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Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Which should you buy?

The Bose QuietComfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones next to each other, resting on a rock
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The Bose QuietComfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 currently stand as two of the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy, but only one is the true category leader.

One year since its launch and the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still considered by many critics to be the market’s top noise-canceller. These headphones come with superior sound and a host of features that augment the listening experience in ways not many luxury headphones can match: near-flawless ANC, longer battery life, and smart controls add to its value.

Bose’s reputation as the king of active noise cancellation certainly precedes the brand, and releases such as the all-new Bose QuietComfort 45 only reinforce that statement. An upgrade to the popular QuietComfort 35 II, this sequel brings better ANC, sound, and battery life into the fold. Compatibility with the Bose Music app extends functionality and leaves the door open for newer features via firmware update.

We’ve had the chance to test both products over the past few weeks and now it’s time to declare the better overall ANC headphones. Which one comes out the victor? Our full Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000xM4 breakdown will answer that burning question.

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Specs compared

Bose QuietComfort 45Sony WH-1000XM4
Price (MSRP)$329.99$349.99
Size7.25 x 6 x 3 inches9.94 x 7.27 x 3.03 inches
Weight8.5 ounces8.95 ounces
Battery life24 hours (ANC on)30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off)
ProcessorNot statedQN1
Special featuresActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, Bluetooth 5.1, smart controls, tri-digital assistant support, multipoint technology, SimpleSyncActive noise cancellation, adjustable ambient listening, smart controls, tri-digital assistant support, multipoint technology, customizable EQ, NFC, Sony 360 Reality Audio

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Price and value

If you’re asking which offers more bang for your buck, that would be the WH-1000XM4 on features alone. The QuietComfort 45 brings a lot to the table and the hardware that Bose stuffed into these cans warrants its high price tag.

Bose and Sony are two brands that usually charge a premium for their very best products. The Bose QuietComfort 45 can be purchased in Black or White Smoke for $329, a lower launch price than its predecessors. The Sony WH-1000XM4 has the higher MSRP at $349 and comes in Black, Midnight Blue, or Silver.

Winner: Tie

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Design

The Sony WH-1000XM4 sitting up handsomely over a living room backdrop

Bose QuietComfort 35 II (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We prefer the luxe appearance and build quality of WH-1000XM4. The soft, rubberized finish and sturdier plastic chassis are welcome improvements for the series. We love the smell and texture of Sony’s faux leather. Basic details like the copper accents, printed logos, and curved headband add to the appeal. Even the hard canvas case to store the headphones and accessories is nicer than that of its competitor.

The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones being held aloft against a backdrop of a coastal street with palm trees

Bose 700 (Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The odds of you confusing the QuietComfort 45 for its predecessor are incredibly high, since very little has changed between designs. Almost everything is the same, from the materials (e.g., glass-filled nylon, synthetic leather) to the silhouette. What has changed? Metal hinges are now placed at the pivot points for extra durability. The headband padding is covered in leather instead of suede. More mics were stuffed into the earcups, as seen on the multiple dimples on each side. Lastly, the logo is no longer debossed or reflective, but laser etched.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Bose 700: Comfort and fit

Our review wearing the Bose QuietComfort 45 in a tropical setting

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Bose knows comfort just as well as they know noise cancellation, so it’s no surprise that the QuietComfort 45 is one of the more pleasant wears in the category. The plush padding is gentle on the skin and provides some breathability to limit moisture build-up when using the cans for several hours daily. Something that doesn’t get enough credit is the headband, which molds nicely around the skull. Adjusting the extenders to a proper setting helps optimize fit.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 being taken on a road trip

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

We like the level of comfort supplied by the WH-1000XM4. The padding feels like a cloud on the ears and atop the head, while the extenders reach a long length to accommodate bigger skulls. Unfortunately, they must be set one notch lower than your preferred level of comfort to avoid slippage, establishing a tighter fit that can be fatiguing for those with a low pain threshold.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Controls

The Quick Attention feature being tested on the Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Reagan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Sony programmed the WH-1000XM4 with touch, physical, and motion-detection controls. The trio works flawlessly, particularly the touch sensors, which register and recognize both tap and swipe gestures accurately. Each of the buttons produce strong tactile feedback to ensure commands are met, and the auto-pause/play function is spot-on, whenever removing or placing the headphones on your head.

