Bose and Sony are the industry leaders when it comes to manufacturing active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones. In May 2019, Bose released its latest flagship product: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which aimed to take back the title of best ANC headphones from Sony. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is an attempt to defend its title. We’re putting the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 vs Sony WH-1000XM4 in this head-to-head to see which headphone is worth your next paycheck.

Editor’s note: this versus article was updated on September 16, 2020, to address the Bose Connect app feature that lets users create a custom EQ.

Design and comfort

Both headphones are well-designed pieces of hardware, though they each has its own caveats to consider.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature a clean with matte-finished ear cups and a steel headband.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature a clean design with matte finished ear cups and an adjustable steel headband. The thick ear cups on these headphones feel snug, resulting in good isolation that blocks out a significant amount of ambient noise. Unfortunately, the ear cups don’t fold up toward the headband for a compact form factor which makes them bulkier than Sony’s headphones.

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Also, the thick padding—coupled with the soft, rubberized headband—may put more pressure on your head than with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. While the added pressure isn’t extreme, some may find it uncomfortable to wear during very long listening sessions.

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones next to iPad Pro on a marble surface

The Sony WH-1000XM4 keeps the same foldable design as the WH-1000XM3.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 sports the same design as the WH-1000XM3 and features the same folding hinge for easy storage and transport. Unlike its predecessor, the ear cups on the WH-1000XM4 are thicker for improved isolation.

When designing the WH-1000XM4, Sony reduced the amount of padding on the headband, leading to increased pressure on your head which can feel uncomfortable during long periods. However, similar to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, this isn’t a big deal as the added pressure is barely noticeable.

Onboard controls

A picture of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 onboard button controls.

Bose uses both buttons and touch-capacitive panels to control the Headphones 700.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 forgo tactile buttons in favor of touch sensors. The right ear cup allows for playback and volume control, while the left ear cup lets you access ambient sound controls or your voice assistant; this may be toggled in the Sony Headphones Connect app. During our Sony WH-1000XM4 review, the touch controls failed to register every tap especially when Adam double-tapped the headset to pause playback.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature a mix of control methods. There are buttons for pairing, ANC control, and voice assistant access, while volume and playback is controlled through a touch-capacitive panel on the right ear cup. From our tests, we found that the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 did a better job registering swipes and taps than the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Winner: Draw

Connection quality and Bluetooth codec support

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones only support SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs.

Both headphones offer comparable audio connections and codec support, each headset with its own set of pros and cons. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature a 2.5mm headphone jack and support just one high-quality Bluetooth codec: AAC, which affords reliable high-quality audio to iPhone users. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Android users because the Android operating system fails to consistently encode and decode the AAC Bluetooth codec across devices. Even still, any user can listen via SBC, the lowest-common-denominator of Bluetooth codecs.

Learn more: Understanding Bluetooth codecs

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 offer fast and easy pairing with Android phones, allowing you to connect and set up Google Assistant in a few taps. The headphone also features Bluetooth multipoint, which enables you to switch between two devices connected simultaneously.

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones on a yellow couch

The Sony WH-1000XM4 supports Bluetooth multipoint, but drops aptX support seen in the WH-1000XM3.

On the other hand, the Sony WH-1000XM4 houses a standard 3.5mm headphone jack for wired playback, and supports slightly better codec options—including SBC, AAC, and the company’s proprietary LDAC. Although LDAC has its issues, it remains the best codec we’ve tested for streaming content over Bluetooth. You can connect up to two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth multipoint, though this feature is exclusive to the AAC codec.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Both headsets afford great sound quality

Each of these flagship headphones deliver the best sound that Sony and Bose have to offer. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is tuned with a more neutral frequency response than the company’s former flagship: the QC 35 II. The slight emphasis in the lows helps retain clarity and presence in bass instruments without masking vocals and stringed instruments—a sound profile that will suit most consumers.

The frequency response graph of the Bose 700 headphones show a slight emphasis in the lows, but it isn't overdone.

