Sony's new wireless earbuds offer a sweat-proof design that's ideal for listening to music while you exercise, but the company's flagship earbuds still sound better overall
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- Sony's new sweat and splash-proof WF-SP800N earbuds are designed with an active lifestyle in mind.
- Despite their bigger size and chunky look, the earbuds remain light enough to stay exercise-friendly.
- If you can get the right fit and seal for your ear, the sound is enjoyable with bass that can often be thunderous.
- As a result of their increased size, the earbuds include room for a big battery, enabling them to last longer than many competitors.
Sony continues to round out its line of true wireless earbuds, adding models designed for different uses at different price points. On the low-end, the WF-XB700 retails for $129.99, while the high-end of the line continues to get more crowded with the recent addition of the WF-SP800N for $199.99.
The new WF-SP800N earbuds are geared toward people who want to listen to music while exercising. Meanwhile, the similarly priced WF-1000XM3 earbuds remain Sony's flagship true wireless
The differences between these two high-end earbuds are plenty, but the biggest items to consider are the WF-SP800N's use of rubber ear wings to create a secure fit, along with their IP55 water and dust protection designed to guard against sweat and outdoor elements.
Are you more concerned with having the best sound quality and best active noise cancellation, or are you more interested in durability and longer battery life for regular exercise? If you're looking for earbuds to cover the latter, then the Sony WF-SP800N could be an ideal solution.
Design and fit
Compared to competitors, Sony's wireless earbuds have ignored thin and sleek design in favor of more battery life and additional features. The marketing photos do a good job of hiding the size, but the WF-SP800N earbuds are chunky and stick out of your ear quite a bit.
Despite the increased size, the rubber ear wings do a great job of keeping each earbud secure and in place, even while running for extended periods of time and sweating plenty. There are different-sized wings in the box to fit larger and smaller ears. Though a bit heavier than some competing models, the earbuds still manage to feel light when worn.
The biggest question in terms of fit will be your specific ears. I find the middle-sized silicone tips to be the most comfortable for hours of use without ear fatigue, but they don't create a seal and most of the low-end bass sound gets lost as a result. With the bigger size silicone tips, I'm able to experience the full scope of Sony's Extra Bass sound, but the fit is less comfortable.
Because the earbuds are a bit bulky, the case also needs to be bulky to fit their size. The case is definitely big, but it still fits in a pocket or purse without much trouble or inconvenience. The biggest problem is that they fail the "small jeans pocket test" and, unlike the Google Pixel Buds, AirPods, or AirPods Pro, they don't squeeze into my pants' tiniest pocket for the ultimate portability.
The earbuds include touch-sensitive controls, as opposed to physical buttons. Even with a relatively large surface area to tap, I find the controls to be harder to locate with my finger than those on the AirPods Pro or Google PixelBuds. To get the best results, I'll pinch the fat sides with my thumb and middle finger to help guide my index finger to the touch area. The whole experience here is fiddly, and much more awkward than it needs to be.
One minor nitpick on the design is Sony's use of red. The charging case only uses a red light for an indicator. Since red is commonly used to denote low battery on most devices, this design choice constantly causes me to think the earbuds are running low on power. The right earbud also uses a red circle around the "r" to highlight that it's for your right ear. This is shown inside the earbuds' app, and so at first glance it always looks like one of the earbuds has low battery and the other one doesn't.
- Up to nine hours of battery life from the earbuds (ANC on)
- Up to 18 hours battery life with the included charging case (ANC on)
- IP55 rating for water and dust protection
- Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
- Voice Assistants: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Siri
- Supported codecs: SBC / AAC
Setup and app
Out of the box, the initial setup for the WF-SP800N is a piece of cake. You open the case, take the earbuds out, and select them on the Bluetooth list in your phone's settings. In practice, everything works as expected.
Connecting them to a second device, however, is where things get frustrating. Long story short, you have to wear the earbuds while holding the left and right touch areas for seven seconds to put them into Bluetooth discovery mode. Unfortunately, this process isn't obvious and the instructions in the box are kind of buried.
When it comes to adjusting settings, Sony's Headphones Connect app is fine, but not great. It's used for advanced controls and reconfiguring the touch commands on the earbuds. This same app is also used for other Sony devices, so some buyers might have experience with it already. It does the trick, but it's not especially attractive.
The app features a sliding scale for the earbuds' Ambient Sound Control. This setting offers a range from zero to 20 so you can decide how much of the outside world you want to hear. The amount of choice and nuance here seems like overkill. There's also a choice to have automatic selection of ambience control based on your movement and location. When using this feature, the ambience setting changes pretty frequently, even when I just go from sitting to slowly walking across the yard, and each transition comes with a long pause. The ambient controls work well, but I recommend changing them manually rather than using the automatic option.