Sony also added two more user-friendly features to this model. Quick Attention pauses music whenever placing your hand over the right earcup and Speak-to-Chat uses the built-in mics and advanced signal processing to recognize your voice, pausing music whenever you speak. Both features work exceptionally well. You’re also getting remarkable speech recognition to execute voice commands via digital assistance. The WH-1000XM4 comes with Alexa and Google Assistant integration, meaning you can use either’s respective wake word function (“Alexa” or “Hey Google”) to activate the AI bots. Siri and Bixby can be manually enabled as well.

On display is the Bose QuietComfort 45 control module and Action Button

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Bose copied and pasted the controls from the past model onto the QuietComfort 45. All functions are assigned to the three-button module on the right earcup and Action Button on the left. There is no on-ear detection or touch controls, and we’re fine with that since the buttons are responsive to presses. But not being able to assign the digital assistant to the Action Button is a stingy move. Speaking of the digital assistant, you’ll get solid Google Assistant, Siri, and Bixby performance for hands-free voice commands.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Active noise cancellation 

The Bose QuietComfort 45's ANC being tested near the Intracoastal Waterway

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The Bose 700 tops the list of best wireless headphones for noise cancellation, but the QuietComfort 45 isn’t far behind. Despite having fewer mics than the 700, this model blocks nearly 90 percent of incidental sounds and minimizes high frequencies better than most rivals. Common distractions like rowdy pedestrians and doorbells, along with rumbling sounds (e.g., jackhammers, lawnmowers) will go unnoticed. Louder noises like ambulance sirens and baby cries aren’t completely canceled out, but whatever is heard isn’t going to pull you away from what’s playing on the headphones. Being able to use ANC in wired mode is another cool bonus.

The Sony WH-1000XM4's noise-cancelling technology being tested near the Intracoastal Waterway

(Image credit: Reagan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Any tweaks that Sony made to its noise-cancelling technology were minor, and that’s OK because the WH-1000XM4 handles ambient noise just as well as its rival. Typical household noises like kitchen appliances, loud TVs, and the humming noise from an AC won’t creep onto the soundscape. Neither will any chatter from family members or annoying co-workers. The WH-1000XM4 also comes with unique features that reinforce noise cancellation. NC Optimizer measures your ears to create the best listening environment possible based on head size and Atmospheric Pressure Optimization adjusts pressure based on altitude, which is ideal when flying. It’s just that the QuietComfort 45 manages higher frequencies and wind slightly better.

Sony does have the better transparency mode, giving you up to 20 adjustable levels of ambient sound on the WH-1000XM4. Setting it on a high level increases environmental awareness by allowing users to hear noises clearly. You can even set the feature to focus on voice, which is great for when you want to hold brief conversations with people.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Audio quality

The Sony WH-1000XM4 playing Snoh Aalegra's "Charleville 9200"

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Audio is satisfying on both sets of headphones, but the WH-1000XM4 is on another level. It uses the same 40mm drivers as the WH-1000XM3 to deliver a wide soundstage with detailing that shines through powerful bass performance — and that’s just the default EQ. You can choose from a variety of well-engineered presets that complement different music categories or create your own music profile by manually adjusting the frequencies. If that isn’t enough, then brace yourself for more sonic awesomeness.

Sony upscaled its algorithm for Bluetooth audio and added LDAC codec support, which uses a combination of lossless and lossy compression to achieve high-res audio. DSEE Extreme and Edge-AI technologies also come part of the package to enhance the fidelity lost on digitally compressed files. Then there is Sony’s spatial audio platform: 360 Reality Audio. It's compatible with a few hi-res streaming services (e.g., Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer) and brings 3D effects to music, something it does very well.

The Bose QuietComfort 45 playing Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode"

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

As for the QuietComfort 45, Bose employed proprietary TriPort acoustic architecture and a volume-optimized Active EQ to give its latest creation more refined sound. While not as dynamic or immersive as the WH-1000XM4, the QuietComfort 45 produces plenty of detail and crisp mids, along with punchy bass that is better balanced this time around. The soundstage can struggle with songs featuring complex arrangements, but it isn’t a disaster. Bose doesn’t offer any sound customization or spatial audio. They’ve also discontinued the Bose AR platform.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Apps and special features

The Sony Connect Headphones app paired to the Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The WH-1000XM4 outnumbers the QuietComfort 45 in features almost 3 to 1 and has the better-looking app. Sony Headphones Connect is fully loaded with customization settings. We already touched on the EQ with multiple presets, Ambient Sound Control, DSEE Extreme, NC Optimizer, Quick Attention, Speak-to-Chat, and 360 Reality Audio. Wait, there’s more? Absolutely.

