The Sony WF-C500 are incredibly affordable. As you might expect, this has led to compromises—but Sony’s kept them to a minimum, and delivered a very perky sound from very comfortable earbuds. They’re far from your only choice, mind you, with lots of competing budget wireless earbuds on the market.
Informative, organized and lively sound
Neat and comfortable
Proper control app
Battery life is nothing special
Could sound both deeper and wider
Not short of rivals
Why you can trust TechRadar
The Sony WF-C500 true wireless earbuds are sensibly specified, incredibly affordable, very light and comfortable, and have a choice of control methodologies that all work well.
Weight: 5.4g (each bud), 35g (charging case)
Driver: 5.8mm. Closed, dynamic
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4)
Battery life: 10 hours
Battery charge time: 2.5 hours
Colors: Black, white, green, orange
At 20 hours, the all-in battery life isn’t that impressive—but 10 hours from the buds alone isn’t bad at all. And their sound—rapid, detailed and thoroughly engaging—has some areas of real expertise. That's why these earbuds may not compete with high-end models, but they make our best true wireless earbuds guide and best wireless earbuds guide as they're fantastic value for money.
But the Sony WF-C500 are not short of proper competition from equally brave and confident companies offering budget buds—and their relative lack of bass extension, so-so battery life and rather confined soundstage has left the door open, just a crack, for those competitors. Take a look at our pick of the top cheap buds in our best budget wireless earbuds guide.
For once, Sony doesn’t get the true wireless in-ear action all its own way. But that doesn't mean these aren't a solid pair of budget buds that are well worth your time, read on for our full Sony WF-C500 review.
Sony WF-C500 review: price and availability
- Available for $79 / £89 / AU$149.95
- A similar price to other budget buds
The Sony WF-C500 true wireless in-ear headphones are priced at an extremely competitive $79 / £89 / AU$149.95.
The proliferation of very worthwhile true wireless in-ear headphones below the $100/ £100 / AU$150 mark obviously hasn’t escaped Sony, and the company fancies a piece of the sizable action.
But while it has the cachet, and some much more expensive true wireless models with which to sprinkle some reflected glory over the WF-C500, Sony is pitting itself against some extremely capable opposition.
Check out our Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review and EarFun Air review for similarly priced and very decent true wireless earbuds. Because although we like the Sony WF-C500 buds, several other budget models do have advantages over them—on paper at least.
Sony WF-C500 review: design and features
- A decent 20-hour battery life
- Bluetooth 5
- Light and comfortable build
It’s not often we get to criticize Sony for the way its products are designed and built—and we’re not about to start now. The WF-C500 are extremely tidy earbuds, compact and light (only 5.4g per earbud) and are easy to position comfortably, no matter the specific size and shape of your ear. A choice of three sizes of eartip only makes getting comfortable easier.
Despite their tiddly dimensions, Sony has found room for a relatively large physical control surface on each WF-C500 earbud—it’s a ‘push/push’ button and covers ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and ‘wake up voice assistant’. There’s also a mic opening on each earbud for voice assistant interaction and telephony—both Google Assistant and Siri are available.
If you prefer, control is also available via Sony’s exemplary ‘Headphones Connect’ app. As well as dealing with all the broad functions, this is where you can adjust EQ settings, set your Bluetooth priorities, let the app have a good look at the shape of your ears (the WF-C500 are compatible with Sony’s ‘360 Reality Audio’ spatial audio algorithm) and toggle the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine on or off. DSEE is supposed to ‘upscale’ standard audio files until they’re ‘almost’ of high-resolution standard. The ability to switch it on or off in the app allows you to decide on its effectiveness (or lack thereof) yourself.
Battery life is an unremarkable 20 hours all in—although the 10 hours stored in the earbuds themselves isn’t bad at all. There's fast charging on off here, a quick 10-minute blast of power will deliver another hour of playback—there’s a short USB-C to USB-A cable in the (easily and fully recyclable) packaging for this purpose. The WF-C500 use Bluetooth 5 for wireless connectivity, and once your digital audio information is on board, it’s delivered by a pair of 6mm full-range drivers.
IPX4 makes them nicely resistant to moisture and water-splashes, and a choice of four colors (properly vibrant green or orange are available as well as humdrum old black or white) is welcome too. Add in ‘fast pair’ connectivity with Android devices and ‘swift pair’ with Windows 10 PCs, and you’ve a very pleasingly specified product.
