After a month of testing, I determined Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the best because they have superior build quality, crisp sound, an amazing calling experience, and support simultaneous connections. Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM3 have a longer runtime with a more colorful sound profile, but the design needs work to be modernized.
Want to learn how I reached this conclusion? Read on to see the detailed breakdown of sound quality, features, and design that informed my overall impression.TL;DR? Skip to the conclusion
Sound: Bose 700
Summary: The Bose 700 sound profile is similar to other Bose products. The sound is clear and crisp and not going to offend anyone. It plays any type of music without getting out of control by overdoing any specific aspect of a song.
- The sound is more balanced and probably closer to what music producers want you to hear, but you can’t customize the experience if you prefer more bass or treble.
- For my preferences, Bose has a perfect amount of bass. The bass is always present when it should be and never comes close to drowning out a song.
- If you want an expert opinion on the sound quality: RTings and SoundGuys.
- There’s no option to customize the sound inside the Bose app, but Bose brings something that’ll sound great with many music genres.
Sound: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: The XM3’s have a warmer and more fun sound profile compared to Bose. While the high-end sound isn’t as clear as Bose, the bass hits harder (without ever overdoing it).
- It’s hard to describe the sound profile difference compared to Bose, but they sound warmer and more fun. There’s more character in the sound, whereas the Bose is probably more true to what it should sound like. You’re immersed in the music like you’re in the band.
- If bass is your thing, you want the Sony’s because the bass hits harder than Bose. It doesn’t remind me of the overwhelming bass from older Beats products because I never found that the bass took over a song or muddied the rest of the experience.
- The mid-range tones sound great. The high-end isn’t as clear as Bose, but it’s good enough.
- I’m not an expert on sound quality. I can only report on what my ears hear and what I prefer. Two expert-takes on the sound quality: RTings and SoundGuys.
- The best part of Sony’s sound is that inside the app there’s an equalizer with nine preset options (regular, bright, excited, mellow, relaxed, vocal, treble boost, bass boost, and speech) or you can customize it manually with toggles. There should be a sound style for everyone’s needs, but most will love the default.
Noise Cancelling: Bose 700
Summary: There are 11 different noise cancellation levels (0-10) that can be changed in the app. The four beamforming mics give you flawless phone calls and the ambient noise feature is amazing.
- At level 0, it sounds like you’re not wearing headphones because the sounds around you are augmented. I have no idea how Bose is pulling this off, it’s amazing. Sony lets you hear ambient sound, but not as well.
- At level 10, the outside sounds around you become muffled and hard to hear, but not completely gone. Once the music starts, on level 10, you have no chance of hearing anything around you. I give the slight edge to Sony when you’re in full noise-cancelling mode, but it’s not substantial.
- The nine noise cancellation options between 0 and 10 are a gimmick. You either want to be isolated from outside noise or you don’t.
How to control:
- There’s a button on the left cup to toggle three of your favorite noise cancellation levels. The default favorite settings are 0, 5, and 10, but you can edit them in the Bose app.
- If you hold the button on the left cup for longer than a second, your music will pause and the noise cancellation is turned off so that you can hear the outside world. When you tap the button again, your music resumes. It’s brilliant!
- There are four beamforming mics to help to isolate your voice while leaving the background noise behind. You won’t find a better experience with phone calls.
Noise Cancelling: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: The XM3 headphones have stronger overall noise cancellation, but they struggle with phone calls.
- Sony has “Personal Optimizing” and “Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing” features that can be set up in minutes. It’s tough to tell if these two features are marketing speak or if they’re for real.
- Sony’s noise cancellation is slightly stronger than the 700 headphones.
- Sony has a feature called Adaptive Sound Control that detects your surroundings and your movement and modifies the noise-cancelling levels based on your circumstances. You’ll hear a ding in your ear when it’s switching modes. It works about 70% of the time. There are four modes that you can customize:
- Staying: No noise cancellation by default.
- Walking: Some noise cancellation by default.
- Running: More ambient noise by default.
- Transport: Full noise cancellation by default.
- You can listen to your outside surroundings with your headphones on, by setting the ambient sound to level 20, but it’s not quite as clear as Bose.
How to control:
- With the button on the left cup, you can turn noise cancellation on or off without in-between settings.
- You can hold your hand over the right cup and your music’s volume will lower and the noise cancellation turns off. Once you move your hand off the cup, the music returns to your previous volume level. I love that feature, but I wish it paused the music instead of lowering the volume.
- Phone calls aren’t great because the self voice feedback echoes in your ears and doesn’t sound clear. On the other end of the call, it sounds muffled with more background noise than ideal. You can make a call in a pinch, but if phone calls are a major part of your day, you want the Bose.
Software: Bose 700
Summary: The 700 headphones allow for a connection to two devices simultaneously. You can go hands-free with Alexa, but it’s not worth your time. However, both Alexa and Google Assistant work well when you initiate the assistant by holding the button.
- You can connect two devices at once, which is a huge advantage and a major selling point over Sony’s headphones. I can play music on my iPhone, pause it, then play music from my MacBook without touching the Bluetooth settings. I love that you can pick and manage your devices inside the app too.
