Best Sony headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Sony headphones you can buy in 2023.
Looking for a new pair of headphones? Sony makes some of the best headphones on the planet right now, so its wares should be high on your list. Whether you're after in-ear, on-ear, wireless or noise-cancelling headphones, there's a pair of Sony's for you.
The experts at What Hi-Fi? have tested all the best Sony headphones, many of which have earned five stars under review and won coveted What Hi-Fi? Awards. You'll find these models below, ranked according to their overall performance and value for money.
In the market for premium wireless earbuds? We're expecting Sony to unveil the WF-1000XM5 in the near future, so that's something to bear in mind.
How to choose the best Sony headphones for you
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So, what should you look for before buying a pair of Sony headphones? Firstly, you need to pick a style (in-/on-/over-ear) and then think about which features you want. Do you want a portable pair for commuting or the gym, or are they going to be used mainly at home? If you want Bluetooth and noise-cancelling, pay close attention to battery life.
Most of the best Sony headphones have touch controls for functions like play/pause, skipping track, etc and some are compatible with voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri. Premium models such as the WH-1000XM5 over-ears offer even more advanced features such as Speak-to-Chat.
If you opt for a high-end pair, you might even want to plug into a dedicated headphone amplifier to hear them at their very best. These are all things to consider when making your choice.
Right, enough talk. Here are the best Sony headphones, from all the models we've tested...
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It can be tricky for a manufacturer to push the sound performance of a product consistently from generation to generation, but that is what Sony has managed to do with the 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award-winning WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones.
When we saw the official pictures of the Sony WH-1000XM5, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was a wise move to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory – and some of the best headphones ever made – a major redesign. But it's paid off.
The Sony XM5 headphones might feel a little less premium 2020's WH-1000XM4 (below), but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one, and rivals could once again have their work cut out. If you are looking for a new pair of Sony headphones, and don't mind paying a premium for the latest and greatest tech, the XM5 should be top of your list.
Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Despite arriving back in 2020, the musical-sounding XM4 continue to be some of the best noise-cancelling headphone around thanks to their refined design, advanced features and Sony's excellent DSEE Extreme audio processor.
The chip brings Sony's Edge-AI artificial intelligence into play, which produces a more accurate sound from certain sound files. There's also a new algorithm to analyse outside noise in even greater detail, providing more effective noise cancellation.
Both the XM4 and their predecessor, the XM3, use the same control systems – a touch-sensitive panel on the ear cup and your chosen voice assistant (Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant). But as you'd expect, the newer XM4 have a few more tricks up their sleeve including a Speak-to-Chat feature and improved call quality. The XM4 can connect to two devices at once, too, which is one more than the XM3.
The XM4 have be superseded by the XM5 (above) but, with a 30-hour battery life and a comfortable design, Sony's slightly older noise-cancellers are still a superb buy, especially now that they're discounted. They featured among the 'best wireless headphones' at the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022.
Read the full Sony WH-1000XM4 review
Sony's Award-winning WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds are are brilliant choice for those who want to listen on the go. The XM4 buds build on the huge success of the 2020 Award-winning WF-1000XM3 buds with added comfort and even better sound.
They produce one of the most dynamic, detailed and balanced performances we've heard from a pair of Bluetooth buds. Bass notes sound tight and textured, while vocals ooze refinement and sophistication. Their musical delivery keeps you coming back for more, and also makes you thankful for the eight hours of battery life, which is class-leading in this field.
They're comfortable to wear too. The compact earpieces include touch-sensitive controls and a new ear tip design which helps with noise isolation. Combine this with Sony's excellent noise cancelling and you've got a pair of headphones that effectively block out the hustle and bustle.
IPX4 water resistance comes as part of the WF-1000XM4 package, as does Sony's clever Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android and clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-to-Chat.
The WF-1000XM4 aren't just the best Sony wireless earbuds, they're the best earbuds you can buy right now, period.
