With the release of the all-new WF-1000XM4 earbuds, Sony has brought forward a new competitor for the true wireless headphone crown. These earbuds aim to take down the best from Bose, which has made a significant dent in the market with the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds.
Both cost a pretty penny, so we’re pitting them against each other to see which is worth your money.
The slimmed-down Sony WF-1000XM4 is more comfortable and portable
The previous generation product was pretty bulky, but with the new WF-1000XM4, Sony has managed to pack the same great features into a much smaller package. The case is upgraded too, now able to charge wirelessly via Qi-compatible pads.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 also comes with three sizes of polyurethane foam ear tips that mold to the shape of your ear. The Sony Headphones Connect app even has an ear tip fit test to ensure you get an ideal fit.
While Bose has trimmed down the Quietcomfort since its first attempt at true wireless earbuds, these earphones still protrude more from the ear than the Sony WF-1000XM4. A chunky charging case accommodates the earphones, and shares the same matte black or white exterior as the earbuds.
Start here: What makes a good set of in-ears?
The StayHear Max Tips that Bose includes with the Quietcomfort Earbuds are made of silicone, with small wings to ensure a snug fit. While they don’t provide as tight a seal as foam tips, most people won’t have any major fit problems with them, especially once selecting the right size from the three included options.
Both sets of earbuds have an IPX4 rating for sweat and water resistance, so you can wear either buds to the gym or out in a bit of rain. Just be sure to let the earbuds dry off completely before returning them to the case.
Both sets of earbuds include onboard capacitive touch controls for controlling music playback and calls. The controls for each can be customized in their respective mobile apps. Both work well, but we found the Sony touch controls a little more intuitive and customizable than the Bose touch controls.
Bose QC Earbuds controls:
|Action||Left side||Right side|
|Two taps||Cycle through favorites (ANC modes)||Pause/play music|
|Pickup/end phone call|
|Hold||Skip song||Access smart assistant|
|Check battery level||Reject incoming calls|
|Remove/insert||Pause/play music||Pause/play music|
|Auto Transparency mode (remove)||Auto Transparency mode (remove)|
Sony WF-1000XM4 controls:
|Left bud||Right bud|
|One tap||Mute/ANC/Ambient sound||Play/Pause|
|Two taps||N/A||Track forward/answer call|
|Three taps||N/A||Track backward|
|Long press||N/A||Smart assistant|
Which earbuds have better connection and Bluetooth codec support?
The QuietComfort Earbuds use Bluetooth 5.1 and operate well within a nine-meter range. Unfortunately, the earbuds only support the SBC and ACC Bluetooth codecs. While AAC performs great on Apple devices, it’s inconsistent on Android devices. If streaming quality issues become too frustrating, you can always force SBC from your Android phone’s developer settings.
Learn more: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
On the other hand, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds connect to your phone via Bluetooth 5.2. If you have a smartphone with a processor that supports this version of Bluetooth, you should see improved battery life and stronger connections. Alongside SBC and AAC, the Sony earbuds support LDAC, which is capable of high bit-rate audio transmission on Android devices. Bluetooth 5.2 firmware also opens the door for possible LE Audio support down the line.
Do the Sony WF-1000XM4 or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds sound better?
While the frequency response of these earbuds is unlikely to please audiophiles, they both offer a consumer-friendly sound most people will enjoy. Bass and high notes on the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds are amplified and sound almost two times louder than low-midrange sounds. Most people will enjoy this boost as it adds a bit more oomph to music while retaining instrumental detail, though at the expense of vocal clarity due to auditory masking.
Similar to the Bose earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4 offers a strong boost in low-frequency sounds where bass notes live. However, unlike the Bose earbuds, the Sony earbuds attenuate high-frequency sounds. This drop may result in a loss of clarity on some instruments, which may make their harmonics harder to distinguish from other sounds.
If you’re not a fan of the sound offered by either sets of earbuds, well, only the Sony Headphones Connect app lets you create a custom EQ profile. With Bose, you have to rely on its Active EQ technology which automatically adjusts the lows and treble response for a consistent volume output across media.
Bose vs Sony: Which earbuds have the best noise cancelling?
