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September 29, 2021
Original: $99 USD
June 2022: $69 USD
80 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 December 16, 2022, to update formatting.
Everyday listeners will likely find the sound quality and fit of the Sony WF-C500 good as you go about your daily activities and commutes. Exercise enthusiasts won’t mind the absence of active noise canceling (ANC) and will appreciate the IPX4 rating from Sony’s earbuds.
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, and 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 h-0andy 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 since AAC is unreliable across Android hardware. 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 the buds out of the case. There’s no multipoint support but 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?
Our standardized 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, 46 minutes and falls just 14 minutes short of Sony’s official 10-hour battery life here. 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.
How well does the Sony WF-C500 block noise?
The Sony WF-C500 does not have active noise canceling (ANC), 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 you get 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-1000XM5 and the Sony WF-1000XM4. The WF-C500 frequency response closely follows our house curve, which most people tend to like. Like most in-ears, the mids are slightly under-emphasized relative to the bass and highs. 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.
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’m unable to 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):
Sony WF-C500 microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
As of June 2022, about 79% of respondents rated the microphone in the Sony WF-C500 between “okay” and “good.” This is a pretty typical result for earbuds like this.
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?
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. You can get it for $149.99 at Verizon. At a similar price is the Jabra Elite 3, which does not support AAC but does include aptX, plus an IP57 rating. It’s available for $79.99 at Amazon.
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. You can get it now for $129 at Amazon.
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, available for $99 at Amazon. 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. If you still want to pick it up, you can get it for $159.95 at Walmart.
Frequently asked questions about the Sony WF-C500
You’ll know that the buds have been fully recharged using the charging case after the orange LED indicators turn off.
The Sony WF-XB700 differs from the WF-C500 in a few key areas. The latter has 360 Reality Audio support, which gives you a surround sound-like experience. It also has a frequency response curve that hues reasonably close to our house curve (until you get to the highs) and it gets 9 hours and 46 minutes of battery according to our tests.
The WF-XB700 doesn’t have 360 Reality Audio support, and it emphasizes bass a bit more. It gets around 6 hours and 22 minutes with our standard battery test. Both sets of buds aim at the workout and commutes crowd, but the WF-C500 has add updates and features that many consumers have come to expect, like touch controls.
If you’re an avid fan of the way Sony does sound, the 360 Reality Audio support might be enough to tip you over to the WF-C500. It’s also the newer model, so you’re more likely to get firmware updates and support from the manufacturer.