The new Sony WF-SP800N are a triple-threat. They’re IP55-rated to be sweatproof and dustproof with a high degree of water resistance, but they’re also pretty good for commuters because they have active noise cancellation built in – which is rare for a workout pair of earbuds – and work well for demanding music lovers thanks to their support for Sony’s new spatial audio format, 360 Reality Audio.
Could one pair of true wireless earbuds really work for everyone?
The answer, unfortunately, is not quite. Yes, these noise-cancelling earbuds sound good and yes, they're sweat-resistant, but their noise-cancellation isn't as good as their market-leading sibling the Sony WF-1000XM3 and the tight fit, while great for workouts, gets pretty uncomfortable if you're just wearing them around the house.
In short bursts, the Sony WF-SP800N are above average in terms of features and sound quality – but if you want earbuds that you can wear all-day, everyday or pitch-perfect earbuds for critical listening, you should should probably keep looking.
Price and release date
The Sony WF-SP800N were unveiled and released on May 7, 2020 in four colors (black, blue, red and white) for $199 (AU$449, around £160).
That puts them in direct competition with the new Google Pixel Buds that also launched this month and come in at $179.
While the WF-SP800N are Sony’s newest true wireless earbuds on the market, they’re not your only options: there’s also the entry-level Sony WF-XB700 that were announced in April and ultra-premium Sony WF-1000XM3 that came out last year and won our Best In Class award for their exceptional performance.
Having three similar headphones is pretty confusing, especially considering that there's only around a $30 difference between the WF-SP800N and WF-1000XM3.
Looking at the Sony WF-SP800N will likely remind you of a miniature mid-2000s Bluetooth headset. They use an ovular design that points down toward the mouth with a small touch capacitive control panel on each side that can be used to summon your smart assistant and control playback.
Despite wearing them for two weeks, we never quite mastered the controls, which is probably partly our fault for using Google Assistant for everything and partly Sony's fault for making the controls different on each earbud: a tap on the left earbud cycles between Ambient Sound / Noise Cancellation / No Noise Cancellation or can be held for Quick Attention Mode. The right earbud uses the standard tap, double tap and triple tap for play, skip and rewind, while double tap can also answer a phone call if one's coming in.
Despite the myriad controls the earbuds accept, however, there's no way to raise or lower the volume other than summoning the Assistant – which feels like a big oversight.
A combination of plastic eartips and small earhooks hold the headphones in place – even during intense workouts. It's a tight fit if you’re not used to wearing in-ear headphones and can become uncomfortable over time but in short bursts the design creates a tight seal that’s great for sound quality and really holds the headphones in place.
As for the case, it’s a bit chunkier than we expected – especially compared to the more petite Sony WF-XB700 that we just reviewed – which is a bit disappointing because there’s no tangible difference in battery life between Sony’s two buds.
The case uses USB Type-C connector for charging and holds about nine hours of extra charge which, in addition to the nine on the earbuds themselves, brings the grand total to around 18 hours of battery life.
The three headline features you need to know about in terms of performance are that the WF-SP800N are both noise-cancelling and feature Sony’s Extra Bass EQ tuning that give them a lot of power in the low end. They're also one of the few earbuds to feature Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format for spatial audio support through Deezer and Tidal – which you'll need to subscribe to if you want to use the format.
Starting first with the noise cancellation, what the WF-SP800N offers is a more basic version of the more powerful QN1e HD Noise-Cancelling Processor found in the Sony WF-1000XM3. The result is that the noise-cancellation isn’t as powerful as you'd expect and can't drown out things like background conversation or plane noise, but certainly does reduce those noises to dull roar.
So how do they sound? It’s robust and full-on, with a wider soundstage than you’d expect from a pair of true wireless earbuds. They can get relatively loud, which really adds an extra layer of passive noise cancellation, and definitely have enough bass to make most EDM and rap fans really happy.
The only downside we’ve noticed so far is that the bass can override the mids and highs, which hurts their overall clarity. Turning up the volume restores some of those levels but can obviously be more fatiguing, so it’s a double-edged sword.
Finally, while Sony 360 Reality Audio songs on this pair of earbuds can't compare to the soundstage you'd hear with a proper Bluetooth speaker, they do sound surprisingly crisp and clear – so much so that we basically listened to Tidal's 360 Reality Audio playlist non-stop throughout the duration of our testing.
So how do they stack up? Well, we like their sound quality more than the Google Pixel Buds, but not as much as the Powerbeats Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3 that are a bit more neutral-sounding. In fact, if you're an iOS user we'd wholly recommend the Powerbeats Pro over the WF-SP800N, not only because they're more comfortable but because they have Apple's H1 wireless chip that allows you to summon Siri without pressing a button.
Going into this review we had hoped that the Sony WF-SP800N could finally be the earbuds capable of pleasing workout enthusiasts, commuters and critical listeners. While they definitely work in all three scenarios, they're still better suited for the gym than anywhere else. They’re also a bit too close in price to our favorite true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4, and can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods.
All that said, they feature active noise cancellation, water-resistance and a spatial audio format all for under $200. That's why they're one of our top picks for noise-cancelling buds in our list of the best wireless earbuds. Although they might not be our favorite true wireless earbuds ever made, we have to give Sony props for creating a multi-faceted, feature-rich true wireless earbuds that nearly please every palate.
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