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Best Sony headphones
Of all the headphones out there, few are more iconic than Sony headphones. A fixture of portable personal audio since the release of the Walkman in the late 20th century, Sony knows a thing or two about squeezing performance out of consumer products. Sony headphones have been around for decades and the choice of production professionals and consumers alike for a long time. We’ve spent a week or two with each of our top picks and feel ready to help you find the best Sony headphones for you.
- This list was updated on October 24, 2023, to replace the Sony WH-CH710N with the Sony WH-CH720N and replace the Sony WH-XB910N with the Sony WH-CH520 in our Top Picks.
Why is the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best pair of Sony headphones for most people?
Of course, Sony makes one of the consensus best picks in the ANC headphones category: the Sony WH-1000XM5. Like the WH-1000XM4, Sony’s newest flagship headset is pretty much the best option on the market and works well in just about any situation. The WH-1000XM5 is definitely on the pricey side at $399 USD (debuting at $50 more than the XM4 headphones), but many noise canceling headphones are considerably more expensive. It’s well worth the price, but you may want to grab something less expensive if you’re worried about making rent.
Objectively, this is one of the best pairs of headphones you can buy, period. The Sony WH-1000XM5 has some of the best noise canceling on the market and considerably better attenuation in the low and midrange relative to its predecessor. We also like how Sony re-tuned the WH-1000XM5 to have a less extreme treble output. The sound is still bound to please most consumers, but music of all genres should sound pretty good out of this headset with minimal equalizing. Of course, you can create a custom EQ through the Headphones Connect app if you want to tone down the bass output a bit.
In our tests, the battery lasted 31 hours 53 minutes with ANC on. You can fast-charge it via USB-C: three minutes provides 180 minutes of playback. Should you find yourself on a long flight and the battery dies, well, you can just use the 3.5mm cable for wired listening.
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For those working at home or taking calls on the go, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is a standout companion. The headset handles sub-optimal conditions like wind extremely well, and it’s hard to hear a difference between the two samples below.
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Need good noise canceling on a budget? Get the Sony WH-CH720N
Next up is the Sony WH-CH720N. This represents Sony’s latest attempt to get some of its ANC and sound quality pedigree into a more affordable headset.
Clocking in at an impressive 40 hours of battery life with active noise canceling (ANC) on, these cans prove to be a long-lasting companion for your auditory needs. They offer both wired and Bluetooth options, and the noise canceling is respectable, peaking at 28dB of attenuation for low-frequency rumblings. Don’t expect the luxe feel of Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM5, but they still deliver where it counts. The clamping force is snug without causing discomfort, and the ear padding, while susceptible to heat build-up, is generally agreeable.
Functionality and usability are straightforward, thanks to the ear cup-mounted buttons. These controls may require a learning curve due to their similar feel, but they are more user-friendly than touch gestures for some people. The Sony Headphones Connect app extends the headphones’ capabilities, offering an equalizer, listening modes, and even ear analysis for optimized Sony 360 Reality Audio—though you’ll need to create an account to unlock these features. The initial Bluetooth pairing might be finicky, but the headphones recover by providing stable connections in subsequent uses, supporting multiple codecs, including LDAC and AAC.
Sound quality tends to lean on the bass-heavy side, but this can be fine-tuned through the app’s equalizer. The highs and mids perform adequately, contributing to an overall audio experience that satisfies basic needs.
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The mic performance of the Sony WH-CH720N is quite good for an embedded mic. You can hear the speaker’s voice perfectly well in an office, with some background noise attenuation. With the introduction of wind, the WH-CH720N filters out wind noise particularly well, and speech remains intelligible.
Sony WH-CH720N microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sony WH-CH720N microphone demo (Office conditions):
Sony WH-CH720N microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Sony MDR-7506 is still a great studio set
Students, video producers, and the budget-conscious will find a trusted ally in the Sony MDR-7506. Built off the 35-year-old Sony MDR-V6 design, this pair of Sony headphones hasn’t changed much from the original formula (outside of a folding band, that is).
The MDR-7506 is found in studios worldwide for its fairly neutral sound and competitive price. While it lacks any official water-resistant rating, it’s extremely durable, and the vinyl ear pads are easy to clean at the end of a session. Several third-party vendors make replacement ear pads for MDR-7506, so you can keep this on your shelf for years and years. If you wear glasses, look into fabric or velour pads for the best results.