Of course, it’s pretty obvious where Sony has made the compromises necessary to bring the WF-C500 in for under $100 / £100 / AU$150. There’s no active noise-cancelling, there’s no wireless charging, the charging case itself (while perfectly well made) is nothing special, but as long as the Sonys have it where it counts, of course, that’s all completely fair enough.
Sony WF-C500 review: audio performance
- Peppy, well-organized sound
- Good level of detail
- Not the most expansive listen
The Sony WF-C500 earbuds are perfectly capable of dealing with big MQA-powered TIDAL Masters digital audio files—so a listen to The Magnetic Fields’ You Must Be Out Of Your Mind seems as good a place as any to start. Certainly, the Sonys don’t find it all that much of a challenge.
Talking about stereo focus and separation might seem redundant where headphones are concerned—but there are enough designs around that can’t properly describe the layout of a soundstage to demonstrate that these things aren’t a given.
The WF-C500 have no problem explaining what’s what, though—although the song is packed with instruments all occupying more-or-less the same part of the frequency range, and although the Sony don’t have the out-and-out scale of some rivals, following individual elements is simple.
Low frequency sounds are slightly short of ultimate extension, but they’re nicely shaped and informative. And they don’t hang around or crowd the midrange, either, which means there’s proper expression of rhythms and tempos here—the Sony WF-C500 are pleasingly straight-edged on their way into and out of bass notes. The opposite end of the frequency range is rolled off just a little, presumably in the name of politeness, but it still musters just enough bite and shine to keep things interesting.
In between, the midrange is pretty deft where vocalists are concerned. Stephin Merritt’s baritone voice fluctuates between bass and midrange, but it’s loaded with detail of his vocal toil, and consequently is chock-full of character. It’s contained in a neat little pocket of space, too, which makes it all the more immediate and communicative.
Switch to the more wide-ranging, if rather less satisfying, sound of Kanye West’s Jail and the Sony WF-C500 buds are more than able to describe the dynamics of the recording. They do good work in making the silences and spaces in the song every bit as significant as the actual sounds, too—and they show a nice clean noise-floor while they’re at it.
All of this assumes an EQ that’s set flat all the way across the board, it should be said. You’ve any number of opportunities to skew the sound to your personal taste in the app—but, for our money, ‘flat’ is where the Sony sound best. And by all means, investigate the ‘clear bass’ setting - but be assured there’s nothing ‘clear’ about it.
First and foremost, these buds are great value for money. Sound is well-defined, these earbuds describe a soundstage really convincingly, and we also liked that they're incredibly comfortable, offering a snug fit and water-resistance.
Of course, Sony had to cut corners to get the price down. You won't find noise cancellation here, battery life is just fine and the sound could be deeper.
What's more, you will find similar quality at a similar price these days, as there are more and more budget true wireless earbuds entering the market. But Sony is one of the best brands out there for audio tech and these are a solid pair of all-rounders—you can't go wrong with these buds.
If our Sony WF-C500 review has you considering other options, take a look at our top pick of three true wireless earbuds alternatives below.
Although we rate the sound offered by the Sony WF-C500 buds, if you want pumping bass, you might be disappointed as there's a low-frequency extension here. But a pair of buds like the NuraTrue wireless earbuds, dig deeper and serve up excellent, highly-personalized sound. Of course you'll need to pay much more but if you're after the best, most immersive sound, these buds are a fantastic option.
Read our full NuraTrue review
If you're looking for noise cancellation you'll have to look at Sony's higher-end offerings. The best of the best are the Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds. They offer fantastic noise cancellation, a comfortable fit and excellent sound. However, as you'd expect, you'll need to pay much more for these premium features.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review
Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0
If you're looking for buds that'll last all day—and all night—without charging, then you might want to check out rivals with a better battery life. The PurePlay Z3 2.0 buds from Lypertek are some of our favorites and only £10/$10 more expensive than the Sony WF-C500 buds.
Read our full Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 review
- First reviewed October, 2021
Simon Lucas is a senior editorial professional with deep experience of print/digital publishing and the consumer electronics landscape. Based in Brighton, Simon worked at TechRadar's sister site What HiFi? for a number of years, as both a features editor and a digital editor, before embarking on a career in freelance consultancy, content creation, and journalism for some of the biggest brands and publications in the world.
With enormous expertise in all things home entertainment, Simon reviews everything from turntables to soundbars for TechRadar, and also likes to dip his toes into longform features and buying guides. His bylines include GQ, The Guardian, Hi-Fi+, Metro, The Observer, Pocket Lint, Shortlist, Stuff T3, Tom's Guide, Trusted Reviews, and more.
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