Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Which Noise-Canceling Headphones Are Right for You?

Two top tier active noise-cancelling headphones go head-to-head

April 17, 2023 11:41 am
Bose 700 and a Sony XM5 on a blue and red background
Getty Images / InsideHook

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Whether you’re returning to the office and readjusting to a room full of noisy coworkers, you’re a frequent traveler who likes to drown out the crying baby a few rows back or you simply like to listen to music with a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones, this Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 faceoff is very much worth your consideration. 

Both sets of headphones are designed for optimized sound quality while taking advantage of active noise-canceling (ANC) tech to ensure you only hear what you want when you want. 

I’ve had both pairs of headphones since their respective launches, using them in a rotation of headphones and wireless earbuds all offering similar features and promises of great performance. 

If, during your search for the best pair of active noise-canceling headphones, you’ve found yourself debating the Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 (which I’ll refer to as XM5 throughout this story), I have good news. You can’t really go wrong with either set of headphones, but of course, it’s more nuanced than that. Here’s what I think after extensive testing. 

What we tested for

Set-up: Both pairs of headphones use Bluetooth to pair to your phone, tablet or computer. They also have a companion app for Android or iPhone for controlling settings, updating software and enabling features like Google Assistant or Alexa integration. It’s through that companion app that initial setup is best completed, giving you a chance to turn on features like the ability to connect the headphones to multiple devices at the same time (handy if you want to listen to music from your computer, but have the headphones connected to your phone for calls). Both apps also offer a healthy amount of tutorials, showing you how to do things like use the touch controls. The Sony WH-1000XM5 and the Bose 700 take just a few minutes for initial setup, barring any firmware updates. 

Sound and performance: The Sony XM5 and Bose 700 have best-in-class sound quality and noise-canceling. I used both pairs in my home office, which often has a heater running, along with the occasional robot vacuum that sure makes a lot of noise. Additionally, I monitored battery life to see if the manufacturer’s estimates were at least in the ballpark. 

Design: Neither Sony’s WH-1000XM5 nor the Bose 700’s fold down into themselves, taking up less space in your backpack while traveling. I tested both over-ear noise-canceling headphones for comfort during several extended listening sessions. I also assessed the touch controls and physical buttons used to control both headphones, in addition to the companion app features and ease of use. Both headphones use USB-C for charging and have a 3.5mm headphone jack for those times when you need a wired connection instead of Bluetooth.

Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM5


• Noise cancellation drowns out most background noise
• Very comfortable
• Voice prompts for battery life and connected devices


• Lack of on-ear detection is a bummer
• More battery-life would be welcome
• The companion app lacks some more advanced features

What we liked: Every time you power on the Bose 700’s a voice lets you know how much battery life the headphones have left, and then again you’re told when a connection is established with your paired devices. For example, just now when I turned the 700’s, I heard “Battery: 16 hours. Connected to Jason MacBook Pro and Jason iPhone 13 Pro Max.” That’s fantastic information to have at the start of each listening session. 

Noise quality and active noise-canceling are both areas where the Bose 700s excel. You can adjust how aggressive ANC is within the app or by pressing the favorites button on the left ear cup to switch between your predefined ANC settings. There are three total settings you can tailor to your liking. The first one can be set to zero, the second to 5 and the third to max ANC at 10. 

With ANC set to 10, I couldn’t hear my office heater running and I could only hear a quiet hum of a robot vacuum doing its daily chore when it was near my desk; when it was on the other side of the room, it was nonexistent. 

As for overall comfort, as someone who wears glasses and often has to stop wearing headphones after a couple of hours because my ears hurt due to the pressure of the headphones pressing my ear against the stem of my glasses, I’ve found the Bose 700 to be the most comfortable over-ear headphones I’ve used. The ear pads are soft and don’t apply too much pressure while still creating a seal to lock sound in and keep excess noise out.