Because this pair of headphones is purpose-built for audio playback only, you won’t find noise canceling, a microphone, or voice assistant features. For those, you’ll have to open up the wallet a little bit to get one of the Sony headphones that do.
The Sony WH-CH520 is the best bang for your buck
The Sony WH-CH520 is a no-frills, entry-level set of wireless headphones that deliver reliability and comfort. With a lightweight plastic design and soft ear pads, these headphones offer decent sound quality and an impressive battery life—lasting over 55 hours on a single charge. They lack advanced features like ANC or high-bitrate codecs, but they do support Fast Pair and Multipoint, allowing for a hassle-free connection to multiple devices.
Where these headphones shine is their utilitarian approach. They are straightforward to use, with physical buttons instead of touch controls, and their on-ear design does a reasonable job of sealing out high-frequency noise. Although not aimed at audiophiles, they offer the essential functionalities that most users seek, such as long battery life and straightforward controls.
The Sony Headphones Connect app provides basic EQ adjustments, but it does ask for several permissions in exchange. Overall, if you’re in the market for an affordable, reliable pair of wireless headphones and aren’t chasing high-end features, the Sony WH-CH520 makes a solid choice.
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If you were looking at the Sony WH-CH520 to handle phone calls, it’s capable enough. Below are standardized samples collected in simulated conditions so you can hear for yourself how they perform in these common scenarios.
Sony WH-CH520 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sony WH-CH520 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Sony WH-CH520 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
Listen anywhere with the Sony WF-1000XM5 wireless noise canceling earbuds
As far as true wireless options go, the Sony WF-1000XM5 (notice a pattern here?) offers probably the best experience you’re going to get with true wireless earphones. By paying attention to both the big and little things that make a good set of true wireless earphones, this is among the best in its category.
The WF-1000XM5 improves sound quality, active noise cancelation, and battery life over the previous model, owing to its new V2 chip and Bluetooth 5.3 hardware under the hood. The earbuds are much smaller than their predecessors and also come with more varied ear tip sizes to meet a wider range of ear canal sizes.
You also get a host of software features like Sony 360 Reality Audio, Speak to Chat, a custom EQ, and more through the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS and Android). You’ll want to take advantage of that in-app equalizer, but the stock sound is pretty decent on its own.
Should you get the Sony LinkBuds S?
While more pedestrian in appearance, the Sony LinkBuds S comes with active noise canceling and an IPX4 rating. Like the glitzier WF-1000M4, the LinkBuds S can handle just about anything. Some may be off-put by the nondescript design, but others may find that it fits the bill perfectly.
Noise canceling is very good here and outperforms the older WF-1000XM3 by quite a bit. You won’t get quite the same degree of ANC with the LinkBuds S as you will with the WF-1000XM4, but when you save $80 on the LinkBuds S, you may not mind so much.
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Sound quality is very good with the LinkBuds S, though you’ll hear the noticeable treble de-emphasis from 1kHz and higher. Instrumental harmonics and other high-pitched sounds will come through much quieter than you’re used to hearing. Fortunately, you can equalize this a bit through Sony’s mobile app or a third-party EQ app.
For those who refuse to spend more than $200 on earbuds, the Sony LinkBuds S gets you just about everything you could want.
What’s so good about the Sony WF-C500?
The Sony WF-C500 isn’t the most unique offering from Sony, but it does a little bit of everything for ~$80. The earbuds do not have noise canceling, but the included ear tips help you get good isolation. Plus, these earbuds have 360 Reality Audio functionality. If you use a compatible music streaming service, that means you can get immersive playback at a bargain price.
You can listen with either earbuds in mono mode, which is great for outdoor exercise and accessibility purposes. There’s also a microphone, so you can make calls without grabbing your phone. If you want a pair of buds that work equally as well during a workout or your commute to work, these make for a solid option.
The best Sony headphones: Notable mentions
- Sony WH-1000XM4 ($348 at Amazon): These headphones have been surpassed by the new WH-1000XM5, but the combination of high-quality codecs, great sound, noise canceling, good battery life, and smart features like auto pause and Bluetooth multipoint makes these still one of the best all-around option for most people.
