STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ Very good app
+ battery life above the average
+ very good fit and comfort
- harsh, sometimes fatiguing sound
- bass either thin or bloated
Sound: Tonal Balance / Transparency6
Sound: Bass / Dynamics8
Ease-of-use / Connectivity8.6
Sony’s range of true wireless earbuds are said to offer audiophile sound quality and an almost exuberant number of features. When reviewing the affordable Sony LinkBud S, we were pretty impressed by the dedicated Sony Headphones Connect app and its cool features that most other manufacturers can only dream of. The Sony WF-C500 are some kind of different: intuitive to handle, no-frills user experience at an affordable pricepoint well under 100 bucks.
Fortunately, we did not find any sacrifices when it comes to really necessary features. That said, an impressive 10 hour battery life without recharging as well as IPX4 splash water resistance are pretty strong claims speaking in favor of the Sony. And there are four style options! The choice of colours include a soft orange and pastel mint green, so is Sony aiming at lifestyle buyers and not tech-geeks?
Reduced to the essentials
In any case, the feature list on their website boasts pretty standard things. Such as the ability to use a single earbud as a standard headset, or a built-in microphone for answering calls. Somewhat surprisingly, the inexpensive Sony’s do not have automatic standy when removed from the ear. To save battery life and really be turned off you need to put them back into the case. Music lovers travelling by plane or train would not find a voice-trough mode, which we consider to be kind of a standard.
Bluetooth version 5.0 ensures a stable connection. SBC as a standard codec is supported anyways, and so is AAC to make iPhone owners happy. AptX standards as well as Sony’s rather rarely used LDAC codec are not included. On the other hand, the manufacturer advertises a technology called DSEE, which is supposed to restore high-frequency components that had gotten lost during encoding processing at low bitstream rates. They probably have a reason not to explain how exactly this is supposed to work.
On the other hand, they seem to have thought of simple and relying connection. Fast Pair and Swift Pair are available for both Android and Windows devices. However, we experienced a similarly fast and convenient pairing process when using an iPhone.
In any case, 10 hours of battery life without recharging is what many users might appreciate. Fortunately, we found the given specs to be realistic if not conservative. The case provides another 10 hours of charging, but that is it. It is quite light, but not really ergonomically shaped. And for those who choose pastel colours might find it to be less posh than others.
The Sony WF-C500 are easy to insert into the ear canal by just a twist and provide a really secure fit. Unlike other, rather slim earbuds, the wider case sits comfortably and quite flat, no standing out when you might want to lay your ear somewhere. There are three different adaptors to fit any ear canal, but this turned out to be sufficient when having it reviewed by several people.
The standard, nonetheless important features such as answering calls and activating a voice assistant can easily be activated via touch control. However, we had the feeling that this sometimes resulted in errative opertaion but were not able to reproduce any misfunction. On the other hand, we found it really handy that Sony’s WF-C500 offer a volume control which in fact worked.
Get the app offering EQ and more
The Sony Headphones Connect app does in conjunction with the WF-C500 not offer such a variety of features as we know it from more sophisticated sony TWS such as the Sony WF-1000 XM4. Some things, on the other hand, are really useful, like the 5-band EQ and a bass boost function that can be controlled separately. Worth mentioning: The somewhat obscure sound improvement circuitry named DSEE can be deactivated here as well.
You might want to prioritize either stable wireless transmission at increased distances or a maximum of bitstream rate. Always have an eye on the battery status is not a luxury but really handy feature. And so is the integrated user manual in case you get lost.
By the way, you in fact are having the possibility to deactivate the Earbuds via app. Quite a good idea to save battery power when the case is not around.
3D sound with a little help
Sony offers a 3D soundfield simulation calling it “360 Reality Audio” . However, to really experience such you need appropriately encoded material. You might find it on streaming services like Deezer and Tidal, but that it only true to a very limited number of tracks. And we should admit that it is not really working against the infamous ´in-head-localisation´ with lead vocals or solo instruments.
Gripping dynamics but not really audiophile´s favorite
Admittingly, in terms of pricepoint the Sony WF-C500 keep quite some distance to the WF-1000XM4. That said, we were also experiencing a certain setback in terms of audiophile sound quality. Instead of silky transparency, we were experiencing at most a somewhat obtrusive treble. And instead of rich, dry bass, we felt an abundance of punch. All in all, some tracks even had a tendency to sound a bit unpleasant, if not aggressive, when listening for a long time.
One might come to the idea that a somewhat less bass-rich sound can be avoided by choosing bigger ear adaptors. However, this did not make the sound any richer, but led to a somewhat unpleasant pressure in the ear canal. As a countermeasure, the in-app EQ and bass boost feature offer a certain degree of sonic salvation.
Buying the Sony WF-C500 or checking alternatives?
When it comes to TWS well under 100 bucks, the competition is quite tough. For just a little more, the JBL Tune 230 NC offer richer bass, fair noise-canceling, and a less fatiguing listening experienced with smoother voices. Cambridge Melomania 1+ and the Panasonic RZ-S 300 W, are on the more audiophile side of sound for a really insignificant premium.