What we didn’t: The Bose 700’s lack of on-ear detection and the ability to recognize when you’re talking to pause whatever you’re listening to. I don’t often have conversations when I’m wearing noise-canceling headphones, because I’ve gotten into the habit of putting them down around my neck when I need to talk to someone. It’s distracting to lower the 700s and still hear the faint (or sometimes loud) thump of the music as I’m trying to talk. On-ear detection like what the Sony WH-1000XM5 has eliminates this type of scenario, automatically pausing when you lower the headphones, and then starting it again once you put them back on. 

When I first received the Bose 700s at launch, battery life was right at the company’s 20-hour estimate. But as is the case with all battery-powered devices, that number goes down over time due to wear and tear on the battery. Right now, a full charge will get me about 17 hours of use. Still more than enough to take on a trip, even if it includes a couple of long flights, and not have to worry about charging. 

The touch controls on the outside of the right ear cup take some getting used to, namely because the touch area is cut in half due to the design. I’ve struggled with instinctively finding the touch area without having to think about it; oftentimes I find myself first touching and feeling the housing, looking for the bar that splits the cup in two, and then using touch gestures. During that process, I often trigger one gesture or another.


• Sound quality is top notch
• Noise cancellation is strong
• Some of the extra features are must-haves


• The app can feel intimidating
• They can feel uncomfortable after some time

What we liked: Bose is known for its sound quality, and I have no real qualms with how the 700s sound. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to one song on the XM5s, then listening to the same song on the 700s, and after my very unscientific testing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer the sound of the WH-1000XM5s. The sound profile is richer, with slightly more bass and depth to it. 

In addition to sound quality, Sony’s active noise cancellation is much more aggressive and blocks out my heater, the same robot vacuum even when it’s directly next to my chair, and even the clickity-clack of my mechanical keyboard. 

The Sony XM5s boast on-ear detection that will auto-start or pause music whenever you take the headphones off and put them back on. Additionally, the XM5s can detect when you start talking and will pause the music and let in ambient sound so you can hear whoever it is you’re talking to. 

Auto-pausing whatever you’re listening to when you take your noise-canceling headphones off should be a staple feature in any modern headphones. It not only allows you to talk to the person without your music blaring in the background, but it also saves battery life for both the headphones and whatever device they’re connected to.

What we didn’t: Sony’s app for its headphones has a lot of features packed into it. Some of them are great, such as the ability to automatically change between listening modes based on your location or movement. However, there are almost too many features and settings. I reset the app and headphones before working on this story, and every time I open the app I’m asked to view another tutorial or look at another feature. 

There’s even a feature to enable 360-degree audio, but it requires you to take photos of your ears and upload them to Sony. I’ll admit, I haven’t enabled this feature yet, simply because I’m a little freaked out by having to take pictures of my ears. Am I the only one that thinks that’s odd? I also don’t need to work on unlocking achievements or awards based on how often I use the headphones, which is also something that’s built into the app. Headphones are supposed to be somewhat simple, and Sony pushes the XM5 well into intimidating territory. 

My biggest gripe about the WH-1000XM5s is that they become uncomfortable after a few hours of wearing them. The over-ear pads are soft, and every time I put them on, I have a moment of pure comfort. But over time they begin to put too much pressure on my ears, pushing them against the stems of my glasses, causing discomfort. It’s not a deal breaker, and I’d wager that people who don’t wear glasses won’t have the same complaint. 


In a perfect world, I’d combine the noise cancellation, sound quality, and battery life of the XM5s with the comfort and voice prompts of the Bose 700s for my ideal pair of active noise-canceling headphones. But, as most of us learn at a young age, the world isn’t perfect. 

Deciding between the Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 is a nuanced process. They offer a lot of the same features that you have to nitpick to find a winner, and even at that, the differences are small. For me, what it really comes down to is overall performance, and for that, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is my choice between the two. However, I’ll try to distill the decision down to the basics. 

If you want a comfortable pair of headphones that will drown out most background noise, sound great and have a barebones app experience, the Bose 700s are meant for you. 

If you want more features, versatility, improved ANC and sound quality along with an enhanced app experience at the expense of some comfort, then the Sony WH-1000XM5’s are what you should go with.

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