Wireless earbuds are an incredibly tricky thing to get right. Their small size limits the battery size and power demands make getting any meaningful battery life a big ask. Then there’s the audio. The few wireless buds available that can deliver anything resembling bass are so big that they’re uncomfortable to wear. There’s also that old chestnut of getting a pair of wireless earbuds to stay put in your ears while you’re running/walking or working out.
Wireless earbuds are still a reasonably new product category, and most manufacturers are on a steep learning curve. Sony, like many others, has struggled. Their first generation WF-1000X buds suffered from poor battery life, audio sync issues and connection dropouts.
Now, they’re back, this time with the more sport focussed WF-SP700N earbuds. While the model number doesn’t roll off the tongue (here’s a hint Sony: try to call your products something memorable and catchy like Wireless Bass Booty Shakers), they are an intriguing piece of kit.
My initial look has them ticking a lot of boxes. They’re sweat resistant, comfy, snug and a secure fit. They deliver plenty of gut-rumbling bass and come with active noise cancellation.
The Sony buds sport an organic, rounded design. This sees each earbud resembling a small bean. The review pair I tested were silver, but they also come in hard to lose yellow, girly pink, or a bogan-pleasing black. The design is excellent in that they’re not so big that passers-by will wonder if you’ve crammed a set of bolts into your noggin. They’re also not so small that they’re easily lost.
The only part of their design clanger is the controls, which are at best unintuitive. Each earbud has a small plastic circle on its end. These are easily mistaken for buttons but are merely a confusing design flourish.
The real control buttons are small transparent plastic slits that sit below the Sony logo and could be confused with status indicator LEDs. On the right earbud, the button acts to play/pause and skip tracks and activate Siri or Google Assistant. On the left bud, the control switches between active noise cancellation and ambient modes. As well as being hard to find by touch, they are also somewhat stiff. I felt like I was shoving the earbuds into my brain when pressing them.
Google Assistant worked fine using the built-in mic, but phone calls were sometimes muffled, and only came through the left earbud, which felt a little weird. Surely routing mono through both earbuds shouldn’t be that difficult?
All told, the controls worked, but I can’t help feeling that Sony could’ve spent just a bit more time polishing them, so they were less confusing and easier to use.
The carrying case for the WF-SP700Ns is cleverly designed and provides a very pocketable way of holding and charging the buds. Its top swings open to reveal the earbuds, but its lid feels flimsy, and could easily get broken if caught on something or forced open the wrong way. The case charges using a Micro USB cable and can hold two earbud charges – the three-hour battery life of the earbuds plus two charges themselves translates into just under nine hours of use, but as the buds are unusable while charging, battery life is three hours.
The earbuds are rated at IPX4 water resistance which means they can handle being drenched in ear sweat during a workout. That said, they’re not intended to get submerged, so swimming with them won’t end well.
Sony has got their ergonomics just right. The supplied silicone tips and wings are a perfect fit (there are also other sized tips in the box). Best of all, once they were crammed into my ears, the buds didn’t budge.
Audio-wise, it feels as if Sony has managed to get hold of the tech used in Ant-Man to shrink a woofer from a floor-standing speaker without changing its audio performance. There’s acres of oonst on supply. Sound can also be tweaked using Sony’s Headphone Connect app which comes with half a dozen pre-set EQs. Aside from BOSE’s SoundSport Free buds, there are no other wireless buds that deliver like these at the low-end of the audio spectrum.
The other big selling point with the WF-SP700Ns is their active noise cancellation. It works well but can eat into an already limited battery life. The silicon tips are so well designed, however, that the actual physical sound isolation with these buds is good enough for use in most settings, so I used them with it turned off.
I was pleasantly surprised when taking the buds out for a stroll around central Wellington. As a busy RF environment, my walking route typically trips up most wireless headphones, causing them to glitch at least once, but audio didn’t cut out at all. Watching Neon on my phone on the way back from town, I was also pleased to note that audio synched up just fine.
About the only major fly in the ointment is the battery life. I typically got just under three hours of use which, while fine for a run or gym session, isn’t ideal for other purposes such as travelling. With Jays or Jabra managing to wring five hours of playback, Sony needs to up their game. That said, with active noise cancelling disabled, I was able to extract another 45 minutes to an hour depending on playback volume.
So, what’s the verdict? There’s a lot to like with the WE-SP700N’s. They are super comfy and secure. If you’re a bass junky like me, their low end capabilities will be pleasing, as is the ability to tweak audio using pre-set EQs. Bomb-proof Bluetooth performance and active noise cancelling is a big win, but it needs to be acknowledged that this comes at the cost of a three-hour battery life. For gym use and running where you’re unlikely to need anything longer-lasting, they’re a good pick.