Sennheiser has been making headphones for 50 years, Sony is famous for revolutionising compact audio, and Bose is renowned for its noise-cancelling tech. But which of these headphone heavyweights makes the best cans on the market?
Below, we have picked out the very best headphones from Sony, Bose and Sennheiser, weighing up their pros and cons. That means all the things that matter to you – battery life, features, design, sound quality, comfort and value for money.
Ready for the mother of all headphone showdowns? Here's our verdict on Sony vs Bose vs Sennheiser...
Sony vs Bose vs Sennheiser: overview
Sony famously brought us the Walkman in 1979, kicking off decades of portable audio innovation. The company released its first noise-cancelling headphones in 1995, followed by its first "3-D Surround" headphones in 2011.
In more recent years, the Japanese giant has won a string of awards for its class-leading WH-1000XM wireless headphones range (the latest two models of which are the WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5) and its equally premium WF-1000XM true wireless earbuds series (which includes the class-leading WF-1000XM4), not to mention its quirky 'open air' LinkBuds.
Sennheiser was founded by Fritz Sennheiser in 1945. The company launched the "world's first open-back headphones" in 1968, and claims that the HD 414 remain "the bestselling full-size headphones of all time".
As of today, Sennheiser's line-up includes the five-star Momentum 4 Wireless over-ear headphones, as well as equally impressive high-end true wireless earbuds (such as the Momentum True Wireless 3), affordable wired over-ears, and plenty more besides.
Bose began selling aviation headsets in 1989 before releasing its first consumer noise-cancelling headphones in 2000. Since then, the US outfit has done more than any other brand to popularise noise-cancelling headphones.
So we have three brands at the top of their game. But which has the edge?
- Shop today's best headphones deals
Premium wireless noise-cancelling over-ear headphones: Sony XM5 vs Bose 700 vs Sennheiser Momentum 4
Let's start at the top, with each firm's flagship headphones...
If you have a healthy budget, the five-star Sony WH-1000XM5 would be our first choice. They sound comparatively richer than rivals, with added midrange clarity and transparency that pulls them ahead of the best that Sennheiser and Bose have to offer. They may not be the cheapest, but we feel the sound quality, not to mention the excellent noise-cancelling, justifies the extra expense.
You should also consider the five-star Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which are probably the second-best pick in the market. The Sennheisers are significantly cheaper than the Sonys and offer double the battery life (60 hours vs 30 hours). Sound quality is sharp, sprightly and pleasingly neutral, though not as detailed or dynamic as the Sonys. Much like the Sonys, the Sennheisers have an ANC Adaptive mode, which automatically adjusts the noise-cancelling effect in real-time depending on noise fluctuations in your environment.
The Noise Cancelling 700 are the latest in a 19-year-long line of Bose QuietComfort noise-cancellers that, for much of that time, have set the benchmark in the category. In our review, we rave about their "crystal-clear sound" and "sophisticated" noise-cancelling. But, ultimately, their average battery life (20 hours) and level-below all-round sound performance put paid to their chances of a fifth star. Still, worth buying at a discount.
Cheaper wireless noise-cancelling over-ears: Sony XM4 vs Bose QC45 vs Sennheiser Momentum 3
Don't want to blow your budget on the very best of the best? These models sit just below the current flagships…
Sony's WH-1000XM4 made their debut back in 2020 and remain fantastic buys, having won a 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award for their musical sound and adjustable noise-cancelling. The new XM5 (above) bring further improvements, but the rapidly falling price of the XM4 still makes them superb value for money. (It's worth noting also that the 2018 Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones are cheaper still, and could well be worth considering if you can't stretch to the better-sounding XM4.)
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless noise-cancellers arrived in 2019 and quickly enhanced Sennheiser’s already excellent reputation with their luxurious build quality, sheepskin leather earpads and rhythmic presentation. In fact, the only thing we grumbled about was their "uncompetitive" 17-hour battery life. The Sony XM4 are the better all-rounders, but the beautifully engineered Sennheisers are worth eyeing up too.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 are another good option for buyers seeking affordable premium headphones. Launched in 2021, they are the newest pair in this trio and simply positioned below the Bose 700 rather than having been succeeded by a newer model. They marry detailed sound (albeit not as detailed as the Sony XM4) with Bose's top-notch noise-cancelling technology. Battery life is a solid 24 hours but there is no support for aptX Bluetooth and features are sparse. Bottom line? If the QC45 are going cheap, or you're a fan of Bose's highly effective noise-cancelling, they are a great choice.
