You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but pleasing all of the people all of the time is a different matter entirely. However, you can rely on a company as intrepid as Sony to give it a shot.
The Sony WF-SP800N earbuds certainly try to please everyone. They want to please those who need accompaniment to their workout and also those who have a commute to endure. They aim to please those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on some well-specified, true wireless in-ear headphones with active noise-cancellation, but also those who have spent enough on a Deezer or Tidal subscription to have access to 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s spatial audio format.
So is the WF-SP800N really a pair of headphones that will unite everyone in admiration?
Like a few of Sony’s true wireless earbuds – notably the Award-winning WF-1000XM3 – the WF-SP800N have a lot going on outside the wearer’s ear. It makes for a look that’s not so much ‘retro’ as ‘old-fashioned’ – they look a bit like a Bluetooth headset from the early days of the 21st century – but at least no one will wonder whether or not you’re wearing headphones.
Type Closed, dynamic
Battery life Up to 9 hours (NC on) + 9 hours from case
Bluetooth version 5.0
Noise cancelling Yes
Weight 9.8g each
Despite so much of the WF-SP800N happening outside the ear, they’re never less than a snug and secure fit. That may be ideal for fitness fanatics, but they can get a bit tiring after a while. Of course, Sony provides a selection of silicon wing-hooks and ear-tips to help deliver an appropriate fit to all types of ears – but there’s no two ways about it, the WF-SP800N make your ears feel full. It’s a testament to the way they’re designed, though, that each earbud’s considerable 9.8g weight never feels like a burden.
Nevertheless, if you can tolerate the way they feel, the Sonys are ready to keep you entertained for hours on end. There’s an impressive nine hours of battery held in the buds themselves – low-power Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity helps out here – plus a less impressive nine hours in the charging case. That begs the question: “why is the charging case so big?” until you remember it has to accommodate two big earbuds.
Still, at least there are four colour options (white, black, blue or orangey-red) available – if you’re going to have great big earbuds emerging from your ears, they may as well be in a colour you like. Recharging happens using the case’s USB-C input – they’ll go from flat to full in around three hours.
Like most Sony products, the WF-SP800N feel properly constructed and built to last. Everything lines up flawlessly and fits together smoothly, while the magnets and hinges of the charging case feel robust. Any threat to the longevity of the WF-SP800N is more likely to come from owner carelessness than from the quality of their build.
Because the Sonys want to make themselves useful to the more active among us, they’re built up to IP55 standard, meaning they’re resistant to dust, sweat and water. Up to a point, at least.
Control is available via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, and the mic array ensures your instructions are heard reliably. Which is just as well, as despite having a nice big surface available for capacitive touch controls, Sony has once again neglected to include ‘volume up/down’ in the list of functions available via touch-control. To adjust the output level, you either have to ask your assistant to do it or fish out your phone or music player and do it manually. It’s more than a little unhelpful.
Everything else you might conceivably want to control is available via the touch-surfaces on each earbud, as well as some stuff you might have thought was best left to Sony’s Headphones Connect control app, such as the ability to cycle through ‘noise-cancellation on/off and ambient sound’.
Sony continues to make a noise about its 360 Reality Audio format, which intends to put you in the centre of the sonic action – so a 360 Reality Audio master of A Tribe Called Quest’s Scenario via Tidal seems as good a place as any to start.
There’s no denying the effectiveness of this spatial audio format compared with the stereo alternative. Sounds have a far greater variety of origin-points than they do in a regular stereo mix, and as a consequence the sonic effect is a lot more enveloping.
But as for the way the WF-SP800N go about making music, it’s much more revealing (and applicable to most people’s real-world experience) to listen to some stereo music. And with a hi-res file of Guess I’m Doing Fine by Beck playing, they’re an undeniably assertive and insightful listen.
At the top of the frequency range, the Sonys are never less than crisp. In the wrong circumstances, it’s a trait that could possibly manifest itself as thinness, but here the WF-SP800N summon just about as much top-end attack as is acceptable.
Through the midrange, they load Beck’s vocal with information – he often sounds lazy and half-hearted when delivering a vocal, but through the Sonys the subtlety and nuance in his technique is revealed. As a result, he sounds more engaged, and is more engaging, than is usually the case through a pair of reasonably affordable true wireless earbuds.
Down at the bottom end, things are slightly more problematic. Unless you delve into the Headphones Connect app to disable it, the Sonys engage something called ‘Clear bass’ – which is among one of the more flagrant misnomers you’ll come across. ‘Clear bass’ turns out to mean ‘over-confident bass’ and encourages the low frequencies to intrude on the midrange more than a little.
Turn it off, though, and bass sounds behave far better – they stick to their own area of the frequency range, and the soundstage, in turn, becomes more open and better defined as a result.
Given the right stuff to work with, such as an MQA file of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Minimum Brain Size, the WF-SP800N reveal themselves as a genuinely vigorous and front-foot listen.
They have a facility with broad-strokes dynamics that’s matched by their ability to deal with smaller harmonic variances and dynamics, and they carry a lot of rhythmic energy. Every element of the recording hangs together nicely and sounds unified in a natural and convincing way.
The Sony WF-SP800N aren’t perfect – they can be coarse at the top end and their default bass response is perhaps too rich for its own good – but they can be finessed to deliver a really energetic, well-balanced and enjoyable sound. And at this price, that’s enough to make them a front-runner, despite their bog-standard battery life and arguably daft looks.
Add in a worthwhile control app, decent noise-cancelling and indisputable build quality, and they start to look like very good value indeed.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best noise-cancelling earbuds
Read our Sony WF-XB700 review