While many people prefer to use true wireless earbuds during their morning commute or a trip to the grocery store, my preferred use case is while exercise. The lack of wires and the small size make them a convenient tool that I need to enjoy my runs. While there is no shortage of sports earbuds now that the true wireless market has matured, there are still some common issues that most products suffer from—mainly connection strength between the two earbuds, fit, and battery life. Sony claims to have fixed all three with the WF-SP800N earbuds, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Are they worth the $148 asking price, or should you skip these for something else?
Editor’s note: this Sony WF-SP800N review was updated on April 5, 2021, to include a content menu, add context to the sound quality section, and add to the list of alternatives.
Who are the Sony WF-SP800N for?
- Fitness folk. The IP55 rating and extra bass EQ option in the app make these a solid choice for anyone that exercises.
- People who want the latest and greatest. These are fully compatible with Sony 360 Reality Audio which is (spoiler alert) probably the only truly great thing about these earbuds.
- Bass-heads. These don’t have a lot of bass out the box but thanks to the EQ settings in the Sony Headphones Connect app you can easily tweak them to your liking. That can come in handy for people that like to listen to music while working out.
What is it like to use the Sony WF-SP800N earbuds?
One of the first things I always take note of when I open the box of a new product is the charging case. Products like the Apple AirPods and the new Google Pixel Buds mastered the charging case by making it small and pocketable, without feeling cheap. The Sony WF-SP800N earbuds do a good job at not feeling cheap, but they are not as small and portable. This reminds me of the more expensive WF-1000XM3 case, which is wider than it is tall and requires a dedicated pocket. It’s made of lightweight plastic that I initially thought was going to be a fingerprint magnet. While it does pick up fingerprints, they easily wipe right off. The lid also flips open and snaps closed securely, and I was never worried about the earbuds falling out while charging. While the earbuds stay secure in the case when charging I did have a problem a few times when I needed to maneuver the earbuds precisely in order to ensure that they snapped into place correctly.
The rubber wing tips on the earbuds move too easily, and it resulted in them preventing the earbuds from getting into place properly. It’s just something to keep in mind, so you don’t open the case to go for a run only to realize that the left earbud was never charged. I assure you, it’s very annoying. The buds have touch-sensitive pads that let you control playback and toggle between ambient mode and active noise cancelling.
It was nice to stay safe while running outside and hear what was going on around me while on around me without needing to pause my music or podcasts. Then when I got back to my apartment all I had to do was tap on the left earbud to toggle ANC before getting back to work. Active noise cancelling and a transparency mode are two of my favorite features and these earbuds have both, which is a huge plus. If you’re mid-conversation and need to answer a quick question, just hold your finger over the earbud. The headset will lower media volume, and use the embedded mics to let you hear what someone is saying. All that said, these functions were very hit or miss: sometimes tapping the right earbud to pause the music would do nothing, while other times nothing would happen when I tapped the left earbud to toggle ambient mode. On top of that, I had them just completely disconnect from my source device twice without cause. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the touch-sensitive pads, or if it’s a software issue; either way, actually using these features was a headache.
The Sony WF-SP800N earbuds are well built and have an IP55 rating, protecting them from sweat and dirt particles, to prove it. Sony even claims that you can rinse them off under a faucet after your workouts and while I didn’t personally do this, it’s nice to know that you can. My one issue with using these as your primary workout earbuds is fit. While they fit well thanks to the twist-to-lock mechanism of the wing tips, they’re far from perfect—even after I spent time swapping ear and wing tips to find the best fit. I adjusted them constantly while running to ensure that they wouldn’t fall out. Admittedly, they never actually fell out but I can’t say that they feel super secure.
Do the Sony WF-SP800N stay connected?
As is the case with a lot of Sony products there is a lot to get into here when it comes to connection. In short, I was not impressed with these earbuds. Music constantly stuttered and skipped when connected to my laptop and phone. When this happened, the only quick fix I found was putting them back in the case for a few seconds before trying again. Eventually, I found a more permanent fix but it required downloading the Sony Headphones Connect app. The app will walk you through a bunch of the features and settings with the headphones, even letting you customize a few things.
