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Bose Quietcomfort 45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Which should you buy?
Sony and Bose have dueled over the top spot in the noise-cancelling space for years, and while Sony has held onto the crown in recent years, the Bose Quietcomfort 45 are angling to take it back. For the price, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are still one of the best pairs of noise-cancelling headphones on the market.
How do the two stack up? Let’s find out.
Design and build
True to their name, the Bose Quietcomfort 45 are a bit more comfortable than the Sony WH-1000XM4. Bose’s headphones are lighter than Sony’s (240g compared to 254g), and with that lighter weight comes a slightly smaller footprint. While the Bose Quietcomfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 look very different from each other, they have something in common — both headsets look almost identical to their respective predecessors.
The Bose QC 45 swap in a USB-C charging port, but look otherwise the same as the Quietcomfort 35 II. The WH-1000XM4 do even less to distinguish themselves from Sony’s previous headset, with slightly thicker ear pads and a visible sensor inside the left ear cup. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, both the WH-1000XM3 and QC 35 II are easy to use and comfortable to wear, and that’s still true for the newer headphones.
The Quietcomfort 45 are built mainly of plastic, with a foldable design that makes for a compact, portable pair of headphones. The headphone hinges also rotate to let them lay flat. The QC 45 feature on-ear controls in the form of physical buttons and they’re fairly intuitive. There’s an array of three buttons on the back of the right headphone — governing volume and playback control — and a button for toggling noise-cancelling on the back of the left headphone. Here’s what everything does by default:
|One press||Two presses||Three presses||Hold|
Top button (right)
|One pressTwo pressesThree pressesHold|
Middle Button (right)
Play/pause, answer/end call
Bottom button (right)
|One pressTwo pressesThree pressesHold|
Action button (left)
Toggle ANC mode
The Sony WH-1000XM4 also feature a plastic build with a frame that folds up, and hinges that rotate to lay flat. Like their predecessors, the on-ear controls are a mixture of buttons and touch commands. There are buttons for power and toggling through the active noise cancellation and transparency modes on the back of the left headphone, and the side of the right headphone is touch-sensitive — various taps and swipes handle playback and volume control. Here’s what everything does by default:
Answer call/hang up
Palm over touch panel
Quick transparency mode
Toggle ANC/Transparency/ Regular audio or activate virtual assistant
What Bluetooth codecs do the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Quietcomfort 45 support?
The Bose Quietcomfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 feature largely similar connection options, with a couple of differences. The QC 45 connect to your device of choice using Bluetooth 5.1, and support the default SBC and AAC codecs. The WH-1000XM4 connect using the slightly older Bluetooth 5.0, but it also supports Sony’s own high-quality LDAC codec, in addition to AAC and SBC. Neither headset uses Bluetooth 5.2, so there’s no chance either will support Bluetooth’s upcoming LC3 codec.
Read more: Bluetooth codecs 101
If you’re an iPhone user, either headset should present virtually the same connection strength and audio quality, due to the AAC support. However, if you use devices outside of Apple’s ecosystem, only the Sony headphones offer a reliable high-quality audio codec — AAC can be a little inconsistent on Android devices.
Both the QC 45 and WH-1000XM4 also offer Bluetooth multipoint and each headset has a headphone jack for wired, lossless listening.
Does the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Quietcomfort 45 have better active noise-cancelling?
Both the Bose Quietcomfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 offer big improvements over their predecessors in the active noise-cancelling (ANC) department, but how do they compare to each other?
Both headsets handle the kinds of sounds that ANC affects most very well, and very similarly. However, the reduction in high-end, incidental noise — what passive isolation affects the most — is considerably more significant with the Bose Quietcomfort 45. Something to note: turning off ANC on the Bose QC 45 immediately turns on aware mode, whereas with the Sony WH-1000XM4, you can disable both modes for a standard listening experience.
The reduction in high-end, incidental noise is considerably more significant with the Bose Quietcomfort 45
To achieve a result similar to what our ANC charts indicate, you must get a proper seal with the headphones around your ear. If gaps form between the padding and your skull, then external noise will make it through the physical barrier of the headset and render both passive isolation and ANC far less effective. Both headsets have ovalesque ear pads that should accommodate most ear sizes, so getting a proper fit should be fairly simple.
Do the Bose Quietcomfort 45 sound better than the Sony WH-1000XM4?
The Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Quietcomfort 45 have largely pretty similar frequency responses, with a couple of key differences. For starters, the Sony headphones add considerably more bass emphasis than the QC 45. However, while both headsets sport more high-end emphasis than SoundGuys’ house curve (colored pink in the charts below), the Bose Quietcomfort 45 start adding emphasis at a considerably lower frequency.
While neither of these kinds of audio profiles are ideal, you’re probably going to have fewer issues with Sony’s headphones (dashed yellow line in the chart below). The increased bass response isn’t so overbearing that it will cause too much auditory masking, and the increased mid-range audio means vocals should come through nicely. Conversely, the over-emphasized highs (cyan in the chart below) of the Bose QC 45 can sound pretty unpleasant, even if your volume isn’t that high.
You can EQ the WH-1000XM4’s frequency response from the Headphones Connect app, and the Quietcomfort 45’s frequency response in the Bose Music app with the latest firmware installed. Sony’s multiband equalizer is very effective, while the Bose EQ is a bit more limited, though it’s still somewhat granular.
Do the Bose Quietcomfort 45 have better battery life than the Sony WH-1000XM4?
According to Sony, the WH-1000XM4 headphones can last 30 hours of consistent playback on a single charge. However, at a consistent output of 75dB(SPL), we found the headset lasted one minute shy of 20 hours. Again, this is a very solid result, but hardly the stellar one advertised. On the other hand, the Bose Quietcomfort 45 lasted around 24 hours, 49 minutes — surpassing Bose’s official 24-hour battery life estimate.
Both headsets charge over USB-C, and they both offer varying fast charging performance. A 15-minute charge yields 180 minutes of playtime for the Bose Quietcomfort 45. However, that pales in comparison to the Sony WH-1000XM4, which grant five hours of listening time after a mere 10 minutes of charging. Of course, you can also listen over either headset over a wired connection with the included 3.5mm cords (or 2.5mm-3.5mm cord, in Bose’s case).
Is the Bose Music app or Sony Headphones Connect app better?
Both the Bose Quietcomfort 45 and Sony WH-1000XM4 bring companion apps to unlock additional features, but the options are far from equal.
The Sony Headphones Connect app brings options for customizing one of the buttons on the headphones — you can set it to either toggle between noise-cancelling modes or turn on your virtual assistant, and you can decide between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa as the default virtual assistant. Additionally, the Sony Headphones Connect app also brings the ability to optimize noise-cancelling and set up Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. This is a new standard for mastering music in surround sound, and available through Deezer, Amazon Music, and TIDAL Hi-Fi. Oh yeah, and you can do more mundane things like customize the headphone EQ, prioritize connection stability over sound quality, and access firmware updates.
In comparison, the Bose Music App asks you to share a lot of information: your location, call and message history, and in return, it gives you access to firmware updates and an equalizer, if you have the latest firmware installed. There’s a little more to it than that, though, as you need to app to get virtual assistant integration set up and choose the name of your headset. Bose also releases updates to its apps every so often that may add more features, with the EQ being a recent example.
Does the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Quietcomfort 45 have a better microphone?
Neither the QC 45 nor the WH-1000XM4 have what you’d call a high-end microphone. They’re both loud, and clear enough to handle whatever your phone call needs are, but don’t expect anything approaching studio quality. Neither one really sounds better than the other, so you won’t need to worry about making this sort of trade-off at least.
Listen for yourself:
Bose Quietcomfort 45 mic sample (ideal):
Sony WH-1000XM4 mic sample (ideal):
Bose Quietcomfort 45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Which headphones should you buy?
The Sony WH-1000XM4 ($348) have a ton of Bluetooth codec options, but thankfully put aside a place for a standard 3.5mm audio cable as well. The Bose Quietcomfort 45 ($329) may be the newer option by far, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a slam dunk. Sure, they’re cheaper by about $20, but in saving that money, you lose out on a fully-featured app, vastly superior quick charging, and a more pleasant default sound profile.
The ANC performance of the WH-1000XM4 may have lost a bit of its luster in the last little while, but they’re still among the best Bluetooth headphones, and keep pace competitively with the QC 45. The real standout improvement of the QC 45 is the noise-cancelling, but given all the other things, it’s just not a big enough difference to make this an easy decision.
All the same, both headsets are very good, and you likely won’t be disappointed with either. If your budget is a little restricted, the Bose Quietcomfort 45 will still get you from A to B, and Bose often adds new software features down the line, with the EQ being a notable recent addition. If you’re an Android user and still vacillating between the two, remember that only the Sony headphones include a high-quality audio codec for you. Since neither headset uses Bluetooth 5.2, LC3 isn’t coming — what you get is what you get.