Which noise-canceling headphones are best?

Bose and Sony make some of the most renowned audio equipment on the planet. In particular, their noise-canceling headphones get rave reviews and they are, in fact, worthy of most of that praise. In particular, the flagship Bose 700, Bose QuietComfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 offerings deliver premium sound quality, impressive noise cancellation, a long lifespan and reliable connectivity.

However, while they’re all high-end pairs of headphones, they have some crucial differences. Many Android smartphone owners prefer the Sony flagship, as do people with larger heads. On the other side of the coin, some find the Bose 700 significantly more stylish, and they’re often the favorites among the iPhone crowd. Meanwhile, the Bose QuietComfort 45 are the direct upgrade to the wildly popular QC35 II headphones and are Bose’s most comfortable high-end pair.

Bose noise-canceling headphones

Bose noise-canceling headphones have been at or near the front of the pack since the 2016 release of the QuietComfort 35. A year later, the updated QC35 II solidified the company as one of the most popular premium manufacturers. The Bose 700 hit the market in 2019, followed by the QuietComfort 45 in 2021.

Bose noise-canceling headphones pros

  • Some highly stylish designs: Notably, the Bose 700 are considered among the sleekest brand-name headphones available.
  • Excellent active noise canceling: There are 11 different ANC modes to choose from, so you can block out precisely the type and amount of most prevalent noise in your surroundings.
  • USB-C fast charging: The QC45, Bose’s latest release, brings much-needed USB Type-C connectivity to the lineup.
  • Especially comfortable headbands: True to their name, the QuietComfort 45 are some of the lightest and most comfortable noise-reduction headphones.
  • Superior noise-canceling earbuds: The Bose QuietComfort wireless earbuds have a more consistent sound profile and better ANC performance than Sony’s WF-1000XM4.

Bose noise-canceling headphones cons

  • Subpar battery life: Bose’s top models offer only 20-24 hours of run time before they need charging. That’s not terrible, but it’s also not as good as Sony’s premium offerings.
  • Some models aren’t that comfortable: Notably, listeners with large heads should avoid the Bose 700, which exerts more pressure and have stiffer ear pads than average.
  • Poor Bluetooth codec support: Although they’re premium headphones, the 700 and QC45 models are limited to the base-level SBC codec and Apple’s specialty AAC codec. Owners of iPhones will have no problem getting high-resolution wireless audio. However, the AAC implementation in many Android phones isn’t as efficient and doesn’t always transmit the best quality audio.
  • The midrange options aren’t usually worth it: There’s a significant dropoff in quality once you move down the lineup from Bose’s flagship headphones.

Best Bose noise-canceling headphones

Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45

They’re lightweight, comfortable and offer premium active noise canceling in addition to a wide sound stage and pristine audio. However, their appearance is slightly dated and they aren’t ideal for Android smartphones.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Staples 

Bose 700

Bose 700

If you’re an iPhone user with a small to medium-size head, the 700 are some of the most stylish and best-performing headphones for you. They’re just not the most comfortable for everybody and can’t playback high-resolution audio on Android devices.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Staples 

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

With impressive passive sound isolation and powerful ANC, these in-ear headphones can block out more external sound than just about anything else.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Staples 

Sony noise-canceling headphones

Sony’s WH-1000 series of headphones has been fighting to bring down Bose headphones and take the crown for best noise cancellation. The 2021 version, the WH-1000XM4, were the first to definitively make that leap in the eyes of most owners and tech experts. They’re not perfect, but many users agree they’re the best. It’s also worth considering one of Sony’s midrange offerings, especially if you want above-average noise canceling and powerful bass.

Sony noise-canceling headphones pros

  • Top-of-the-line noise canceling: The fourth generation of Sony’s WH-1000 headphones have finally surpassed Bose in ANC performance. It’s not by a groundbreaking amount, but real-world listening tests and precisely controlled measurements almost always put the Sony flagship on top by a hair.
  • Unrivaled sound quality: Sony’s premium headphones are engineered to sound great with most genres of music, whether old or new. They also respond remarkably well to equalization and have no discernible distortion or roll-off at the high or low ends of the spectrum.
  • LDAC codec support: Sony’s proprietary codec is built into the Android OS and can deliver nearly lossless quality. It also supports variable bit rates for areas where the wireless networking airwaves are heavily congested.
  • Good battery life: With 30 hours of operation between charges, they offer nearly the best battery life among high-end cans.

Sony noise-canceling headphones cons

  • No aptX codec support: Confusingly, Sony removed support for all aptX codecs from its latest flagship release. While the LDAC codec usually sounds great, the aptX HD codec is basically indistinguishable, while offering lower latency, more reliable connectivity and lower demands on your mobile device’s processor and battery. Unfortunately for consumers, Sony now makes you choose between the subpar SBC and relatively inefficient LDAC codecs.
  • Not ideal for critical listening: Unlike Bose’s flagship headphones, Sony’s don’t have a particularly flat response curve. The most exacting music fans won’t prefer this, but it shouldn’t be an issue for casual listeners.

Best Sony noise-canceling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4

Fast charging, a long battery life, exceptional comfort and of course unbeatable noise-canceling make these some of the best headphones you can buy.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Sony WH-XB910N

Sony WH-XB910N

While not quite on the level of their more expensive counterpart, they offer good noise cancellation, great sound quality and the fit and finish you expect from the premium brand. Be aware that they’re engineered especially to bring out sounds in the low end of the spectrum.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Should you get Bose or Sony noise-canceling headphones?

If you own an iPhone, don’t have a large head and want something stylish, get the Bose 700. Apple enthusiasts who want additional comfort should consider the Bose QuietComfort 45. If you’re looking for premium sound quality and the absolute best ANC performance, though, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are the right choice.

In a more specialized vein, the Sony WH-XB910N are great for a midrange pair, especially if you like to listen to hip-hop or dance music. Finally, the Bose QuietComfort deliver seriously impressive passive and active noise reduction, better so than Sony’s ANC earbuds.

 

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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