- Aside from the terrible hands-free Alexa attempt, accessing Alexa by holding the button works well.
- Bose 700 headphones use Bluetooth 5.0, which should theoretically help with the speed and range when compared to Sony, but I didn’t see a real-life difference.
- You can’t use the Bose app without signing up for a Bose account. I’m not bothered by creating accounts, but Bose signs you out frequently for no reason and it’s annoying. Also, if you’re on a flight (one of the most common use cases), you’ll have no way of signing in without internet access.
- Bose doesn’t support the aptX codec. This will affect less than 1% of users, but it’s worth mentioning for hardcore Android nerds who have amazing hearing and a phone that supports aptX. Even with lots of money on the table, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the standard AAC and aptX codec qualities.
- There’s support for Google Assistant and Alexa, but it’s not clear in the app that only Alexa can be enabled with a wake word, while Google can only be triggered by holding the button.
- Hands-free Alexa is brutal:
- It doesn’t hear you while listening to music and even when the music is off, you’ll need to scream “Alexa” while asking your command in the perfect tone and cadence.
- You can’t say “Alexa, turn on the lights” as a sentence like you can with a native Alexa device. You need to say “Alexa” pause for a full second, then ask your command.
- The only time you would want to use hands-free Alexa is when your hands are occupied and you want to control the music playback. Unfortunately, Alexa can only control the volume and not skip, back, or pause. Why did Bose release Alexa in this state?
- Google Assistant works almost perfectly by pressing and holding the button on the right cup, but my Bose lost connection to the Google Assistant app twice. There’s a chance this was my fault because I was rotating assistants frequently while testing. (I’ll update the software section as I test further.)
Software: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: The XM3 headphones allow for just one paired device at a time. The Alexa and Google implantation isn’t good enough due to poor voice feedback and overall inconsistent experience.
- If you’re using an Android device, you can take advantage of the NFC pairing by tapping the back of your phone to the NFC logo on the left cup to auto pair to your phone.
- You can pair these headphones with as many devices as you want, but you can only pair them to one device at a time. For example, when you’re paired with your phone and want to listen on your laptop, you need to enter the sometimes painful Bluetooth pairing mode and repair. Then, repeat the process when you want to listen on your phone again.
- You can customize the sound to your preferences with the EQ (see above).
- They use Bluetooth 4.2.
- Sony supports more major codecs than Bose: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, and LDAC.
- The app doesn’t walk you through how to connect the assistant. Sony assumes you know which Alexa and Google apps to download and how to connect them. I found an online guide for it though.
- Sony doesn’t attempt hands-free Alexa and Google via a wake word.
- You can activate your choice of personal assistant by holding the button on the cup while speaking, but their implementation of Alexa and Google is even worse than Bose’s, unfortunately:
- Your self voice feedback sounds terrible because it echoes and has static.
- Sometimes when you ask Alexa or Google a question, rather than playing the answer inside the headphones, it plays the answer on your phone. Considering you’re wearing noise-cancelling headphones and can’t hear your phone, I wouldn’t call this a strong feature.
- I’ve seen it forget that you’re using Alexa and all of a sudden trigger my iPhone’s Siri instead.
Battery Life: Bose 700
Summary: The 700 headphones get 20 hours on a full charge with the volume at 70%. A 15-minute charge gives 3.5 hours of juice or a 2.5-hour charge to get to 100% battery.
- They have a listed runtime of 20 hours. In my test with the volume at 70% and the noise cancellation fully active, I got 20 hours of continuous playing.
- While ten hours less than Sony sounds substantial, the 20 hours that Bose offers is in the perfect sweet spot where you won’t worry about battery life.
- When you turn them on, you’re told how many hours are remaining before you need to recharge.
- It takes 2.5 hours to recharge from 0% to 100%.
- You can get 3.5 hours of juice with a 15-minute charge.
- If your battery dies, you use the 2.5mm to 3.5mm audio cord and plug them into your phone or laptop to use them, but the noise cancellation requires power.
- It charges with a USB-C cable.
Battery Life: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: The XM3 headphones get 30 hours on a full charge with the volume at 70%. A 10-minute charge gives 5 hours of juice or a 3-hour charge to get to full battery.
- Sony lists a 30-hour runtime. In my test with the volume at 70% and the noise cancellation fully active, I got 25 hours of continuous playing.
- It takes 3 hours to recharge from 0% to 100%.
- You get 5 hours of juice with a 10-minute charge.
- You can’t charge and listen at the same time. This is the biggest nitpick of all time because it takes ten minutes to charge enough for five hours of use, but I’m mentioning it because I’ve read it in multiple places online.
- It charges with a USB-C cable.
Playback Controls: Bose 700
Summary: Bose’s swipe and gesture implementation is great. I had no issues accidentally triggering an action or triggering the wrong action. Everything works smoothly and as intended.
How it works:
- There are three buttons: Bluetooth/power, voice assistant activation, noise cancellation control.