At the bottom of the Sound tab, there’s a section that lets you choose whether you want to prioritize sound quality or having a stable connection. Choosing “stable connection” solved the issue I was having but it left me confused. We’ve spoken about Bluetooth codecs in the past and, in short, a Bluetooth codec is how two Bluetooth devices share information wirelessly. Some codecs are better at transferring data which results in increased sound quality, while others are better at maintaining a stable connection. Sony itself has a codec called LDAC which is capable of sending large amounts of data between devices resulting in better sound quality, but as our testing shows, sending more data can result in a weaker and less stable Bluetooth connection. In this context, my issues with stuttering make sense, except that the Sony WF-SP800N aren’t even compatible with LDAC.
Instead, they use AAC which isn’t as data-intensive and therefore shouldn’t have resulting in so much stuttering. Then there’s the app itself which is fine except for the fact that in order to get some of the features to work (like adaptive sound where the level of active noise cancelling changes depending on what’s going on around you), the app needs access to your location which seems weird to me. Plenty of other headphones are able to get this done just by analyzing the sound coming into the headphones and adjusting the noise cancelling. I’m not sure why Sony requires location access to your phone for this.
How do you pair to the WF-SP800N?
Unfortunately, the Sony WF-SP800N don’t have a quick pairing hack like the AirPods or Pixel Buds, and they lack NFC. If you want to pair them to a device, you’ll need to do it the old fashioned way: Bluetooth settings. Thankfully, this couldn’t be easier to do initially. As soon as you open the case and remove the earbuds they’ll begin blinking blue letting you know they’re in pairing mode. Then you just need to go into Bluetooth settings and pair to them like you would any other Bluetooth device. If you want to pair a second device things get a little trickier. To do this you’ll need to force them into pairing mode by holding your finger to the touch-capacitive sensors on both earbuds for roughly seven seconds at which point they should begin blinking blue again to pair to another device. They don’t support Bluetooth multipoint, though; so you need to manually switch between devices, rather than connecting to two simultaneously.
Is the Sony WF-SP800N compatible with Sony 360 Reality Audio?
There is one good thing about the app that makes it worth downloading: Sony 360 Reality Audio. This is the newest push from Sony to bring a completely 360 degree surround sound experience to headphones. It’s a completely new way to mix and master songs that allows sound engineers to place instruments in a unique way that takes directionality into account making songs sound like you’re listening to a live performance. I got a chance to try this out at a Sony demo event back in October 2019, and was excited but skeptical about how it would be in its final form. Sony didn’t disappoint: it’s still seriously cool.
Read on: Sony PlayStation 5: 3D audio
There are some steps you need to take in order to try it out. First, you’ll need to use the app to upload pictures of your left and right ears. Sony says that it doesn’t keep the actual images but rather it uses the data points captured in order to make a custom sound profile for your ears that’s saved to your profile. From there, you’ll need to use a compatible streaming app like Tidal or Deezer. Once the app has optimized then you’ll be able to listen to songs that have been mixed specifically for Sony 360 Reality Audio (my favorite is still Toxic by Britney Speakers). Of course, not every song is going to be compatible but as more get added in the future it’s going to be a really cool feature to have.
How is the battery life on the Sony WF-SP800N?
Sony claims that the WF-SP800N true wireless earbuds will get nine hours of constant playback and in my testing that was pretty spot on. At a constant output of 75dB I got exactly 9 hours and 56 minutes of constant playback which is impressive. Unfortunately, the case only has one extra charge in it, so as soon as you charge up the earbuds from 0-100%, you’ll need to throw the case back on the charger. While there is no wireless charging here, it does have USB-C input. If you have a somewhat newer phone or laptop, you’ll be able to use the same cable to charge all of your devices.
How good is the microphone of the Sony WF-SP800N?
One of the most underrated features of a pair of workout headphones is the microphone. When you’re mid-run or in a virtual meeting, having a decent microphone can really make or break the experience. Unfortunately, the microphone here is not great. As you can see from the graph there’s a sharp drop off under about the 300Hz which means that your voice is going to be missing a lot of the lower notes. This means your voice will sound slightly higher than normal to the person on the other end of the phone. Speech intelligibility was never an issue, though, which is the most important feature of a headset microphone system.
