True wireless headphones from Sony that don't break the bank
20 Apr 2020
Sony WF-XB700 Truly Wireless Headphones review
The Sony WF-XB700 have a lot to offer. They have a fun, energetic sound quality, feel comfortable during long listening sessions and have an 18-hour combined battery life. We don't love their radar-disc shape and their lack of noise cancellation, but these are undoubtedly Sony's second-best true wireless earbuds.
|Comfortable fit||Strange design|
|Punchy bass||No aptX support|
|IPX4 rating||No Noise Cancellation|
For their price, you could do a lot worse than the Sony WF-XB700 True Wireless Headphones. They are a marked improvement on the original WF-1000X and WF-SP700N, and without a doubt our second-favorite Sony true wireless earbuds.
They're a result of years of hard work by Sony's audio design team that started its efforts with the divisive Sony WF-1000X and sports-focused Sony WF-SP700N before crafting the nearly perfect Sony WF-1000XM3 with active noise cancellation.
The latter are still the best true wireless earbuds Sony has yet to make... but the WF-XB700 (reviewed here) are the more affordable, more accessible and potentially wider-appealing buds that could, in many ways, rival the Apple AirPods.
Not sure if earbuds with a comfortable fit, punchy, bass-heavy sound and an IPX4 rating with a combined 18 hours of battery life between the buds and the case are right for you? Here's what it's like to wear them for a week.
Release date and price
The Sony WF-XB700 is the latest addition to Sony’s Extra Bass series of headphones and earbuds and were released in April 2020. The earbuds were announced alongside the Sony WH-CH710N Noise-Canceling Headphones, and hit shelves around the same time, too.
In terms of pricing, the Sony WF-XB700 are one of Sony’s cheaper true wireless earbuds and come in at $129 (£130, around AU$200). That’s a sizable savings compared to the $199 (£169, AU$319) Sony WF-1000XM3, but remember that the latter has active noise cancellation while the former does not.
Compared to other true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-XB700 is right around the middle of the pack, and is actually a bit cheaper than the $139 (£159, AU$239) Apple AirPods that dominates the form factor in terms of sales. Which one of these earbuds you should go for will likely come down to which mobile operating system you use - as the AirPods do have a few neat tricks for iOS users - and which of the two styles you prefer.
The way Sony crafted these earbuds kinda make them feel a bit more space-agey than other true wireless earbuds it’s produced in the past that have instead tried to be sleek and sporty. That's because Sony has usually opted for rounded, oblong buds that look like little beans.
The WF-XB700 definitely shares some of its design language with its predecessors, but the outside looks almost like a satellite-esque circular disc.
Around the outer edges of each disc you'll find a button: on the left earbud you’ve got volume up/down and on the right you’ve got play/pause and skip. You can also use them to activate your voice assistant and accept calls, but it's not super clear right out of the box how to do all that.
If you boil them down to their nuts and bolts, there’s three important parts to these earbuds: the tip that fits in the ear canal, the middle section that houses the drivers and sits inside the ear and the outer shell that houses the battery. This three-level design isn’t exactly space-efficient – and is likely to be incredibly polarizing for people who just want slim, sleek buds – but it does have some advantages.
Because of their size, they should actually completely fill both the ear canal and outer ear where they rest. That secure feeling plus their low weight makes them surprisingly comfortable and easy to wear for long periods, and the tight seal helps them sound great. Sony also includes a number of eartips inside the box if the default tips don’t fit properly, which is a nice touch.
The other advantage of their design is that they can fit a slightly larger than average battery inside the buds themselves. According to Sony, that battery life is about nine hours on a single charge, plus an additional nine hours with the charging case, bringing the total to 18 hours. That’s nearly the best on the market. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus offer 11 hours of playback outside their case while the similarly priced Apple AirPods only offer about five hours of music playback before they need to go back in their case.
Speaking of cases, the plastic case that ships with the Sony WF-XB700 is fairly slim and uses a translucent cover that allows you to see the charging status of the earbuds in the case. Initiating the charging process is as easy as snapping the buds into their mini-pin docks and waiting for the red LED to go on. To recharge both the case and the buds, just plug them into an open USB port on your computer with the provided USB-to-USB C cable.
So how do they sound? Well, being part of the Extra Bass series we were worried that they’d sound bloated, muddy and confined. Thankfully, they’re anything but.
First thing you’ll notice when listening to them is the bass – it’s definitely present – but it’s done in a way that feels tight and punchy rather than muddy and bloated. The result is music that’s actually pretty fun to listen to… even if it’s not exactly the sound the artist intended.
The downside is that the midrange does take a hit here: Listening to YouTube videos is noticeably quieter across the board than listening to music, and the less-powerful midrange is definitely to blame there.
That doesn’t mean YouTube or Netflix are impossible to listen to, they’re not, but it would be nice if there was a way to change the EQ based on the type of content currently playing – say, through Sony’s Headphones app.
Right now, no such luck.
Of course, Sony seems to want these to be music-focused with them doubling as a good gym companion – that’s why they’re IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant. They also seem to have a relatively stable connection – walking around our house with our phone in one room, we didn’t experience any hint of dropout – but they’re not noise cancelling, so be prepared to hear most conversations going on nearby.
Admittedly, Sony could still improve the soundstage of these earbuds (they sound a bit confined) and add support for aptX, the higher-resolution audio codec that can broadcast HD audio. These factors, along with some other audio nitpickings, prevent them from reaching the absolute pinnacle of sound quality, but we feel most people will enjoy the sound they produce.
The good news is that they have an incredible battery life: After listening to them for three days straight for eight hours a day we were still getting a 'battery 100% full' message every time we put on the earbuds. (That number drops in 30% increments, though, so you do have to be careful.) Sony reports the battery life to be around 18 hours between the earbuds and their charging case, and we found that number to be pretty spot-on... and maybe even a little too conservative.
While it’s easy to focus on some of the negatives like the polarizing design, lackluster midrange and lack of noise cancellation, these earbuds have a lot going for them. Honestly these are decent Apple AirPods competitors: they're the right price, have the right sound and even have a better battery life.
They aren't perfect and could even improve with a few simple tweaks like adding aptX support and adding an auto-pause feature to conserve battery life, but even without those features these are still our second-favorite Sony true wireless earbuds, and ones worth buying if you want solid sound and long-lasting battery life.