Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Sony WF-C700N: which five-star wireless earbuds reign supreme?

The announcement of the new Sony WF-1000XM5 was accompanied by much fanfare and anticipation. After all, the buds' predecessors, the excellent WF-1000XM4, current What Hi-Fi? Award winners, are a wonderfully dynamic and musical pair of in-ears that led the way in the world of wireless earbuds. As far as we were concerned, the XM4 set the standards to which all other rivals should aspire. 

The actual arrival of the WF-1000XM5, however, has been a fascinating one, not least because the new, five-star successors have confounded many expectations with their new – but still impressive – sonic direction. In place of a rich, musical profile, this latest offering sees Sony switch things up entirely, instead placing a much heavier emphasis on detail, precision and crystalline audio clarity.

Our five-star recommendation of the XM5 should tell you all you need to know about our feeling regarding this about-face turn, yet it also means that the buds won't be to everyone's tastes, nor will their substantial price tag be suited to all budgets.

That's where the WF-C700N come in – as a comfortable, affordable and supremely well balanced pair of wireless earbuds, the C700N were the first Sony buds to offer noise cancelling in tandem with a budget price tag and that signature Sony sound. That's a hugely attractive proposition, especially when you consider the fact that they earned five stars during testing and have often enjoyed significant discounts in the past few weeks and months. 

WF-1000XM5 vs WF-C700N: price

Sony C700N vs. XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The C700N and XM5 are at the opposite ends of the noise-cancelling wireless earbud range, with the former offering Sony's cheapest noise-cancelling buds in comparison with the latter's premium status as the Japanese brand's latest, and most costly, wireless buds.

Listen to a pair of WF-C700N and you'll be startled by just how refined and musical they are, especially for such a reasonable outlay. Even at their original asking price of £100/ $120 /AU$200, the C700N were excellent value, and thanks to some recent drops in price at retailers such as Amazon, they're genuinely some of the best-value earbuds you'll find anywhere right now. Buying cheap gear can be something of a false economy if you get it wrong, but you'll fear no such shortcomings with Sony's five-star effort.  

The flagship WF-1000XM5 are obviously a newer and more premium model, so it's reasonable to expect a higher outlay at launch. Currently retailing at £259 / $299, the XM5 fully justify their more expensive price tag with their significant leaps in performance – not only over the C700N but over their predecessors, the also-excellent XM4.

In truth, both pairs represent five-star value for money, so neither will leave you high and dry when you get them home and start putting them through their paces. If we're simply judging on which pair is cheaper and, when discounts are factored into the equation, which is a better deal, it's hard to ignore just how much sound-for-pound value you get with the WF-C700N.

**Winner: Sony WF-C700N**

WF-1000XM5 vs WF-C700N: features

Sony C700N vs. XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

For such an inexpensive set of in-ear buds, the WF-C700N are hardly Spartan in terms of features. With on-ear button controls, active noise cancellation (ANC) and Ambient Sound Mode, not to mention integration of Sony's Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) for upscaling low-res files, this is a serious box of tricks for its price point. There's also access to the Sony Headphones Connect app so that you can adjust your ANC, check battery life and even customise your bud's on-ear controls. 

Seven-and-a-half hours of playtime with ANC and Bluetooth isn't exactly earth-shattering, but it's a small gripe that does little to dampen our affection for the C700N. You can't have it all at this price, despite Sony's clear desire to pack in as much as possible on its budget buds.

The more costly XM5 are obviously kitted out with higher specs and a more bulging bag of proverbial party pieces. The likes of touch controls, DSEE and everything mentioned above for the C700N are all included, but you'll also be treated to the joys of Bluetooth Multipoint, PreciseVoicePickup technology, LDAC codec support and better ANC.

The XM5's touch controls offer more flexibility and variation than the C700N's more restrictive ability to only allow control of two features using on-ear presses. A battery life (with ANC and Bluetooth) of eight hours beats the C700N's, while quick charging provides an hour of playtime from just three minutes of charge. The C700N, by comparison, only manage an hour of play from a 10-minute charging burst.

With all those extra strings to their bow, the WF-1000XM5 make most earbuds look somewhat primitive by comparison. The XM5 take the cake here, but don't be fooled; the C700N are still well equipped for a more budget pair.

**Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5**

WF-1000XM5 vs WF-C700N: design 

Sony C700N vs XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Coming from the same manufacturer, it's no surprise that both sets of buds are rather similar in how they look and feel, although the more expensive XM5 are more lavish and premium in terms of their design and the materials used. 

While the new model still ostensibly sports that rounded shape that's so beloved of Sony, there are lots of tweaks to make the premium buds appear streamlined and lighter, and make them feel a little more special, including a silicone/memory foam hybrid tip material and a glossy, high-end plastic material for the main body. 

We wish the tips were a bit grippier and, if pushed, maybe we would say that the fit for the rival Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II is slightly more secure. But these are nitpicks as much as anything else.

The C700N are a little more sparse design-wise, but they are arguably even better in terms of comfort. They're lighter and smaller than the XM5, weighing in at just 4.6g each, meaning it's likely you'll be able to have them in for hours on end before you feel any discomfort or urge to dislodge them from your lugs. If anything, the closer fit and lighter weight combine to deliver a more secure fit than is offered by the XM5.  

Even when you're running or working out, the C700N stay in place as though their lives depended on it, and while they never dig into your ear cavity, those flexible silicone ear tips do a great job of ensuring the earbuds nestle in place with a robust, class-leading seal.

