The best true wireless earbuds don't have to set you back hundreds of pounds or dollars, but it is true that, if you have a big enough budget, you do have some truly sensational pairs to choose from.
Today's top premium models boast great build quality, advanced features, excellent noise cancelling (good enough to trouble some over-ear pairs), and sound quality straight out of the top drawer.
This makes choosing between them difficult. But don't worry, we're here to help. On this page we're comparing two of the arguably most popular models currently available – the brand new Sony WF-1000XM4 and five-star Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – to see which comes out on top. They both boast great sound quality, excellent noise cancellation and more features than you can shake a charging case at. But where should your money go? Allow us to help.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: price
Being the best earbuds both brands offer, neither the Sony WF-1000XM4 nor Bose QuietComfort Earbuds come cheap. The Sonys cost £250 ($280, AU$500), and because they're new, you're unlikely to get a discount any time soon.
The QuietComfort Earbuds cost an identical £250 ($280, AU$399), but we have spotted them on sale a few times, especially around Prime Day and Black Friday. Currently, you can buy a pair for around £240 (AU$279), although at the time of writing, US discounts appear tricker to come by.
**Winner** Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: battery life
The Sony WF-1000XM4 boast eight hours of battery life from a single charge, with the carry case providing another 16 hours of juice through two full charges. This gives you a total of 24 hours of run time before you need to find a wall plug.
In a hurry? Five minutes of wall charging will give you up to an hour of life.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds don't fare quite so well. The buds have six hours of juice in them, while the case gives another 12, making for a total of 18 hours. No slouch, but not quite as competitive as we'd like at the money.
They fare a little worse in terms of quick charging, too, giving you two hours of playing time from a 15-minute juice-up.
**Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4**
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: build and comfort
The WF-1000XM4 are more rounded in appearance compared with the Bose. They're designed to sit more in your ear opening, while the bulky part of the Bose earpieces are positioned more on the outside. This means the QuietComfort protrude a bit more, so if you want the more discreet design, we'd go for the Sonys.
The Sony ear tips are made from polyurethane and feel like a silicone/foam hybrid. They sit deeper in your ear canal compared with the Bose tips, but both provide very good levels of noise isolation. Open up the Sony Headphones Connect app and you can even run a test to see just how good your seal is. Disappointingly, you get only three different sizes of tip to choose from in the box.
Bose's ovular earbuds look a bit more industrial, although the quality of the plastics used is very good. The silicon tips also come in three sizes, which again, is a little disappointing. They are very soft, though, and the integrated ear hooks help keep them in place during exercise.
Bose's carry case is quite a bit bigger than Sony's, so the XM4s are slightly easier to carry around. The Bose case also has a mechanical catch rather than a magnetic fastening, meaning it's very secure, although the Sony's magnet and the magnets holding the earbuds in place are exceptionally strong too.
Like to brave the elements? Both these wireless in-ears are rated IPX4 water-resistant. That's nothing to write home about but they will withstand sweat and the odd rain shower, so should be fine for taking out and about.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: features
Being premium wireless earbuds, both the Sony and Bose pairs aren't short of features.
The main selling point of the Sony WF-1000XM4 is their noise cancelling, but they do have a range of different listening modes to choose from depending on what you're doing and how much of the outside world you want to let in. Ambient Sound mode lets in more so you can be more aware of your surroundings, while Quick Attention lets you hold a quick conversation (by tapping and holding on one earbud) without having to take them out.
Their speak-to-chat feature – the headphones recognise when you're speaking and pause the music so you can have a conversation while wearing them – is a neat trick, but it's not seamless. It takes a second or so to start working once you've started talking, and the delay can be slightly annoying.
They boast a completely new Integrated Processor V1, a Sony chip that, along with new 6mm drivers, makes for better noise-cancelling and improved sound quality. A new DSEE Extreme engine upscales low-quality audio files, and for hi-res audio, there's support for Sony's LDAC codec, which means you can listen to files up to 32-bit/96kHz over Bluetooth at up to 990kbps.
