Sony and Bose make some of the best noise-cancelling headphones around. So if you want superior sound and cutting-edge wireless tech, but aren't sure which brand to side with, you've come to the right place...
The flagship Sony WH-1000XM4 arrived in 2020 with a bang. We rated them five stars and promptly gave them a What Hi-Fi? 2020 Award (which they've just reclaimed in the 2021 Awards), praising their "dynamic, detail-rich sound" and comfy, lightweight design.
Bose's latest pair, the QuietComfort 45, only launched in September 2021 and are, as expected, also impressive.
But which headphones are best for you? Read on as we compare the design, price, features and battery of the Bose QC45 and Sony WH-1000XM4...
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Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: price
The Sony WH-1000XM4s landed in August 2020, priced at £350 / $350 / AU$380. They've since dropped to under £300 / $300 / AU$350, so you should be able to pick them up at a discount.
Although on official launch price, Bose undercuts Sony for price, a cursory search online (see below for the best prices on each model) shows that the Sony headphones are currently the cheaper option. As the Boses age, their price will inevitably drop – but that might not be for several months.
**Winner** Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: design
The Bose QC45 look a lot like their predecessors, the four-star Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II. The ear cups now have vents to produce a more expansive sound, the new glass-filled nylon headband promises better drop protection, and the earpads are no longer pleated to complete a marginally more streamlined appearance. Continue this somewhat intense game of spot-the difference and you’ll find a USB-C charging port instead of the now archaic microUSB. Also, the underside padded portion of the headband is now smooth rather than suede-like – hardly earth-shattering adjustments, although QC35 II owners can take comfort since their cans won’t look dated against the newer model.
For balance, Sony's flagship headphones also look very similar to their predecessors, the 2019-released WH-1000XM3, save for the slightly larger earpads and some subtle tweaks. In our review, we noted that the plushness of the pads and the rock-solid build quality make the XM4 some of the most comfortable headphones we've ever tested.
The Bose QC45 come in two colours (black and 'White Smoke'), while the Sony XM4 are available in black, silver, blue and limited edition 'Silent White' (see what they did there?).
If you've not handled these headphones, you should know that both pairs are relatively lightweight as over-ears go. The Bose QC45 weigh 238g, while the Sonys tip the scales ever so slightly more at 254g.
For lightweight comfort, the Sonys have so far been hard to beat, and this remains the case here – just. Fans of the QC35 II will certainly enjoy the QC45 just as much, since the two are very similar, and in truth, there's very little in it when pitted against the XM4. Neither bothered us even a little during long listening sessions. If pushed, however, the even and easy weight distribution of Sony's cans just edges it.
**Winner** Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: features
If you're a fan of the latest technology, you'll almost certainly be wowed by the Sony WH-1000XM4.
The ingenious touch-sensitive ear cups respond to swipe and tap gestures, allowing you to adjust the volume, answer a call or speak to your chosen voice assistant (Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri are all supported) without reaching for your phone.
You also get Speak to Chat, which recognises your voice and automatically lowers the volume, plus Automatic Wearing Detection, which pauses your music when you take your headphones off... then automatically restarts it when you place the headphones back on your head. Clever.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 don't have any such features, which might explain why the Sony XM4 started life at a higher price. That's not to say the QuietComfort 45 aren't smart, though. Crucially, you now get a total of six mics with four beamforming (instead of four, with two beamforming, in the QC35 II) which is the reason for the irrefutable step up in terms of effective noise cancellation – albeit one you cannot tweak any further than 'quiet' (ie. you don't want to hear the outside world) or 'aware' (you do).
Like the Sonys, the QC45 can connect to two devices at once so you can switch from listening to music on your tablet to taking a hands-free call on your phone, say. Turn on the QC45 and a voice announces your current connections, which simplifies things – you don't even have to open the Bose Music app to know whether you can jump on your Zoom call and get the audio in your cans. They also feature a "multi-access" button which lets you connect to whichever voice assistant your smartphone uses (the Sony headphones have Alexa and Google Assistant built-in). There are no whizzy touch controls, though, so you'll be using physical buttons.
Maybe you prefer good old tactile buttons? If so, the Bose headphones could be the better option, but it's hard to ignore the advanced (and extremely useful) technology that comes with the Sony XM4.
