Bose vs. Sony: The essential face-off in noise-canceling headphones

·8 min read

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Thanks to open-plan offices and an always-on world, noise-canceling headphones are a modern necessity. And they make a lot of sense: It’s much easier to close yourself into a cone of silence than it is to turn down the volume on the rest of the world.

Many folks prefer the feel—and the sound—of headphones to those of earbuds. There’s kind of a retro thrill to hearing your music through large lush headphones.

Of course, quality matters. Inferior noise-canceling headphones won’t help you with the snorer next to you on a long flight, or the constant pinging of the cell phone in the next cubicle. And they won’t make your music soar or your podcasts sparkle with clarity. High-tech headphones don’t come cheap, but for superior audio quality, comfort and, capabilities blocking background noise and chatter, they’re a worthy investment.

But, you want to make the right choice. That’s why we’re here. Below, we compare the two current superstars in the category: The Sony WH-1000XM3 Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones and the new Bose 700 Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones. We’ll help make it easy to figure out which headphones are right for you—or the lucky duck on your gift list who may have a pair on the horizon.

Sony WH-1000XM3

The name Sony WH-1000XM3 might be a mouthful, but these headphones are undoubtedly one of the best options on the market for noise-canceling. Wireless features can seamlessly connect to both Android and iPhone smartphones and tablets. The headphones have a long battery life—expect up to 30 hours of playback on a single charge.

Key features

When you first put them on, the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones might feel a little snug. That’s because they’re designed to achieve a good tight seal. They deliver two types of noise cancelation, “active noise-canceling” and “passive noise isolation.” That tight seal on the ears is considered passive noise isolation because the ear cups physically block out noise. If you turn on active noise-cancelling you’ll hear almost a vacuum sound as all the ambient noise just disappears.

The right ear cup features a number of touch features that allow you to control your smartphone without taking it out of your pocket. You can easily turn music on or off with a double tap at the bottom of the ear cup, or switch tracks with a vertical swipe. You can increase volume with a horizontal swipe.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 have a setting called “Quick Attention Mode,” which allows you to listen to the world around you without taking the headphones off. Just cover the entire right ear cup with your hand, and whatever you’re listening to (or all noise-cancelling settings) become suspended. Uncover the ear cup and the headphones resume their activity. This is great on a plane when you want to hear the snack choices, on the train when you’re listening for your stop, at work when someone pops by to tell you the meeting has been canceled—you get the picture.

When paired with the “Sony Headphones Connect” app, the Sony WH-1000XM3 can change their level of noise-cancelation as needed (if you’re sitting at a desk in an empty library, the headphones will automatically block less noise than if you’re walking on a city street). The “Connect” app also lets you boost audio quality (more bass, say), make calls, and have quick access to Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant—with just a tap of that right ear cup. These headphones come with a carrying case so they’re east to pack for travel.

Bottom line

The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones effectively block any background and ambient noise around you—the noise canceling features are world-class. The audio quality is clean, and Bluetooth connectivity is solid, but at times spotty. Even at $278 (was $350), they’re a true bargain.

For more details, check out the reviews below.

Sony Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones WH-1000XM3

Sony Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones WH-1000XM3. (Photo: Walmart)
Sony Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones WH-1000XM3. (Photo: Walmart)

Shop it: $278 (was $350), walmart.com

“I have utilized many headphones being in the aviation industry for over two decades,” a delighted shopper wrote. “I have major inner ear damage due to an explosion in combat. This causes a high sensitivity to pressure and high pitched noises. They cause major amounts of pain and discomfort. These headphones can be calibrated using the app to reduce the pressure so they stay comfortable and you remain out of pain. They are also more up to date than the Bose. Both are great but Sony's headphones are more modern with so many easy to use features. Plus, they are light with overall superior noise cancelling abilities.”

Another five-star Walmart reviewer said, “Noise cancelling is excellent and can completely cancel out a plane engine. The touch features on the right hand side were unexpected but work great. I have had no issues at all with connecting with either my phone or computer.”

Shop it: Sony Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones WH-1000XM3, $278 (was $350), walmart.com

Bose 700

Bose released the new Bose 700 Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones earlier in 2019. These headphones have an all-new design with additional comfort in the ear cups and headband. The ear cups themselves more swivel positions than previous models, so they’re more customizable to the head. The Bose 700 feature 11 levels of noise-cancelling.

Key features

First things first: These headphones are beautiful. They boast clean, futuristic lines, angled ear cup sliders, and sleek headband padding. They come in black or silver.

Bose is known as a premium audio company, and the Bose 700 live up to the company’s reputation. The noise cancellation features are great—even a notch above the previous iteration of Bose headphones (Bose QC35II). The new microphone system—four small microphones on each ear cup to block out more background audio—does an excellent job with noise-cancelling and voice delivery.

Thanks to those microphones, you can get better call clarity via Bluetooth. In fact, the Bose 700 manages to pick up and isolate only your voice—so if you’re in a crowded coffee shop, the person on the other end can only hear you talking, not the music on the sound system or the barista calling out “oat milk latte!”

The Bose 700 have up to 20 hours of battery life on a single charge. They can work with more than one device at the same time, meaning they can smoothly switch from a YouTube video on your laptop to a podcast episode on your phone; the Sony headphones don not have this capability. If syncing to multiple devices is important to you, the Bose 700 headphones are your pick.

Much like the Sony WH-1000XM3, the Bose 700 also feature quick access to Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri. They come with a soft carrying case.

Bottom line

The Bose 700, which cost $400, have a reason to be slightly more expensive than the Sony WH-1000XM3—their design is sleeker, and there are more options for adjustability, for a custom fit. While both models offer stellar audio and noise-canceling features, Bose’s are more refined.

Bose Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones 700

Bose Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones 700. (Photo: Walmart)
Bose Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones 700. (Photo: Walmart)

Shop it: $349 (was $399), walmart.com

“The Bose Noise Cancelling headphones are totally worth the money,” wrote a five-star reviewer on Walmart.com. “The sound quality is crisp and clear, as if you are at a concert, and the headphones are so comfortable. It has an amazing microphone system that picks up and isolates your voice while canceling the noise around you. With a light weight frame and cushy ear pads the Bose headphones are extremely comfortable.”

“These headphones are as beautiful as comfortable as great sounding,” a satisfied shopper wrote. “I easily paired them to my phone. They come in a beautiful case. They are lightweight. They have a great cushion on the head band. I love having multiple noise canceling features. These are very premium headphones and worth the splurge. A very great gift with wonderful sound quality.”

Shop it: Bose Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones 700, $349 (was $399), walmart.com

Final verdict

Both Bose and Sony offer a great pair of premium headphones with a wide selection of features. If your decision is based solely on better audio quality and more advanced noise-canceling, then the Bose 700 are the ones for you. They just feel more refined and higher quality.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 are lighter weight and have a longer battery life (30 hours compared to Bose’s 20). They’re more compact because of their “swivel and fold” design, and they’re $71 cheaper than the Bose 700 headphones.

Both pairs are impressive, provide an immersive audio experience, and get the noise-canceling job done well.

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