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 November 5, 2020, to address an FAQ about waterproofing.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Hardware and design

Close-up of 3.5mm input on Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones

The WH-1000XM4 have a ton of Bluetooth codec options but thankfully still have a place for a standard 3.5mm audio cable as well.

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are both a similar size and weight, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 have a USB-C connection whereas the Bose QC 35 II have the outdated MicroUSB connection.

Winner: Draw

The Bluetooth connection is similar with both headsets, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports LDAC

An aerial picture of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II on a gridded surface next to two smartphones.

iPhone users will experience better, more consistent high-quality audio via Bose’s headset than Android users.

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

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

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

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

The WH-1000XM4 noise cancelling performance is stellar.

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.

A chart showing the isolation performance of the Bose QC35 II headphones

The Bose QC35 II offer a really good level of active noise cancelling, but it isn’t market-leading anymore.

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.

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

The neutral bass response allows for more clarity in the lows even if they’re not as strong.

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.

A chart detailing the frequency response of the Bose QC35 II.

The Bose QC35 II have a very neutral frequency response, which is great for tinkerers.

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:

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Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: which headset should you buy?

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones on a yellow couch

The Sony WH-1000XM4 don’t look too different from the previous model except for a few slight tweaks.

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.

Sony WH-1000XM3

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

Is either headset waterproof?

No, neither the Bose QC 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM4 have an IP rating of any sort.

Is the Bose QuietComfort 35 II still worth buying in 2020?

That's a tough one. There are a few aspects of the Bose QC 35 II that are outdated, such as the lack of high quality codecs, no ambient sound mode, lack of USB-C charging, and lack of auto-pause and auto-resume functionality. It would be reasonable to expect these features in a newer pair of headphones for the same price as the Bose QC 35 II. That being said, the Bose QC 35 II still have excellent noise cancelling capabilities and sound quality, but they're a bit pricey for being three years old. If you purchase a new Google Pixel 5 or Pixel 4a (5G) in select European countries, you can get the Bose QC 35 II for free. You can also get them refurbished for $229.