The app will also let you configure the touch controls so if you don't like the play functions on the right side, you can swap them to the left side, or you even can make them both the same so you don't accidentally tap the wrong one. Sound equalization is part of the app as well, allowing you to further tweak the earbuds' sound profiles.
Performance and battery
Actual sound quality is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether or not to buy a pair of headphones. Thankfully, the WF-SP800N earbuds sound really good, though there are a few caveats. The overall sound performance will depend on how well the earbuds create a seal in your ear. Without a proper and complete seal, they can sound tinny and like a much cheaper pair of earbuds.
In my experience, the large silicone ear tips create the right seal for sound performance, but they also create more pressure on my ears for a less comfortable fit. On the other hand, the medium-sized ear tips feel great, but make the earbuds sound much cheaper due to sound leakage.
With the right ear seal, though, Sony's Extra Bass technology does provide a thunderous low-end. Try out the song "Breathe, Be Happy" by Tep No to get a sense of the earbuds' low frequency performance. For another genre, check out "Magnetic" by Joan which also packs a punch in the chorus. The bass boost equalization setting adds even more bass, but it might feel like you're drowning in vibrations depending on the song.
More bass doesn't make these earbuds sound better than others, but it can mask some flaws. Beats headphones tend to favor a similar, bass-heavy quality, and a lot of people prefer this kind of sound profile because it can provide a fuller sound — even if it's not necessarily accurate or balanced.
In comparison, Sony's flagship WF-1000XM3 earbuds feature extreme clarity with a "truer," more natural sound profile. Those earbuds provide extraordinary sound for their size and price. The WF-SP800N earbuds, meanwhile, are still perfectly decent overall, but they tend to flood your ears with bass, resulting in sound that's a little muddier.
When it comes to power, gauging battery life can be a bit tricky with earbuds like these since the buds automatically start charging whenever you take them out of your ears and put them back in their case. With that in mind, I let the case die to see how the earbuds themselves retain power.
On a Saturday morning, I popped the Sony earbuds in my ears with a battery life of about 70%. I went for a 75-minute run, followed immediately by a 15-minute cool down walk. When I got home and checked the battery life, it was still at about 70%. The next day I took them on a 60-minute run, followed by a 15-minute cool down walk. When I got home the battery was around 50%.
After extensive use, I don't see a problem with Sony's estimated battery life of nine hours from the earbuds and an additional nine hours from the charging case. The time was longer without active noise cancellation (ANC) turned on because I tested the battery life primarily out of the house, where I didn't want to be completely closed off from the outside world.
In fact, active noise cancellation is an interesting addition to this product, because these are primarily meant for fitness activity. Even in a controlled environment, like a public gym setting, you'll want to be aware of people around you trying to get your attention. This is where the Ambient Sound Control could come in handy.
If you intend for the earbuds to perform double duty and need the noise cancellation for a home office or cafe, this feature works fine. It's not as effective as the more advanced noise cancellation technology used on Sony's WF-1000MX3 or Apple's AirPods Pro, but it can add an additional layer of sound blocking. I would not buy these primarily for the ANC, or count on it to be life-saving on an airplane, but it's a nice extra to have.
The bottom line
With good overall sound, a secure fit, long battery life, and an IP55 rating to protect against sweat and dust, the Sony WF-SP800N are great wireless earbuds for running and exercise. The bass-forward sound profile will also appeal to listeners who prefer a heavier focus on low-end playback.
The ultimate question isn't whether or not these are a worthy purchase — they are — it's just whether they're worth the asking price when there are some other really good alternatives for a similar price.
What are your alternatives?
Google's PixelBuds offer a simpler user experience in a smaller package for $20 less. Apple's AirPods Pro also offer simplified controls in a compact package with fantastic ANC for just $50 more. With that said, neither of these models are specifically designed with fitness use in mind.
For a Sony specific comparison, the differences between the SP800N and the 1000MX3 are more obvious in practice than they might first appear on paper. For those who want the best
When it comes to other high-end true wireless earbuds designed for fitness, the Master & Dynamic MW07 Go headphones are also well worth considering. They're listed for the same retail price as the Sony SP800N and include similar gym-friendly features. With that said, the MW07 Go don't include active noise cancellation.
For more headphone recommendations, be sure to check out our guide to the best true wireless earbuds.
Pros: Long battery life, secure fit, rich bass and low-end frequency, sweat and dust resistant
Cons: Fiddly touch controls, below average app, can be tricky to get a proper seal, don't sound as good as Sony's 1000MX3Read the original article on Business Insider
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