Sony WF-SP800N microphone demo:
Is the noise cancelling effective?
One important aspect of sound that you need to consider is how well the earbuds isolate you from outside noise. Your favorite earbuds might sound great but if all you hear are the cars passing you on the street then what good are they? Being able to block outside noise so you can focus on your music is crucial. Unfortunately, the Sony WF-SP800N aren’t great at it. As you can see from the isolation graph above they do a solid job at blocking out sounds above 1kHz but anything below that (which is where most low humming sounds like air conditioners and buses reside) are going to pass right though.
On the bright side, these do have active noise cancelling which should help get rid of some of that unwanted noise. At least, that’s what it should do in theory. In practice, the noise cancelling is so slight that it really doesn’t affect the overall experience much. If you compare this noise cancelling chart with the standard isolation one where noise cancelling was turned off, you’ll see that there are only some minor changes to the power of the ANC around 100Hz and around 600Hz. And even those frequencies aren’t cancelled enough to make a difference. In these charts what you want to see is more green or blue, and instead, you’ll see that there are only some slight bumps in the pink (lows).
The Sony WF-SP800N sound good
The headset retains a neutral-leaning frequency response through the mids, while slightly emphasizing bass notes and de-emphasizing upper mids and some treble troughs. This kind of sound signature plays well with all sorts of music, while the amplified bass response makes the sound more familiar to those accustomed to typical consumer headphones.
Lows, mids, highs
To offset this Sony added a slight emphasis in the low end to help you hear the bass notes while you’re out and about. The slight bump in the lows (pink) of the frequency response graph at around 80Hz makes basslines slightly louder and easier to hear. This could be heard in the song Party With Children by Ratatat where the bass kicks were still easy to hear even though they were lacking the depth of larger kick drums.
On the bright side, you can easily EQ these yourself if you want by going into the Sony Headphones Connect app. They have a few presets that I found worked well too but if you know what you’re doing these could really benefit from some nice tweaking. Vocals and instruments in the mids and highs were also easy to listen to. The vocals in So Many Details by Toro y Moi was easy to distinguish among the instruments throughout the song. I did find that hi-hats and some of the cymbal crashes were more subtle then I’m used to but for the most part it wasn’t a problem.
Should you buy the Sony WF-SP800N?
While the Sony WF-SP800N true wireless earbuds are good at a few things and have some genuinely cool features, I wouldn’t recommend that you go out and buy these. Their main use case is fitness, and at $148 these fall squarely in the land of great alternatives, namely the Jabra Elite Active 75t. The Jabra buds don’t sound as good and aren’t compatible with Sony 360 Reality Audio, but are a good pair of true wireless earbuds for your workouts. They connect quickly and stay connected without any of the hassles that I experienced with the Sony WF-SP800N.
What’s more, the inconsistency in touch controls is a real deal-breaker for me, and while noise cancelling and transparency mode is cool, not knowing whether they’re going to work or not detracts from the experience. On top of that, I never got comfortable with how these fit, which is one of the most important aspects of a pair of earbuds. Throw in the weird issues I was having with connection stability, and it was one strike too many. It’s great that these are fully compatible with Sony 360 Reality Audio, but I don’t think that feature alone is enough to sell me on these—and it shouldn’t sell you on them either.
What are some alternatives to the Sony WF-SP800N?
If you’re still after a pair of true wireless earbuds then there are plenty of other options you can choose from. The Jabra Elite 85t is a great pair of daily-use earbuds that are hard to beat whether you’re on Android or iOS. If you are on Android then you might also want to check out the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro which have good battery life and support Samsung 360 Audio. iPhone owners should look no further than the AirPods Pro as they’re just hard to beat when it comes to the Apple ecosystem. For those that still have their heart set on Sony and the 360 Reality Audio experience then it might be worth saving for a little longer and just going with the Sony WF-1000XM3 as those are a tried and true great pair of earbuds.
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