- Sony WH-CH710N ($748 at Amazon): The WH-CH710N is a lightweight, portable set of headphones with a fine microphone for those who frequently telecommute to work, and can be found for a lower price nowadays.
- Sony WH-XB910N ($148 at Amazon): This headset is a mixed bag, but if you’re a real bass head who wants good noise canceling, this headset offers one of the best value options.
- Sony WF-1000XM4: ($278 at Amazon): While these have been superseded by the new WF-1000XM5 earbuds, these true wireless earbuds can now be found for cheaper and remain one of the best ANC options on the market.
- Sony WH-XB900N ($157.97 at Amazon): For the individual who demands emphasized bass, noise cancelation, and high-quality Bluetooth codecs (aptX HD and LDAC).
- Sony INZONE H9 ($279.99 at Best Buy): Though new to the gaming scene, Sony debuted its line of INZONE headsets last year to compete with established headset companies. This one is the top-of-the-line and the best Sony has on offer.
On paper, the Sony WH-CH510 is a great set of Bluetooth on-ear headphones, but in practice, it just doesn’t hold up. In our Sony WH-CH510 review, we encountered a persistent issue with the Sidetone feature. Like the transparency mode found on ANC headphones, sometimes Sidetone amplifies background noise to make it easy for you to monitor your volume level while speaking. This is nice in theory, but when it doesn’t work properly — it’s incredibly jarring. The WH-CH510 sometimes enables this if you talk while wearing the headphones, not just during a call. It’s probably a software bug, but given the inability to update the firmware on these headphones, it’s not a problem you can solve if you have it.
What should you know about Sony headphones?
There are so many pairs of Sony headphones available. Still, on a grand scale, they typically perform like any other headset from another brand like JBL, Sennheiser, or even Audio-Technica. Let’s dive into useful terminology so you can make a more informed buying decision.
What is frequency response?
A headset’s frequency response is a quick way to understand what tones it can reproduce. You’ll often see a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz because that accounts for the lower and upper limits of human hearing. Some headsets’ frequency responses exceed this in either direction, but that’s not really necessary, at least not for the vast majority of people.
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Most Sony headphones on this list are made for general consumers, so you’ll see that the charts included in our galleries account for that with a label in the upper-left corner. Generally speaking, a consumer-friendly response will amplify bass and treble notes, so they sound louder than mids, but not so much so that it becomes difficult to hear midrange frequencies.
We use a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 head and torso simulator (HATS) to record a headset’s frequency response. We then use that data to form an accessible chart that compares the headset’s frequency response (cyan) to the SoundGuys house curve (pink), which is either set for consumers of studio use. You can learn more about how we came to our house curves here, and if you really want to dive deep, please read on about how we test products.
What’s the difference between headphone isolation and noise canceling?
Isolation refers to when a headset passively blocks out noise by creating a barrier between your eardrums and the environment. This differs from active noise canceling (ANC), which requires power to actively combat external sounds. To get good ANC performance, it’s important to first establish good isolation.
To get optimal isolation from a headset, you need to get a good fit. With in-ears, this means you should test the supplied ear tips and use the ear tip fit test (if there’s a companion app that supports this). You can learn more about what a good fit with in-ears is like in our guide. To get good isolation with over-ear headphones, you need to ensure the ear pads encompass your ears completely and don’t form any gaps around your skull or jaw area. Sometimes, to get the best fit, you need to get different kinds of ear pads because the material matters.
Isolation is important because it prevents a phenomenon called auditory masking, which is when a loud sound makes it difficult to perceive a relatively quiet one. This happens all the time. A common example is when you’re listening to music on the train platform, and the train pulls in. You may notice it’s hard to hear your music while it parks on the platform, but you didn’t turn the volume down. To oversimplify it, your brain only has so much bandwidth to perceive auditory stimuli, so it processes what could be the more threatening sound (louder) over the less threatening one (quieter).
Active noise canceling, on the other hand, requires outward-facing microphones (and sometimes inward-facing ones) to record your environment. The microphones then create a slightly out-of-phase wavelength and cancel out the original sound waves. Ideally, this yields a completely quiet sound, but ANC is imperfect, so you’re never literally mute your environment.
