If you're in the market for a pair of premium noise-cancelling headphones, you won't be short of suitors. Sony and Bose make some of the best models, offering state-of-the-art features, top-notch designs and fantastic sound quality.
The Sony WH-1000XM3s have established themselves as superb business-class cans and have dispatched many a rival over the last year. Meanwhile, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have emerged as a serious rival to their crown.
Both these wireless headphones are perfect for use on planes, in offices and at home – and both performed brilliantly in our tests. So which is the best option for you?
Read on as we compare these flagship noise-cancellers in detail, from battery life and build, to sound quality and features. After all, if you're going to drop some serious coin on a pair of high-quality headphones, it pays to do your research...
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 claim a 20-hour battery life with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling switched on. A respectable performance – but the Sony WH-1000XM3s last a whopping 10 hours longer. Their 30-hour battery life is enough to fly from London to Tokyo and back again.
As for charging times, the Bose headphones go from empty to full in 2.5 hours, while a 15 minute fast-charge returns 3.5 hours' playback.
But again, the Sonys perform better. A full charge takes 3 hours, but 10 minutes of charge time gives you a whopping 5 hours of playback. Hardly a fair fight.
**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**
Design and fit
Bose and Sony have the engineering chops to build premium headphones pitched at frequent travellers, and both firms have perfected their designs over the years.
The 700s are strikingly slender and arguably the more luxurious of the two. We're taken with the 'invisible' hinges and the stainless steel headband, which is beautifully integrated into the earcups. Weighing in at just 254g, they're incredibly light and don't exert much pressure on your head.
Although the aforementioned hinge prevents the 700s from collapsing inwards, the cups fold flat and the included case is no thicker than a paperback book. Keep them in their carry case, though - we found the earcup sliders could scratch if left exposed.
The Sony XM3s are just as commuter-friendly. The plastic headband makes them feel a little less premium but the thick memory foam cushioning offers superb all-day comfort and they're very lightweight. It feels like you're not wearing headphones at all.
There's very little in it so we recommend you try them both for size.
**Winner: a draw**
Both headphones use broadly the same control mechanisms: touch-sensitive panels on the earcups, which can be operated with swipes and taps.
In the case of the Bose 700s, you can tap the Bose logo to hear a battery level reading, or hold it down to decline an incoming call. There's also support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice controls – either can be activated with a press of the bottom button on the right earcup. We did find some of the controls a little sensitive but overall, the 700s are a joy to use.
The Sony WH-1000XM3s are similarly intuitive and provide a hands-free experience through Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. They also feature 'Quick Attention' mode: place your hand over the cup to lower the volume of the music and let in outside noise. It's a useful function that allows you to chat to someone without taking your headphones off.
They've also got one eye on plane travel with their built-in Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser, which tweaks the frequency response and mic sensitivity of the headphones to improve performance at high altitude. Very clever.
The Sonys are slightly richer in features, but whichever pair you choose you can expect to spend a day or two getting to grips with all the bells and whistles.
**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**
Whether you're on a plane or in a loud office, both these noise-cancelling cans block out the world outside. That said, one pair is a tad more effective than the other...
The Bose 700s use the firm's next-gen noise-cancelling system, which includes everything from new acoustics to new digital signal processing – all running off Bose’s own noise-cancelling chip. You can select 11 increments (from 0-10) of noise-cancellation intensity, allowing you to transition from full isolation to full transparency. It's astonishingly good.
Sony's noise-cancelling is impressive too, though. You can adjust the intensity through Sony's excellent Headphones Connect app and don't forget that Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser.
Ready to get down to brass tacks? Bose has the edge here. With 11 gradations, its noise-cancelling tech is that little bit more effective at cutting out background noise.
**Winner: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700**
We tested the Sony WH-1000XM3s at £330 back in 2019, but the price has since dropped to just £240 ($300 / AU$490), which makes them an absolute steal.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have also dropped in price, from £350 to £275 ($345 / AU$565).
But since the Sony's are richer in features and, as we'll come to shortly, sound better, we'd suggest they're the best bet for budget-conscious buyers.
**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**
The XM3s feature an analogue amplifier, whereas the 700s have a digital amplifier. And both headphones sound fantastic, with wide, open soundstages and plenty of detail.
Wirth the Sonys, every instrument, effect and vocal is given room to breathe – we could even hear the varying pressure of the piano key presses. Throw in a generous helping of deep bass and superb rhythmic drive and musicality, and the XM3s sound so good you might think you were standing in the studio with the artist.
The Bose 700s are no slouch, though. They offer a very different balance, displaying superb agility and clarity. They're direct-sounding, while dynamics are excellent too, Compared to the Sonys, though, they do lack a little detail and bass depth.
*Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3*
The Sony WH-1000XM3 sound better, offer better battery life and cost less than their rival. Quite simply, it's game, set and match to these Award-winning cans.
Having said that there's no doubt the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 will appeal to many. They look and feel more luxurious, and they can also claim some of the best noise-cancelling in the business in the business. If your budget can stretch, we don't think you'll be disappointed.