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Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Bose QuietComfort 35 II: which is better?

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Bose QuietComfort 35 II: which is better?
(Image credit: Sony)

Fancy a pair of premium noise-cancelling headphones? Chances are, you're already eyeing up two of the best models around: the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QC 35 II. Both these over-ears deliver superb active noise-cancelling, strong battery life and a good smattering of features.

But before you splash the cash, it's worth taking a closer look at what these headphones have to offer. Both are perfect for use on planes, in offices and at home – and both performed brilliantly in our tests. So which is best for you?  

Which pair sets the benchmark when it comes to battery life? And what are the crucial difference between Bose's legendary noise-cancelling technology, and Sony's?

Read on as we pit these two top-notch models against each other in a battle of the noise-cancelling headphones. Not dead-set on noise-cancellers? You can always refer to our exhaustive list of the best headphones for all styles and budgets.

Price

The Bose QC35 IIs have been out for a number of years now, which means there are some excellent discounts do be had. Shop around and you'll find pairs available for around £220 ($270 / AU$450).

Meanwhile, the Sony WH-1000XM3s, which cost £330 at launch, are a newer model but can also be had with an attractive discount. These are now priced around £240 ($300 / AU$490).

Both are an absolute steal, but if you care about sound quality, we'd suggest paying that little bit extra to get your hands on the Sonys. 

**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**

Battery life

Do you want 20 hours' playback or 30 hours' playback? That's the question you have to ask yourself here. 

While the Bose QC 35 II last up to 20 hours on a single charge, the Sony WH-1000XM3s last up to 30 hours.  (Switch off noise cancelling and these cans last 30 and 38 hours respectively). 

The Sonys quick-charge delivers 5 hours playback from a 10 minute charge, while the Bose cans only muster 2.5 hours playback from a 15 minute charge.

**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Bose QuietComfort 35 II: which is better?

(Image credit: Bose)

Design and fit

Both pairs of headphones boast their fair share of design flair. They're both made of high-quality plastic and available in black or grey/silver. Build quality is top-notch, and we didn't find much creaking or flexing.  

At only 235g, the Bose QC35 IIs are around 20g lighter than the Sonys and feature a headband with a softer grip. Those needing a pair of noise-cancellers for long-haul journeys should definitely bear these in mind, particularly as the hinges mean the headphones fold down neatly. 

Sony's memory foam earpads are noticeably plusher, but for all-day listening you might find prefer the lighter Bose cans – so much about headphone fit really comes down to personal taste. The Sonys are of chunkier proportions but they too fold down for travel, and come with a hard case.

 **Winner: a draw**

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Bose QuietComfort 35 II: which is better?

(Image credit: Sony)

Features

If you're a fan of features, you'll be impressed with the Sonys. Their ingenious touch-sensitive earcups respond to swipe and tap gestures, allowing you to adjust the volume level, skip songs, answer calls and bark orders at your chosen voice assistant (Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri are all supported) without reaching for your phone. 

The Bose QC35 IIs are a little more prosaic when it comes to controls: they have physical buttons for listening modes and power. The 'Action' button conjures up Google Assistant but there are some limitations. While you can use these headphones to control and play your music, you’ll need to use Spotify in order to access Google Assistant Controls.

Both headphones come with decent companion apps. Bose Connect can be used to tweak the noise-cancelling intensity (low, medium and high), update firmware and connect two pairs of Bose headphones via the clever Music Share function. It's just a shame there aren't any EQ settings.

The Sony Headphones Connect app offers a far richer experience, packed with customisation options. There's also a feature that allows you to silence the music by putting a hand over an earcup – handy when you want to have a conversation without removing your headphones.

And the final nail in Bose's coffin? Sony's headphones boast USB-Type C charging while the Bose QC35 IIs make do with an older, microUSB connection.

Yes the Sonys are pricier but, they will reward you will a higher feature-count and slick, touch-sensitive controls.

**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Bose QuietComfort 35 II: which is better?

(Image credit: Bose)

Noise-cancelling

Both these premium headphones deliver premium noise-cancelling to block out office chatter and jet engines. That said, one pair performs better than the other...

Bose has always been at the forefront of silencing constant rumbles or hums, and that remains the same here – the microphones inside and outside the headphones effectively eliminating any irritating background chatter. 

You only get three levels of noise-cancelling to play with but each setting holds its own. Whether it's a 'whoosh' of wind or the 'whacka-whacka' of a jackhammer, the QC35 IIs block it out with ruthless efficiency.

The Sony WH-1000XM3s on the other hand, offer 20 different levels of noise-cancelling. The Ambient Sound Control feature uses the sensors on your smartphone to detect whether you are walking, running, or just sitting around, and switches between the noise-cancelling levels accordingly. It's both intelligent and effective and extremely thorough when it comes to blocking frequencies.

They also have an extra trick up their sleeves: Sony's Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser can adjust the noise-cancelling, so it works more efficiently when travelling at altitude on a plane.

**Winner: Draw**

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: which is better?

(Image credit: Sony)

Sound quality

The really big deal for the Sony headphones is the use of analogue amplification. The XM3s contain Sony's QN1 chip, which combines noise-cancelling, a DAC and an analogue amplifier to great effect. 

Every instrument and vocal is given room to breathe, to the point that we could hear the varying pressure of piano key presses. Throw in a generous helping of deep bass and superb rhythmic drive and musicality, and it's clear that the XM3s are spectacular performers.

The Bose QC35II compare favourably: each powerful bass note is weighty and nuanced, while mids and highs are controlled and enjoyably crisp. Bose is known for a clear, transparent sound and the QC35 II don't disappoint in this respect.

But, ultimately, the WH-1000XM3s have an earthier bass, more insight and more depth, detail and refinement across the board.

*Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3*

Verdict

Choosing between these two is a win-win scenario, as both are rich in features and sound very good and don't cost the earth. 

The Bose QC35 IIs are hugely effective: the excellent noise-cancelling keeps everything around you quiet, and they're exceptionally light and comfortable. For many travellers, the QC35 IIs will make a great addition to their suitcase.

The Sony WH-1000XM3s, however, are a cut above. When you add up the sophisticated noise-cancelling, killer battery life and class-leading sound quality, you're looking at a brilliant pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and a bit of a no-brainer.

**Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3**

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