Both ANC and effective isolation are also important from an auditory health perspective. When you block out background noise, you’re less likely to increase the volume to unsafe levels, which prevents your chances of experiencing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Are Sony headphones worth buying?
One of the biggest perks about buying a set of headphones from a bigger manufacturer is that it can afford to earn your dollar through support, continually updated software features, and a long product life. That’s true of just about all of the new Sony headphones. Additionally, Sony headphones enjoy a two-year limited manufacturer’s warranty in the US, which covers manufacturing defects in materials or workmanship. While it’s not going to get you a brand new headset if you dunk yours in water, it will have your back if it turns out there’s an issue you couldn’t have foreseen.
Sony is one of the more trusted brands of personal audio equipment, as it’s been at the forefront of many portable and home-centered audio tech advancements since the late 20th century. Some of its accomplishments include the Walkman 360 Reality Audio, and it’s been the second-largest music production company for decades. Sony knows audio.
However, that’s not to say the company is perfect or that it’s the best out there. You’ll probably find that because Sony deals in huge volumes, there’s no shortage of complaints online about some issues. Headphones — like any other sector of tech products — are not immune to fanboying, easily antagonized customers or weird manufacturing issues. We encourage you to read around a bit and get as much information as you can before settling on buying anything (Sony headphones or otherwise).
How we choose the best Sony headphones
It’s important to us that we relay as much useful information to our readers as possible. That means we present you with objective measurements from our Bruel & Kjaer 5128 head and torso simulator (HATS) that cover things like frequency response, isolation, crosstalk (when applicable), and more. But we don’t just acknowledge charts and numbers around here. It’s also important that we give you an idea of what it’s actually like to use a product day in and day out. That’s where the subjective part of our reviews comes into play. We make sure to address everything from the fit to the app experience and beyond. We’re then sure to score each product consistently to give you a good idea of how one product might compare to the next.
At the end of the day, our team discusses and votes on what products should (and shouldn’t) be awarded here. But we continue the work after we hit “publish” and keep our eyes peeled for noteworthy products as they launch. You may notice that product recommendations change over time or that sometimes we replace our top picks — we try to make sure that this page and others like it stay up-to-date and accurate. We don’t want anyone to come to SoundGuys and see outdated information.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Not only is SoundGuys all of our day jobs, but each and every full-time writer here has had several years of experience covering the personal audio market. We also go out of our way to prove what we say rather than ask you to take our word for it: for example, we provide standardized microphone samples to compare products with. Our income depends heavily on people being happy with the products they buy after researching them.
Frequently asked questions about the best Sony headphones
Although the Sony WH-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM4 have a lot in common, like speak-to-chat, an in-app EQ, the option to prioritize sound quality over connection stability (and vice versa), and more, the headsets appear fairly different. Unlike the WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM3 before it, the fifth-generation WH-1000X headphones feature a clean design that more closely mimics the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700.
With this next generation of WH-1000X headphones, Sony improves the sound quality and active noise canceling. The WH-1000XM5 outperforms the previous model regarding sub-bass attenuation and passive isolation above 2kHz. The XM4 ANC is still some of the best around, but the XM5 is just that much better. If you can find the WH-1000XM4, however, we do recommend it for those on tighter budgets: around the holidays and certain regional sale times, you may even be able to find it below $300 USD.
You can learn more about this headset in our Sony WH-1000XM4 video review.
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 is a quirky set of earphones, but it has a few foibles that prevent it from making it to “best.” Namely, these buds don’t isolate at all and don’t deliver much bass, either. But if you need something like the in-ear equivalent of open-back headphones, they suit that niche.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 and the AirPods Max reach close to neck-and-neck when it comes to ANC. Both of these headphones deliver great noise canceling, so you’ll have to consider other factors — for instance, whether you are already in the Apple ecosystem — when making your choice. If you already have an iPhone and feel like you can spend a pretty penny on the AirPods Max, they’ll likely work great for you. Meanwhile, Android users will be very happy with the Sony WH-1000XM4.
No. The Sony WF-C500 does not have ANC, but it does have decent isolation, which helps.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 do not have an ingress protection rating, meaning it isn’t certified to block out sweat. However, that doesn’t mean it will break with a workout — just that it doesn’t have an official sweat protection rating.