Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: Which are best?

Battle of the best active noise-cancelling over-ears: Sony's 2022 update, the WH-1000XM5, give Bose's 2019 NC 700 a run for their money. So which wins?

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on T3 pink background
(Image credit: Sony / Bose)

Sony has launched the latest in its wildly successful WH-1000X range – the WH-1000XM5 – and in this comparison piece we'll explore, having tested both headphones, how those excellent active noise-cancelling (ANC) over-ear cans compare with an acknowledged master of the noise-cancelling art: Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. 

The Bose 700 launched in July 2019, and it didn’t take long for these wireless over-ears to establish themselves as a combination of fairly Bose-like sound quality and noise-cancelling efficiency, and a very stylish (and, let’s face it, rather un-Bose-like) piece of design. As far as sound reproduction goes, the 700 have always been unarguably competitive – and when it comes to cancelling the sound of the outside world, the acknowledged Bose expertise makes them one of the very best options around. Even three years after they initially went on sale, the NC 700 are still part of the conversation where across-the-board excellence is concerned.

‘The conversation’ has always included a Sony WH-1000X model, too, though. From the end of May 2022 it’ll be the WH-1000XM5 that’s invoked when trying to establish the best pound-for-pound wireless ANC headphones around – because make no mistake, Sony perfected the art of being profoundly competitive in every meaningful way some time ago. And the XM5 are superb, but are they worth the extra cash?

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose 700: Price

Given that the Sony don’t actually launch until the end of May, it’s fair to say that at £379/$399 the WH-1000XM5 are as expensive as they’ll ever be (well, we certainly hope). Previous 1000X models have seen their asking prices come down quite significantly in fairly short order, and we see no reason why it should be any different this time. 

That’s what happened with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, after all. At launch they would have set you back £349/$399 too, but now they can be yours for around £279/$299.

So yes, currently the Sony are significantly more expensive than the Bose option. But we expect that gap to narrow sooner rather than later. That said, the older Sony WH-1000XM4 cost even less, and while their design is different, that may still be tempting enough for some.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose 700: sound quality

Obviously the sound of each pair of headphones here can be skewed quite significantly using the EQ in their respective control apps – but nevertheless, each has a fundamental sonic signature.

In the case of the Bose, it’s a slightly tepid version of what’s become known as The Bose Sound. The 700 sound punchy, but not intimidatingly so, and while they are undeniably rolled off at the top end there’s still some bite and shine to the sound. They’re not the last word in dynamism, though, allowing music both quiet and loud to exist at a sort of median level.

The WH-1000XM5, by way of contrast, are a full-scale and quite vivacious listen. Detail levels are high, integration is good, there’s ample dynamic potency on tap and the over coherence of the Sony sound is impressive. Not for the first time, a pair of 1000X is up among the best-sounding headphones at a given price.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose 700: ANC comparison

Sony WH-1000XM5 sat on grass

Sony WH-1000XM5 looking rather elegant against their spring time grass background

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Bose didn’t acquire its reputation for noise-cancellation by accident, and the 700 don’t do anything but enhance it. Their 11-stage ANC system is exemplary – external sounds are dealt with decisively, leaving you free to enjoy the many positives of the audio quality of the headphones. And in dealing with them, the 700 leave no artefacts, no counter-signals, and no colour of the noise-floor in their wake – they simply shut them out.

With the WH-1000XM5, though, Sony has closed the ANC gap between itself and Bose from a chasm to a sliver. The XM5 don’t do as complete a job on external sounds as the 700, and they don’t leave quite the same inky-black silence in its wake, but they get closer – far closer – than any previous noise-cancelling Sony over-ears. And best of all, they get onto Bose’s coat-tails without leaving any evidence of all the hard work they’re getting through. They just leave the music.

Bose 700 headphones

Bose can do design too, though, as this Soapstone finish model of the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 goes to show

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose 700: design and features

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are that most unlikely thing: a stylish pair of Bose headphones. For a company that seemingly mistrusts ‘design’ as some sort of bourgeois affectation, the 700 look elegant and sophisticated even three years after they launched. The slender headband with its external adjusters, the shallow earcups, the quite tactile finish… it’s all very agreeable. 

Bluetooth 5.0 was cutting-edge in 2019, so we shouldn’t really criticise the 700 for that now. Its 20 hours of battery wasn’t, though, so we feel justified in pointing out it’s not a very impressive figure. Otherwise, though, the 700 are fully competitive – and their control app remains one of the better examples of the type.

Sony’s walking a fine line with the design of the WH-1000XM5: it’s the one that divides ‘sophisticated’ from ‘anonymous’. These headphones are to all intents and purposes featureless  –so if you like a clean, uncluttered look you’ll be into them, and if you don’t then you won’t. The use of recycled materials for the majority of the construction is very welcome, though.

With Bluetooth 5.2, anywhere between 30 and 40 hours of battery life, an outstanding control app and USB-PD compatibility (meaning you can get three hour’s-worth of action after just three minutes of charging), the XM5 most certainly have it where it counts, features-wise. That's the difference three years makes, though, ultimately. Sony has caught up in design terms and excelled in other areas.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose 700: conclusion

All things being equal, it’s fairly easy to recommend the Sony WH-1000XM5 over the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The Sony offers better battery life, an even more in-depth control app, they sound rather more animated and convincing, and their ANC is within touching distance of that of the Bose (but, in our view, not actually better).

But things aren’t all equal. Currently the price difference between these two pairs of headphones is £100, and that’s a not-inconsiderable sum. Yes, the XM5 are the better product in many regards, but the price differential is perhaps greater than the Sony superiority. Unless the asking price of the WH-1000XM5 comes down pronto, you’re entitled to wonder if they’re worth the extra outlay.

Simon Lucas

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine and website – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, the Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Should he find himself with a spare moment, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.