Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Which Noise-Cancelling Earphones Should You Buy?

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Which Noise-Cancelling Earphones Should You Buy?

If you’re looking for the best pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earphones, your short list should include the $249 Apple AirPods Pro, the $299 Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, and the $299.99 Sony WF-1000XM5.

But how do you narrow down this list down further? Active noise cancellation (ANC) performance is certainly important, but you would be remiss to not consider aspects such as audio performance, battery life, codec support, and mic clarity. We’ve tested all three pairs of earphones extensively, and we’re here to compare them across these categories and more to help you determine which is best for your needs.

Left to right: Sony WF-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)

Left to right: Sony WF-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) (Credit: Tim Gideon)


Active Noise Cancellation

To evaluate noise cancellation, we played the same noise-filled test tracks through a combination of 5.1 surround speakers and near-field stereo monitors. Outright performance and consistency are key to this category.

The Sony earphones were the best at dialing back the very lowest, subwoofer-like rumble without producing a wavering effect, something we occasionally heard with the Bose model. Just note that sub-bass thunder is typically not the type of noise that needs to be eliminated in a real-world environment. Even if there are any particularly deep lows audible in an airplane cabin, for instance, you also have to worry about the powerful mids and highs.

Minus the deepest sub-bass frequencies, the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds were the most effective at cancelling low-frequency, drone-like noise. The AirPods Pro were competitive in this regard, while the WF-1000XM5 fell behind the others. The main advantage of the Ultra Earbuds here was their consistency. The other two pairs sometimes required slight in-ear adjustments to adapt and deliver their best noise cancellation, but the initial attempt from Bose was typically spot-on. Don’t get us wrong, we appreciate that the other models can adapt and improve, but that’s a potential distraction the Ultra Earbuds help you avoid.

The mid and high-mid frequency range covers everything from human speech, to a wide swath of in-flight cabin noise, to the bulk of noise from bustling public spaces. This is typically the most critical (and most difficult) range to get right. In testing, the Bose and Apple earphones eliminated the lows and midrange from a test recording of a busy cafe nearly entirely, letting just a thin band of high frequencies creep past their circuitry. The Sony earbuds cut back the highs pretty well, but allowed more low-mid and mid-range noise to pass through than the other two.

None of the models were stellar against standalone high-frequency hiss, but the Sony pair added the least amount of perceptible hiss. The Sony and Apple earphones raised the noise floor the least in a quiet room.

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds and case

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds (Credit: Tim Gideon)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Ultimately, I don’t think most people are trying to get rid of subtle high-frequency hiss or will mind a slight masking tone if the earphones otherwise excel at cutting back real-world noise (some people might even find this white noise-like sound calming). The lows, mids, and high-mids matter most to everyday life, and those are the areas where the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds outmatch the other two. Therefore, they win the category, despite not coming out on top in every aspect.

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds


Transparency Mode

All three pairs offer transparency modes that effectively help you hear your environment without having to remove your earpieces. That said, all three implementations have slight flaws.

Apple overcomplicates its transparency mode in iOS 17 by adding more buttons and features to parse; previously, you could just switch on the Adaptive Transparency setting and your earphones would gracefully tamp down noises over 85db while still presenting your surroundings clearly. In its place is an Adaptive Mode that blends the standard ANC and Transparency modes. It includes both Adaptive Audio and Loud Sound Reduction settings, which you need to experiment with to get the best results. In testing, I found that combining the traditional Transparency mode with the Loud Sound Reduction option got me closest to the experience of the old Adaptive Transparency mode. These complications aside, Apple’s implementation is still the most adjustable and effective of the group, and sounds the most natural.

Bose’s Aware mode isn’t far behind and lets you blend in ANC levels via the app to create custom presets. But its ActiveSense Aware mode, which attempts to tamp down loud transients while letting you hear your surroundings, often felt a bit clumsier than Apple’s equivalent in testing.