A tight one, this, but we're going to be bold and go for the C700N, mostly because of the reassuring comfort and security at this price.

**Winner: Sony WF-C700N**

WF-1000XM5 vs WF-C700N: noise cancelling 

Sony C700N vs. XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The C700N come equipped not only with decent active noise-cancelling but also Sony's Adaptive Sound Control that adjusts depending on your location and surroundings. They're utterly at home making voice calls, as Sony's Wind Noise Reduction Structure makes a noticeable difference if you're on the phone in blustery conditions. Voice calls on the C700N sound clear, natural and transparent, adding another feather to the earbuds' sizeable cap of clever features. 

As for the XM5, it's a case of all of that and more. Sony's premium buds have all of the usual noise-cancelling and ambient modes that you'd expect, as well as the handy Speak to Chat feature which activates talk-through mode when you start talking.

Sony has stated that its newest premium earbuds offer 20 per cent more noise cancellation than the older XM4 model; something we found to be utterly believable during testing. Each earbud has an additional mic (three on each) for more effective filtering of unwanted noise, working most effectively in the sonic midranges. 

That new and advanced HD Noise Cancelling QN2e processor – another nice addition for the XM5 – is clearly having an effect as well, as is the buds' Wind Noise Reduction Structure for less intrusion and more clarity when the weather gets blustery. If ANC and call quality are top priorities for you, then the XM5 are a class above in every way.

The C700N give a lot for a little again here, but it isn't enough to knock the XM5 off their perch thanks to a big step up in quality delivered by the more recent, far more expensive model. 

**Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5**

WF-1000XM5 vs WF-C700N: sound quality

Sony C700N vs XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Let's give the C700N their due – for such an inexpensive pair of earbuds, the sound quality they offer is little short of remarkable. Sony's budget-end wireless buds are remarkably attention-grabbing at this price, providing not only weight and texture to their musical output but a startling feeling of power and drive, too. There's great balance and nuance thrown into the mix as well – qualities you will struggle to find elsewhere for under £100 / $120 / AU$200. 

The C700N, with a custom 5mm driver in each earbud, have been designed to deliver "powerful bass and stunningly clear vocals", according to the company itself. On that front, the C700N have lived up to their own hype: bass is hefty and vocals convey emotion and refinement with confidence and ease. A real triumph. 

The XM5's bigger 8.4mm and new Dynamic Driver X is more advanced (as you'd expect from a new premium flagship pair) and is equipped with a larger magnet which Sony claims not only improves audio fidelity but also the effectiveness of ANC, especially at low frequencies. 

Once again, we're expecting a sonic step up from the premium, and thus more costly, WF-1000XM5 model. As hinted at in our intro, it's not just the quality of the XM5 which makes them remarkable, it's also how different they feel from previous Sony models, especially the richer, more engaged XM4. 

Unlike their predecessors, the XM5 prioritise detail, nuance and clarity, rarely colouring music with any given tone or timbre but rather stepping back to give their musical cargo room to breathe within a wide, spacious canvas. In doing so, the XM5 reveal so much more detail, texture and nuance to practically anything that comes their way, and while some may prefer more meat and flavour to a pair of wireless in-ears, it's hard to deny just how impressive Sony's latest are at revealing a track's many various intricacies and quirks. 

If you're looking for a definitive answer, here, it's hard to see past the more expensive of the two. The WF-C700N's sound is entertaining and excellent value, yet even they can't compete with a rival stablemate which costs around three times as much. The win goes to the XM5, but don't lose sight of how good the C700N are considering their ever-diminishing cost.

**Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5**

WF-1000XM5 vs WF-C700N: verdict

Sony C700N vs. XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The question of which pair of Sony headphones – the C700N or the XM5 – is superior isn't necessarily the same as which we would recommend you actually buy. All things are relative to price in the world of consumer audio, so any recommendation is always given through that lens. 

Objectively, the XM5 are superior, much as a Ferrari will trounce your old Mini Metro from 0-60. Their refined, musical sound, impressive set of desirable features, luxurious build quality and effortless ANC implementation all put them into a class of one. If you want a clear, definitive winner, the Sony WF-1000XM5 take the cake. 

Yet which pair you should buy is a trickier question. Firstly, we are aware that not everyone wants to fork out multiple hundreds of pounds/dollars for earbuds. Secondly, the value that the C700N offer is exceptional, with £85ish deals on Amazon giving you a remarkable sound-for-price ratio. The C700N aren't the newest or most premium buds, but for such a meagre outlay they make a really strong case.

Whatever you choose, you're going to end up with a five-star pair of earbuds that will last longer than most relationships, all while performing in the areas you'd expect from Sony. However you pick, just make sure you've made the right choice for you.


These are the best wireless earbuds you can buy

5 sound settings you shouldn't ignore on the Sony WF-1000XM5

I love the Sony WF-1000XM5 but there’s one thing I would change (and it isn’t the noise-cancelling)

Read our full Sony WF-C700N review

And, of course, our full Sony WF-1000XM5 review, too

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs. 

  • erbasically
    I‘m surprised there’s no love here for the Linkbuds S, which are usually available for about £40 more than the C700N. They are incredibly light and comfortable and sound pretty good, but the biggest improvement over the C700N is in the noise cancelling. I took a pair of the cheaper buds for a walk and a bus ride and yes, the noise was reduced but still intrusive. Took the Linkbuds S for a stroll and passing traffic was barely audible, just a swishing sound.