Truth be told, the settings tab in the Bose Music app for the QC45 is a rather basic affair. The only truly customisable option under the Preferences tab is ‘Self Voice’, which adjusts how much of your own voice you’d like to hear on a call. It works very well, but it completes a fairly meagre feature set when you consider that the XM4 can issue a set of tones and from them deduce the shape of your face and whether you're sat at home or on the tube.
**Winner** Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: battery life
The Sony WH-1000XM4s last around 30 hours (38 hours if you switch off noise-cancelling). Impressive.
On paper, the Bose QC45 can't quite match that performance, promising 24 hours of battery life. However, during our testing, we found the battery life battle a closer-run affair than those claims suggest.
In a hurry? Bose's quick-charge function provides 2.5 hours playback from a 15-minute charge, whereas the Sony XM4 provide five hours of playback from a 10-minute charge.
The Bose cans are decent for battery (and we wager they may have undersold themselves just fractionally in terms of stamina), but there's no escaping it: the Sonys are class-leading in this category.
**Winner** Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: noise cancellation
Want to shut out the world so that nothing comes between you and your music?
Sony and Bose offer some of the best consumer noise-cancelling technology we've tested.
The WH-1000XM4 feature Sony's advanced HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1, which makes precise adjustments 700 times a second to optimise the noise-cancelling effect. It's extremely effective and you can adjust the intensity via Sony's companion app, too.
The Bose QC 45 offer two levels of noise cancellation: Quiet and Aware (the latter lets in some noise, so you can hear what's going on around you when required). If you're willing to splash out on the pricier Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, you'll be rewarded with 11 levels of noise cancellation.
If you simply want extraneous noise nixed in the office, we give the new Bose QC45 the edge over the Sony WH-1000XM4, even though it's impossible to tweak the levels. Let that sink in for a moment – it’s quite the statement.
Call clarity from the Bose QC45 was also class-leading in our tests, thanks to those extra external microphones which improve voice pickup and actually isolate and focus on your voice, aided by Bose’s noise-rejecting algorithm to filter out extraneous sounds. We answered calls on a busy high street and find Bose true to its word: callers reported that our voice is clear and virtually devoid of any passing car noise – quite remarkable.
**Winner** Bose QC45
Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: sound quality
While neither set of headphones supports aptX, Sony's cans are compatible with the Japanese giant's LDAC technology, which allows you to stream high-quality audio wirelessly from a compatible source, including select Android smartphones. The XM4 also support tracks encoded in Sony's immersive 360 Reality Audio format.
A set of wireless headphones lives and dies by the strength of its sound quality, and here, our verdict favours the feature-rich Sony XM4. Stream Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road, for instance, and the pensive, quiet harmonica appears more sensitively and builds with greater dynamic impact through Sony’s WH-1000XM4. It may sound like a relatively small issue, but the incremental build – the rise and fall of each note – offered by the Bose QC45 does come off slightly crude in direct comparison.
The XM4 also edges the QC45 in terms of timing. Stream Belly Danza by Don Omar and Beenie Man (an exceptional track that sees reggaeton meet dancehall and Cuba meet Jamaica in a raucous, head-nodding, Spanish-English vocal-heavy rap) and while the various hype men, Cuban salsa riffs, and bite through Beenie Man’s considered juicy lower registers are all present in the QC45, these musical strands are better held in a cohesive, foot-tapping mix by the Sony product.
**Winner** Sony WH-1000XM4
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Bose QC45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: verdict
Offering (marginally) longer battery life, stellar sound and oodles of smart technology, there's no doubt that the Sony WH-1000XM4 has a lot going for them in this noise-cancelling headphones battle. Indeed, we rank them as the very best headphones you can buy for the money – and the Bose's arrival hasn't changed that. Ultimately, Sony wins this battle.
Bose has been in the noise-cancelling game for decades and strikes back with exceptional sound blocking. If you're already a Bose fan, the QuietComfort 45 offer several improvements on the QC 35 II, too. As we said in our review, "if you want a set of wireless over-ears you can put on, deploy noise-cancelling on your commute or at your desk and largely extinguish the outside world for up to 24 hours, the Bose QC 45 has the edge over most of the competition at the price."
However, sonically, the Sonys sound more detailed, cohesive and poised. Despite Bose's admirable talent at noise-cancellation and neutrality across the frequencies, in direct comparison, we found the QC45 unable to match the XM4 in terms of timing and dynamic build.
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Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM4
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 45