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Sony has been pumping out headphones for years. It’s especially known for its big-ticket traditional headphones but the company the earbuds market pretty well cornered, too, with its premium WF-1000XM4 buds. The more modestly priced Sony WF-C500 true wireless earbuds might not have the name recognition of their siblings, but they still promise good sound quality, long battery life, and even features like spatial audio. We spent over a week with the WF-C500 to find out if they have what it takes to stand out from the crowd.
Who is the Sony WF-C500 for?
- Casual listeners looking for a well-rounded pair of earbuds will find the sound quality, feature set, and comfortable feel of the Sony WF-C500 fit well into their daily lives.
- Gym buffs won’t mind the lack of active noise-cancelling (ANC) and will make good use of the earbuds’ IPX4 rating.
- Anyone looking for new earbuds who want a pair that have a taste of things found in more expensive models at an affordable price.
What’s it like to use the Sony WF-C500?
Upon first glance, you’ll probably notice that the Sony WF-C500 don’t look too different from other true wireless earbuds on the market. After all, they’re made of plastic, have a fairly typical shape, and pretty mundane look. But despite the unassuming appearance, they do have an IPX4 rating that helps protect them from splashes, sweat, and drips. As a result, a drizzly commute or a stint at the gym shouldn’t be a big concern.
Like most other pairs of earbuds out there, you get three silicone ear tip sizes to choose from: small, medium, and large. These strike a happy medium between squishy enough to be comfortable and firm enough to hold the earbuds in place. The buds are small and lightweight, too. The earbuds’ round ends rest inside the cartilage of your ears, which helps further anchor them in place without needing ear stays or hooks. We found that while they may lose their seal slightly after a while, they shouldn’t tumble out, meaning you can leave them in and go about your day.
The WF-C500 aim to please lots of types of listeners at once.
One area where these earbuds betray their budget-friendly price is their case. The Sony WF-C500 earbuds come in a simple, utilitarian plastic charging case. It’s not the most premium-feeling case around and the magnets holding the buds in place aren’t the strongest, but it gets the job done. The buds have “L” and “R” markings on them, and “R” is red to further help distinguish the two buds. However, the case is not marked. Instead, if you try to insert the buds in a swapped orientation, they simply will not fit.
How do you control the Sony WF-C500?
There are no surprises or new gimmicks when it comes to controlling the Sony WF-C500. You’ll find clearly-delineated fingertip-shaped areas on each earbud where you’ll aim for tap controls. By default, the right bud handles media, and the left deals with volume. If a call comes in, some of these controls will change. Here’s what the controls are out of the box:
|Number of presses||Left earbud||Right earbud|
|Number of presses|
Raise volume or accept/hang up call (if ringing or in a call)
Play/pause or accept/hang up call (if ringing or in a call)
|Number of presses|
|Left earbud||Right earbud|
|Number of presses|
|Left earbud||Right earbud|
|Number of presses|
Lower volume or reject a call (if ringing)
Launch voice assistant/cancel voice assistant or reject a call (if ringing)
Unfortunately, in aiming for simplicity, the WF-C500 sacrifice customization. The Sony Headphones Connect app (on both Android and iOS) contains a tutorial on the tap controls but you can’t change them in any way. We weren’t expecting a lot of options given that these are basic buds, but not be able to tweak anything is less than ideal. This is especially odd because Sony often lets you tinker with lots of things on its other earbuds and headphones.
It's disappointing that you can't re-map any of the Sony WF-C500's tap controls.
Thankfully, the controls you do get are the ones most people will likely use daily. If you prefer to be more hands-off, you can use a voice assistant, like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Your chosen assistant can be activated with a press-and-hold of the right bud.
The controls are generally sensitive enough to register taps when you mean it, while avoiding triggering commands if you’re just trying to adjust the fit in your ear. Some unintended taps might occur, but no more than any other pair of decent earbuds.
Should you download the Sony Headphones Connect app?
As with many other sets of buds, the biggest reason to download the WF-C500’s companion app is that it’s necessary to install firmware updates. As for everything else, Sony’s Headphones Connect app attempts to strike the same balance between ease-of-use and enough notable features as the buds’ physical design and controls.