The Bose 700 still has a slight emphasis on the low end, but combined with the isolating ear cups it’s sufficient for all but the most hardcore bassheads.

The sound signature Sony WH-1000XM4 may not be as neutral-leaning as Bose’s offering, but it still delivers a pleasant listening experience. There is a slight emphasis at 200Hz, which helps low-mid sounds like kick drums, snares, and deeper voices come through a mix. There is a de-emphasis between 1-7kHz, which reduces clarity in the highs, though not by much.

Sony WH-1000XM4 frequency response graph showing a fairly neutral response in the lows.

The flat bass response allows for more clarity in the lows even if they’re not as amplified as you’re used to.

Per our objective testing, the Sony WH-1000XM4 edge out the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 by 0.1 point, scoring 9.7 and 9.6 respectively. We’re just baring giving this win to Sony because of the high-quality LDAC support. With the Sony Headphones Connect app, you can tune the sound profile of your headphones for a bespoke listening experience. Meanwhile, using the WH-1000XM4 on an Android device gives you the ability to use LDAC, which provides high-quality audio streaming thanks to its higher data transfer rates over other codecs.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4 (barely)

Bose vs Sony:  noise cancelling performance

Based on our tests, the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers the best active noise cancellation. While both headphones do a similarly great job at attenuating ambient noise, the WH-1000XM4 outperforms Bose’s flagship headphone when cancelling out mid-low frequencies between 200 to 1,000 Hz. This means that lower frequency sounds like jet engine rumbles and air conditioner hums are less likely to interfere with your content.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 attentuation graph showing improved noise cancelling under 1000Hz.

The WH-1000XM4 are somehow even better than its predecessor, the WH-1000XM3.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is still one of the best on the market, able to cancel out a significant amount of ambient noise, like people chatting around you or your co-workers clacking on keyboards. However, if you had to choose between Sony and Bose for its noise cancellation, the Sony WH-1000XM4 will offer a better listening experience—whether you’re on a flight or just channeling your inner couch potato.

This isolation graph of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 shows an impressive cancelling of frequencies between 100-1000Hz with strong cancellation above 1000Hz.

This measurement was performed before we split out the ANC testing from the total attenuation. Check back later for a retest upon purchase of a new unit.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

The Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone system outperforms Bose’s

The microphones on both headphones are great, and again both have their deficiencies. Listen to the examples below and help us determine which system is best for calls.

Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone demo:

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 demo:

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Let’s break down what’s responsible for the WH-1000XM4 microphone quality. The microphone frequency response chart for Sony’s headphones depicts a slight bump at 1kHz, which improves speech intelligibility. While this also slightly raises the sound of ambient noise, this slight emphasis in the mids allows your voice to be heard even if your connection may be poor.

Sony WH-1000XM4 voice graph showing slight dropoff around 150Hz in the lower notes.

Lower notes in deep voices won’t come across as loud as some of the higher ones, but the mic is still more than good enough for phone calls.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 also comes with a great microphone system, perfect for phone calls or Zoom meetings. Vocals are intelligible, though not as clear as on the WH-1000XM4 due to the dip between 1-3kHz. With this de-emphasis comes one advantage: ambient noise like computer or desk fans are less likely to sound distracting when using the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

The frequency response for the microphone shows a sharp drop off under 200Hz.

The Bose microphone does a good job with the main parts of voices, but anyone with a deep voice will be slightly cut off as frequencies less than 200Hz won’t be nearly as loud.

The microphone on both headphones share one common disadvantage. There is a significant drop-off that starts at around 200Hz. Both companies did this strategically to reduce the proximity effect (when bass notes become too amplified if a speaker is too close to the microphone, but that means people with deeper voices will face reduced vocal presence and clarity. Sure, you can increase the gain through your system’s mic settings but doing so will raise the noise floor of your audio.

Winner: To be determined

App features and integration

Pictured is a man using a Pixel 3 with the Sony Headphones app open

While the Sony app isn’t the prettiest it does give you access to all the customization options you need and even some special features.

