to tug unevenly on your ears, and you’re never quite sure where the controls are.
To make matters worse, because the collar doesn’t wrap your neck snugly, the QuietComfort 30 are uncomfortable to wear with high-collared jumpers, shirts and jackets, frequently riding up and sitting skewiff.
And because cables emerge halfway up the collar, rather than from the ends, they have a tendency to get looped around the end as you lift the earpieces, lifting the neck piece up at an awkward and uncomfortable angle.
Then there’s the battery life, which is rated at a rather short ten hours of playback. That’s enough to get you through a flight from London to New York, but only if you fully charge them first.
Sound quality and noise-cancelling performance
So far it’s not good news for the QuietControl 30, but despite all of those problems, there’s a reason you might contemplate spending £230 on a pair. In simple terms, they’re very, very good at cutting out background noise.
Whether you’re aboard a Boeing 747, with the roar of a jet engine and the hum of air conditioning in your ears, or clattering into Bank station on the London Underground, the QuietComfort 30 cuts out almost all the roar, rumble and hum.
As with all active noise-cancelling headphones, high-pitched noises still get through. As I write this review, I can still hear the tip-tapping of my fingers on the keys. For low-level stuff, though, the QuietControl 30 is simply brilliant, and far, far better at cutting out ambient noise than most other such headphones I’ve listened to.
For my money, the Bose QuietComfort 35 are slightly better at all-out noise cancellation, and because you can connect them to aircraft sound systems via 3.5mm cable, they’re the headphones frequent flyers should invest in.
But the QuietControl 30 are cheaper, and have one key advantage: you can control the amount of noise cancellation you dial in. Handy if you want to keep listening to your music but need to keep an ear out for traffic or transport announcements.
Adjustments are made by clicking the extra rocker on the side of the volume control, or you can use the Bose Connect app to make finer adjustments. Ideally, I’d like to be able to flick between maximum and minimum noise cancellation at a single button press, but this a comparatively small complaint.
Lastly, the sound quality is decent but not exceptional. There’s the usual, slightly flat-sounding Bluetooth sound signature, and the slight over-emphasis on the bass that so many people favour these days. With noise cancelling this effective, however, there’s an awful lot I’m willing to forgive.
When there’s a lot of background noise, you’ll enjoy your music much more with a pair of QuietComfort 30 in your ears than you will with audiophile headphones that have either less-effective noise cancelling or no noise cancelling at all.
This makes delivering a definitive verdict on Bose’s latest headphones somewhat tricky. On the one hand, they’re brilliant at cutting out background noise and they sound good. They’re lightweight and compact, won’t take up a huge amount of space in your bag, and they’re £50 cheaper than the Bose QuietComfort 35.
But boy do they come with a list of issues. They’re uncomfortable to wear around your neck, whether you’re walking, jogging or just sitting on the train. The cables get snagged too easily, battery life isn’t great, and you can’t listen to them when the juice does run out, as there’s no 3.5mm connection.
Ultimately, for £230 I expect better. Impressive though they are from a noise-cancelling perspective, there’s too much wrong with the QuietControl 30 for a wholehearted recommendation.