Sony WF-C500 review: They flip off expensive earbuds
- Great passive noise blocking even without official noise isolation tech
- Comfortable and secure
- Fantastic price
- Battery life from the buds are really good
- Not the best sound, but that’s to be expected
- The case looks and feels cheap
- Battery life from the case is meh
After recently trying the absolute best the wireless earbud market has to offer, I didn't know what to expect from the Sony WF-C500. Being the younger sibling of the truly spectacular Sony WF-1000XM4, it was going to be difficult not to see a stark contrast.
But these things proved me wrong. While they don't have all the bells and whistles of more expensive buds, they absolutely nail the best bits of daily audio experiences. And for the price tag, they go beyond what customers should expect.
Sony WF-C500 review: Design
The design of the Sony WF-C500 buds is not dissimilar to their flagship WF-1000XM4 siblings. Though a touch smaller, they have the same rounded design. And this works in their favour.
While I am a huge advocate of the XM4s, my biggest bugbear is comfort. I can't wear them for hours on end without discomfort. Surprisingly, the cheaper C500 buds solved this issue.
Perhaps it's the size reduction, but I found them to be far more comfortable for long listening sessions. They also felt more secure in the ear even during vigorous exercise at the gym. Again, this is in stark contrast to the far more expensive XM4s.
If you did need help finding the right fit, there are 3 tip options in the box. But be careful – they are not securely tucked in there. Mine fell onto my desk easily. While this is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, this made the buds feel cheap from the get-go.
The case didn't help, well, Sony's case here.
The charging section is largely fine – it's made from black plastic that is reminiscent of the XM4s, but longer. The lid of the case is made from a thin frosted grey plastic that is semi-translucent. It doesn't look very nice, scuffs easily and feels cheap and flimsy. I don't think it would take much force to snap it off.
Not to be fair, I'm splitting hairs here. These are $128 buds, not the $400 top-shelf ones. Corners obviously needed to be cut to get it to this price point and it was probably better to compromise on the case than the buds themselves.
And as I discovered, the C500s actually do a surprisingly great job for the price point. So much so that I quickly forgot about the case.
Sony WF-C500 review: Performance
The overall performance of the Sony WF-C500 is simple but decent. All of the most important stuff works just fine.
Set-up is easy over Bluetooth on both Android and iOS. A few clicks and you're good to go. I'm also happy to report zero drop out during the 4 days I've been using them.
Nestled into the rounded exterior are easy-to-use controls that require a little pressure to activate. This is great because it means no accidental bumps skipping your music forward.
These controls can skip forwards and backwards, answer calls and pause your content.
Unfortunately, the 1 performance issue I had is also 1 of my most hated things in headphones – no automatic pausing. This basically means there are no sensors in the buds to detect when you have removed them. In higher-end headphones, this will pause whatever you're listening to.
I love this feature because it can save on battery life and will ensure you don't actually lose your spot in a podcast or audiobook.
The C500 does not have this function, which I only discovered after taking them out and coming back in the middle of a song 45 minutes later. Not great for battery.
Now to be fair, this is a premium feature. Sensors cost money and the price tag on these is just $128. But if you are used to automatic pausing you'll need to be mindful while using the C500.
Sony WF-C500 review: Audio performance
The Sony WF-1000XM4s are arguably the best wireless earbuds in the market in terms of audio quality. It's something that Sony is alarmingly good at. You won't see the same level of detail in the C500, but they do prove that a decent job can be done at a lower price point.
In general you won't get the same level of distinction between the lows, highs and treble as more expensive headphones (or even the new AirPods 3). Nor will you get the same levels of complexity where you can identify almost every separate element of your tracks.
But unless you're a hardcore audiophile, this isn't going to matter. For regular users like myself, they sound quite good. You still get balanced and enjoyable sounds – it's just not as rich as pricier headsets. Some of the sounds meld together a little more and may be a little flatter. But again, if you're not looking for this or comparing them to high-end competitors, you might not even notice.
And if you do care, you can play around with the EQ in the Sony Connect app to have an elevated and more personalised experience.
What I'm perhaps most impressed with is passive noise blocking. At $128 they of course don't have active noise cancellation. And that's to be expected. But unlike the similarly-priced Jabra Elite 3, The C500 doesn't even advertise noise isolation. And yet it exists.
I found this particularly noticeable coming off the back of my AirPods 3 review. Those things were lousy for sound bleed. Yet here we have some earbuds that are around $130 cheaper and do a far better job.
And this is probably down to form factor. Unlike the AirPods 3, the tipped ends of the C500 (I'm so sorry in advance) plug the holes far more tightly. There's simply less opportunity for sound to creep in, even without internal tech working additional noise-cancelling magic.
This was particularly noticeable at my favourite stress test location – my bodybuilding gym. It generally has loud music pumping, heavy weights being dropped and a mixture of grunting and general conversation.
While the AirPods Pro did nothing to protect me from this audio assault (and in fact, it was difficult to actually hear my music at all) the Sony C500 did a much better job.
Heading there at peak hour, the vast majority of the noise was blocked out and I could hear my truly embarrassing music, as well as the audiobook of Dune, without having to pump up the volume. If I listened closely I could hear a little ambient noise, but for the most part only particularly loud grunts or weight drops penetrated.
I was seriously impressed. Between these and the noise isolation offered by the Jabra Elite 3, it's awesome to see these features in lower-cost earbuds.
Sony WF-C500 review: Battery
In terms of the battery life of the Sony WF-C500... it's complicated.
I didn't expect anything revolutionary from a $128 set of earbuds. But they have 10 hours of playback from 1 charge, I was pleasantly surprised. For comparison, the $119 Jabra Elite 3 get 6 and the $199 Sennheiser CX boast 9.
And much like the XM4s, there's a quick charger function. Ten minutes of charge will get you an hour of playback.
I would like to spend a bit more time with the C500 to test this more, but in the 4 days since I got them I have found the battery life to hold pretty true to the claims.
However, I have found the charging case to be at odds with what the buds offer. You only get an additional full charge from them, which comes to a grand total of 20 hours of playback. This is quite subpar compared to most wireless charging cases where you can get 2–3 additional charges before plugging it in.
It's not the biggest deal in the world, but it does mean that weirdly the battery life of the C500s are both great and not-so-great depending on which aspect you're looking at.
Sony WF-C500 review: Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want great all-round earbuds for an amazing price.
- Don't buy it if you want the best of the best.
Over the past few years we've seen an uptick in quality in the wireless earbuds space. The problem is that to get decent ones you also need to shell out quite a chunk of change.
But earbuds like the C500s are evidence of a change. While $128 isn't "cheap" it's certainly more affordable than the $400-ish you need to pay for the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum 2 True Wireless.
And you get incredible value for your money. The sound, comfort and battery life in the buds are great for the price point and the passive noise blocking is, in my opinion, beyond what you should get for $128. That's the most attractive feature for me.
If you want the best of the best (and have the capital to back it up), look in a higher price bracket. But if you want a set of wireless earbuds that does all the basics well, the C500s are absolutely worth considering.
Elsewhere on the mid-range front, Sony has also released the new WH-XB910 over-ear headphones that are very, very interesting.
Sony WF-C500 review: Pricing and availability
How We Test
The Sony WF-C500 were tested extensively over a 4-day period. We will update the battery section once more time has been spent with them.
The buds were tested against similar-priced wireless headphones as well as high-end offerings.
Sony provided the WF-C500 for the purposes of this review.
The author has been testing and reviewing headphones for over 5 years.
Images: Tegan Jones
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