Premium wireless earbuds: Sony X4 vs Bose QC Earbuds vs Sennheiser Momentum 3
In the market for a pair of true wireless earbuds instead? Here's the lowdown on each firm's range-topping buds…
The Sony WF-1000XM4 produce some of the most dynamic, detailed and balanced sound we have heard from a pair of Bluetooth buds. Their comfort and musical prowess, combined with a generous eight-hour battery life (plus 16 hours from the case) make them tough to beat. Ready to splash the cash? Check out today's best Sony WF-1000XM4 deals.
Sennheiser's rival buds, the Momentum True Wireless 3, boast a performance that's right up there with the Sony XM4's. Their spec sheet is competitive and includes a very creditable seven-hour battery life (plus 21 hours from the case). It's just a shame that the earpieces don't feel quite as premium as the Sonys.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are another solid option. Launched in 2020, they feature some fantastic built-in tech including customisable controls and excellent noise-canceling. Sound is powerful, poised and dynamic, with plenty of full-bodied bass. Battery life is a distinctly average six hours (plus 12 hours from the case), so they wouldn't be our first choice here.
Sport wireless earbuds: Sony WF-C500 vs Bose Sport Earbuds vs Sennheiser Sport True Wireless
Prefer sporty buds to noise-cancellers? Again, Sony, Bose and Sennheiser have you covered…
The Sony WF-C500 wireless earbuds are a no-frills version of the firm's premium XM4 buds (above). Their IPX4 rating means they are good for running and sports, while ‘fast pair’ connectivity means makes them a great choice for Android users. Sound is nicely balanced and battery life is 10 hours (plus another 10 hours from the case). A superb budget buy.
Sennheiser isn't known for sporty headphones, but it recently launched the Sport True Wireless. The buds can be personalised with a choice of ear adapters in three sizes as well as four different ear fins and have an IP54 rating making them dust and splash resistant for outdoor workouts. We haven't reviewed these, but Sennheiser's products are generally up to par.
Bose offers a few sporty models to choose from. The true wireless Bose Sport Earbuds are a solid pair of all-rounders with a substantial IP68 rating. Their enthusiastic, lively delivery is likeable, but battery life is average and they are several times the price of the Sony WF-C500.
You should also consider the older, cheaper true wireless Bose SoundSport Free, which are comfortable to wear and – crucially for a sports pair – stay in place when you are exercising. Battery life is, again, average.
The Bose SoundSport Wireless are the company's best-sounding and most affordable sports headphones... but they do have a neckband and so are not "true" wireless buds. They are very comfortable and weather-resistant, though, and sound is punchy, powerful and packed with workout-friendly bass.
5 best Sony headphones
It can be tricky for a manufacturer to push the sound performance of a product consistently from generation to generation, but that is what Sony has managed to do with the WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones. Not only that, it has been achieved while executing a major redesign.
When we saw the official pictures of the Sony WH-1000XM5, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was a wise move to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory a major redesign. But it has paid off.
The Sony XM5 headphones might feel a little less premium than before, but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one, and rivals could once again have their work cut out. If you are looking for a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, your auditioning should start here. The older XM4 (below) were already the best around, but the XM5 are undoubtedly better for those who can afford to pay the premium.
Released in 2020, the XM4 previously topped our rundowns of the best headphones and the best wireless headphones. While now replaced with the newer XM5 (above), the XM4 are still excellent buys for those who are looking for Sony noise-cancelling wireless headphones on a tighter budget.
You won't benefit from the latest design cues and sound quality benchmark of the newer Sonys, but you are still getting a lot for your money – a highly musical and engaging sound that is better than nearly every pair at the price; useful features such as ‘Speak to Chat’, which allows you to talk to someone while the headphones are still on your head, all without moving a muscle; and a very comfortable and smart-minimalist design. Great buys – grab them while you can, bargain hunters.