The carry case for the XM4 boasts wireless charging, and the battery can be boosted by placing it on the back of compatible smartphones, such as the Sony Xperia 1 III.
They also support Google's Fast Pair feature for fuss-free pairing with an Android device. More of a Microsoft fan? Its Swift Pair feature is supported as well, for quick pairing to Windows 10 devices.
Like many other true wireless earbuds (including the Sonys), the Bose buds have touch controls. Simply hold your finger on the touchpad of the right earbud to access voice assistants or decline a call, and slide it along the edge of an earpiece to turn the volume up or down. Tapping allows you to control the level and intensity of the noise cancelling.
Fire up the Bose Music app and you can tweak the noise-cancellation settings and manage your Bluetooth connections (although there aren't any adjustable EQ settings).
**Winner** Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: call quality
The WF-1000XM4 combine Precise Voice Pickup technology, beam-forming and a bone conduction sensor to try to ensure phone calls are clear, focused, and that outside noise is kept to a minimum. They even boast Automatic Wind Noise Reduction, which helps give calls an extra level of clarity for the person on the other end of the line.
The QuietComforts don't have quite the same feature set when it comes to calls, but they do have one neat trick up their sleeve – a feature called "Self Voice calling mode". It allows you to hear your own voice in the earbuds, so you can modulate your voice and not shout down the line. It's clever, but not enough to take this round from the Sonys.
**Winner** Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: noise cancelling
If you want class-leading active noise-cancelling, then you've come to the right place. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are currently the best ANC earbuds in the business. Thanks to that Integrated Processor V1 and new 6mm driver unit (which has 20 per cent more magnet volume than its predecessor), the headphones help cut through huge swathes of outside noise, isolating you so you can enjoy more of your music.
Obviously, Bose also knows a thing or two about noise-cancelling and the QuietComfort Earbuds certainly don't disappoint in this regard. In fact, they push the Sonys extremely close.
One thing we particularly like is that Bose's noise-cancelling tech is far more flexible than most. In the Bose Music app, you’re presented with a noise-cancelling sliding scale that ranges from zero (no noise-cancelling) to 10 (maximum). Through the app, you can assign three different positions, say 0, 5 and 10 as ‘Favourites’ and cycle through them by double-tapping the left earpiece. Nifty.
You’ll want to experiment but the QuietComfort buds live up to their name, cutting out a good chunk pf background noise when on the maximum setting. Got an incoming call? The Bose buds use four microphones to help with call quality, and they work together well to keep your voice sounding solid and clear.
Both pairs of earbuds are very effective at blocking out unwanted noise, and we like the Bose's built-in adjustability. But it's the quality of that Sony noise-cancelling when listening to music and making calls that just gives them the edge.
**Winner** Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: sound
Of course this is why we're really here. Which earbuds sound the best?
The XM4 offer clarity across the board and a sense of rhythmic precision that allows them to switch pace effortlessly. They are musical, dynamic and detailed performers, and they offer real gains in the bass department – they're exceptionally revealing, with leading edges crisper and better defined. There's a greater sense of clarity, which allows more texture and detail to shine through. They are also wonderfully balanced.
The Bose sound very good too, conveying an infectious sense of enthusiasm and excitement. Basslines sound rich and full-bodied while melodies are rendered with power and precision. The Sonys, however, sound better-balanced and clearer across the board, to the extent that they make the Bose sound a little muddy, especially in the bass.
**Winner** Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: verdict
A quick look at the results, and it looks like a one-sided fight. But that doesn't do justice to just how close some of these rounds were. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds still offer excellent noise cancelling, great sound quality, and good call quality. They also boast some very useful features.
But they can't quite match the mighty Sony WF-1000XM4. Sony's latest are the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market right now, thanks to their stellar sound quality, stacked feature set and class-leading noise cancelling and battery life.
As an all-round premium package, they're going to be extremely tough to beat.
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