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is better at blocking out ambient noise than pretty much any other in-ears we’ve tested so far. The memory foam ear tips provide an incredible seal for passive isolation, effectively blocking out or reducing incidental noise like coworkers chattering, of the gabble of a subway platform or city street. When you turn the ANC on, droning sounds from 50Hz and higher will sound roughly one quarter to one sixteenth as loud.
For drowning out ambient sounds, the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds also gets the job done. The silicone tips don’t block out as much incidental noise, although they do allow for better hearing in transparency modes.
Both sets of earbuds allow you to set the amount of ANC within the software or using the touch controls.
Hold up! Something’s missing:
This section is typically where we display a noise cancelling chart to show you exactly where the ANC on the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds shines and where its deficiencies lie. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a technical snag in our testing. To combat this, we’ve purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to reach our office in Canada, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious by an announcement explaining the change, and a new chart aesthetic.
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Which microphone is better for you?
The microphones on both sets of earbuds are more than adequate for taking calls on the go. The Sony WF-1000XM4 detects when you speak to help the mic determine what sounds you want it to boost and what’s just noise. Unfortunately, the microphone suffers a bit over AAC. The microphone test below was recorded over an AAC connection on an iPhone 12.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds do a very good job of actively cancelling predictable background noise like the humming microwave in the demo below. Speech intelligibility is never an issue, but some audio clipping can occur.
Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone demo:
Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds demo:
Does Bose or Sony have better software features?
A proper companion app is an essential part of any Bluetooth headphone. Not only do companion apps download firmware updates so your earbuds stay up to date, they also allow you to build a custom listening experience.
Sony offers deep in-app integration with the Sony WF-1000XM4 via Sony Headphones Connect. Inside the app, you have access to features that let you customize your listening experience, including EQ controls and Sony 360 Reality Audio setup for in-ear spatial audio.
The Sony app also lets you customize usability features like voice assistant access, speak-to-chat, touch sensor control mapping, and ambient sound controls. You can even make the headphones automatically switch between noise cancellation levels based on your location or activity—whether you’re sitting, walking, or commuting to work.
Software control over the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds is done through the Bose Music app. Inside the app, you get access to noise cancellation adjustments, 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.
Which headset has better battery life?
According to our tests, the Sony WF-1000XM4 lasted longer during normal use, lasting roughly 7 hours, 43 minutes. On the other hand, the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds lasted 5 hours, 29 minutes—roughly two hours less. Our testing is done with active noise cancelling turned to the highest setting, so you may get more mileage by limiting noise cancelling intensity or turning it off entirely.
Additionally, the Sony earbuds can recharge in only an hour and 30 minutes, whereas the Bose earbuds take a full two hours to recharge. Both earbud cases can be charged wirelessly or via USB-C, and both fast charge the earbuds. With Bose, just 15 minutes in the case yields 120 minutes of playtime; Sony’s earbuds require just 5 minutes in the case for 60 minutes of playtime, slightly faster than Bose’s charging speeds.
Should you buy the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds or Sony WF-1000XM4?
At the same price, the choice for most people should be pretty straightforward—go with Sony. The Sony WF-1000XM4 has superior Bluetooth codec support and provides a better fit and seal for most people via foam ear tips.
The Sony earbuds are also smaller, more portable, and in our opinion more aesthetically pleasing. With longer battery life and faster charging, the Sony earbuds will fit seamlessly into most people’s lifestyles.
Since the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds is nearly a year old, it will likely see a lot more discounts in the near future. If you find a great deal, you shouldn’t feel any buyer’s remorse with the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds. Though the earbuds may no longer quite hold up to the latest from Sony, they are still among the best true wireless earbuds on the market.
We’ll keep the widget below updated with any new deals we can find.
Think beyond Bose vs Sony
If you’re heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, the Airpods Pro is definitely worth a look. It connects seamlessly to Apple devices, and has a much better design and fit than the original Airpods.
Just like the offerings from Sony and Bose, the Airpods Pro offers good active noise cancellation. The earbuds sound and work great right out of the box, but also offer a ton of customization if you dig into the software on your iPhone or iPad.
Anyone who owns a Samsung Galaxy smartphone should consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which has noise cancelling, or the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus for a great non-ANC pair of earphones. The Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds have an IPX7 rating, and you can charge the case atop a compatible Galaxy device—which you can also do with the Buds Plus case.
Read more: The best true wireless earbuds