Read the full Sony WF-1000XM4 review
The What Hi-Fi? Award-winning WF-C500 manage to pack in a lot of what makes Sony's expensive true wireless in-ears – such as the WF-1000XM4 – a success without cutting too many corners.
You get an IPX4 rating for moisture- and splash-resistance, plus ‘fast pair’ connectivity with Android devices and ‘swift pair’ with Windows 10 PCs. It's possible to use Google Assistant or Siri to control these buds, although neither platform is built in.
Sound is nicely balanced and even-handed; mid-range is loaded with detail and vocals are presented in a cohesive manner. Can The WF-C500 be bettered? Sure – some alternatives are punching are more convincing. But for the money, it's a decent sonic performance.
Downsides? Battery life is 10 hours from the buds themselves, plus another 10 hours from the case. That's really nothing nothing special when compared to rivals. Still, if you're after the best sub-£100 earbuds, the Sony's WF-C500 should be on your shortlist.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
If the XM5 and XM4 over-ears are out of your budget, the WH-1000XM3, launched in 2018, can be snapped up quite a bit cheaper. And they provide a fantastic listening experience too.
For starters, they're some of the most comfortable noise-cancelling headphones we've tested. They have almost as many features as the XM4, including the touch-sensitive panel on the right ear cup for controls. (Hold your hand to it and it'll quieten what's playing so you can hear the outside world.) You can also speak to control one of your voice assistants, be it Siri or Google Assistant.
Battery life is the same 30 hours as the XM4, while they go from empty to full in three hours. Even just a five-minute charge should be enough for five hours of use.
The noise-cancelling from these Award-winning headphones is excellent, and the sound? Gloriously open and spacious, giving every instrument room to breathe. For the money, they're a virtually faultless pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Beats, Bose and Sennheiser all offer rivals, but these are the best for sound quality.
The 2019-launched WF-1000XM3 are a brilliant blend of features and performance. Sure, they've now been superseded by the 2021 WF-1000XM4 earbuds, but the XM3 are far from outdated and remain good value for money.
The active noise-cancelling works a treat, and you get up to 24 hours of battery life with the help of the portable carry case (up to 32 hours if you switch noise-cancelling off).
The XM3, while chunkier than their successors, sit snugly in your ears and they even manage to squeeze in touch controls for music playback. They're not waterproof, though, so we wouldn't necessarily recommend you use them for outdoor running or a sweaty workout down at the gym.
Like their over-ear brethren, sound is musical, dynamic and wonderfully detailed. We always recommend that you go for the newer (and even better-sounding) WF-1000XM4. But if it's a bargain you're after the XM3 buds could be just the job.
Read the full Sony WF-1000XM3 review
Despite being a gaming headset first and foremost, these over-ear headphones aimed at PS5 owners offer an accomplished core audio performance. They can also take your gaming to new levels, especially when combined with the PS5’s 3D audio processing.
The headset’s controls are located around the edge of the left cup and include a rocker to adjust the balance between game audio and chat. Battery life is 12 hours, which isn’t huge by Bluetooth headphone standards but should cover the longest of gaming sessions.
As well as the PS5, you can also use the Pulse 3D headset wirelessly with a PC or PS4, and there’s also an included 3.5mm cable for when you run out of batteries or want to use the headset with an Xbox, phone or tablet.
If you don’t have the money, space or circumstances for a home cinema system, the PlayStation Pulse 3D Wireless Headset is pretty much the next best thing as far as PS5 gaming is concerned, which makes them a smart choice.
Read the full Sony PlayStation Pulse 3D Wireless Headset review
Some of the headline features aren't hugely impressive – the Virtual Surround Sound is distinctly average and basic 3D audio is only available on a handful of games – but the sound quality on offer here more than makes up for any shortcommings.
Clarity is impressive, detail plentiful and bass nicely defined. The new Pulse 3D headset for the PS5 (above) offers a far more advanced 3D audio experience but then, it costs more. The Playstation 4 Platinum Headset might be getting a bit long in the tooth now, but it's tough to find a better-sounding gaming headset for the money.
