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September 29, 2021
$69.99 USD January 2022
80.0 x 34.9 x 30.9 mm (case)
Sony produces an array of great headphones and earphones, so the Sony WF-C500 stands on the shoulders of giants. These earbuds boast plenty of battery life, high-tech sounding features, stellar audio, and more, but the in-ear market is crowded with many similar offerings.
Does the Sony WF-C500 stand tall enough to distinguish itself from other true wireless earbuds?
Editor’s note: This review was updated on January 11, 2022, to include battery testing results.
Who is the Sony WF-C500 for?
What’s it like to use the Sony WF-C500?
The Sony WF-C500 is small and lightweight, targeting on-the-go listeners for these earbuds. The buds are mostly made of plastic, but they’re IPX4 rated for sweat- and splash-resistance, which makes them handy for workouts and commutes.
Sony provides three sets of ear tips (small, medium, large), and to get the most comfortable and secure fit, I need to use the largest ear tip size for my left ear and the middle size for my right. The ear tips strike a good balance between being soft enough to mold inside the ear and stiff enough to hold the buds in place. The round side of each bud rests up inside the ear’s cartilage and keeps them in place, which gives you a target to aim for when using touch controls. Because the buds don’t rest on the face in any way, they are more secure when chewing, talking, or removing a mask. They do still lose a bit of their seal eventually, but it’s a comfortable and reasonably good fit overall.
The WF-C500 earbuds come in a small, solid charging case that adds some bulk to a pocket but won’t drag you down. It stays flat and stable on its long side when closed or open, but dropping it will cause the lid to open and may eject one or both buds. Magnets inside the case keep the buds in place, so they don’t rattle around. The case is required to recharge the buds, so keep track of it.
Each bud has small “L” and “R” markings on it, with the latter being red to help you further distinguish one from the other. It’s a better design choice than the black-on-black of the JBL Tune 230NC TWS, but could still be improved for people with impaired vision. The charging case does not have any markings. Instead, if you do try inserting the buds in a swapped orientation, they just won’t fit.
How do you control the Sony WF-C500?
The Sony WF-C500 has tap controls assigned to each of its earbuds. The right bud is for controlling media playback and the left bud handles volume, while call control takes over on the right whenever a call comes in. You get fingertip-sized round areas to aim for on each housing. Here’s what the controls are by default:
|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)
You can activate your voice assistant by pressing and holding the right bud. This is pretty convenient when your phone is in your pocket and you want to check your notifications or the time, for instance.
Should you download the Sony Headphones Connect app?
The Sony WF-C500 uses the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS and Android) to adjust settings and install software updates, so it’s a good idea to have it. Plus, it contains customization options such as an ear-scanning function and 360 Reality Audio—more on that later. The ear scanning function involves taking photos of each ear. After that, the app customizes the buds’ sound to suit your ears. I don’t perceive much difference with or without this feature, though. There is also a “badges” system that gives you stickers for reaching certain usage milestones, but it mostly feels like a gimmick.
The Sony Headphones Connect app contains an equalizer, which is handy for customizing your listening experience. It’s accessible from the home screen under “Sound,” where you can see the buds’ current battery status, too.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Sony WF-C500 support?
The Sony WF-C500 uses Bluetooth 5.0 and supports the AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs. That gives users in the Apple ecosystem a reliable high-quality codec (AAC), but Android users aren’t quite as lucky. The app will tell you what codec the earbuds are currently using. To make up for some of the drawbacks of these codecs, the app also offers “Priority on Sound Quality” and “Priority on Stable Connection” modes, but no mode to make up for latency.
The Sony WF-C500 automatically enters pairing mode when you take them out of the case, with no multipoint support. Helpfully, if you only want to use one bud, you can do so with the left or right earbud.
How long does the battery last on the Sony WF-C500?
Sony claims the WF-C500 can last for up to 10 hours on a single charge, plus an additional 10 hours from the case. After the buds dip below 50% battery, you will hear a warning, and then once more before the battery depletes. If you listen in mono mode, you will hear these same warnings on the single earphone.
You may run into a quirk: since each earbud warns you separately and could deplete at different rates, you might hear multiple warnings throughout a listening session. Small orange LEDs on each bud illuminate when charging in the case, and the case has another orange LED to indicate its remaining battery. You get a short USB-A to USB-C cable in the box, but no power adapter.
