I switched from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II to the Sony XM5 and... I’m torn

I switched from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II to the Sony XM5... and I’m torn
(Image credit: Future)

I might have mentioned this before, but it’s a great time to be into premium wireless earbuds. They’ve been tickling my fancy for a few years now and I’ve been able to experience multiple generations of buds from all the big players in the industry. And they don’t get much bigger than Sony and Bose.

Hopefully, you’ll have already read my ramblings on the last time I crossed these two consumer tech beasts. That time I was making the switch from the Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones to the newer Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. And, to be honest, I haven’t looked back since, with the Bose cementing themselves as my go-to pair of noise-cancelling earbuds for most occasions.

But, is that all about to change with the arrival of the Sony WF-1000XM5? We’ve tested them, I’ve heard them, and I’ve been living with them over the last month or so.

So what’s the verdict? Am I ready to cast the Bose to one side in favour of a newer, shinier model from Sony?

Outstanding sound quality…

in-ear headphones: Sony WF-1000XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

If my decision was based purely on sound quality then this article would probably end here. I’m a sucker for detail and clarity when it comes to sound quality and I think the Sony WF-1000XM5 are mightily impressive in this regard. They’re probably the most insightful pair of premium wireless earbuds I’ve heard.

That’s not to say the Bose don’t deserve their five-star status. They sound musical, hugely entertaining and still dig up plenty of detail to keep you interested. Yes, they sound a little fuller in the bass but I still find my feet merrily tapping away to my playlists so they’re definitely not lacking on the rhythm or agility fronts. If I’d bought the Bose with my own cash, I wouldn’t be rushing out to get the Sonys, let me put it that way.

And better call quality

While I’m satisfied with how both fare in the sound department, one area I feel the Sonys have the edge over the Bose is call quality. The Sonys’ new “noise reduction structure” is designed to allow air to pass over them more easily while they also incorporate a noise-reduction engine with AI machine learning, to help maintain clarity. And the results when I’ve been using them both and switching between the two have all been in the Sony’s favour. Wandering around with a windy backdrop, people on the other end of calls have noted my voice sounds a little clearer, with background noise seemingly taking more of a back seat.

Different flavours of noise-cancelling

Noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

(Image credit: Future)

One thing I’ve found fascinating is how the earbuds handle noise-cancelling. I have to say the Bose make the biggest impression when you turn them on. I’m constantly bowled over by how quiet they make background sound once the noise-cancelling algorithm has finished its number crunching. Now, the Bose do have the effect of where it feels like air is being sucked out from around you and I know that some people won’t feel comfortable with that.

Which is why I think the Sonys are a great alternative. The effects of the ANC are a lot more subtle, as if Sony has decided to cancel out slightly different frequencies and has deliberately tried to go for a different feel of ANC. They still cut out more than enough noise for me, but I could see the Bose swaying a lot of people.

I’m a big fan of this XM5 feature...

If I was looking for another excuse to jump ship from Bose to Sony permanently, then I’d say the lack of multipoint Bluetooth on the Bose was a bit disappointing. It’s only when you don’t have it that you start missing it, and I was quickly reminded how nice and convenient it was to have, especially during work hours. The ability to switch from listening to something on your laptop to your smartphone without having to jump into Bluetooth menus shouldn’t be underestimated, especially if you tend to consume different types of content, i.e. video and audio through different sources.

...but I’m less convinced by this one

The Sony’s have responsive touch controls which are nice to use too, although I’m not sure about the option to control volume by repeatedly tapping the earbuds. I know now how a tree feels when it’s being carved up by a woodpecker! I much prefer sliding my fingers up and down the outer surface of the Bose.

Still, there’s something bigger holding me back

Sony WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds with case, eartips and charging cable

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

One of the main factors in my swapping from the Sony XM4 wireless earbuds to the Bose last time around was I felt the Bose offered superior comfort levels. I was hoping Sony would go back to the drawing board for the WF-1000XM5 to try and win me back and they have. And I have to say, the new sleek design is much more attractive to the eye than the old XM4, but not only that, I find them a lot more comfortable too, with less pressure placed on certain parts of my ear.

However, as I’ve written about in another article that’s dedicated to the subject. I’m not completely convinced. You can head over for a read of it yourself if you’ve got a spare five minutes, but basically, I’m not quite as confident in the eartips used by the Sonys as I am the Bose. I have to fiddle around with the fit of the Sonys more than I do the Bose, especially the right ear tip, which always feels it’s a slight knock away from losing its seal. Perhaps a bigger tip would help secure it, but Sony’s biggest offering doesn’t quite feel big enough for me.

Stick with Sony or back to Bose?


(Image credit: Future)

And this is what’s making my choice between the two earbuds very difficult. For me, sound quality needs to be on point from the start, and thankfully these two pairs put a big green tick in that box. But I also think that comfort is king, possibly more so when it comes to something as personal as a pair of wireless earbuds. This makes having two five-star options like the Bose and Sony at this level quite handy.

Both are excellent options and I personally don’t think you can go wrong with either. For now, though, I think I’ll probably be sticking with the Bose. That said, I’m currently getting to know another pair of buds that are making quite the impression. But that’s a story for another day…


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Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.

  • Jabr20
    Having owned the wf1000 xm 3/4 and now 5 I find the 5 to be slippery little things they keep pinging out my fingers . But what’s really frustrating a big backwards step never happened with the 4s I keep
    Loosing connection when I walk through my busy London train station or when certain cars drive past it goes even with priority on stable connection. This happened all the time with the 3 but not the 4s .