The Sony WF-C500 Earbuds Are a Cheap Option if You Know How to Compromise

The Sony WF-C500 Earbuds Are a Cheap Option if You Know How to Compromise
Image: Isabella Noyes/Gizmodo Australia
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It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Sony’s headphones here at Gizmodo Australia. They’ve consistently put out some of our favourite over-the-ear headphones and earbuds in the past, so when I was offered a pair of Sony’s new budget-friendly wireless WF-C500 earbuds, I had high expectations.

The Sony WF-C500 earbuds are truly wireless, compact and designed to ergonomically fit inside your ears. As with most wireless earbuds, all brands love to promise the idea that theirs is “small yet mighty”.

What drew me towards Sony’s WF-C500 true wireless headphones was that they offered “high-quality sound that’s rich in detail, thanks to DSEE technology, which restores the fine fade-out sound and high-frequency sound.” That all sounds pretty sweet if you ask me.

For those of you who aren’t aware of what DSEE is, it stands for Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, which is a Sony-created technology that works to enhance the sound quality of compressed files by restoring high-range sound, which is normally removed during the compression process.

So how do these earbuds shape up?

Sony WF-C500 earbuds

WHAT IS IT?

One of Sony's latest true wireless headphones.

PRICE

RRP $149.95.

LIKE

Comfortable fit, customisable equaliser settings, crystal-clear calls, RPX4-approved.

NO LIKE

360 Reality Audio has a tedious set-up, no Bluetooth multipoint or Active Noise Cancellation, might not stay in some ear types.

First impressions

Cat approved
Catmodo weighed in with a thorough whiff and though she seems optimistic, she’s yet to collect her thoughts. Image: Isabella Noyes/Gizmodo Australia

At a glance, the Sony WF-C500’s case is smooth, lightweight and well-designed, aside from its plastic flip lid. It fits easily into the pockets of my handbag or in my jacket, and the earbuds themselves have a paper-like feel to them. While they do look a little on the large side, they fit super comfortably in my ear. I do think they’re too bulky for my ear shape, as I have somewhat smaller ears.

After I unpackaged it, I got to work setting them up, which was a breeze.  I chose to not set up its 360 Reality Audio right away, but I’ll explain why later. Instead, I slapped on my exercise tights and hoodie to go for a jog around my neighbourhood.

The first thing I noticed was that they lack active noise cancellation, so I could hear everything around me. Now that’s not so bad in my eyes when I go for a run because I like to be aware of my surroundings in case a cyclist is coming up behind me or I’m crossing a road. I was worried I’d hear too much chatter to knuckle down at work, but I was pleasantly surprised that despite not having ACN, I could still tune out most background noise.

But back to my run, because of its bulky design, it fell out of my ears a lot. This was also the first experience I had using its press controls and I began to grow more and more annoyed during my run because every few minutes I’d have to push it back into my ear canal. Even when I was walking, it didn’t quite stay put. My other issue was that every time I felt it slipping out of my ear, I kept accidentally pausing my music as I tried to shove it back in. This meant I had to stop my run a few times so I could restart my workout beats.

Did I also mention it was raining when I went for my run? Luckily, these little buds are RPX4-approved, meaning they’re both waterproof and sweat-proof, so you can safely wear them out in a bunch of conditions. I’m happy to confirm that there were no issues in that department.

I have no complaints about its battery life. It was superb, lasted a full day at work with on and off listening. According to its product description, it offers up to 10 hours of continuous playback and about three hours to charge. If you’re as diligent as I am about charging it every so often, you won’t have to worry much about a dead battery. For me, I’ve had to charge it for a short amount of time every three to four days.

How do the Sony WF-C500 true wireless headphones sound?

The Sony WF-C500 Earbuds Are a Cheap Option if You Know How to Compromise
Image: Isabella Noyes/Gizmodo Australia

When testing the audio quality of the Sony WF-C500, I waited before setting up the 360 Reality Audio for the first week just so I’d be able to tell the difference when I finally did decide to make use of this feature. During that week I tried to choose a bunch of random Spotify playlists with heavy bass to see how they’d perform and was disappointed to report that the bass and the music’s texture or depth were lacklustre when using the manual equalizer.

The remainder of my review was conducted playing with the app’s equalizer and 360 Reality Audio and my lord, was it a game-changer. During my review period, I switched between everything from dedicated bass playlists while running to Disney’s Encanto soundtrack as I folded laundry.

Similar to Apple’s Spatial Audio, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is immersive, fun and energising to listen to. On my afternoon walks, it gave me the sensation of standing at a live music event — exactly as Sony intended. I could hear the percussion rhythmically switching between my left and right ears, hear strings from the right and somehow the bass made my heart thump like I was in the centre of a dance floor. All while strolling around my local neighbourhood.

By fiddling with the settings in-app, I was able to choose between a treble boost or bass boost, as well as giving my music either a bright, excited, mellow, relaxed or vocal audio boost. My go-tos were the bass boost for when I was exercising or doing housework and the melody boost for casual listening. I also enjoyed “bright” and “excited” if I was in the need of a little mood lift while working.