- The playback controls happen with gestures and swipes on the front side of the right cup.
- Swipe up to increase the volume.
- Swipe down to decrease the volume.
- Swipe forward to skip the track.
- Swipe backward to go to the previous track.
- Double-tap to pause or play.
- Tap and hold to hear how many playback hours are left before your battery runs dry.
- In the next iteration, I’d like to see identical gestures and swipes implemented on both cups.
- I haven’t tested these in cold weather yet, but when a Bose representative was questioned, they reminded the interviewer that Bose is based out of Massachusetts and have been properly tested in cold winter weather.
Playback Controls: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: With Sony’s gestures, it’s easy to trigger the wrong action (e.g., skipping a song when you want more volume). I often didn’t know what was going to happen after a swipe. Keep in mind, the swipes struggle in cold weather.
How it works:
- Swipe up and down for volume.
- Swipe back to go to the previous track.
- Swipe forward to skip to the next track.
- There are two buttons: Bluetooth/power and ambient sound control. The ambient sound button controls the noise cancellation level, but it can be mapped to your favorite personal assistant instead. It’d be nice to have the functionality of your personal assistant and ambient sound control, but you need to pick one.
Fit: Bose 700
Summary: The 700 headphones feel heavier with stiffer cups than the XM3’s, which makes them less comfortable, but the cups stay cooler. The cups stay in the proper position and don’t budge after sliding them on the rod. The arch has a firm flex, but they should comfortably fit the widest of heads. In an unscientific survey of six friends and family members, each said the 700 headphones were comfortable and could be worn for long hours.
Fit: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: The XM3 headphones have soft and squishy cups that feel like a pillow, but retain more heat and get sweaty easier. The XM3’s have the same weight as the 700’s but feel lighter on your head. In an unscientific survey of six friends and family members, each picked the XM3 headphones over the 700s for comfortability.
Appearance: Bose 700
Summary: The 700 headphones come in matte black, silver, or white. The headband connecting the two cups looks clean and is one continuous piece of steel. There are no hinges or breaks. Not only do they look sleeker and more modern compared to the XM3 headphones, but there are fewer moving parts, which should help their longevity.
- They come in a matte black, silver, or white finish.
- The headband connecting the two cups looks clean and is one continuous piece of steel. There are no hinges or breaks. Not only do they look sleeker, but there are fewer moving parts, which will help their longevity.
- They weigh almost the same as XM3’s, but they feel more solid, durable, and dense.
- Even the foam part that sits on the top of your head feels more sturdy because it’s made with stronger silicone material. Sony’s foam feels like it could easily be punctured.
- You slide the cups up and down on the steel rod to fit your head better.
- The case is wider but has many advantages over Sony’s case:
- Its shell is harder.
- It’ll probably fit better inside a backpack because it’s thinner.
- Placing the headphones into the case is intuitive because you don’t need to fold or twist the cups in a weird way. You swivel the cups inward so that they sit flat (see the product photo above) and place them inside the case.
- There’s a secret pouch for your power and audio cords that’s magnetic.
- There are huge “L” and “R” letters located inside the cups, and it’s great for two reasons:
- It’s easy to see which cup goes on which ear, especially at night.
- The letters are hidden from the outside and don’t mess with the minimalist exterior design.
- When adjusting the size of the cups, there isn’t a satisfying click or feedback as you slide. I prefer the smooth sliding, but it’s harder to get the cups at equal levels.
Appearance: Sony WH1000XM3
Summary: The XM3 headphones come in black and silver. They feel like a toy compared to Bose and not in the same class. The headphone creaks as you place them on your head and folding them to put in the case is not intuitive.
- They come in black and silver with a slick amber accent color on both.
- While they weigh the same as Bose, they feel lighter and the cups are a lot wider. They’re less dense and the weight is distributed differently. The way they’re built provides better comfort (see above), but it also gives off the appearance of old school headphones that my dad was wearing 20 years ago. They don’t feel like a premium product:
- They’re made with plastic that has a cheap feel. The foam cushions on the cups and headband feel like they’re not made for the long haul.
- The headband creaks as you open them to fit the headphones over your head.
- The material on the cups is more prone to making my ears sweaty.
- Folding them to put in the case is not intuitive. Sony made the headphones fold, then swivel in an odd orientation to get them to fit in the case.
- Some will like the feedback you get via the clicks when adjusting the headband for a proper fit, but the headband doesn’t stay locked in position well, unfortunately.
- There are many moving parts, which leads to more wear and tear.
Which is best for you?
Get the Bose 700 headphones if you want the best-built headphones on the market. The craftsmanship is second to none. They're durable and rugged but maintain a sleek and minimalist look. Bose's sound profile isn't exciting or customizable, but it's crisp and sounds clean with any genre.Check Amazon’s Price
Get the Sony WH1000XM3 headphones if you want a longer runtime or a sound profile with more character. They bring a fun and customizable sound with lots of bass. The cups feel like a pillow. The downsides are that they feel cheaper than the competition with inferior touch controls and calling.Check Amazon’s Price