The Sony earbuds offer the most traditional transparency experience of the three. They let you hear your surroundings accurately and support mic-level adjustments via an in-app fader. A voice pass-through setting tightens the focus on conversations, but it doesn’t intelligently discern between overlapping sounds in the frequency range, so you can inadvertently boost the high-frequency whir of an air conditioner in this mode, for instance.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)


Sound Quality

Each model delivers relatively balanced audio with rich bass and crisp highs. Between Apple and Bose, I give the nod to Bose because of the fuller, richer bass delivery and support for basic EQ tweaks via their companion app. Apple’s non-adjustable EQ presets in its Music app are limited by comparison.

The WF-1000XM5’s brighter delivery results in a slightly less robust bass response than the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, but Sony’s superior five-band, in-app EQ (which includes a separate Clear Bass fader) gives you greater control over the sound output. 

Both the AirPods and the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds offer similar spatial audio features with head tracking. I prefer Bose’s implementation a bit over Apple’s, but to be blunt, these are effects I prefer to leave off because they cloak audio quality rather than improve it. Sony has a 360 Reality audio feature as well, but it’s not as accessible because it requires a subscription to a separate music streaming service.

Winner: Tie (Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and Sony WF-1000XM5)


Bluetooth Codec Support

Sony has the codec category locked down for Android users: Its earphones are the only ones of the bunch that support both the future-looking LC3 and hi-res LDAC options, in addition to AAC and SBC.

That said, Bose leaps over apple by adopting the Snapdragon Sound Platform, which includes the scalable AptX Adaptive codec (it can prioritize either connection or sound quality). The Bose earphones still supports AAC and SBC as well.

Meanwhile, the AirPods Pro stick with AAC and SBC. These options are mostly still sufficient since most Apple devices don’t support higher-res Bluetooth streaming. Interestingly, the AirPods Pro do technically support near-lossless audio in combination with Apple’s Vision Pro headset thanks to an unnamed connection standard, but that remains an edge case.

Sony-WF1000XM5 earpieces and case

Sony WF-1000XM5 (Credit: Tim Gideon)

Sony WF-1000XM5

All three models work with Bluetooth 5.3, though the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are the only ones without some sort of multipoint connectivity.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5


Fit and Style

Fit is subjective, especially when it comes to in-canal earphones. That said, Sony’s hybrid eartips offer a high degree of in-canal stability (and passive noise reduction), while the earpiece sleeves for the Bose earphones offer good fit stability. Both of these pairs feel more secure than the AirPods Pro, though all three stay in my ears just fine and feel comfortable.

Style is similarly a matter of opinion. Although the AirPods are by far the most iconic, the Bose and Sony models look classy, too. The AirPods are available only in Apple’s standard glossy white finish, but the Bose and Sony earphones come in black or off-white variants.

Winner: Tie (Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and Sony WF-1000XM5)


Durability

Both the AirPods Pro and their case sport an IP54 rating, so they take the win here. That rating means they are mostly dust-resistant and can withstand mists and light splashes of water from any direction. Neither sweaty workouts nor light rain should be an issue, but you can’t submerge either the earpieces or the case or rinse them off under a faucet.

Meanwhile, the IPX4 rating of the Bose and Sony models means they can merely withstand splashes from any direction. They don’t have official protection against dust ingress and their cases aren’t at all durable.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) and case

AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) (Credit: Tim Gideon)

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with MagSafe Charging Case (USB‑C)

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)


Companion App

This category isn’t as conducive to head-to-head comparisons because the AirPods Pro don’t have a companion app. Instead, they seamlessly integrate with iOS. The settings menu of your iPhone automatically incorporates a section for the AirPods when you initially connect them, while the Control Center allows for quick access to various audio modes. These two sections offer just as much in the way of customization and control as a typical standalone app, though the lack of an adjustable EQ remains a downside and the revamped Adaptive Audio mode could use some streamlining, as mentioned. Android users can pair the AirPods Pro with their phones like any other Bluetooth device, but lose out on all these options.

Bose’s Connect app (available for Android and iOS) offers control over the ANC and Aware modes, as well as basic (but customizable) EQ, preset listening modes, and immersive audio settings. It’s easy to navigate and looks significantly cleaner than the sometimes crowded Sony app.