You also have the option to customise each of the preset equalizers, so if you enjoy a heavier bass while listening, you have the option to increase it in the equalizer settings.

My gripes with these Sony wireless earbuds

Sony WF-C500 in-ear wireless headphones
Image: Isabella Noyes/Gizmodo Australia

To activate 360 Reality Audio, you need to jump onto the Sony Headphones app and under Sound, there’s an option that allows you to set it up. Taking your earbuds out of your ears, the app will scan your face and ask you to turn your head to the right and then to the left. Once it has a good shot of your side profile, it will take a quick picture that will analyse the shape of your ears.

When you do submit your pics, it will let you know that they’ll be sent to Sony’s server for analysis in order to provide an optimised sound field for you based on the shape of your ear. For those of you who might be wary, the pop-up notification assures you they won’t be associated with you personally, although they’ll be maintained on Sony’s servers.

I found that the photo-taking part was fairly time-consuming. For whatever reason, the app struggled to scan the right side of my face. But once it was done, it took about 30 seconds to process.

However, in order to get 360 Reality Audio fully operational, it’ll encourage you to download one of the following four apps: nugs.net, Artist Connection, 360 by Deezer and TIDAL. The only one I was overly familiar with was TIDAL, and after having a quick squiz at their healthy 4-star Play Store rating, it was the obvious choice.

All four are alternative music streaming services to Spotify or Apple Music and are subscription-based. Upon reflection, it felt misleading that I was encouraged to download a random app in addition to the Sony Headphones app just so I could test whether this made a difference to my audio quality (which it didn’t). I switched back and forth between TIDAL and Spotify and noticed nothing. In the end, I realised I didn’t need the other app anyway because 360 Reality Audio worked fine without it.

As an FYI, if you’re someone who likes to swap which device you listen on (like me), just note that you’ll need to download the Sony Headphones app and set up 360 Reality Audio again. The Sony WF-C500 true wireless headphones also lack Bluetooth multi-point functionality, so take it from me and try to stick to one device.

How do they handle phone calls?

Sony WF-C500
Image: Isabella Noyes/Gizmodo Australia

I used the Sony wireless earbuds as an excuse to phone home and check in on my parents, who live in NSW’s South Coast. I gave them a ring and my dad, who can be hard of hearing, reported that I sounded very clear and crisp.

Usually, whenever I call him on my mobile, I have to repeat some of my questions for him a couple of times for him to hear it. This was great, although he commented a few times that my microphone was so sensitive that he could hear my boyfriend watching footy from the other room.

When my mum took over the phone, she agreed that my voice came through loud and clear. She could also hear the TV playing in the background, despite it not being at a high volume. On my end, the audio of my parents’ voices was smooth and clear. I had no dramas hearing them and didn’t need to adjust my volume controls when chatting to either. My dad usually speaks with a mumble, so this was a big win for me.

A few days later, I forced my boyfriend to call me while I was on a grocery run to the shops. As I walked alongside the road, I saw my phone’s screen light up with his name, before my ringtone reached my earbuds. I answered with a soft touch to my left ear and just like my parents, his voice came through loud and clear. “How do I sound?” I asked him.

“Very clear, but I can hear all of the cars driving past quite loudly. Can you move away from the road?” he replied. As it sounds, while the Sony WF-C500 wireless earbuds sport an exceptionally high-quality microphone, you might want to stick to your phone if you need to take calls on public transport to avoid disruptive background noise.

The verdict on Sony’s wireless earbuds?

Fit check
Fit check. Image: Isabella Noyes/Gizmodo Australia

At a decently priced $149.95, with the Sony WF-C500 you’re offered the ability to customise your audio to your liking, but you sacrifice higher-end features such as Bluetooth multipoint connectivity and active noise cancellation. There are plenty of wireless earphones in the $100-$200 price range that come with noise cancellation, like Soundcore by Anker Life and Sony’s WF-1000, for just $20 or so more. So to see Sony skimp out on this feature is a bit of a letdown.

While I’ve always been a loyal Sony fan, I have to fault these wireless earbuds for their confusing and tedious app setup. While its 360 Reality Audio is a hit, my biggest gripe came from its configuration. While it’s a “one and done” experience, the app’s scanning technology needs some work and its encouragement to swap music streaming platforms was unwarranted and fruitless, since I couldn’t tell the difference after I had installed the extra app.

That said, Sony scores big points for its solid sound, comfortable fit, long battery life and its weather-sealing make. Most earbuds tend to give me dull ear pain, but with this pair I was able to wear them all day and dodge any aches afterwards.

These Sony WF-C500 true wireless headphones are best suited to everyday listeners and office workers. On paper, you’re getting quite a lot for its price — but you’ll have to decide what’s worth compromising if you do decide to take the plunge. At least for $149.95, it’s not that much of a stretch.

Where to buy the Sony WF-C500 true wireless headphones

Amazon Australia ($118) | Bing Lee ($118) | The Good Guys ($118) | Sony Australia ($118)