The Sony WH-1000XM4 are finally out in the world and they're fantastic. They sound better and have slightly better noise-canceling abilities than the Sony WH-1000XM3, as well asnew features, like optical earcup sensors and the ability to be paired to two devices at once. But how do they stack up against the Bose Headphones 700?
The short answer is that the Sony WH-1000XM4 for the past few weeks, are our new pick for best noise-canceling headphones of 2020.
Here's how the difference breaks down:
Sony wins sound quality.
Sound quality is always going to be a bit subjective, but to our hears the Sony WH-1000XM4 just edge out the Bose Headphones 700. While the Headphones 700 are definitely more dynamic than Bose's past headphones (which were often criticized for sounding flat), the Sony WH-1000XM4 sound bigger, more vibrant and have a little more punch. The Bose Headphones 700 were pretty on par with Sony's previous noise-canceling headphones, but Sony gave the WH-1000XM4 a new processor and a new Bluetooth chipset that, together, automatically adjust the noise-canceling settings so that the music sounds best.
There are two other factors that help the Sony WH-1000XM4 edge out the Bose Headphones 700 in the sound category. First, the WH-1000XM4 support Sony's own codec, LDAC, which allows them to play higher-quality audio so long as the source also supports it. (There are a number of smartphones that support LDAC, but the iPhone notably does not.) And secondly, both headphones work with a companion app that allows you to adjust the EQ of the music, but the Bose's app is less helpful, only allowing you to flip between two default options, while the Sony Headphones Connect provides a number of sliders for you to adjust the bass, midrange and treble.
Bose wins design and comfort.
Sony made a few small design tweaks with the WH-1000XM4, like 10-percent bigger earpads that can relieve more pressure and more comfortable to wear. Sony also slightly reshaped the headband, slimmed down the head cushion and made its flagship cans a little lighter. Even with all that, the WH-1000XM4 look and feel pretty identical to the WH-1000XM3.
That's basically the exact opposite of the Headphones 700. Bose completely redesigned them so that they don't look anything its other headphones. They have new earcups that fit entirely over your ears, and a new headband with an innovative sliding method to adjust. And even though the two headphones are basically same weight, the Headphones 700 feel a little a lighter and would be our pick for longer listening sessions.The two-year-old Bose QuietComfort 35 II are still our pick for lightest and most comfortable noise-canceling headphones, but the Headphones 700 still have the WH-1000XM4 on the ropes in this respect.
Noise-cancellation powers, Sony just edges it out.
Bose and Sony are the two industry leaders in active noise-canceling technology and have been for some time. And both of their flagship noise-canceling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Headphones 700, are the two best options on the market for blocking out noise. The user experience is a little different, however.
The Headphones 700 allow you to adjust between 11 different noise-canceling settings that range from a full-blast noise-canceling mode (maximum) to a transparency mode (minimum). There's a dedicated button on the headphones that lets you quickly toggle between three of these modes — which are 10, 5 and 1 by default, but you can customize them within the Bose Music app.
Sony did things a little bit differently with the WH-1000XM4. It integrated its headphones with a new processor and Bluetooth chipset, so the they have a new feature called adaptive sound control. This is turned on by default and it allows the WH-1000XM4 to automatically decide what the noise-cancellation levels should be. If you're in a loud room, for instance, the headphones will turn the noise-canceling settings to full blast, and it'll do the opposite when you're in a quiet setting. It just takes the guesswork out toggling between settings, which is nice, and works execellently in our experience. You can turn adaptive sound control off and toggle the noise-canceling settings within Sony's Headphones Connect app, if you happen to disagree.