Sony’s newest true wireless earbuds have arrived and we think they’re the best earbuds the company has delivered yet.
But are they the best noise cancelling earbuds on the market? Despite the huge growth in noise cancelling true wireless in recent years, the battle really comes down to Bose and Sony for supremacy.
Bose launched its true wireless effort in 2020, while Sony followed in 2021. They both appeal to the same market, and both received five stars, so this is really is a clash of the true wireless titans.
Price and availability
The WF-1000XM4 launched several months after the Bose for a price of £250 / $280 / €280 / CA$399 / AU$499.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds were also priced at £250 at launch in the UK, and $280 / €279 / CA$349 / AU$399.
So while in the UK, US and Europe, the Bose and Sony incur the same price, elsewhere the Bose is cheaper. We’d call this a draw, but if you live in Canada or Australia then the Bose has the price advantage.
What’s the difference between the design?
The designs of the WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds speak to the different approaches each company has taken.
The Sony improve over the previous WF-1000XM3. Their shape is more ergonomic, they bulge out less and they’re 10% smaller. Comfort is improved and these earbuds stay put, which helps to create the tight seal needed for the noise cancellation.
They pack new polyurethane ear-tips that mould themselves to the ear canal for a tighter fit, so while you can use other ear-tips, the noise isolation won’t be as effective. There’s a clear ‘postage stamp’, as it were, for the touch controls and they’re responsive while also providing a little feedback in terms of its smooth and rubbery feel.
Like the earbuds, the charging case has been reduced in size to make it much more pocketable and convenient – both the earbuds and case are a real feat of design – and the WF-1000XM4 are pretty stylish with their gold accents.
The Bose earbuds are bigger, but that’s not a huge factor because of the StayHear Max ear-tip design. This uses a wing-tip type design to insert itself in the ear, and the result is a very rigid and stable fit. Every bit of the wing-tip’s surface that touches the inside of the ear is soft silicone, and that makes them comfortable to wear over long periods.
It’s a decision that makes them good for workouts and running too, as they rarely move about during more active bouts of a fitness regime.
Their look, perhaps, isn’t quite as stylish as the Sony, but they surprisingly slim and svelte for their size. You’ve got touch controls, and like the Sony they cover pretty much all the basics aside from skipping tracks forward, which you need to enable through a shortcut. Unlike the Sony, the Bose do cover volume changes, while the WF-1000XM4s make you choose whether you want it over other touch controls. That’s a slight inconvenience.
The size of the Bose’s charging case is one area where the WF-1000XM4 has an advantage. The QuietComfort’s case is massive and will certainly stick out in a tight trouser pocket.
We’d call this is a draw. They’re both very good in terms of comfort, and while the Sony is more stylish, the Bose offer a better fit/seal from the get go.
What’s the difference in the feature set?
Let’s start with what the Sony and Bose have in common. They both feature an IPX4 rating, which boosts their use for workouts and running. You’ve also got wear detection, which recognises when the earbuds have been taken out the ear (or put back in) and pause/play music accordingly.
Both apps are nice to use and easy to navigate. The Sony Headphones Connect are more jam-packed with detail but not in a cluttered way, while the Bose Music app is simplistic and easy to follow. It is a bit annoying how the Bose app loses connection if you move away from it to another app.
The Sony have Bluetooth 5.2 compared to the Bose’s 5.1, which is a slight edge but not a massive one. The WF-1000XM4 bear native support for digital assistants, while the QuietComforts do support assistants, but they’re not built-in.
The noise cancellation we’ll get to in the next section, but otherwise the Sony dwarfs the Bose where features are concerned.
Speak to Chat is carried over from the Sony WH-1000XM4, and it cleverly pauses music when you start speaking without having the take the earbuds out to hear someone.
Battery life is 8 hours per charge; 24 in total with noise cancelling on and 36 hours with noise cancelling off. The Bose hit back with 6 hours per charge, but the 18 hours in total (noise cancelling on) seems rather lacking given the price.
