If you fancy a pair of top-notch true wireless earbuds, look no further than the Sony WF-1000XM3 and the Bose SoundSport Free. We found both pairs of premium buds to be particularly impressive, but in a head-to-head battle, which earbuds are the best?
Before you splash the cash, it's worth taking a closer look at what these in-ear headphones have to offer. The Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds impress with active noise-cancelling and touch controls, while the Bose Sound Sport Free feature a rugged design that will appeal to a sportier audience.
So, which wireless buds win out in terms of price, battery life, features, comfort, design, connectivity and sound quality? Read on as we compare the strengths and weakness of the Bose Sound SportFree and the Sony WF-1000XM3 to settle the debate once and for all.
Bose SoundSport Free vs Sony WF-1000XM3: price
Both pairs of earbuds have been on the market since 2019, which means that prices have dropped – that's good news for your wallet.
When the Sony WF-1000XM3s first arrived on the scene they cost £220 ($230, AU$349). Now, we've seen prices hover around and just over £160 ($180, AU$260)
We reviewed the Bose SoundSport Frees at £180 ($249, AU$299) but you can now pick them up for around £130. ($199, AU$240).
*Winner: Bose SoundSport Free*
Bose SoundSport Free vs Sony WF-1000XM3: battery life
There's no point going wire-free if you're listening sessions are going to be cut short by poor battery life. Thankfully, these five-star buds both have decent stamina...
The Bose boast five hours of playback – plenty for the average commuter. Embarking on a long-haul trip? The chunky plastic carry case doubles as a charger and gives you an extra ten hours of power.
The Sonys deliver six hours of playback as standard, while the case has enough power for an extra three charges, giving a total of 24 hours when using Bluetooth and noise-cancelling.
In a hurry to leave the house? Both buds offer fast-charging. Fifteen minutes of charging breathes 45 minutes of life into the Bose buds. But, again, the Sonys are the clear winners: a 10-minute charge provides 90 minutes of playback.
*Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3*
Bose SoundSport Free vs Sony WF-1000XM3: design and comfort
The Sony WF-1000XM3s are the more petite, discrete buds and they stay in place. Each earpiece uses Sony's ‘Tri-hold structure’, which focuses on three key points in your ear to give the earphones better support.
The chunkier Bose buds protrude from your ears more but they're neatly held in place by Bose’s StayHear tips, which feature little wings that rest against the inside of your ear for extra support.
Bose supplies small, medium and large tips, so you should be able to achieve a snug fit but the Sonys come with seven different sizes of earbud; four ‘hybrid silicone’ buds and three ‘triple-comfort’ buds. It's a far more impressive selection (pictured above). The Sony tips burrow into your ears a bit more than the Bose, but it really depends on personal preference.
Neither buds break the scales: the Sony WF-1000XM3s weigh 18g while the SoundSport Frees are tad lighter at 17g.
Bose SoundSport Free vs Sony WF-1000XM3: features
These wireless buds are pitched at different audiences, and while both are impressive in their own right, the Sony WF-1000XM3s have one major plus: active noise cancelling.
Not only is it extremely effective at shutting out everything from rumbling engines to chattering voices, it features a 'transparency mode', which lets in an adjustable amount of ambient noise. Handy when crossing busy city streets, for example.
The Bose SoundSport Frees don't have active noise-cancelling but they do have an an IPX4 rating, which means they're sweat- and water-resistant. The Sonys have no such rating and so are less rugged and less appealing to gym-goers (others might see the lack of IP rating as the perfect excuse to skip a workout).
When it comes to controls, Bose keeps it simple with a row of user-friendly buttons on the right earpiece. And while some buds only offer basic track skipping and play/pause functions, the SoundSport Frees offer these plus the ability to change volume.
The Sony buds eschew physical buttons in favour of touch controls and voice controls (Sony's Headphones Connect app supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant). The touch controls can take a little time to get used to – it's a small target for your fingers to hit – but thankfully you don’t have to tap the pad right in the middle to get a reaction.
The Sony buds also feature Quick Attention, which pauses the music when you tap and hold the left touchpad.
So, no prizes for guessing that the pricier Sony WF-1000XM3s are richer in features – but sporty types might prefer the rugged, user-friendly Bose buds .
Bose SoundSport Free vs Sony WF-1000XM3: sound quality
So, which pair of buds is the ultimate in portable audio? It's a close call...
Let's start with the Bose SoundSport Frees. They deliver a flavour much in keeping with Bose's best headphones – namely rich, weighty bass and crisp highs. Vocals are dynamic and expressive too. Despite all the sporty touches, the SoundSport Frees have the sonic ability and all-round performance to impress. Despite stiff competition from newcomers such as the Apple AirPod Pros and Samsung Galaxy Live Buds, they're still up some of the best wireless earbuds we've heard.
That said, the stellar Sony WF-1000XM3s are the real maestros here. They sound wonderfully musical and are noticeably more adept at handling complex rhythms. Bass is punchy and dynamic, detail is a delightfully layered and vocals are utterly captivating.
So, the Bose buds push the Sonys close, but the WF-1000XM3s are, quite simply, the best-sounding wireless buds at this kind of money.
*Winner: Sony WF-1000XM3*
Bose SoundSport Free vs Sony WF-1000XM3: verdict
If you love a strenuous workout then the sweat-resistant Bose SoundSport Frees are for you. They sound great, are rugged, IPX4 rated and remain in place whether you're pounding the pavement or pumping iron.
However, the slightly pricier Sonys offer a whole lot more bang for your buck –namely superb noise-cancelling, better battery life and better audio. They're not as sporty as the Bose, but they sound sublime and serve up a sense of scale that belies their tiny proportions.