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Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds were an unsurprising hit when they debuted in late September 2021. The earbuds easily cruised to the top of the noise-canceling heap, outclassing everything else in the field when it comes to squashing the disturbances of the outside world to provide pure sonic serenity.
All things must pass, of course, and Bose’s unquestioned supremacy came to an end with the release of Sony’s WF-1000XM4, the anticipated follow-up to the trend-setting, game-changing WF-1000XM3. With the same $280 MSRP, and similarly superb noise-canceling tech inside, Bose and Sony’s latest offerings are natural rivals. But which one is best? More importantly, which is right for you? Check out our side-by-side comparison below to find out.
Design and fit
Maybe the most notable thing about the QuietComfort Earbuds—after their noise canceling, of course—is their striking design. These are bulky buds for the 2021 landscape, stretching 1.5-inches long and weighing 8.5 grams each. The wireless charging case barely fits in most pants pockets, and also has a clumsy mechanical button to open. That’s not to say the buds aren’t elegant, bearing shimmering plastic exteriors and multi-point ear tips for a secure and comfortable fit. Like Sony’s rival buds, they also provide IPX4 water resistance for protection against rain and sweat.
Sony’s XM4 are much more streamlined, though they are a bit bulbous themselves and weigh a rather hefty 7.4 grams. They also break away from the tab design of the XM3 for a more traditional earbuds look, with copper-colored beads that house microphones. They too have distinctive ear tips, in this case foam ones that can be squeezed to fit your ear canal.
Some reviewers have noted these ear tips could eventually wear out sooner than traditional silicone tips, but they offer a snug and comfortable fit and excellent passive noise isolation. The wireless charging case is also much smaller than both the Bose and the XM3 buds, making them much easier to take along.
Though both earbuds look good, the Sony XM4’s lighter, more pocketable design wins out in this department.
Our Pick: Sony WF-1000XM4
Features and controls
Both earbuds have a solid list of features, most of which are accessed through their respective apps. One unfortunate feature missing for either pair? Multi-point pairing, meaning you can’t easily move from the phone to the computer without some effort. That’s one arena in which our favorite earbuds overall, the Jabra Elite 85t, have them beat.
Bose’s app falls short on common features like an EQ and an earbuds finder. But there is an impressive amount of fine-tuning available for functions like in-ear sensor detection (on/off), automatic transparency mode when taking a call, and even how much you can hear yourself on said call. You can also customize the level of noise cancellation and transparency mode (i.e. how much exterior sound you let in) for each of three “Favorite” modes from 0-10, which are then selectable via the earbuds’ on-board touch sensors.
Speaking of touch sensors, Bose’s work quite well, especially after the brand added the ability to control volume with a swipe up or down along the right earbud. One odd omission is there’s no way to skip songs backward.
Sony has its own standout omissions (for a pair of earbuds at this price, anyway): there's no earbuds finder here either, and also no way to add volume control onboard without losing out on other controls. If you do want volume control, you’ll have to ditch onboard staples like play/pause or swapping between ambient, off, and noise canceling. Frankly, those aren’t controls you’ll likely want to disable, so volume simply takes a back seat. Surprisingly, the XM4 also don’t have any way to adjust noise-canceling level—max is all you get.
Sony’s earbuds are still flush with features, though, including Sony hits like push-to-talk to dim music and turn on transparency mode for quick chats, a decked-out EQ, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio feature, and standards like the ability to use one bud at a time (Bose’s also offer this). There’s even Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control, designed to learn your location patterns and adjust the Ambient Sound options accordingly, though I find it easier to adjust manually.
Considering both earbuds have some great features and their own notable omissions (for their price, anyway) this one is a tie.
Our Pick: Draw
This is another draw (spoiler alert) because both of these buds are simply superb at blocking out the world around you. If you want to dig deeper, there are some minor differences: Sony’s buds don’t fully block low drones like Bose’s do, although a tiny touch of music takes care of that. On the other side, Sony’s buds do a bit better at blocking high-frequency sounds, to the point where you can pretty much say goodbye to virtually all distractions with music at medium volume. You simply can’t go wrong with either pair here; both cream the rest of the field.
Our Pick: Draw
There’s no debate when it comes to sound performance. To be sure, Bose’s earbuds do a fine job. They offer clarity, good balance, well-defined bass, and while their upper register can get a bit shouty, it's a fine listen that will satisfy most ears.
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are on a whole other level, though. Sound is taut, clean, powerful, and brilliantly brings everything to life. Unlike Bose’s buds that are confined to SBC and Apple’s AAC Bluetooth codecs, the WF-1000XM4 include Sony’s LDAC for higher resolution listening with compatible Android phones (though not aptX). Frankly, the more I listen to the XM4, the more I love them. In fact, while I originally put the Sennheiser’s brilliant Momentum 2 just above them, it's close enough that I’d take either for my favorite audio excursions. They’re that good.
Our Pick: Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony’s pair also crush the competition when it comes to next-gen battery life, boasting 8 hours per charge (3 hours more than Apple’s AirPods Pro), and that’s with ANC and/or transparency mode. Without it they’re rated for up to 12 hours of charge-free listening. For their part, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds max out at a middling-but-respectable 6 hours with Active Noise Canceling or transparency mode on. Both buds offer two extra charges in the case, but of course if that extra charge equates to more listening time, it’s a better value.
Our Pick: Sony WF-1000XM4
And the winner is …
Sony’s earbuds are our clear winner here. While both pairs are kings (or queens) of cancellation, the better battery life, sleeker design, and jaw-dropping sound quality of the Sony WF-1000XM4 are too good to pass up for even money.
If you’re a Bose fan and you love their sound signature, the QuietComfort Earbuds are still a fine pick, especially considering how easy it is to use the onboard controls (volume included), how comfortable they are to wear, and, of course, how great their noise canceling truly is. But for our money, when it comes to the top noise cancelers around, Sony’s latest take the brass ring.