Sony WF-SP800N headphones review
Quick verdict: Sony's lower-cost active noise cancelling true wireless buds deliver decent sound, although its active noise cancelling lacks the impact of its more expensive WF-1000XM3 headphones.
- Pleasing audio
- Water resistant
- Single Bluetooth pairing only
- Battery case only gives a single extra charge
- Noise cancelling is light
- Comfortable fit
- Secure even when jogging
- Case is an awkward shape
- IP 55 rated water resistance
Taking the Sony WF-SP800N headphones out of their box, I was hit with a slight feeling of déjà vu. There's definitely some shared design DNA between Sony's latest fitness-centric headphones and the pricier Sony WF-1000XM3 premium headphones, at least when it comes to case design. While the pricier headphones have a case that suggests luxury and refinement, the Sony WF-SP800N headphones make do with a simpler, cheaper and lighter case, but with the same kind of rounded top design. Sony sells the Sony WF-SP800N headphones in black, white, blue or orange, so there's at least a little bit of choice there.
The big difference here is in the base. The WF-1000XM3 case has a flat base, so you can easily place it anywhere securely. For some reason, Sony's designers decided a rounded base was a better option for the Sony WF-SP800N. I've no idea why because it means it never sits securely except for flat on its side. My best guess is that Sony thinks the rounded shape will be a more comfortable pocket fit when you're out running, but the large size of the case pretty much prohibits that kind of approach anyway.
Pop the case open and you're greeted with the same kind of shared design DNA – two bud headphones with a roughly oval shape, connected to a soft silicon wing tip bud. That does involve a very small amount of work to pop into your ears each time, but the benefit here is a very secure fit. I've tested the Sony WF-SP800N headphones while out running, walking and for general use, and I've never felt as though they were likely to fall out of my ears at any time.
The Sony WF-SP800N headphones are intended as sports headphones, and like many sports-centric buds, they come with a level of water resistance, rated by Sony at IP55. That suggests they're more suitable for sweat resistance or very light splashes of water – being caught out in the rain for example – than full swimming activities.
- Single Bluetooth pairing only
- Re-pairing to new devices is tricky
- Headphones app adds options
- Good general audio
- Dynamic ANC can be a little jarring
Like just about every other set of true wireless buds on the market, when you first open up the case for the Sony WF-SP800N headphones, they're ready to pair through your phone's Bluetooth connection settings. It's feasible I guess – but I don't know for sure – that Sony's own phones might have the same kind of automatic pop-up pairing that you see with devices like Google's Pixel Buds on Pixel phones or AirPods on iPhones, but it's been years now since Sony sold mobiles in Australia, so I've no way of checking.
One genuinely annoying "feature" that Sony uses for its pairing methodology that I utterly hate is the way you pair to new devices. There's no multicast/multiple connection facility with the Sony WF-SP800N headphones, and that's perhaps fair at the asking price. However, when you want to pair to a new device, there's no pairing button on the case as there is with so many competing true wireless buds. Instead, you have to pop them in your ears and hold down both side touch areas on the headphones for at least seven seconds to get them into a fresh pairing mode. If there's one detail I'd change about Sony's Bluetooth pairing, it's this.
The Sony WF-SP800N headphones are also compatible with Sony's headphones app, although it's not mandatory to use in order to get audio flowing through. However, you probably should install it because it does open up a wide array of additional features, including optional Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant support, equalisation and fine-tuning the active noise cancelling features.
In terms of ANC, the Sony WF-SP800N supports both an ambient noise/passthrough mode and a noise cancelling mode, toggled by tapping the touch area on the left headphone bud. The headphones app allows you to modify the level of noise control if you wish, but the default is for dynamic active noise control, using the external microphones to detect the level of noise control needed – at least in theory.
It does work, but I hit two distinct issues in testing. Firstly, by default it's set to give you a notification beep when it's changing ANC modes, and if you're out jogging in public on a windy day with passing cars, this can quickly lead to beeps every 15 seconds or so, which is downright annoying. You can thankfully toggle that feature off.
Then there's the level of noise cancellation, which is just a tad on the weak side. That's almost certainly to push you towards the pricier WF-1000XM3 headphones instead, but no matter whether I left ANC to the Sony WF-SP800N or if I set it myself, I still felt as though the overall noise cancellation was on the weaker side, especially for ambient sounds like nearby fans. Yes, it's been rather warm in Sydney of late, so that's the primary noise I'd like to block out. It'd be great to test out the Sony WF-SP800N for in-aircraft use, but 2020 has seriously restricted my flying time of late. You're probably the same.
Actual audio quality is pretty good, and that's not surprising given Sony's general reputation in the audio space. Yes, I'd rather grab the WF-1000XM3s given the choice, but the Sony WF-SP800N headphones still managed most music with aplomb. The complex mix of vocals, high drum and rising chorus in David Bowie's "Space Oddity" represented well, and switching to more bass-heavy fare such as Ice Cube's "Go To Church" revealed a good level of bass intensity.
- Headphones have good battery life
- But the case doesn't, which is weird
Sony rates the Sony WF-SP800N as being good for up to nine hours of playback with noise cancelling enabled, which puts them in the higher tier of true wireless buds at least in terms of manufacturer claims. They live up to that too, making them a solid choice for all but the most determined super athletes – or even those of us who spend more times driving our desks than hitting the gym.
That's a pleasing result, but conversely, the charging case only adds a single additional charge, for a maximum of nine hours of full playback. It's odd given its large size, but presumably this is how Sony keeps the cost down. Like many true wireless buds, there's no in-case charger, so you'll need your own to hook up a USB-C cable to in order to keep the music flowing.
Should you buy the Sony WF-XB700 headphones?
- Buy it if you want solid sound from your sports headphones.
- Don't buy it if you want stronger active noise cancelling or multi-point Bluetooth.
There's a very definite hierarchy in Sony's true wireless headphones based on price. The Sony WF-SP800N deliver a more pleasing sound and better feature set than the lower cost Sony WF-XB700 headphones, while still leaving the top end of what Sony can do in audio terms with buds for the WF-1000XM3s.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe Sony WF-SP800N headphones retail in Australia for $228.
Where to buy
Images: Alex Kidman