Our standard headphone battery test uses music played back continuously with a 75dB (SPL) maximum output level measured at the eardrum of our test head. The Sony WF-C500 lasted 9 hours and 46 minutes, which means the manufacturer’s battery life estimate is pretty accurate and will get you through a day at work, for instance.
How well does the Sony WF-C500 block noise?
The Sony WF-C500 does not have active noise canceling, and to block out the most amount of noise, you need to get a good fit. The buds do a better job of blocking out highs than lows, meaning rumbling engines and other commute-related noises won’t be quite as effectively blocked. Still, this is better isolation performance than from most non-ANC earbuds, with low and midrange frequencies quieted anywhere from one-half to one-quarter as loud as they’d ordinarily sound.
How does the Sony WF-C500 sound?
The Sony WF-C500 comes from a brand known for consumer-pleasing sound, such as that produced by the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Sony WF-1000XM4. The WF-C500 frequency response closely follows our house curve, which most people tend to like, but like most in-ears, the mids are slightly under-emphasized. Still, if you’re listening to your tunes while out-and-about or exercising, then you’ll likely enjoy what you hear.
Lows, mids, and highs
Pop and country music does well through the Sny WF-C500. Summertime by Orville Peck opens with strings and vocals, which are easily distinguishable. This is also a good time to bring up Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE). Sony claims DSEE restores “high-frequency sound and fine fade-out sound … to the track for a more authentic listening experience.” Upon activation, there is a subtle difference and the cymbals at the beginning of Summertime are slightly louder. You’re unlikely to hear this difference in a casual listening environment or one where there’s plenty of background noise that could make it through the earbuds’ isolation barrier.
As our frequency response chart shows above, the Sony WF-C500 actually drops well below the target in the highs, so DSEE seems like it’s doing double duty here. Using the app’s equalizer feature to boost the highs also does something similar.
Does the WF-C500 work with Sony 360 Reality Audio?
With the Sony WF-C500, you also get access to 360 Reality Audio, which is similar to Dolby Atmos. A sample file inside the app gives you an idea of what this sounds like, which is akin to surround sound without using multiple speakers. However, I do not use any of the apps that support this option for my music playback, so I couldn’t test much more than the included file.
Overall, the Sony WF-C500 has a sound profile that suits its intended use cases: commuting and working out.
Can you use the Sony WF-C500 for phone calls?
The Sony WF-C500 has an omnidirectional microphone on each bud and call support. When a call comes in, the right earbud automatically lets you answer it by tapping once. In the call, tapping again will hang up. You can’t place a call directly from the earbuds, but you can ask your voice assistant to do so.
Calls are intelligible and you can leave clear voicemails in ideal conditions. If you take a call in an office setting, however, the mics will transmit keyboard clacks and other background noise.
Sony WF-C500 microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WF-C500 microphone demo (Office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Sony WF-C500?
If you like to listen to music while on the go and want earbuds that don’t get in the way, then the lightweight design of the Sony WF-C500 makes it a good companion. This headset sounds pretty good and doesn’t interfere with daily activities. Plus, the ability to pull up your voice assistant and answer calls is handy during busy days. The lack of ANC and limited SBC and AAC codec support are bummers, though.
What should you get instead of the Sony WF-C500?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus costs about as much as the Sony WF-C500 and boasts a similar feature set, but it only has an IPX2 rating. If you want noise canceling, multipoint, and more, stepping up to the Jabra Elite Active 75t is a good option, but comes with a hefty price hike, too. At a similar price is the Jabra Elite 3, which does not support AAC but does include aptX, plus an IP57 rating.
Listeners who want something a bit more robust, and are willing to pay, might be interested in the Bose Sport Earbuds. This pair of non-noise cancelling workout earbuds is often on promotion for $149 USD. While you don’t get quite the same app experience with the Sport Earbuds, you get very good sound quality and a uniquely comfortable and secure fit that’s well suited for all kinds of exercise.
What earbuds should you get if you use an Android phone and iPhone?
If you spend a lot of time alternating between iPhones and Android phones, you might like the Beats Studio Buds for its active noise cancelling, OS-agnostic app, and IPX4 rating. The Beats Fit Pro is the workout-focused version of the Studio Buds with a more ergonomic design, but its ANC can just stop working all of a sudden, so we’re hesitant to recommend it with gusto until Apple resolves this issue.