Sony’s first pair of true wireless headphones, the Sony WF-1000X, were divisive. Some thought they didn’t offer enough bass. Others said they had too much. Some said they cut out or unpaired periodically. Others simply never had that problem. Criticisms came hard and fast from all corners of the internet and the only reasonable conclusion one could make after sifting through all of the noise was that Sony’s headphones just couldn’t please everyone.
Now, Sony’s second-generation true-wireless headphones - the Sony WF-SP700N - are here to try it again. These true wireless headphones are better tuned for the low-end and they’re stable in almost every situation. They still offer very modest active noise-cancellation tech and a sweat-resistant PX4 rating, and the new charging case is aesthetically pleasing if not radically different in functionality from before.
Google Assistant is worth mentioning here, too, as Sony has announced that the WF-SP700N will be getting Google's helpful personal assistant at some point in the near future. It wasn't available during our testing, but it is a marquee feature that Sony has emphasized in the past.
Google Assistant update notwithstanding, while the $179.99 (£180 / AU$299) WF-SP700N is a fundamental improvement in every way to the Sony WF-1000X, they’re just simply not good enough yet to beat out other lower-priced models.
But let’s step back. Even though they might not offer everything we’d expect from a pair of true wireless headphones, the Sony WF-SP700N aren’t necessarily the worst in their category, either. In fact, they’re simply middling.
Aesthetically speaking, the WF-SP700N is uniquely designed. It offers a comfortable fit while looking like something from a later episode of Star Trek.
What that means is they’re geek chic - the kind of things that look great to other like-minded technophiles and perhaps less so to anyone who can’t tell you proper pronunciation of GIF.
Before you can wear them, however, your first challenge is to pry them from the sturdy grasp of their charging case. It will feel like you’re doing something that will break the headphones before they eventually give way and pop out. Fitting them back in when you’re done listening is another struggle, but one that’s easier than getting them out for sure.
Speaking of the case, it’s designed to hold two full charges for the headphones. Recharging the headphones is as simple as slotting them back into the case with the proper orientation, and charging the case can be done via a microUSB port on the back. The charging case has NFC built-in which makes pairing between an Android device a breeze although, once paired, the earphones should connect automatically to your device when they turn on.
Thankfully, getting a proper fit is rather easy to do - Sony ships each pair of SP700N with a number of tips and wings, making it easy to find a fit where the earphones don’t slip.
One area that needs work is the control scheme which, as of right now, consists of a single button located on each of the earphones. You can press it to play or pause the music, twice to skip songs or three times to rewind - but there’s no way to control the volume on the earphones themselves.
It’s also worth noting that calls will be routed only through the left earphone - so keep it handy if you’re expecting an important call at the gym.
If you were one of the many folks who complained about the lack of bass in the original WF-1000X, you can rest assured that Sony heard your complaints loud and clear: Bass plays a prominent role in the SP700N’s sonic signature … maybe too prominent of a role.
The sound signature in the new WF-SP700N is, by its nature, so bass-heavy that it seems to removes clarity from the mids and highs in order to consistently provide bass slam. You can tune the sound signature to your liking via the accompanying Sony Headphones app (which is also the way you can access the different noise cancelling modes that we’ll talk about later) but clarity will remain a sticking point no matter how it’s tuned.
Disappointingly, the SP700N only supports two codecs at the moment: SBC, the standard for Bluetooth communication, and AAC for Apple devices. That means no LDAC and no aptX HD - two codecs that enable Hi-Res Audio playback over Bluetooth.
Sound quality can be improved at the expense of playback stability by going into the Sony Headphone app and selecting the “Sound Quality Mode” setting, but doing so in a crowded environment will almost certainly cause signal to drop out.
On that note, signal quality stayed relatively consistent the majority of the time we used the earphones. In particularly crowded environments like a crowded show floor the headphones weren’t able to maintain a connection - but that’s an extreme example of too many devices too close together. For everyday use, say for walking around the city, they shouldn’t drop out almost at all.
The last important aspect that’s worth covering is the earphone’s noise-cancellation tech - or, perhaps more explicitly the lack thereof. While not completely toothless, active noise-cancellation on the WF-SP700N is barebones at best. It can tune out some light background noise, but these aren’t the headphones you’d want to bring with you on a flight overseas or through a crowded convention center. Like its older siblings, the Sony WH-1000XM2 and Sony WI-1000X, you can customize the noise-cancellation to either tune everything out, tune out everything but the sound of the human voice or let in some ambient noise in case of an emergency. (You likely won’t need the last one as noise cancellation isn’t all that effective in the first place.)
Overall, the noise cancellation tech isn’t as good here as it is in the Sony WH-1000XM2 and likely won’t offer enough protection against the annoying audio you encounter in your everyday life.
While it would have been nice to see fitness tracking included with the headphones, the WF-SP700N still has got almost everything you could need for a pair of sport-focused 'buds - i.e. a comfortable fit and sweat-resistant coating.
The noise-cancellation could've been better and sound quality doesn't have that clarity we've come to expect from Sony, but both areas are improvements over last year's WF-1000X earphones.
All that said, while the WF-SP700N are a decent sophomore attempt, you might be better waiting to see what Sony has planned for year three.