Both support SBC and AAC codecs, but the WF-1000XM4 go one further with LDAC support (for higher quality streaming over Bluetooth) with an Android phone.
Other features for the WF-1000XM4 include Android Fast Pair and the Find My feature, you can track where you last left the earbuds if you’ve lost them. There’s EQ customisation (the Bose do not have this), and there’s support the 360 Reality Audio format that embiggens sound into a more 3D effect. There’s also an ear-tip sizing test to ensure the earbuds’ fit is optimal.
The WF-1000XM4 are the resounding winners. You get a lot more bang for your buck, especially if you’re an Android smartphone owner.
Which earbuds’ noise cancellation is better?
Both brands have been one-upping each other with the full-sized headphones, and this is the first time we’ve had recent true wireless pairs to compare. And we’d say the Bose edge out the Sony.
Each earbud also has an ‘ambient mode’ and both are very effective and natural in how they sound. Sliding through the levels of noise cancellation/transparency never gets old and both are very effective.
The Sony feature improved noise cancellation over the previous model thanks to the new noise isolating ear-tips and V1 processor chip that suppresses more sounds to an even finer degree down before. It does so without colouring the sound or adding a distinct tone, which is truly impressive.
However, in order to get that ‘optimal’ noise cancelling performance, you have to perform the ear-tip sizing test. This feature is available in the Sony Headphones companion app, and plays a sound to measure how tight the seal is between the earbuds and your ear. If you see there’s ticks next to the earbud then it is airtight, and the WF-1000XM4’s noise cancellation is at its most optimum.
By contrast, the Bose QC Earbuds’ fit means there’s no need to figure out whether the seal is good or not. the wing-tips ensure enough ambient sound is blocked before the noise cancellation gets to work. And the noise cancellation is extremely impressive. It suppresses more surrounding noise to produce an effect that’s eerily quiet.
The Sony gets very close, but we wouldn’t deem them to be better. In terms of how they tackle some sounds they’re on par, and in the case of wind noise the Sony fare better, but overall the Bose are extremely impressive.
Is there any difference in the sound?
Yes, there’s a difference in the audio performance of the Bose and the Sony, and it’s the Sony WF-1000XM4 that triumph.
They are the finest-sounding true wireless earbud we’ve encountered so far. They’re wonderfully eloquent and happy to play any track you throw at them, from old classics to recent pop, they are superbly versatile.
The XM4 eke out more dynamism than the Bose, which come across as a little flat (surprisingly). Voices are described with emotion on the Sony, and while the Bose QC Earbuds offer terrific clarity, the Sony’s more measured sense of dynamism and skill with voices make them much more of an engaging listen.
The Bose go for neutrality, but the Sony offer a richer, more musical performance. Dynamically they’re both great, but with LDAC support on Android, the Sony’s perform better with higher quality music streams.
Both have plenty of power and impact – the Bose may in fact have a bit more in the power department – but the WF-1000XM4 sound smoother and extract more detail – especially if the DSEE Extreme feature is engaged to upscale music to near high-res quality.
Treble performance seems evenly matched in terms of clarity (the Bose appear slightly brighter in tone), and in terms of the soundstage, the Bose sound bigger but don’t have the focus of the Sony. It’s a choice that makes the Bose ‘sound’ more impactful and powerful at times, but we’d prefer the Sony’s refinement and naturalism.
Both sound great, but the Sony sounds superb. Like a number of other earbuds, the Bose will have to get in line behind the WF-1000XM4 in terms of audio quality.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are easily one of the best earbuds around, though this match-up against the Bose shows that they’re not necessarily the best in all categories.
In terms of noise cancellation the Bose are slightly better in our estimation, with the the fit/seal a little more suitable to a wider range of ears. But the Sony are more stylish (if that’s something you care about), pack in a lot more features and they sound extraordinarily good.
Which is one best? The Sony overall gets our vote because the main point of the earbuds is the sound, and the Sony sound fabulous. For noise cancellation the Bose get our nomination, and they sound very good to boot, but the Sony’s have upped the level for true wireless sound.