The app’s ear scanning function is used both for spatial audio — dubbed 360 Reality Audio — and to customize the WF-C500 to your ears. Unlike some other brands, Sony’s spatial audio implementation works on any device, as long as you have compatible content from services such as Amazon Music Unlimited (though notably not Spotify). While the support is still slim, having an open standard is a refreshing change from Apple or Samsung, for instance, which lock down their spatial audio implementations to only work with their respective devices.
The Sony Headphones Connect app contains a custom equalizer for the WF-C500, which is a great perk.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the app is you get both equalizer presets and a customizable EQ. That’s rare for earbuds in the Sony WF-C500’s price range, and even some more expensive flagship models don’t offer a custom EQ at all (looking at you, Samsung). The app will also show you the Bluetooth codec and battery status right up front, which is nice if you just need a quick peek at how the buds are doing.
How do the Sony WF-C500 connect?
That means iPhone users get a reliable option, but some Android devices may experience latency. In the app’s settings menu, you will find an option for modes that put “Priority on Sound Quality” and “Priority on Stable Connection,” but not one for low latency, unfortunately. Still, this is not unusual for other earbuds priced similarly to the WF-C500 — even the vanilla AirPods only give you SBC and AAC, after all.
Another point for the buds’ overall ease of use is the fact that the Sony WF-C500 will automatically enter pairing mode once you take them out of their case. They don’t have Bluetooth multipoint support, so they’ll only connect to one device. But if you want to use one earbud at a time, either the left or right bud lets you do that. Overall, Sony doesn’t make it too complicated to get the WF-C500 working out of the box.
How long does the battery last on the Sony WF-C500?
Not being loaded with too many extra features and omitting ANC has a positive knock-on effect for battery life. Indeed, according to our testing, the Sony WF-C500 lasted nine hours, 46 minutes. That’s just short of Sony’s claim of ten hours, but it’s still a great result. A low battery warning will sound once the earbuds dip below 50% battery, while another warning comes just before a bud dies completely. Because each bud has its own battery, you might hear these warnings more than once. While that slight quirk is annoying, it’s not a deal breaker in our experience, and it’s handy to get an alert even if you’ve only got one bud in.
To help you see how much juice the buds have left, a small orange LED on each earbud will illuminate when they’re in the charging case. Meanwhile, the case has an orange LED to indicate its remaining battery life. According to Sony, the case provides 20 hours of total battery life. Plus, fast USB-C charging nets you up to an hour of battery life after only ten minutes in the case. If you’re an on-the-go type of person, this should be plenty of battery and backup power to get you through the day.
How well do the Sony WF-C500 block noise?
As mentioned, you don’t get active noise-cancellation (ANC) with the Sony WF-C500, so you’ll need a good seal from the ear tips to block out unwanted sounds. We found the ear tips made that pretty easy, as their not-too-soft yet not-too-stiff silicone material struck a great balance, which is on-brand for these buds. As expected, passive isolation blocks out high notes better than low notes, as seen in the chart above.
Low-frequency noises will still be louder than highs without ANC, but the WF-C500 do a decent job of blocking out noise overall. In fact, they do better than many other non-ANC earbuds, further emphasizing that while these may not be Sony’s flagship true wireless earbuds, they’re not an afterthought for the legendary audio brand either. In our experience, low and mid-range noises will still be around one-quarter to half as loud as they’d be otherwise, which is a decent result.
How do the Sony WF-C500 sound?
Cheap earbuds tend to ratchet up bass notes in failed attempts to sound more impressive, but thankfully the Sony WF-C500 don’t do this. In fact, the Sony WF-C500 mostly stick to our sister site SoundGuys’ house curve, as shown above. That means the majority of people will like the way they sound. You may notice that middle notes sound slightly quieter than the bass and highs, but likely only if you stop and pay attention. The drop-off in the high notes seen at the far right of the chart means there’s more to the story.
As we’ve come to expect for these crowd-pleasing earbuds, the friendly frequency response curve of the WF-C500 makes pop and country jams like Summertime by Orville Peck sound quite good, with the strings easy to distinguish from the vocals.
