Two of the biggest names in audio technology are Bose and Sony, but which flagship noise cancelling headphones are the best? We’ve done a versus of the Bose QC 35 II vs Sony WH-1000MX3, but now that Sony released the Sony WH-1000XM4, we are pitting the Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on February 21, 2021, to address an FAQ about the microphone comparison and to change the result of the microphone comparison.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Hardware and design
While the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are named for their comfortable build, the Sony WH-1000XM4 feel great as well. Both sets of headphones have plush ear cups, though the thin padding on the WH-1000XM4 headband makes them slightly less comfortable.
As for onboard controls, the Bose QC 35 II have physical buttons whereas the WH-1000XM4 controls are done through a series of taps and swipes. Through the Sony Headphones Connect app, you can program the Custom button on the Sony WH-1000XM4 to access its integrated voice assistant or to toggle noise cancellation, but you cannot have both at the same time. However, you can access your smartphone’s native assistant by pressing and holding the touchpad.
Similarly, the Bose QC 35 II has an Action button which can be programmed in the Bose Connect+ app to access your smart assistant or toggle your active noise cancellation settings. Its multifunction button can be used to access your smartphone’s native voice assistant. Neither the QC 35 II or the WH-1000XM4 have integrated Siri, so if you’re on an iOS device, you have to access Siri through your iPhone.
The headphones are both a similar size and weight, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 have a USB-C connection whereas the Bose QC 35 II have the outdated MicroUSB connection.
The Bluetooth connection is similar with both headsets, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports LDAC
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II support just two Bluetooth codecs: SBC and AAC, whereas the Sony WH-1000XM4 support SBC, AAC, and Sony’s LDAC for the highest quality streaming. The Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose QC 35 II both have Bluetooth multipoint functionality, so you can easily switch between two devices. However, with the Sony WH-1000XM4 forces AAC streaming in order to use Bluetooth multipoint.
Become an expert: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
Connecting your smartphone to your headphones is simple with either pair, especially if you use the headphones apps, and both headsets have stellar connection quality. Both headphones use Bluetooth 5.0, and if you want, you can connect either with a 3.5mm cable for wired listening.
Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 has software features that the Bose QC35 II doesn’t have
It you cup your hand over the left ear cup of the Sony WH-1000XM4, ambient sound mode is activated so you can listen to surrounding noise. The Bose QC 35 II doesn’t have an ambient sound mode. Additionally, the Sony WH-1000XM4 feature auto-pause and auto-resume functionality, and the Bose QC 35 II have neither.
Some software features are only available through an app, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 has more
The Sony WH-1000XM4 have a few software features that only become available if you download the Sony Headphones Connect app. The speak-to-chat function will pause your music when it detects you speaking. However, its detection is very sensitive and Adam found it paused his podcast in response to his chuckles, which was irritating. The feature can be disabled through the app as well.
Additional app functions include noise cancelling optimization, mixing the amount of ambient noise to pass through, and customizing the equalizer. You also need the app to use Sony’s 360 Reality Audio with high quality music streaming services.
The Bose QC 35 II headphones are also compatible with an app called Bose Connect+, but don’t offer nearly as many features as the Sony WH-1000XM4. Within the app, you can program the Action button to an assistant or an ANC toggle, but it starts out being programmed to Google Assistant. The ANC is enabled automatically without using the app, but you can’t disable it unless you have the app.
Of course, some people find that headphone apps collect too much personal data, in which case you can still access the primary functions—listening to music, cancelling noise, and taking calls—of either set of headphones without using an app.
Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4
The battery life is better with the Sony WH-1000XM4
We tested the Bose QC 35 II to have 15 hours, 46 minutes of battery life and the Sony WH-1000XM4 to have 19 hours, 59 minutes. Additionally, the Bose QC 35 II charge via microUSB and can play 2.5 hours after being charged for 15 minutes. The Sony WH-1000XM4, however, charge via USB-C and can play five hours after being charged for only 10 minutes.
Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Noise cancelling
The landslide winner for best noise cancelling is the Sony WH-1000XM4. These headphones are excellent at cancelling low-frequency and low-mid frequency noise. In addition, their thick ear cups result in great passive isolation even when the ANC is disabled; this improves high-frequency noise cancellation. In addition to the speak-to-chat and ambient sound mode features, the ANC of the WH-1000XM4 headphones can be toggled to adjust the level of ANC.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II have good noise cancelling, but performance simply behind the times. Low-frequency and high-frequency attenuation alike aren’t as good as that of the Sony WH-1000XM4.
Editor’s note: this reading was taken before we split the ANC and isolation measurements. This will be rectified upon buying a new unit for testing.
Related: Best noise cancelling headphones
Some people have reported their Bose QC 35 II headphones’ ANC quality decreased after installing a firmware update. If you experience this or any other problems with these headphones, visit our article describing common problems with the headphones and how to fix them.
Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Sound quality
Both the Bose QC 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM4 offer a neutral-leaning frequency response. No matter which headset you invest in, all genres of music will sound great. Listeners who don’t want to fiddle with equalizing the low-end should go with the Sony WH-1000XM4, though.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 don’t emphasize bass notes in the way a lot of consumer headphones do. Not only does this make for accurate sound reproduction, it also facilitates generally clear sound quality. You can hear treble notes easily because bass notes aren’t masking them. The dip around 2kHz is strategic: it combats unpleasing harmonic resonances that occur in the ear canal when a seal is formed. Bassheads may find it underwhelming, but they can also EQ the sound signature in the Sony Headphones Connect app.
The Bose QC 35 II headphones have a slightly more pronounced low end, which gives your music that extra oomph right out of the box—however, that’s pretty much limited to very low-frequency sounds. It’s unlikely that you’ll notice this. Just like the Sony WH-1000XM4, Bose’s headphones reproduce fairly accurate audio across the audible spectrum. This increase in treble note loudness can make your music sound more detailed. The downside to this, though, is that some sensitive ears may register irritating harmonic resonances during music playback. The sound can also be equalized to your liking via the Bose Connect+ app.
Per our objective testing methods, we’re giving this round to the Sony WH-1000XM4. Both headsets sound very good and will certainly impress anyone coming from cheap headphones.
Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4
Mic quality is similar with the Bose QC 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM4
Both headsets’ microphones are pretty decent, and both cut off low frequencies to combat the proximity effect. This shouldn’t be a problem unless you have a particularly deep voice. The Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone array does a good job of blocking out background noise and focusing on the speaker’s voice. The newer technology gives the edge to Sony for anyone who takes calls outdoors.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II mic sample:
Sony WH-1000XM4 mic sample:
Winner: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: which headset should you buy?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II holds up in 2020, but can’t compete with the shiny and new Sony WH-1000XM4. Listeners who want to save a buck will be happy with the comfortable build, excellent sound quality, and great noise cancelling that Bose’s former flagship has to offer. For most listeners, though, we recommend saving up a bit more for the Sony WH-1000XM4. You’re afforded more software features, better sound and microphone quality, and more advanced noise cancelling.
Alternative noise cancelling headphones to consider
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
If you want better ANC than the Bose QC 35 II, go with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sound better, have touch controls rather than buttons, USB-C charging, and still have smart assistant integration. Quick charging is very good; though we should note: the Sony WH-1000XM4 edges out the Bose Headphones 700.
Now that the new model is out, you’ll probably save some cash by waiting for the older Sony WH-1000XM3 to go on sale. They have very similar performance to the WH-1000XM4, minus the speak-to-chat functionality, Bluetooth multipoint, and improved ANC. However, they do support aptX, and so may appeal more to Android users.
Shure AONIC 50
While the Sony WH-1000XM4 are top-notch noise cancelling headphones, nothing beats the Shure AONIC 50 when it comes to attenuation. They offer high quality codecs including aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency, but it is a bit more expensive.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II are excellent noise cancelling headphones for a price of $199. They feature Bluetooth multipoint and support aptX and aptX Low Latency. Their frequency response is neutral and can be EQ’d in the Sennheiser Smart Control app.
Read next: Best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds
Frequently Asked Questions
The original winner of the mic comparison was the Sony WH-1000XM4 based on our objective microphone test. However, now that over 2000 SoundGuys readers have voted, we are changing the winner to the Bose QC 35 II. Thanks for your question!
The new Apple AirPods Max have memory foam ear pads so they're on the same playing field for comfort as the Bose QC 35 II, though they are bulkier. These active noise cancelling headphones are direct competitors to both the Sony and Bose headphones, but since we haven't had the chance to run an objective ANC test on them yet, we can't say whether they perform better or worse. The headphones also have 40mm dynamic drivers which reportedly produce amplified bass and treble notes, but once again, we haven't had a chance to objectively test the frequency response yet. We do know that they have Apple's proprietary H1 chip, making for easy pairing and battery optimization with iPhones, and they also have Spatial Audio, which mimics surround sound, and is much like the Sony headphones' 360 Reality Audio. They're retailing for $549, making them pricier than both of their competitors.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset is almost exactly the same as the regular Bose QC 35 II, just with a detachable boom microphone. The mic also enables connecting to your console via the 3.5mm cable. If you haven't yet bought a pair of the QC 35 II but you're planning to, and you'd like this detachable boom mic, it might just be worth the extra $30. Unfortunately, the microphone is not sold separately, though, so if you already have the QC 35 II, you can't just get it as an add-on. If you take the mic out, you can enable Bluetooth listening and active noise canceling. As for how it performs as a gaming headset, it doesn't have any additional features that the QC 35 II has except for the microphone and its wire, but its a super comfortable pair of headphones that you can wear all day while gaming.
No, neither the Bose QC 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM4 have an IP rating of any sort.