Sony has been doing very well for itself making a name in the personal audio industry. The over-ear WH-1000XM4 and in-ear WF-1000XM4 are both top of their class when it comes to noise-cancelling and quality sound, but how does the titanic brand’s budget audio products weigh up?
Looking at the Sony WH-CH510, it’s frankly insane that wireless headphones could cost this little, not to mention a pair that has decent sound, a USB-C port, and 35 hours of battery life. So, when reading this review, be sure to keep its price in the back of your mind (just as we had to) when noticing any shortcomings or failings.
Price and release date
No matter what region you’re in, the WH-CH510 are an affordable set of cans. These wireless on-ear headphones will set you back only $59 in the US, £50 in the UK and AU$89 in Australia, and they're available to buy right now.
First thing to notice – these are on-ear headphones rather than over-ear, meaning that their cups won’t surround your ears but rather rest upon them. This makes them considerably more compact, but arguably a little less comfortable (it also impacts the audio quality, but more on that later).
Aesthetically, there isn’t too much to say about these Sony cans, but their subdued and simple appearance does wonders to broaden their appeal given that the aim here is accessibility. They’re available in a tasteful black, white, or blue, and their shape profile is as close to ‘a straight line with a circle on each end’ as you can get. Apart from the Sony logo on both cups, the only other flourish is a simple diamond grid texture covering most of its exterior.
Perhaps the most obvious and striking reflection of the WH-CH510’s price point is in its structural integrity. The plastic headband, swivel joints, and ear cup housing don’t feel remotely rugged and we’d be remiss to recommend “chucking” them in your bag or treating them at all unkindly.
The headband does seem to have some amount of flex, so it might be more forgiving than we give it credit for, but we really didn’t want to push this theory too far. It doesn’t fold or collapse any further to make for a more compact package (although the cups do swivel 90° and flatten), but the fewer hinges the better in this case as we suspect that will be the first point of failure.
It’s worth noting that, although this particular reviewer has an abnormally large head and often pushes headphone bands to their limit, the WH-CH510 only got about halfway extended before sitting comfortably on both ears. We suspect this will be particularly good news for the large-headed among us, as well as those that like to wear hats and cans at once.
Of course, the upshot of all this is that they’re incredibly lightweight which, coupled with their diminutive size, makes them ultra portable. Thankfully, the padding in the ear cups seems to be of a higher standard than the rest of the unit, so they’re comfortable to wear for extended periods considering their on-ear form factor.
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For a control interface, these cans have a Spartan array of three large buttons that are easy to locate, differentiate and interact with. They’re responsible for the usual array of play/pause, volume up/down, and skip forward/back options but they also allow you to activate your device’s voice assistant.
There’s an integrated microphone next to these buttons for this purpose and for taking calls, and while it’s certainly serviceable, it’s not the clearest option out there.
Next to the controls and microphone is the sole port for USB-C charging (audio over USB isn’t supported from what we tested). We’re disproportionately excited to see a budget product adopt this future-proofed port instead of micro USB.
These Sony cans boast 35 hours of playback time, which we’re super-impressed with, and if you’re in a pinch you can top up 90 minutes worth of juice from just 10 minutes of charging from flat.
The absence of a 3.5mm headphone port and lack of audio over USB means you’ll be out of luck if you do run out of batteries on the go, but the impressive battery life and affordability this presumably allows for makes up for it.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but the WH-CH510’s lack of features is one of its strengths. In focusing on more significant attributes – battery life and audio quality among them – costs have been cut on features that its target audience could do without (active noise-cancelling prime among them).
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As we’ve already mentioned, the fact that these headphones are in the on-ear format means you won’t quite get the audio quality that over-ear competitors offer. This is largely due to the smaller cups not creating as solid a seal as well as offering less sense of space.
With that said, it’s remarkable how solid these Sony’s still manage to sound, despite their low price and limited form factor. We found the bass to be clear and present, but certainly not overbearing. The higher frequencies were a little more dominant than we’d like, and the mids too suppressed, but the profile was pleasing overall.
While they won’t have the superb clarity, balance, and sense of space that their WH-1000XM3 siblings boast, the sound these on-ears produce definitely belies their size and price. You’ll find most genres perform well here, although tracks that already have low mids and bumped treble might get uncomfortably exaggerated.
In our testing the Bluetooth 5.0 connection never faltered and we didn’t come across any interference or drop-out woes. There’s no app companion that we could find, but we couldn’t think of a need for one, given the unit’s innate simplicity.
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If you’re looking for headphones at this price point, you’re likely already willing to make a few sacrifices. Thankfully, most of the compromises Sony has made with the WH-CH510 haven’t been too crucial – the lack of analog input mirrors the loss of the 3.5mm port on most modern smartphones while the lightweight, plastic construction improves their portability and comfort.
For those chasing something that is substantially more sturdy or sporting a 3.5mm port, you’re unlikely to find an alternative at the same price point that’s also wireless, let alone boasts solid battery life and sound.
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