That said, Sony’s Headphones app (available for Android and iOS) offers the most flexible EQ and a useful voice-focused transparency mode, as mentioned. We would prefer less bloat, but its overall functionality keeps it slightly ahead of the Bose app.

Recommended by Our Editors

Winner: Tie (Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) and Sony WF-1000XM5)


Battery Life

The AirPods Pro last about 5.5 hours with ANC, Transparency mode, and spatial audio with head tracking all on, 6 hours with ANC and Transparency modes on, and 7 hours with everything off. The case holds an additional 22, 24, or 28 hours of battery life respectively for the above scenarios. All of those estimates assume music playback at 50% volume. If you intend to use your AirPods for calls, expect 4.5 hours per charge and an additional 18 hours of battery life in the case. Apple claims that five minutes of charging should net you an hour of music listening.

Bose estimates that the QC Ultra Earbuds can last between 4 to 6 hours per charge, with and without immersive audio respectively. The case gets between 12 and 18 hours of battery life depending on usage. These numbers are with the ANC or Aware modes enabled (you can’t turn them off). Bose claims that the battery takes two hours to fully charge from empty.

With ANC on, the Sony earbuds can last up to 8 hours per charge and the case holds another 16 hours of battery life. Turn ANC off, and those numbers improve to 12 and 24 hours for the earbuds and case respectively. Sony says a full charge takes roughly 3 hours. Sony’s numbers seem optimistic (you should take any manufacturer’s claim with a grain of salt), but its lowest projection (8 hours) is still better than Apple’s best (7 hours).

Note that real-world results will likely differ from these manufacturer claims and that how loud you typically listen and what codec you choose will affect the performance.

While both Apple’s and Sony’s charging cases support Qi wireless charging (and MagSafe in the case of the AirPods) out of the box, the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds require a $49 case accessory to unlock that capability.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5


Mic Quality

All three models have excellent voice mic arrays and calls should sound crisp regardless of the model you choose. Bose’s voice mic array offers strong intelligibility, but it comes in last as Apple’s sounds more natural and less distant. 

Sony’s mic array produces a signal just as clear as that of the AirPods Pro, but goes further. It filters out any sound that isn’t a human voice, and specifically that isn’t your voice. To accomplish this, it employs an onboard bone conduction sensor, which tells the mic that you’re speaking and correlates that information with the audio signals it picks up. It then effectively tamps down any voice (or other noise) that doesn’t match the bone conduction pattern.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5


Left to right: Sony WF-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)

Left to right: Sony WF-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) (Credit: Tim Gideon)

And the Winner Is…Complicated

Let’s break down the final tallies:

  • Sony WF-1000XM5: 3 wins, 3 ties

  • Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen): 2 wins, 1 tie

  • Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds: 1 win, 2 ties

If we choose a winner based on a straightforward tally, Sony wins. However, not all categories are of equal importance in our book.

Although the Bose QueitComfort Ultra Earbuds take the fewest wins, they come out on top in the all-important noise cancellation category and tie with Sony on sound quality and fit (though the latter is ultimately subjective). The AirPods Pro take outright wins in the durability and transparency mode categories, as well as tie with Sony on the software front. Finally, Sony wins on codec support, battery life, and mic quality.

Broadly speaking, you should go with Bose if you want the absolute best noise cancellation, Apple if you have other Apple devices and like to use your earphones while you work out, and Sony if you want the best possible audio quality for music and calls.

This is all to say that none of these earbuds will disappoint, even if the others are better in a specific category. If you aren’t sold on any of these three models, check out our list of the top earphones overall, and if you’re on a budget, head over to the best true wireless earbuds under $100.

Weekly Apple Brief for the latest news, reviews, tips, and more delivered right to your inbox.”,”first_published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:59.000000Z”,”published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:59.000000Z”,”last_published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:53.000000Z”,”created_at”:null,”updated_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:59.000000Z”})”>

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