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I had the Bose QC 35 II, but Sony poached me over with the WH-1000XM5
About two weeks ago, I got my hands on the Sony WH-1000XM5 — the company’s star Active Noise Canceling headphones. I swiftly pried open the wholly recyclable packaging that matches the silver headphones inside — a nice little touch — and hit shuffle on my playlist to see how the cans sound out of the box, without any tinkering.
“My God” by Jethro Tull starts playing, and I immediately have a smile on my face when I hear the brilliant sound separation between the initial vocals and the guitar riff. Just like that, I knew I would come to like the WH-1000XM5 very much. Especially after using the Bose QuietComfort 35 II for about four years now.
I’m not here to talk about how great these sound; we’ve already done that in our Sony WH-1000XM5 review. I’m here to tell you why I decided to move away from Bose’s ANC headphones altogether and join the Sony camp.
You can’t just beat comfort
I have come to prefer the Sony WH-1000XM5 over my older Bose cans and even the newer QuietComfort 45 for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the undeniable comfort and top-notch build quality. I’ve used the Mark 4 Sony headphones too, but the newer and larger design of the WH-1000XM5 is a big step up from before.
I don't deny that I miss the foldability of the Bose QC 35 II
The adjustment rod is a more modern, sleeker approach compared to the last-gen model. The Bose QC 35 II and the more recent QC 45 also feature an adjustable band that clicks into place at different levels, but Sony’s slider system feels frictionless and superior. The soft synthetic leather covering the headphones all over is also a nice touch compared to the foam padding on the Bose headphones that’s restricted to just a small section on the headband.
I don’t deny that I miss the foldability of the Bose QC 35 II and that they were comfortable for their time. There’s an ease to balling them up and throwing them in a bag without a carry case or a care in the world. However, I am willing to make that trade for the sheer pleasure of putting on the WH-1000XM5. Many reviewers around the web note that the Sony headphones are better suited than Bose’s pair for folks with big ears thanks to their sizeable earcups. I am someone with medium-sized ears, and that means the 1000XM5 wrap around my ears even better, making them super cozy.
Touch controls are better than buttons
Another big advantage of using the Sony cans is the wide variety of controls they offer. I know some folks prefer the good ol’ buttons Bose supplies on the QC range, but hear me out. Sony’s touch controls are simple enough to remember. You can swipe forward to go to the next track, back to hear the previous one, and up/down to adjust the volume. The surface behind both earcups is smooth and large enough to register the gestures, and I absolutely admire the fact that Sony gives me an option to turn off touch controls completely with the flick of a button on the companion app.
On the other hand, the Bose headphones always presented a bit of guesswork as to where the buttons are located and which ones I’m pressing. I also think touch controls are more contemporary and the way forward for headphones. After all, Bose itself jumped on the bandwagon with its Headphones 700. Why not bring touch controls to the QuietComfort line?
Why doesn't Bose bring touch controls to the QuietComfort line?
Even the QuietComfort 45 sticks to the aging button approach. In fact, the newer model removes the ability to quickly turn off ANC completely (unlike the QC 35 II), and users are stuck with either the noise-cancelling mode or an aware mode that lets in ambient sound. So you end up wasting precious battery juice no matter the option you choose. That’s regression, not progress, and doesn’t inspire confidence in me to stick with the brand going forward.
Do you prefer touch controls or buttons on wireless headphones?
Perhaps the biggest issue I have with the QCs is the lack of intuitive, user-friendly smarts. The music just keeps playing when you take off the headsets. There’s also no instant-mute feature like the one Sony has offered for years, where you can put your palm over an earcup to hear what’s going on around you and remove it to get back to your music. You can also start talking to someone while wearing the WH-1000XM5 and it pauses the playback for the duration of the conversation. Those to me are simple, yet intelligent capabilities that make using a pair of wireless headphones even more enjoyable. For headphones that sound so good, it’s a shame Bose hasn’t adopted some of these features.
Bose is choosing to remain 'quite comfortable' with what already works for it.
All-in-all, Bose’s ANC headphones feel sparsely featured compared to what Sony is offering. The latter is stepping up the design, sound, controls, and connected app features with each generation of its all-star ANC headset. After five years of waiting for a new and improved QC headset, I was expecting more from the QC45 than what Bose ultimately delivered.
Still, it took the Sony WH-1000XM5 to finally convince me to upgrade my Bluetooth headphones and switch brands altogether. Since these headsets aren’t exactly cheap and I don’t upgrade every year, I would rather put my money on a brand that’s actively improving its product than one that’s choosing to remain “quite comfortable” with what already works for it.
Read next: Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort 45