Released in 2018, the five-star WH-1000XM3 are no longer Sony's latest and greatest wireless headphones. Or een their second latest and greatest. But if you want great wireless noise-cancellers on a tight budget, these should be on shortlist if you can still find a pair.
They provide an open, spacious, dynamic sound, a marathon 30-hour battery life, a handy quick-charge function and Sony's clever Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser, which optimises performance when flying.
They may not be quite as elegant as some Bose and Sennheiser models, but they do offer a musical sound and decent battery life.
The WF-1000XM4 are our favourite wireless earbuds. They produce one of the most dynamic, detailed and balanced performances we have heard – a musical delivery that keeps you coming back for more, and also makes you thankful for the impressive eight hours of battery life.
The Sonys are comfortable to wear too. The new-look earpieces include touch-sensitive controls and a new ear-tip design that helps with noise isolation. Combine this with the excellent noise-cancelling provided by Sony's Integrated Processor V1 and you have a pair of headphones that effectively blocks out the hustle and bustle.
IPX4 water resistance comes as part of the WF-1000XM4 package, as does Sony's clever Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android and clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds.
If you want the best in-ear wireless headphones on the market right now, look no further.
The WF-1000XM3 are some of the best true wireless earbuds we have tested and have remained glued to our best wireless earbuds list for a couple of years.
From solid Bluetooth connectivity to brilliant noise-cancelling, great battery life and a comfy fit, the XM3 tick a lot of boxes and deliver a sound-per-pound ratio that could only be described as 'killer'. You get a good sense of scale despite their pocket size.
The XM3 buds might have been trumped by the XM4 (above), but these 2018 and 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award winners remain some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy.
6 best Bose headphones
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The 700 mark the start of a more premium series from Bose. The design is noticeably more elegant and both acoustics and digital signal processing have been redesigned from scratch. Comfort and aesthetics are spot on, too.
Tap the Bose logo to hear a battery level reading, or hold it down to decline an incoming call. There is also support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice controls.
Sound-wise, they are an easy and enjoyable listen. But while they display superb agility and clarity, the rival Sony WH-1000XM4 offer a little more in the way of detail.
If you like an extra helping of luxury and the best example of active noise-cancelling around, then you will find the Bose 700 to be some of the best wireless headphones in the business.
Bose QuietComfort 45
If you want a set of robust, travel-friendly wireless over-ear headphones you can put on and largely extinguish the outside world for up to 24 hours, the Bose QC 45 are a great pick.
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.1, the Bose QuietComfort 45 now offer true multi-point pairing. These headphones also have better microphones than their predecessor's the QC35 II (below), so you can expect better voice pickup when taking phone calls.
Sound is delivered with excitement and zeal across the frequencies, but timing isn't as cohesive as we would like and it is clear that the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM4 and XM5 have more to offer.
Settings are basic, and if you want 11 levels of noise-cancellation, you will need to opt for the company's flagship Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (above). Still, there is plenty to like about the Bose QC45; they are based on a tried and tested product that will likely stand the test of time.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
We originally reviewed these wireless headphones back in 2017, but they still sound good and feature what is still excellent noise-cancellation today.
For a very reasonable sum of money, you get get three levels of noise cancellation, plenty of nuanced bass, hassle-free Bluetooth pairing, and personalised settings through the Bose Connect app. There is also a dedicated button that summons Google Assistant.
One disappointment? Battery life is 20 hours of wireless playback – that's 10 fewer than you get from Sony's XM4 and XM5 over-ears.
Still, pick them up at a reduced price and these comfy cans offer everything the commuter or long-haul traveller could possibly want.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose's first-ever pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds have proven hugely popular. They feel lightweight enough for the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComfort Earbuds are both sweat and weather-resistant) and are great to live with.
Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading. You can customise some features and controls, and adjust the excellent noise-cancellation, in Bose's handy companion app.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by the Bose buds is highly infectious. Sound is shot through with power, poise and dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied; go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are sensational all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with excellent noise cancelling. These wireless earbuds are more than a match for any rival.
Bose Sports Earbuds
The Bose Sports Earbuds are a sort of mash up between the QuietComfort Earbuds and the old Bose SoundSport Free.
