Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: which should you buy?

Sony and Bose are two of the biggest names in the headphone game, so it's perhaps unsurprising that their flagship wireless earbuds are some of the best around. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II offer one of the best active noise-cancelling modes we have tested, which, along with great sound, earned them a 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award.

But they have some fresh competition. The Sony WF-1000XM5 follow their Award-winning predecessors with improved sound quality and noise cancellation, plus some natty new features to boot.

The XM4 were the best all-round wireless earbuds money could buy. But do their successors trump the Bose QC Earbuds II?

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: price

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: price

(Image credit: Future)

We are at the top end of true wireless earbuds here, so neither pair comes cheap. The Bose QC II launched at £280 / $299 / AU$429, but have come down a little since then. At time of writing, they can be had for around £230 / $299 / AU$346. Keep them peeled for a decent deal come Black Friday.

The XM5 cost £259 / $299 / AU$TBC, making them the pricier of the pair. Deals? We can but hope. These are brand new, after all, which makes the chance of a discount slim to none.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II (just) **

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: design and fit

Wireless earbuds are getting smaller. Both the QC II and XM5 are smaller than their predecessors, but come with no loss in comfort levels. The QC II are easier to manipulate into your ear, and more likely to stay put, thanks to the stability bands, which replace the original QC's rubber wings.

The XM5 come out top in terms of size options, thanks to four sizes of ear tips (including a new SS extra small size) compared with the QC II's three. The QC II do come with three sizes of stability bands too, and both pairs have an ear tip fit test to help you get a secure fit. In terms of comfort, the Bose just have the edge.

The XM5 are around 25 per cent smaller and 20 per cent lighter than their predecessors, which makes them even more comfortable to wear for long periods. They have a new glossy texture too, though they come in the same colour schemes (black or silver) with the same brighter accents. Bose's buds come in no fewer than four colour schemes (Triple Black, Soapstone, Midnight Blue, Eclipse Grey), so are more likely to match your choice of headwear.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II **

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: features

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: features

(Image credit: Future)

In some ways, the QC II are cutting edge; in others, not so much. For example, every time you take the earbuds out of the case and place them in your ears you will hear a short sweeping sound – a test tone for Bose's CustomTune sound calibration feature. It's measuring your ear canal's acoustic response so it can fine-tune the sound and ANC to the exact dimensions of your ear canal. It also continuously monitors your surroundings to adjust the settings on the fly.

But some features are conspicuous by their absence. There is no Bluetooth multipoint, so you can't connect to two devices wirelessly at the same time and flit between them seamlessly. There's no support for high-quality wireless audio codecs such as aptX HD or Sony's LDAC. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, there is no wireless charging. Criminal.

You get six hours of life from the buds, plus another three charges from the case. This 24-hour total matches the XM5's, though the Sonys do squeeze eight hours from the buds plus another two full charges from the case, so will need charging less often. The QC II will be fully charged from the case in one hour, while a 20-minute charge gives you two hours of playtime. Juicing up the XM5 for just three minutes gives you enough for an hour of use.

Both pairs of buds are rated IPX4 water-resistant, and both have superb apps for tweaking the features and settings.

The XM5 have a new Dynamic Driver X which Sony claims provides "wider frequency reproduction, deep bass and clear vocals" (read the Sound section below to see whether these claims hold water). They also have a new processor, the Integrated Processor V2, following on from the V1 from the XM4. 

A new feature called Head Tracking automatically adjusts sound fields to compensate for your head movement, just like the dynamic headtracking you get with Apple Spatial Audio tracks. It, though, is limited to Sony 360 Reality Audio tracks and only on Android. But it could add some realism to mobile games that use augmented reality.

Like their predecessors, they support the same 'hi-res' LDAC codec, DSEE Extreme upscaling tech and 360 Reality Audio virtual surround sound. And they have a lot of the same features, such as Adaptive Sound Control, Speak-to-Chat, and Multipoint Connect that lets you pair two Bluetooth devices and switch between them seamlessly. Fast Pair, Swift Pair and voice assistants are all present and correct.

** Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5 **

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: noise cancellation

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: noise cancellation

(Image credit: Future)

Sony has upped the noise cancellation abilities on the XM5. It has added another microphone to each ear, making three on each, which results in better neutralisation of lower frequencies. Sony says this is its "biggest ever step forward in noise cancelling."

We can believe it. Low frequencies are especially well neutered, with the outside world reduced to a just visuals. Sony says the ANC is 20 per cent more effective than that employed in the XM4 – and, based on our testing, we concur.

But the QC II are the reigning ANC kings. Each ear packs four mics, which render outside sounds null and void. The chip sends out a signal to cancel outside sounds in less than a fraction of a second, according to Bose.

It works. Loud conversations and background music barely register when we wear the QC II, while Aware mode is very impressive; this lets you hear your music and surroundings at the same time, and balances the two expertly so your music is never overwhelmed by other noise. The ANC is very useful during calls too, though the Sonys do a better job in windy conditions.

But there is a caveat. While the Bose are more effective, not everyone will enjoy the effect, which can be a little disconcerting (it's akin to having the sound vacuumed out of your ears). The XM5 are a lot more subtle. But if it's noise you want cancelled, full stop, the QC Earbuds II are the tools for the job.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II **

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: sound

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: sound

(Image credit: Future)

Bose is best known for its noise-cancelling tech, but its headphones have pretty great sound quality too. The Bose QC Earbuds II are a case in point. Their sound is balanced, with plenty of sophistication, refinement and richness.

Detail levels are great, and textures come across as suitably tactile. There is impressive speed and agility on display too, which, when combined with the earbuds’ dynamic abilities, makes for a dramatic and captivating sound.

Sony's earbuds offer something slightly different. Sony has reinvented the XM5's sound profile, opting for a slightly leaner more analytical sound that is more hi-fi but perhaps a little less playful than the character of their predecessors.

The rhythmic drive and timing are impeccable, and the bass is nicely balanced and controlled. Sony has achieved a new level of spaciousness and openness, which lends tracks more definition and texture. The WF-1000XM5 don't sound quite as rich or full in the bass, but the increase in clarity and detail is pretty spectacular.

Some might prefer the fuller, weightier, and slightly more fun performance of the Bose, but others might want the XM5's next-level attention to detail and breathtaking clarity. It's very close.

** Winner: Draw **

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: verdict

The XM5 are most definitely up there with our favourite wireless earbuds. Sony isn't shy about making big changes, which we applaud, and the new features, smaller, sleeker design, and improvements in both noise cancelling and sound quality are all wins.

Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds II remain a great buy, though. Their noise cancelling is the best around, build quality is a match for the Sony and they're a bit more comfortable and fun to listen to. They're both very different in their approach to sound quality, so we'd recommend trying both if you can.


Read the full Sony WF-1000XM5 review

5 sound settings you shouldn't ignore on the Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: which premium earbuds are better?

My biggest problem with Sony’s WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds is finally being fixed

I've switched from Sony's XM4 wireless earbuds to Bose – here's why I don't really miss them

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II finally have the upgrade I’ve been dreaming of

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

  • Jabr20
    I bought the xm5s from Sony on pre release I love them but there slippy I keep dropping the buds , but worse they loose connection a lot even when I’m priority on stable connection when I’m in a transport hub , or when random cars pass . This never happened with the xm4s