Sony WF-C500 earbuds review: basic ain’t bad

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The new Sony earbuds have an appealing price of $99.99 and come with a more traditional design than the ones they are replacing. They improved upon that model by adding support for Sony's Headphones Connect app, which allows you to modify the sound to your liking. The Sony WF-XB700s had a brand called Extra Bass, but now they have a sound that is much more balanced out of the box. The C500s have an impressive 10 hours of continuous play time, as well as easy-to-use controls with large buttons on each ear bud.

Sony left out a number of features, like noise cancellation, transparency mode, and wireless charging, in order to hit the price of $100. The C500s feel like Sony omitted a little too much when it comes to these useful tricks, which can be found in similarly priced buds.

Sony rarely skimps on audio quality, and they still sound very good for the price. I was worried that the XB700s would lose their anchored-in-my-ears feel if I switched to a smaller, more discreet design. The question is whether those pluses are enough to make up for what is missing. This set is about as basic as they come.

The charging case has been changed to a more pocketable pill shape. Even though the lid is open, the case sits nicely on a desk or table. The XB700s has a semi-translucent lid, which makes it easy to see the three amber LEDs inside, as well as being sure that everything is charging properly.

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Next to Sony's flagship is the WF-C500 earbuds.

If you push up from the thin indent running along the lip, you can open it with one hand. The case still uses textured plastic, and I like that it eliminates the risk of scratches or scuffs. The case has enough juice for one full charge of the C500s, which will bring them from 10 hours of play to a total of 20. Sony is behind the curve when it comes to earbud charging cases that have at least two additional charges in them. Sony seems to reserve for its upper-end earbuds wireless charging.

The design of the XB700s was very different from other true wireless earbuds. They protruded from my ears. The unconventional shape allowed them to twist deeply into the ear canal for a stable fit and optimal bass response. I liked the fit, but not everyone found it comfortable. The C500s are a priority for Sony.

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The buds that preceded them are larger than the ones that followed them.

They are still very shiny, but they are 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465, and don't demand as much space in your ears as the flagship noise-canceling earbuds. The overall look is close enough to Sony's premium models to make them both seem part of the same family.

The C500s have a physical button on each bud, instead of a touch-sensitive outer surface. The nub that was located at the bottom of the XB700 earbuds was a huge improvement over this. The controls are the same. The left earbud controls volume by raising it and lowering it. Track controls are on the right ear bud and can be used to pause, play, skip, and go back. You can summon your phone's voice assistant by holding the right bud. The functions are easy to remember once you get them down, and the buttons are clicky enough that you don't have to press them to use them. The auto-pause feature was missing when you removed one or both earbuds.

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The case lid allows you to see when the earbuds are charging.

There are three sizes of tips in the box. The large size provided a good seal and decent noise isolation. The C500s never came loose, even though they don't screw into my ears the same way as the XB700s.

The sound of the Sony buds is typical. The C500s have an excellent, fairly balanced tuning out of the box, which is something that the company's flagship 1000XM4s lack. The Extra Bass XB700s have well-defined mids that bring vocals through on Taylor Swift's Red rerecording with clarity and presence, and the 5.8mm drivers have nicely controlled bass. If you want to crank up the lower frequencies or give the treble a little more room to breathe, you can do that on these earbuds.

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The noise cancellation, LDAC support, and richer audio experience of the 1000XM4s are missing from the C500s.

To my ears, the C500s sound better than the Elite 3 earbuds from Sony, but the Elite 3 earbuds have a transparency mode for hearing your own voice on calls, and the C500s have a noise isolation mode. The Nothing Ear 1s have a more lively V-shaped EQ out of the box, but I like how flexible the Sonys are with their sound preferences. You won't get the ANC that comes with the Nothings or slightly pricier buds like the Liberty Air 2 Pros, nor is Sony's higher-quality LDAC supported on the C500s. The company does offer a small amount of extras, including the freedom to use either ear bud alone.

Every smart device requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it. It is not possible for us to read and analyze all of these agreements. We started counting how many times you have to agree to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don't read and can't negotiate.

You can use Sony's earbuds without signing up. If you want to use the Headphones Connect app on the phone, you have to agree to the following.

Sony has an end user license agreement.
Sony has a privacy policy.

Sony collects data from your usage of the Headphones Connect app in order to improve its products and services.

You get three optional agreements together.

Voice call quality isn't a strength for Sony's entry-level buds, and the experience can be rough in noisy environments. They will do the job if you are talking with someone in a quiet room. When I tried to use them on our weekly meeting at my local coffee shop, my colleagues on the reviews team cringed and laughed, unable to make out a word I said. These are not AirPods or Bud Buds 2. I don't think Sony will be able to make a difference for $100.

Even with poor call quality, the WF-C500s cover the other basics without any glaring tradeoffs or flaws. You can find earbuds that have more features for less, but they are not as reliable, easy to use, and have a sound that surpasses their price. They are more compact and stylish than the other ones that preceded them. If you only care about getting a basic set of earbuds that work consistently and sound good in the process, you can save a lot of money and go with Sony's basic buds. Sometimes less is more if you want features that demand a higher price. If you can get your hands on the C500s on sale, they are far from the worst impulse buy you will ever make.

Chris Welch is a photographer.