Other notables include the option to back up headphone settings, prioritize sound quality or connection, and perform automatic firmware updates. The app also lets you power off the headphones. A battery level indicator, music player, voice notifications, and power-off setting round out the rest of Sony Headphones Connect. 

But it’s not just the sound controls and user settings that make the WH-1000XM4 a functional force to be recognized with. There is also connectivity. The WH-1000XM4 is powered by Bluetooth 5.0 that provides stable, lengthy wireless performance. It also boasts NFC technology for seamless pairing; tapping the left earcup on the back of a compatible smartphone will establish a connection. Let’s not forget multipoint technology to connect the headphones to two devices simultaneously.

The Bose Music app paired to the Bose QuietComfort 45

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The good news for QuietComfort 45 owners is that they’ll be using Bose Music instead of the soon-to-be-phased-out Bose Connect app. The bad news is they only have a handful of perks to play with. Besides basic functions (e.g., music player, firmware updates, toggle controls), there are only two major features available: Self Voice and SimpleSync. The former lets users adjust how loudly they hear themselves on calls and the latter will pair the headphones to a Bose smart speaker or Soundbar for private audio streaming on televisions.

At least the QuietComfort 45 makes the most of Bluetooth 5.1 to achieve lengthy range (up to 50 feet) and stable connectivity when listening to Spotify or jumping on Zoom calls. It’s a shame Bose removed NFC from the spec sheet, something that many people forget was built into the QuietComfort 35 II.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Call quality

Our reviewing taking a video call on the Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The QuietComfort 45 isn’t the brand’s top calling headset, and though it is a step down from the QuietComfort 35 II, many will still find it to be one of the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls. Calls taken indoors and outdoors sound loud and clear, plus Bose’s mic array does a solid job of neutralizing background noise. You will want to refrain from speaking to people in gusty conditions because the mics pick up a lot of wind when in calling mode.

Our reviewer testing the Sony WH-1000XM4's call quality outside

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Call quality has not treated Sony’s over-ear series well, and very little has changed with the WH-1000XM4. Precise Voice Pickup technology doesn’t live up to its billing, as callers often complained about muffling whenever stepping outside. Wind resistance was also weak.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Battery life 

The Sony WH-1000XM4 charging via portable charger

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Sony headphones offer some of the highest ANC playtime and the WH-1000XM4 ranks high on that list. A full charge equates to 30 hours with ANC on and 38 hours with ANC off. We’re talking several hours more than any pair of Bose headphones. A quick charge generates 5 hours of playtime on a 10-minute charge, which is fantastic. Bear in mind that listening at high volume and enabling multiple features at once will lower playtimes by about 2 hours.

The Bose QuietComfort 45 charging via MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Bose finally caved into the pressure and increased battery life, giving the QuietComfort 45 up to 24 hours of use with ANC on. Don’t ask what listening times are with ANC off, because you can’t disable the feature. Per the company, ANC is never truly off, so you’ll either be in one mode or the other and that will deplete power quickly. Quick charging is powerful, with a 15-minute quick charge earning you up to 3 hours of playtime, but the less we have to charge any pair of wireless headphones, the better.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

Overall Winner: Sony WH-1000XM4

The Sony WH-1000XM4 retains the ANC championship. Audio quality is unbeatable, with the headphones combining powerful hardware with intuitive software to enhance music, movies, podcasts, and practically every other media format you can think of. 

Sony’s noise-cancelling technology is competitive and gives Bose a run for its money. More wireless connections and features are also huge selling points for consumers who value extended functionality.

Bose QuietComfort 45Sony WH-1000XM4
Price and value (5)44
Design (10)79
Comfort (5)54
Controls (5)34
Active Noise Cancellation (25)2423
Audio quality (20)1719
Apps and Special Features (15)1115
Call quality (5)42
Battery life (10)79
Total (100)8288

As impressive as the Bose QuietComfort 45 is for a new release, it doesn’t beat out Sony’s best, nor does it overtake the Bose 700 as the brand’s top headphones. Advancements in noise neutralization and sound place it among the category’s elite performers, though. The boost in battery life is much appreciated, granted there’s no way of turning off ANC to preserve power. Had it not been for that, along with the lack of features and dip in call quality, this battle could have been a lot closer.

Alex Bracetti

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.