The WF-C500 deliver crowd-pleasing audio.
Regarding that drop-off in the high notes seen in the chart above, the Headphones Connect app includes something Sony calls the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE). According to Sony, this restores “high-frequency sound and fine fade-out sound … to the track for a more authentic listening experience.” Basically, it bumps up high notes a little if you choose to enable it. The effect is subtle but noticeable in Summertime when it makes the cymbals at the beginning slightly louder. Because it’s such a minor difference, you may not even detect this in noisy situations or when just casually listening. And because the Sony Headphones Connect app has a custom EQ, you could always nudge up the highs slightly there and get a similar result.
On the whole, the Sony WF-C500 will sound good to everyday music listeners, commuters, and gym buffs alike. They do a good job landing in a middle ground where we have no major complaints, plus you can EQ them if you happen to notice something you don’t like.
Can you use the Sony WF-C500 for phone calls?
An omnidirectional mic on each earbud lets you use the Sony WF-C500 for phone calls. Once a call comes in, the right earbud will let you answer it by tapping once. During the call, you can tap again to hang up. There is no touch command to place a call directly, but you can ask your voice assistant to do it, leaving you with little need to fish your phone out of your pocket.
We weren’t shocked or impressed with the quality of the mic. In general, calls will be intelligible in quiet settings. But in an office or in windy conditions, the other party will hear keyboards “clacking” and other forms of noise. You can listen to sample recordings from the Sony WF-C500 below and tell us how you think it sounds.
Sony WF-C500 microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WF-C500 microphone demo (Office):
Sony WF-C500 microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Our sister site SoundGuys’ poll found that 79% of respondents rated the WF-C500 between “okay” and “good”. That is about average for true wireless earbuds like this.
Sony WF-C500 review: The verdict
The Sony WF-C500 are a good fit for people who want affordable, easy-to-use earbuds that don’t have too many frustrations. While they may not have the whiz-bang features or the marquee attractions of flagship models, they still sound good and remain comfortable even after extended use. These just-so earbuds fit the bill if you want a pair that can do a bit of everything and with plenty of battery life. And if you’re the kind of person that just can’t seem to decide what kind of earbuds would work for you, the WF-C500 lie in a nice Goldilocks zone.
There are drawbacks, though. The WF-C500 only support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, which could mean latency issues on some Android devices. This is an especially odd omission given that LDAC is Sony’s invention. We wish they let you customize their touch controls more, too. Finally, they don’t have ANC, but their isolation is still solid.
What are the best Sony WF-C500 alternatives?
There are many competitors to the Sony WF-C500, though few that offer as much for the price. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ($149) have roughly equal features but they only have an IPX2 rating and cost a a little extra. They also give you ANC, though you will miss out on spatial audio unless you use them with a Samsung phone.
The Jabra Elite 3 ($79) boast a more rugged IP55 rating for wetter weather or tougher workouts along with aptX Bluetooth codec support. However, if you want ANC, multipoint, and other bells and whistles the WF-C500 don’t have, be prepared to pay more for something like the Jabra Elite Active 75t ($165).
If you want a pair of rugged earbuds that keep up with your gym routine, you can try the Bose Sport Earbuds ($179). Their app isn’t quite as detailed as the WF-C500’s Sony Headphones Connect app, but the Bose buds’ comfortable and secure design will be handy during even the most grueling workouts.
The Beats Studio Buds ($149) are great for users that might want to frequently switch between Apple and Android platforms. You get ANC, a cross-platform app, and an IPX4 rating. The workout-minded can try the Beats Fit Pro ($179).
Frequently asked questions about the Sony WF-C500
No, noise-cancelling is not available on the Sony WF-C500 except for passive isolation. If you can get a good seal from the included ear tips, these earbuds do alright blocking out external noises, but of course, it won’t be the same as ANC.
Unfortunately, no you cannot change the Sony WF-C500’s controls. You’re stuck with what Sony gives you.
No. Even though Sony is the champion behind LDAC, the Sony WF-C500 do not support the codec.
You’ll know that the WF-C500 have been fully recharged in the charging case after the orange LED indicators turn off.