The cheapest true wireless earbuds in Sony’s lineup deliver well-balanced, customisable audio at a very affordable price
- Rich sound
- Highly effective custom EQ
- 360 Reality Audio support
- No noise cancellation
- No control customisation
- Depressible controls can cause discomfort
The Sony WF-C500 are Sony’s entry-level true wireless earbuds and as such forgo a number of the bells and whistles found on their flagship WF-1000XM4 stablemates.
Their lack of any form of noise cancellation may prove a dealbreaker for some, but thanks to sound quality belying their price tag, 360 Reality Audio support and a decent suite of customisation options, the WF-C500 serve those looking for budget buds very handily.
Sony WF-C500 review: What do you get for the money?
You can pick up the Sony WF-C500 for just £59 from the likes of Amazon, Currys and John Lewis, making them the most affordable Sony true wireless earbuds by some margin. They house 5.8mm drivers with a stated frequency response of 20Hz to 20KHz and operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.0. Codec support is limited to SBC and AAC, which isn’t surprising given how much the WF-C500 cost.
The WF-C500 are available in Coral Orange, Ice Green, White or Black matte-finished colourways and each bud weights 5.4g Like the Sony WF-1000XM4, the WF-C500 have a round, slightly bulky appearance that funnels off to drivers topped with silicone tips. The whole package is IPX4-rated for water resistance, which is standard for wireless earbuds.
The charging case matches the colour of the buds and has a slightly unorthodox design. At 80mm in length, the oblong-shaped container is quite a bit longer than your average earbuds case, but still eminently pocketable and lightweight at 35g. Its lid is made of translucent, frosted plastic and helps contribute to an attractive overall look.
The case holds ten hours of juice and takes three hours to fully charge, with the earbuds offering up to ten hours of audio playback from two-and-a-half hours on charge. That charging case figure is rather underwhelming, even at this price, but still sufficient for most people’s day-to-day usage. There’s no wireless charging option – to top the case up you’ll need to use a USB-C cable.
Various aspects of the WF-C500 can be tweaked using Sony’s Headphones Connect companion app. There you’ll find a graphic equaliser, 360 Reality Audio configuration, and the ability to alter Bluetooth connection quality to prioritise sound quality or stability. You can also update the firmware when necessary, turn on Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) to upscale lower-resolution audio formats, and track your usage of the buds over time.
Sony WF-C500 review: What do we like about them?
Having used the somewhat fiddly Sony WF-1000XM4, I was worried I’d struggle to achieve a cosy and stable fit with the WF-C500. However, after a little bit of manoeuvring, the buds sat snugly in my ears and proved comfortable during prolonged use. The in-ear feeling isn’t quite as agreeable as that of AirPods-style earbuds, but I had no complaints once I’d adjusted to the different form factor.
The depressible controls on the outside of the earbuds took a little getting used to as well, but they covered all the commands I needed and I was happy with them on the whole. It’s becoming increasingly rare to see earbuds using physical buttons over touch controls, but they do have their advantages. The click when the WF-C500’s buttons are pushed in is clear as day and means you’re never left questioning whether your command has been registered.
Depressible buttons can also reduce the likelihood of accidentally triggering commands. This wasn’t the case initially, as the size and sensitivity of the buttons meant I’d occasionally pause my music by mistake when adjusting the buds. But after a day or so, I got into the rhythm of avoiding their activation spots and it was smooth sailing from then on, aside from one issue I’ll get onto later.
If there’s something Sony generally gets spot on across all of its audio products it’s tuning, and the WF-C500 sound excellent considering their affordable price. Their soundstage isn’t enormous but the buds articulated the luscious sonic palette of Oli XL’s “Clumsy” with a pleasing level of detail, while slow, tub-thumping bass notes on the track were reproduced cleanly and with appropriate weight. More traditional instrumental numbers such as John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” were handled very nicely, too, with the natural raspiness of the saxophone blending neatly with the punchy drum fills.
The default bass-boosted profile of the similarly priced EarFun Air Pro 3 is arguably more fun out of the box, but you lose a significant amount of mid-range and treble clarity when compared to the WF-C500.
If you’re craving more low-end impact, this is easily achieved using the Sony Headphones Connect app. There are nine EQ presets available, along with two slots set aside for custom EQs created on a five-band graphic equaliser. You can tweak any of the presets to your liking and also adjust the bass response using the “Clear Bass” slider. These options had a more pronounced impact than the majority of graphic equalisers I’ve used, despite there being only five adjustable bands. Selecting Bass Boost and cranking the Clear Bass slider up to +10, for instance, delivered a bass response on a par with the EarFun Air Pro 3.
A couple of other features stood out during testing. There’s a voice prompt that states remaining battery life every time you switch the buds on, and this proved handy in helping me avoid situations where listening sessions were curtailed due to running out of juice. It’s completely optional, however, and can be switched off in the Headphones Connect app.
Another neat offering is support for 360 Reality Audio, a proprietary Sony audio format that uses spatial audio technology to simulate a 360-degree soundstage. You can switch it on in the app but will first be instructed to take a photo of your ears for analysis. From there, you can select one of four compatible apps – 360 Reality Audio Live, Artist Connection, nugs.net or TIDAL – to use the feature with. You’ll need a premium subscription to one of those services to make use of it and a limited number of tracks support the format, but it works well when engaged, widening the soundstage and creating a convincing multi-directional effect.
Android users also benefit from the inclusion of Google Fast Pair. Simply opening the case up near your phone will bring up a prompt to connect the WF-C500 in seconds, though I had no issues pairing the buds with my MacBook, Windows computer or iPhone in the traditional manner.
Sony WF-C500 review: What could be improved?
Accompanying the sweet sound that the WF-C500 produce is a low level of white noise. It’s faint, but becomes apparent when music is playing, and lingers for an indefinite amount of time after audio has stopped, too. Low volume ambient music was enough to mask it and my brain gradually tuned it out over time, but it’s worth highlighting as people with more sensitive hearing may find it irritating.
While I grew to appreciate the tactile and responsive nature of the WF-C500’s physical controls, they were occasionally painful to use. Holding the left earbud’s button down to reduce volume quickly, for instance, produced a fairly sharp pain from the pressure. My level of discomfort varied based on how long I’d had the buds in, but this issue did leave me a little hesitant executing commands requiring long presses of the buttons. This problem could be eradicated entirely were the controls customisable. However, there’s no way to reassign commands, so to adjust the volume you’ll inevitably end up pushing the buds deeper into your ear canals.
Finally, the WF-C500 lack a couple of popular features found on similarly priced rivals: noise cancellation and Bluetooth multipoint. Their omission isn’t surprising given the WF-C500’s position as Sony’s entry-level earbuds, but they’re both available on the equally affordable EarFun Pro 2 and 1More PistonBuds Pro.
Sony WF-C500 review: Should you buy them?
Many budget wireless earbuds favour booming bass over sonic detail, but the WF-C500 buck that trend and are some of the most detail-rich earbuds available at their price point. Effective EQ options ensure their sound is highly customisable, while 360 Reality Audio delivers a more immersive listening experience for those with premium streaming service subscriptions.
You’ll need to look elsewhere for features such as active noise cancellation and Bluetooth multipoint, but if simple physical controls paired with crisp, well-balanced sound are what you’re after, the Sony WF-C500 deliver the goods.