The last thing you’re thinking about when comparing the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 vs Sony WH-1000XM4 is app support, but app features are an integral part of the Bluetooth headset experience.

Sony offers deep in-app integration with the Sony WH-1000XM4 via Sony Headphones Connect. Inside the app, you have access to features that let you customize your listening experience, including EQ controls, Sony 360 Reality Audio setup for in-ear spatial audio, and DSEE Extreme for audio upsampling of low-quality music files.

The Sony app also lets you customize usability features like voice assistant access, speak-to-chat, touch sensor control mapping, and ambient sound controls. Speaking of which, you can enable the headphones to automatically switch between noise cancellation levels based on your location or activity—whether you’re sitting, walking, or commuting to work.

Read on: Headphone are collecting too much personal data

Software control over the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is done through the Bose Music app, though its functionality is rather limited. Inside the app, you get access to firmware updates, noise cancellation adjustments (between levels 1 and 11), voice assistant access, and device management options for multipoint connectivity. You may also tweak the EQ in the Bose Connect app so long as you’re running 1.4.12 or later.

Both apps are available on iOS and Android, and afford the same features to each operating system.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Battery Life

Here at SoundGuys, all active noise cancelling headphones are subjected to the same testing standards. We play music at a constant output of 75dB(SPL), with ANC on the highest setting until battery depletion.

Pictured are the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on top of the keyboard of a Huawei Matebook

Even with active noise cancelling on max, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 headphones still managed to pump out 21 hours of constant playback.

According to our tests, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 lasted longer in our battery tests, lasting roughly 21 hours, 25 minutes. On the other hand, the Sony WH-1000XM4 lasted 19 hours, 59 minutes—roughly and an hour and a half less than Bose’s flagship. You may get more mileage by turning limiting noise cancelling intensity and disabling features like EQ or audio upscaling.

Both these headphones feature USB-C for charging, though the Sony WH-1000XM4 features quick charging, giving you five hours of playtime after only 10 minutes of charging. Bose also has fast charging: 15 minutes yields two hours of playtime. If you need to power your headphones in a pinch, Sony has your back. However, based on sheer battery life alone, Bose is the way to go.

Winner: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: which one should you buy?

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones next to magazines on a wood bench

In this Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 vs Sony WH-1000XM4, Sony comes out on top.

Between these two headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 comes out as the better pair of noise cancelling headphones. Though it shares similar hardware to Bose’s flagship, such as touch control functionality and comparable microphone quality, the WH-1000XM4 features a better overall sound signature and superior noise cancelling performance—combined with deep app integration, a foldable design, and a modest battery life. This makes Sony’s headphones the better value, especially since both are priced at roughly $379.

On the other hand, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are still a great pair of ANC headphones that feature a clean design, competitive noise cancelling performance, and a neutral-leaning sound signature that Bose fanatics may be privy to. If you already own the Bose QC 35 II, or are rocking an older Bose ANC headphone, their latest flagship is a great choice if you don’t want to step into Sony’s side of the market—though we highly recommend doing so.

Think beyond Bose vs Sony

A picture of a woman wearing the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones and using the Shure PlayPlus headphone app.

The Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones effectively reduce the presence of low-frequency sounds.

If you’re looking for some alternatives, there are plenty of other headphones to choose from. The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a great pair of noise cancelling headphones that offer excellent low-frequency noise cancelling, support for aptX and aptX Low Latency, and a comfortable design—all for about half the price of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. If you want a more premium pair of cans, the Shure AONIC 50 may be for you. It sports a leather-wrapped design that delivers support for numerous high-quality codecs, a pleasing sound signature, and amazing ANC performance.

For a more portable option, consider getting a pair of noise cancelling true wireless earbuds instead of over-ear headphones. While they may not offer a long battery life, true wireless buds fit right in your pocket, delivering a great listening experience without having to carry a cumbersome headphone case or pouch. The Sony WF-1000XM3 is a particular favorite of ours, offering comparable ANC performance as the WH-1000XM4 in a much smaller package.

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