When it comes to the best noise-cancelling headphones, two brands tend to dominate the market: Sony and Bose.
We’ve reviewed the Sony WH-1000XM4, and – just like their predecessors, the WH-1000XM3 – they’ve scooped up the title of the best headphones for 2020, thanks to clever noise cancellation and unbeatable audio quality for the price.
However, that doesn’t mean you should discount Bose headphones; in fact, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are a fantastic pair of over-ears in their own right, with a striking design that sets them apart from anything Sony’s made in the last few years.
- Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review
- Or, check out our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review
Plus, now that the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones are over a year old, it’s increasingly common to see price cuts – often making them cheaper than the latest Sony headphones.
Of course, price isn’t everything when you’re trying to choose a new pair of noise-cancelling headphones; after all, their ability to block out annoying environmental sound can be a lifeline when you’re commuting, working in a communal space, or just trying to relax in your own home.
So, we’ve compiled all the best features of both the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, to help you make an informed decision and choose the very best noise-cancelling headphones for your needs.
What’s good about the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones?
Fantastic audio quality
The sound of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is largely unchanged compared to the XM3s – but that’s no bad thing.
40mm drivers deliver a warm, balanced sound, with clear and powerful bass frequencies and a wide soundstage that allows you to hear every detail of your music. There’s support for Sony’s 360 Spatial Audio, which, if you can access the format’s limited library, makes it seem as though you’re sitting in the middle of a full surround sound system.
There’s also support for Sony’s LDAC music codec, which provides lots of detail over a wireless connection.
And, if you’re listening to more lossy codecs, the introduction of DSEE Extreme, an AI-driven process does a good job of restoring detail to compressed formats.
Improved noise cancellation
The noise cancellation offered by the Sony WH-1000XM3s was already excellent, but the XM4s are even better at blocking out environmental sound. That’s thanks to an improved algorithm that’s capable of analyzing and tweaking the sound profile in real time – up to 700 times a second.
Like the Sony WH-1000XM3s, an Adaptive Sound Control feature senses where you are and adjusts the level of noise cancellation in response. As Sony explains, "over time, Adaptive Sound Control learns to recognize locations that you frequently visit such as your workplace, gym or favorite café, and tailors sound to suit the situation."
Sony has said that the ability to pair the headphones with multiple devices will come via a firmware update in the future.
Not only does this allow you to connect to two devices at the same time, it also lets you seamlessly switch between devices if you have more than two you regularly pair with. The headphones remembers all of these devices and selects the next available device, dropping whichever device is unavailable.
There aren’t any major differences in the design of the XM3s and the new WH-1000XM4s (aside from being one gram lighter), and again, that’s not a bad thing. Their comfortable, lightweight feel, means you can wear the Sony WH-1000XM4 for long periods of time without discomfort, while the thin headband stops your head from overheating.
If you need to have a quick conversation, a new Speak-to-Chat feature means you can simply start speaking and the headphones will stop your music and allow ambient sound to pass through the earcups – handy if you're in a hurry.
Saying that, you might find yourself unable to sing with your headphones on without your music stopping; if that’s the case, you’ll be pleased to know this feature is optional.
- The Silence of the Jams: Sony's new WH-1000XM4 over-ears stop me from singing
What’s good about the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?
With a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones deliver excellent audio quality that nearly matches up to the Sony WH-1000XM4. Listening with these headphones, you’ll be able to pick out lots of detail in your favorite songs, as well as enjoying punchy bass frequencies that don’t muddy the sound.
Innovative noise cancellation
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 apply noise cancellation to your surroundings, as well as your voice when you’re making phone calls, so whoever you’re talking to will be able to hear you loud and clear.
When it comes to blocking out environmental sound, there are 11 different levels of noise cancellation to choose from – and even when using the highest setting, these headphones don’t give you that uncomfortable suction-like feeling.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are crafted around a stainless steel headband. Seamlessly transitioning from a flat to a cylindrical shape, the headphones can be adjusted by simply sliding the earcups up and down the headband, which avoids breaking the smooth lines of the design with clunky sliders.
They look quite unlike any other headphones on the market right now, so if you want to stand out from the crowd with a chic design, these cans are for you.
As we mentioned, these headphones are capable of applying noise cancellation to your voice, and the result is that your voice sounds crystal clear during calls and when summoning your devices voice assistant.
Two of the eight microphones on the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are paired with two separate mics, which work together to isolate your voice and reject environmental noise during phone calls. This means that your voice sounds clearer to the person on the end of the line, with less background noise getting in the way of your conversation.
Both the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are brilliant headphones, offering great sound, best-in-class noise cancellation, and comfortable designs.
However, when it comes to pure audio fidelity, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are the clear winners – and extra features like Speak-to-Chat and multi-point connectivity just enhance these over-ear headphones, which is why we crowned them the best headphones of 2020.
They also provide the most accomplished noise cancellation technology, thanks to the XM4’s ability to analyze and adapt to their surroundings up to 700 times per second.
That being said, the unique design of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 may be enough to lure fashion-conscious music lovers away from the Sony cans, which, while comfortable, don’t exactly stand out from the crowd.
The Bose headphones are also great for making calls with, thanks to their innovative microphone array that applies noise cancellation to your voice.
So, while we’d recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones over just about any other headphones on the market right now, you won’t go wrong if you opt for the Bose instead – and, it’s still well worth checking out the Sony WH-1000XM3s, which are likely to be reduced now that they’ve been usurped by the XM4s.