The housings are smaller and a little rounder than the ones you get with the QuietComforts but, understandably given the relative prices, they do feel a little cheaper. All the same, Bose's umbrella-shaped silicone pads and soft wing tips makes them comfortable over long listening periods.
The Sport Earbuds are sweat and weather resistant, battery life is average but should be enough in combination with the case. There is also voice assistant support and both good noise isolation and noise cancelling too.
Sonically, these are some expertly balanced buds for tone. Every track we play through them is handled fairly and squarely. High frequencies never annoy or grate and low frequencies aren’t overcooked as is often the case with lower-end wireless earbuds. There’s a richness and fullness to bass notes, but they never sound fat and slovenly. On an initial listen they really draw you in, but better buds offer more expression, clarity and can uncover a touch more detail. The Sport Earbuds are still very listenable, they just don’t make music sound quite as special as the very best at this level.
Bose SoundSport Wireless
If you are looking for sporty headphones on a budget, Bose is the brand for you. The company also offers these exercise-friendly earbuds. Unlike the true wireless model above, they have a neckband design. Soft silicone rubber hooks provide a secure fit for jogging, while IPX4 certification means they will put up with sweat and splashes.
Sound-wise, they are some of they best wireless headphones you will find at this (now reduced) price point. They serve up a plenty of detail, no harshness and a measured dollop of bass.
Battery life is six hours – and when it runs out, you will need to find a power socket; there's no charging case to speak of. Still, they are a great value budget option and, like a top athlete, tough to beat.
5 best Sennheiser headphones
Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
Sennheiser's latest flagship wireless noise-cancelling headphones are strong contenders thanks to their stand-out battery life and competitive sound. Then there is support for aptX Adaptive, one of the highest-quality Bluetooth codecs around, and Bluetooth 5.2, meaning these headphones can simultaneously connect to multiple Bluetooth devices and switch between them more easily.
We are disappointed to see the classy design of Momentums of old giving way to one that is less distinctive, but the new guise is fit for purpose and is said to enhance the sound, which is clear and direct.
The Sony XM5 are comparatively richer, with a more prominent bass, but the Momentum 4 Wireless undercut the Sonys, which makes them highly recommendable for those who can’t afford the extra outlay for extra sonic transparency, and perhaps the best alternative if you prefer your music to be more lively than analytical.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
The 17-hour battery life can be bettered, but that's really our only gripe about the Momentum 3 Wireless, which are older version of the 4 Wireless above. The thick leather earpads make these headphones incredibly comfortable and even provide a good dose of noise isolation – handy if you don't have enough juice left to power the noise-cancelling feature. The on-cup controls and their collapsible design also make them easy to use and very convenient to take with you, too. And then there's the sound.
They are rich and gloriously full-bodied but still maintain clarity, particularly in the midrange. It gives them a superb tonal balance alongside their depth of bass, which will reward listeners of all stripes.
Admittedly the Sony WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 offer a richer sound. But rhythmically speaking, these Sennheisers are cohesive and consistently dynamic too, making them a great buy.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3
Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 3 earbuds boast an improved performance that is right up there with the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (above).
The spec sheet is competitive and includes great battery life (28 hours) and Bluetooth codec support (aptX Adaptive), and includes the bonus of extra in-app personalisation. They are even priced cheaper than the old model. comfort is good, and sound is mature, spacious and refined.
Building on an already winning recipe with an improved feature set, decent step up in performance and sensible price tag, the noise-cancelling Momentum True Wireless 3 are as competitive as ever. A brilliant pair of earbuds.
Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless
There are plenty of budget true wireless earbuds vying for your attention and hard-earned cash, and these Sennheisers are one of them. They aren't our number one picks, bettered in the sound quality department by the Cambridge Melomania 1+ and Panasonic RZ-S500W, but they're still very decent options for Sennheiser loyals.
In terms of pure functionality, the CX Plus True Wireless are very competitively specified. That aptX Adaptive codec compatibility comes as a part of Sennheiser's Bluetooth 5.2 wireless connectivity, which is currently about as good as wireless connectivity gets.
The earpieces aren't the most compact around but the shape is decently ergonomic, the fit is comfortable (thanks in part to a wide selection of eartip sizes) and the relative bulk of the earbuds means there’s plenty of room both for the handy capacitive touch controls.