Though loaded with a number of features and a dedicated app with an EQ, Sony makes you work to get the best fit and audio performance.
Decent sound quality
Dedicated app with custom EQ
Heavy inline remote
Call quality isn’t great
Dicey comfort and performance
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At its core, the Sony WI-SP600N is all about packing cutting-edge tech into a wireless in-ear headphone. The sporty and active theme behind these is obvious, given the IPX4-rated sweat resistance, but throw in noise-cancellation and an ambient sound mode, and you’re supposed to get a pretty versatile pair of wireless earbuds here.
...And yet, in spite of all the extra tech, the end result is a pair of Sony headphones that try to do too much without getting the basics - like fit and fidelity - right.
The SP600N were built to be durable - but are just shy of outright ruggedness. Their IPX4 rating means they can withstand sweat and rain, but aren’t made for dipping in the pool during a swim, for example. Still, what the IPX4 rating means is that they can receive a good wiping down after a workout (we recommend it, actually) without having to worry about whether the headphones will ever work again.
Also key to their durability is their bulkiness, but we’ll get to that a little later.
Inside the SP600N Sony uses 6mm drivers to push the audio with a closed dynamic design to better isolate sound, and that - along with a eartip and wing combination - keeps them nestled in place. Putting them on and taking them off wasn’t difficult however, so there's no need to worry about them crowding the ear canal.
Both sides are connected by a cable with the inline remote controller on the left side. It’s noticeably larger than conventional models, mainly because the tech enabling the noise-cancellation and ambient modes is housed inside. Whereas others are like featherweights, this one has some heft to it.
We tried wearing these with the cable wrapped around the back of the neck, as well as with it dangling in front under the chin. The earpieces rely heavily on the wings to stay in place because of the angle in which the cable sticks out under the ear. That said, with repeated movement, be it walking, running, biking, or just working out, the remote would pull on the left earpiece, slowly shuffling it out of place. It happened to us on several occasions, and were left wondering why Sony didn’t include a clip to reduce the cable’s slack or anchor it in place.
On it, you'll find the main multifunction button that plays/pauses music and accepts incoming phone calls, along with a volume toggle. The power button is on the side with another above it that controls noise-cancellation and ambient mode. A simple press turns ambient mode on or off while holding it does the same for noise-cancellation.
On the outer side is an NFC chip for quick Bluetooth pairing with compatible devices through a simple touch. But you certainly won't have a hard time connecting if you have a device that doesn't support NFC. (We connected the old-fashioned way when testing these earbuds with iOS.)
In the box, there are four sizes of eartips (extra large, large, medium, small), along with another two pairs of wings (large and medium) that help keep them in place. Since they charge via microUSB, a small cable is also inside. The quick start guide helps get things started, though a more detailed manual is available online.
Sony highlights the integration with its Headphones Connect mobile app for iOS and Android. The app has a number of settings and features designed to push these headphones a little further into custom territory - but more on that in a minute.
In case you need it (and you will) the app offers preset audio equalizer profiles, ranging from treble boost, bass boost, vocal, along with more abstract ones, like mellow, relaxed and excited. There’s room to also create custom profiles, too.
Quick Sound Settings within the app is a fast way to combine what EQ mode you want to go with ambient mode. For example, if you want bass boost to kick when ambient mode is turned on, that’s the way to do it.
For a pair of wireless earbuds, the SP600N sound decent, but we weren’t really blown away. We found the Sennheiser CX 6.00BT to be more dynamic, despite lacking noise-cancellation and ambient pass-through features.
The EQ can help boost things where you want them, it’s just that the base level of fidelity (when the EQ is off) is lacking some verve in the mids. The bass is pretty good, and highs aren’t bad, but the mids came off flat and muddy. We noticed this most with more complex tracks, and especially with live recordings.
We found better results with less demanding music. Leon Bridges’ You Don’t Know sounded good, as did Get What You Give by Felix Cartal, for example. There is always the possibility of improving how the SP600N sounds with the app’s help ... it just may not be a consistent experience from one genre to the next.
Despite rocking some of the best performance in the over-ear category with the Sony WH-1000XM3, the noise-cancellation quality here is just okay. It’s not going to drown everything out, and in a loud gym or airplane, we found enough of the background seeping in. The good news is that Sony managed to elude too much distortion setting in at higher volumes. We were pretty comfortable at 60%, and only really had to hit 75% in louder conditions.
The good news is that the SP600N supports both AAC and aptX Bluetooth codecs, so iOS and Android users will get equal audio treatment, for what it's worth.
Sony rated these to last six hours per charge, and for the most part, they routinely came close to hitting that mark for us.
Volume, as in any pair of wireless headphones, is the biggest determining factor, except the noise-cancellation and ambient modes also affect it. Keeping noise canceling on all the time drops the battery life to under five hours — and that’s with moderate volume. Crank it up, and you’re getting closer to four hours.
At least it doesn’t take too long to recharge them: During our tests we noticed we were back to full juice in about 60-90 minutes or so.
We commend Sony for trying to cram in as much tech as they did with the SP600N, but we’re hard-pressed to give them a solid recommendation because of the fit and performance. These are primarily meant for active users, and the inline remote could be a problem in maintaining a tight seal.
Performance is at least manageable with the app’s EQ, so there is some flexibility there, and while the noise-cancelling and ambient modes aren’t amazing, they do work. If you’re going to pull the trigger on these, know that you may have to do a little work to get the best fit and fidelity you can when putting them on.
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Ted Kritsonis is the Freelance Tech Journalist. He is a Tech journalist contributing to a dozen publications: Globe and Mail, MobileSyrup, Futurithmic, Android Central, TechRadar, and WhatsYourTech.ca, among others.