Read the full Sony PlayStation Platinum Wireless Headset review
The WF-SP800N noise-cancelling earbuds are great all-rounders designed to please. They'll please those who need accompaniment to their workout/commute, as well as those who don't want splash out on top-tier noise-cancelling buds.
And despite the reasonable price tag, they're well-specced offer plenty of useful features. Got a Deezer or Tidal subscription? These buds support 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s spatial audio format.
Control is available via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, and the mic array ensures your instructions are heard reliably. Just as well, as the touch controls don't include ‘volume up/down’ in the list of functions.
Battery life is distinctly average (18 hours total) but that's not enough to dampen our enthusiasm for the SP-WF800N. Their winning combination of dynamic sound, decent noise-cancelling, good build quality and smart features are hard to beat at this price point.
Read the full review: Sony WF-SP800N
The original LinkBuds launched in March 2022, complete with innovative 'open ring' drivers. Sony followed up with the more conventional-looking LinkBuds S, which offer active noise-cancelling in place of the open rings.
The Linkbuds S is are very small – Sony billed them as 'the world’s smallest noise-cancelling wireless earbuds' – and very comfortable. They're also IPX4 water resistant, meaning they can handle a gym workout and your commute to work.
The touch controls are responsive although these LinkBuds don’t get the Wide Area Tap feature of the originals, which allows you to control them by touching the surface of your skin just in front of your ear.
In isolation, the LinkBuds S sound good, and the noise-cancelling is decent. They also boast some useful features such as Google Fast Pair (for Android devices). But they are also slightly disappointing in that they lack the rhythmic drive of Sony’s other wireless earbuds. A solid buy, but not Sony’s finest work.
Read the full Sony LinkBuds S review
Sony’s original LinkBuds deserve praise for their clever design. They use a ring-shaped 12mm driver with a hole in middle, which lets you hear the outside world while your music plays in the background. The idea is that you can opt to wear the LinkBuds all day, whilst working, gaming and socialising.
We like the LinkBuds a lot. They're comfortable, extremely light and call upon Sony’s DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology to help restore high-frequency sounds lost in compressed digital audio files. Even the touch controls are inventive: you can choose to tap the surface of the main bud or tap the area in front of the bud, thanks to a special sensor.
On the downside, the LinkBuds aren't perfect from a sound quality perspective. Detail levels are good for the money, but how much of that you’ll hear can be affected by ambient noise levels. They're not hugely dynamic, either.
That aside, the LinkBuds are worth considering if you aren't sold on conventional in-ears.
Read our full Sony LinkBuds review
On the hunt for a pair of affordable, sporty wireless buds? The 2020 WF-XB700 could be a good option, especially if you can pick them up cheaply. Battery life is 18 hours – nine hours from the buds, nine hours from the case – so they'll outlast most workouts, plus they're IPX4 rated, meaning they're water and sweat resistant.
Comfort is good. In fact, we found we could locate them in our ears and forget they were there. A button on each buds allows for basic controls such as play/pause and skip track.
The WF-XB700 are part of Sony's Extra Bass range of audio products meaning they're tuned to emphasise low-frequency response, rather than deliver a neutral sonic balance. The result is a punchy low-end, but it doesn't overshadow mid and high frequencies, which display pleasing levels of agility.
Some of Sony's pricier buds boast greater detail and subtlety, and the 2021 WF-C500 offer better battery life. But if you're after sporty buds, these could be the best Sony headphones for you.
Read the full review: Sony WF-XB700
How we test headphones
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.
Of course, testing headphones don't often require such facilities (though we do often try audiophile headphones in our reference hi-fi system). What is important in our headphones reviewing process is that each pair is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the 100+ pairs we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at their very best, so we'll try plenty of different types of music and give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in), while the wired headphones that might warrant being used with a DAC are tested with a suitable one. It's not just about sound quality, of course. If a pair has active noise cancellation – increasingly the case these days – we'll ensure part of our testing involves using them in different environments.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.