Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of headphones I have tested, but in that time I have developed a slight obsession with premium wireless headphones , earbuds in particular.
You see I do a decent amount of commuting that demands noise-cancelling headphones be worn. Whether it's to drown out excitable school kids, an over-eager train guard or just help keep my own sanity during the daily grind, cracking open the case to a pair of noise-busting headphones has become as second nature as spending a small fortune in the local cafe during my lunch break.
And I prefer in-ears to over-ears. At least in a public setting. I realise I won’t be able to cancel out as much of the kerfuffle even with the best wireless earbuds but I am willing to accept that compromise. With over-ears, I always catch them on something, bump them or just don’t like the way they sit on my noggin. With in-ears, I don’t have that problem.
Ever since they came out, my earbuds of choice have been the Sony WF-1000XM4 and before that, the WF-1000XM3. Why? I felt the jump in sound quality from the XM3 to XM4 was mightily impressive. They received a noticeable bump in the noise-cancelling department too. The design was also nice and modern, which further helped smooth the transition.
But as I said, I’m a sucker for an expensive pair of in-ears and a couple of months ago my head was turned. As soon as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II were announced I knew I was going to have to take them for a spin. Again, I’d had a good experience with their successors, the original Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, so I was keen to see how/if the game had been moved on and whether I would miss the Sonys. So far, I’m pleased to report it has been an enjoyable journey with the Bose – so enjoyable that I’m going to struggle to go back. Here’s what I have learned so far…
Comfort is still king
One of the big things that has kept the Bose in my bag is the level of comfort that they offer. They are a great fit for my ears. And let’s face it, that’s probably number one on your list when shopping for wireless earbuds. You want it to be like putting on a pair of old slippers, not a pair of mountaineering boots with crampons.
That’s not to say the Sonys don’t fit – I wouldn't have been using them for all this time if they didn’t – it’s just that, having switched back and forth between buds, I do feel more aware of the Sonys being in my ears, especially over longer sessions where I can feel the pressure building on certain parts of my inner ear.
The polyurethane tips, which feel like a silicone/foam hybrid, get a good seal, but I couldn’t describe them as the most pliable tips that I’ve stuffed into my lugholes. The Bose, for me at least, get the level of comfort, the pressure and the softness of the tips spot on. There are also the independently adjustable ‘stability bands’ (i.e. their streamlined wing tips) that help keep the buds in place.
Great sound quality helps
The previous generation of QC Earbuds delivered a nicely balanced sound, rich and refined yet detailed and entertaining with it. The second-gen model takes all of that to another level – their poise, precision and attention to detail really get you invested in the music. The Sony’s counter this with their great sense of musicality and their rhythmic drive. It’s a close-run thing, but I think the Bose do have the edge. In my opinion, they just uncover more information and sound more evenly balanced.
Bose’s noise-cancelling isn’t bad, either
If you can accept that a pair of in-ears won’t cancel noise as effectively as a pair of over-ears then it’s still impressive how much external chatter both of these headphones can cancel out. There’s not a lot in it, and I would be happy to recommend either pair if this is at the top of your list of priorities. I think the Bose just take it though, both in terms of overall quality of ANC and the fact that they are also aided by some simple, yet very effective customisation options through Bose’s companion app. Being able to create presets for different use case scenarios – which can be changed at the tap of an earbud – is just great for ease of use.
Wireless charging is convenient, though
Removing wireless charging from the Bose is a backward step. I didn’t think I would be hugely bothered, but ever since I introduced a wireless charging pad to my workstation at home I have got used to just popping my iPhone or whatever compatible earbuds I might be using/testing onto it and not worrying if I will run out of juice. And I miss it. I miss the convenience of being able to top up the case without even thinking about it. Given this feature was available on the original QuietComfort Earbuds, I do think it’s quite bizarre not to include it on their successors.
The Sonys are better sleeping partners
Is it just me who uses their wireless earbuds when trying to get to sleep? Or, more specifically, one wireless earbud? The Sony XM4 (and XM3 before them) are great for this. You can leave one earbud in the case while using the other in your ear that isn’t in contact with the pillow (assuming you sleep on your side). For the Bose, you need to have both out of the case or they won’t work properly. This means you can end up draining the battery from the earbuds and, consequently, the case. This means you need to be more aware of battery levels; I have fallen victim to the dreaded full-drain a couple of times.
Sony’s WF-1000XM5 will need to up the ante
So here we are. It has reached the point where I don’t really want to give the Bose back. They have become part of the furniture in my rucksack. So where do I go now? If the stars align, 2023 could be the year we see Sony launch a successor to the WF-1000XM4. And it’s going to be interesting to see just how the WF-1000XM5 (assuming Sony continues its naming tradition) stack up against the Bose. Sony always seems to be able to up its game incrementally in the audio department, but whether that will be enough to put the Bose to the sword this time, I’m not quite so sure. But I can’t wait to find out!
Want an alternative? Read our Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
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