Sony WH-CH520 Headphones REVIEW
Though their sound won’t please audiophiles PAT PILCHER is impressed with the overall quality and features of these nicely priced headphones.
When Sony launches headphones or earbuds, people get excited. There are good reasons for this. Their recent track record with ear gear has been exceptional and expectations are always high. This time, Sony has taken aim at the affordable end of the market with their new WH-CH520 over-ear wireless headphones. Priced at under $130, do these have what it takes to earn a place in the pantheon of Witchdoctor’s must-buy ear gear?
On paper, there’s a lot to like about the WH-CH520s. They offer a respectable battery life and Sony’s DSEE silicon that can upscale compressed audio for better sound quality. There’s also support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format.
Would you like to support our mission to bring intelligence, insight and great writing to entertainment journalism? Help to pay for the coffee that keeps our brains working and fingers typing just for you. Witchdoctor, entertainment for grownups. Riveting writing on music, tech, hi-fi, music, film, TV and other cool stuff. Your one-off (or monthly) $5 or $10 donation will support Witchdoctor.co.nz. and help us keep producing quality content. It’s really easy to donate, just click the ‘Become a supporter’ button below.
The most immediate practical indication of what you’re getting is their design. In this regard, Sony has stuck to the same tried and tested design language as the more upmarket WH-XM5 predecessors. They’re light but solidly constructed. This translates into enough clamp factor that they’ll stay on your noggin, even if you’re joggin’. While they’re not foldable, their earcups swivel, making them a comfier fit.
Crafted from plastic, the WH-CH520 is light, weighing only 147g. Their frame has plenty of flex, but you wouldn’t want to accidentally sit on them as they’d break. This is concerning as their super affordable price means Sony doesn’t provide a carry case or cloth bag to slip them into.
Driving the WH-CH520s is dead easy. Playback and volume control buttons are located on the right-side ear cup. Their main control is slightly raised above the other buttons, which makes finding it when wearing them no great chore. While the controls are simple, it’s not a bad thing as the control layout works well.
Bluetooth 5.2 support is baked in, offering a solid wireless connection. I encountered no dropouts when I took them for walkies through Wellington’s RF-congested CBD. Audio streamed smoothly into my ears throughout the entire walk. Using the headphone connect app (iOS/Android), I could also choose between connection reliability and audio performance (I decided on audio performance, which still offered up a bomb-proof connection). Another bonus is support for multi-point pairing, which meant I could pair the WH-CH520s with my phone and my PC, seamlessly switching between both.
If there’s one disappointment, it’s that Sony has not added LDAC support. To this end, the WH-CH520s use SBC and AAC.
If their codec support was disappointing, their battery more than compensated. Sony’s bumf says that the WH-CH520s will run for 50 hours. In use, this worked out at just over two and a bit days with average use. That said, your mileage will vary depending on volume levels, etc. In short, these cans will run for days, which is a definite win.
Thanks to its 30mm drivers, the WH-CH520 delivered a surprisingly good listening experience. Their aiybs felt natural and balanced, but some of the sonic detail their higher-end siblings delivered with relative ease was absent, resulting in a lack of sharpness to some instruments and vocals. This comes down to using AAC instead of higher bit-rate audio codecs such as LDAC or APT-X.
That said, their audio did have some brightness, which helped pull out sonic detail in some treble notes, and the DSEE engine adds sparkle to higher notes too. Bass sounds solid but doesn’t dominate, which helps to add warmth to vocals and bass guitar tracks in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’.
Firing up Elton John’s ‘Song For Guy’, EJ’s vocals and the Moog synth pads packed plenty of depth and smoothness. I did note, though, that the soundstage was less defined. Elton’s voice sometimes got lost among the instruments. Listening to Sony 360 Reality Audio tracks, the soundstage opened significantly, improving audio definition. For casual listening while doing other tasks, the WH-CH520 is fine; however, I’d struggle to recommend them for detailed listening.
Another key performance test was phone call quality. Sony has a stellar track record in this area, and the WH-CH520 didn’t disappoint. According to the person I’d called, my voice clarity and Sony’s beamforming microphone did a competent job isolating my voice from background noises.
The DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) did a decent job of upscaling audio, even if the sounds that reached my ears were hamstrung by the lack of a decent audio codec. That said, DSEE did help improve the dynamic range of the sound streamed into my ears. This was particularly noticeable in classical music, and Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ shone.
Considering their very reasonable sticker price, the WH-CH520 is a capable pair of on-ear headphones, even if paying a little more will get you a definite step up in audio clarity and definition. Their solid wireless specs, call quality, and features (including Bluetooth multi-point pairing) make them a reliable and wallet-friendly deal for music on the go and casual listening.