Two of the biggest names in audio technology are Bose and Sony, but which set of flagship noise cancelling headphones is 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 against the Sony WH-1000XM4.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on June 27, 2021, to add a contents menu, address new frequency response charts, and add the Apple Airpods Max as an alternative.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Hardware and design
While the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is named for its comfortable build, the Sony WH-1000XM4 feels great as well. Both sets of headphones have plush ear cups, though the thin padding on the WH-1000XM4 headband makes it slightly less comfortable.
As for onboard controls, the Bose QC 35 II has physical buttons whereas the WH-1000XM4 is controlled 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 with a press-and-hold of the touchpad.
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Similarly, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II has an Action button that 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.
The headsets are both of a similar size and weight, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 has a USB-C connection whereas the Bose QC 35 II has an outdated microUSB connection.
The Bluetooth connection is similar with both headsets, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports LDAC
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II supports just two Bluetooth codecs: SBC and AAC, whereas the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports SBC, AAC, and Sony’s LDAC for the highest quality streaming. The Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose QC 35 II both have Bluetooth multipoint, so you can easily switch between two devices. However, 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. If you’re using an iPhone you’ll need a dongle for wired playback, otherwise, you’re left with SBC or AAC. For Android devices, the LDAC codec is a big plus when it comes to high-quality wireless playback.
Does Sony or Bose have the better mobile app?
When 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 QuietComfort 35 II doesn’t have an ambient sound mode. Additionally, the Sony WH-1000XM4 features auto-pause/resume functionality, and the Bose QC 35 II has neither.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 has 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. The feature can be disabled through the app though.
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 is compatible with the Bose Connect+ app, but doesn’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.
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 which is a bit short of the Sony WH-1000XM4’s battery life of 19 hours, 59 minutes. Additionally, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II charges via microUSB and can play 150 minutes after being charged for 15 minutes. The Sony WH-1000XM4, however, charges via USB-C and can play 300 minutes after being charged for only 10 minutes.
Does the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or Sony WH-1000XM4 have better noise cancelling?
The winner for best noise cancelling is the Sony WH-1000XM4, though the race is quite close. These headphones are excellent at cancelling low and midrange-frequency noise. In addition, the thick ear cups result in great passive isolation even when the ANC is disabled; this improves high-frequency noise cancellation.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II has excellent noise cancelling especially in the low end, and remains one of the best noise cancelling headphones even a few years after its initial release. Some people have reported the Bose QuietComfort 35 II 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.
No matter which headset you choose, you’ll be very pleased with the noise cancelling performance. Still, the Sony WH-1000XM4 edges out the Bose QC 35 II when it comes to gross attenuation, meriting an ANC score of 7.7 compared to Bose’s score of 7.3.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Sound quality
Both the Bose QC 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM4 offer a somewhat neutral-leaning frequency response. All genres of music will sound great through either headset. Listeners who don’t want to fiddle with equalizing should go with the Bose QC 35 II, though.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 emphasizes bass notes a bit more than our house curve (pink), which might lead to a noticeable degree of auditory masking during particularly bass-heavy segments of a song. emphasize bass notes in the way a lot of consumer headphones do.
The upper notes are also more amplified than our house curve, and you may perceive it as detailed. If you’re listening to classical music, you might find the treble response a bit too loud and want to EQ is down in the mobile app.
The Bose QC 35 II also has a more pronounced sub-bass response, which gives your music that extra oomph right out of the box—however, that’s pretty much limited to very low-frequency sounds. Bose’s headphones reproduce audio with greater accuracy across the frequency spectrum compared to Sony’s headphones, which is good since you can’t adjust the sound in Bose’s app.
Low mids are a bit louder than our house curve posits, but you shouldn’t notice much masking as the relative difference between the low and upper mids is still within a 5dB difference. The amplified treble response compensates for any potential masking, making it easier for you to hear instrumental detail.
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:
Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Which headset should you buy?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II holds up today 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 get 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 a sleeker design than the Bose QC 35 II, go with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 features touch controls rather than buttons, USB-C charging, and still has 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 picking up the older Sony WH-1000XM3 on sale. The performance is very similar to the WH-1000XM4, minus the speak-to-chat functionality, Bluetooth multipoint, and improved ANC. However, the WH-1000XM3 does support aptX, and so may appeal more to Android users.
Shure AONIC 50
While the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a top-notch noise cancelling headset, the Shure AONIC 50 has great passive isolation and is supremely comfortable. Shure’s headphones offer high-quality codecs including aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency, but the heft may be a bit much for travelers.
Apple Airpods Max
This is an especially good choice for iPhone users, the Airpods Max has some of the very best ANC available. With seamless connection, there’s not much to miss, except the high price will give many of us reason to pause. Android users may want to keep looking, because the AAC and SBC codecs won’t best serve the device.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is an excellent pair of noise cancelling headphones and often goes on sale for less than $200 USD. It features Bluetooth multipoint and supports aptX and aptX Low Latency. The frequency response is neutral and can be equalized 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.