Not to sound like a broken record, but the Sony WH-1000XM5 really are a stellar set of cans. They’re some of, if not the best headphones money can buy. But the newly-revealed Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones may not be far behind. They come from the firm that brought ANC to the masses, after all.
While we’ve spent plenty of time with the WH-1000XM5 since its launch in late 2022, we’ve had had a short hands-on session with the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. That means it’s too early to say categorically which is best – but there’s plenty of tech to talk about in the meantime. Here’s how the two line up on paper.
Design and function
Bose has said the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have been completely re-engineered from the last-gen model, and that extends to the design too. They’re chunky, or at least chunkier than the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. These cans have a minimal look, but a plain matte effect seems to attract hang fingerprints and smudge marks.
Thankfully, the QC Ultra Headphones are built with quality and durability in mind. They feel strong in the hand, and are clearly made from sturdy stuff. Weighing in at 250g, they’re pretty much identical to the Sony WH-1000XM5’s 249g.
Design-wise, the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones aren’t a million miles away from the brand’s minimal style. In fact, they don’t look too different to the Sony WH-1000XM5. There are physical controls, power/Bluetooth pairing, multifunction buttons and a handy volume slider on the right ear cup. Sony’s buttons are more inconspicuous, but less customisable too.
Bose claims that battery will last up to 24 hours for the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, and takes up to three hours for a full charge via USB-C. We can’t guarantee this claim yet, but that’ll be the first thing to test once we can get our hands on a pair. Sony, meanwhile, can manage 30 hours of listening, so takes a small win here.
Bose is bigging up its Immersive Audio tech as a reason to pick up the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. This take on spatial sound is designed to beam audio as if it were coming from beyond your headphones. Music and audio has a wide sound stage in front and to the sides, mimicking the effects of stereo speakers. They’re designed to put you right in the audio ‘sweet spot’ for a more authentic experience. ‘Still’ mode delivers a fixed sound when you’re sitting down, and ‘Motion’ then moves the soundstage around based on head movement for when you’re on the go. All adjustable EQing, custom modes and personalisation are done through the Bose app.
Not to be outdone, the Sony WH-1000XM5 also comes with its own immersive tech, in the form of 360 Reality Audio format. This is supported by streaming services such as Tidal and Deezer. An auto play/pause feature when you take off the headphones works without a hitch, and a ‘speak to chat’ feature is invoked when you put your hand over the right headphone.
Sound and noise cancellation
It’s going to be hard for Bose to compete with the WH-1000XM5 when it comes to sound quality. Sony’s 30mm carbon fibre-composite 30mm drivers produce exceptional audio, with precise delivery and even greater clarity than the previous generation.
The WH-1000XM5’s noise cancellation will also be hard to beat. Train station hustle and crowd noises are silenced, thanks to some sophisticated noise-cancelling tech that drowns out higher frequencies. ANC strength adjustment is done in real-time too, without needing to prompt the headphones.
Until we can truly test the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, it’s hard to give a fully accurate opinion on sound quality. However, in our early hands-on, music sounded clean, well-balanced and immersive. ANC demos were equally impressive, but how it copes with public transport will be the true litmus test.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones certainly aren’t cheap. Pre-orders are open right now on the Bose website for $429/£450. That puts it on par with many high-end ANC headphones in the US, but nudges them more into premium territory in the UK.
At $399/£319, the Sony WH-1000XM5 offer a marginal saving for US buyers, but a big one for UK customers. It’s the clear choice if value is a top priority.
Until we can give the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones a dedicated review, it’s tough to say whether they’re worth the hefty asking price. However, on first impressions, they seem to offer grade A sound from a name you can trust. The headphones certainly look like they could compete with the quality and crisp sound of the WH-1000XM5, which isn’t an easy task. For now, the Sony remains our favourite – but perhaps not for much longer.