Sony WH-CH520 review

Certainly cheap and definitely cheerful Tested at £49 / $59 / AU$79

Over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH520
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Built down to a price, of course – but compromised in the least compromising way, and with audio performance easily in excess of the asking price


  • +

    Balanced and engaging sound

  • +

    Great battery life

  • +

    Useful and extensive control app


  • -

    Dynamically inhibited

  • -

    Could conceivably have greater insight

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The Sony WH-CH520 on-ear headphones are without doubt one of the less glamorous products in Sony’s seemingly endless catalogue of headphones. But it doesn’t automatically follow that they’re not worthy of attention – a product doesn’t have to command a premium price or sit near the top of a company’s line-up to stand out, especially when the company in question has a line-up that goes on and on. Gems are sometimes hidden, after all… 


Over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH520

(Image credit: Sony)

The Sony WH-CH520 are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they’re yours for £49. In America they cost an equally bargainous $59, while in Australia they’ll set you back AU$79. You don’t have to know the headphones market inside-out to realise this is not a lot of money for a well-specified pair of on-ear headphones from one of the biggest brands around – but then again, hitters as big as Sennheiser have competing products with which to tempt you. Sony doesn’t have the playground all to itself…

Design & comfort

Sony WH-CH520 headphones in hand

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

It’s important to keep your expectations realistic when you’re spending comparatively little money on a product like a pair of on-ear headphones – especially where materials are concerned. There’s no two ways about it, the Sony WH-CH520 don’t feel anything special. In fact, they feel a little bit plasticky. 

But really, what are you expecting for your £50? And besides, ‘not feeling anything special’ doesn’t mean the WH-CH520 are in any way badly made or finished – quite the opposite, in fact. They’re put together well, and feel built to last – the headband adjustment mechanism, for example, is robust and moves with reassuring solidity. 

Sony WH-CH520 tech specs

Over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH520

(Image credit: Sony)

Bluetooth? Yes

Codec support SBC, AAC 

Battery life 50 hours 

Charging USB-C


Built-in mic and controls? Yes 

Weight 147g

Finishes x4

At each contact point, the Sonys feel properly constructed. There’s mild padding on the inside of the headband and the earpads, which helps no end with comfort. An all-in weight of just 147g doesn’t do any harm in this respect either, and even though they’re pleather-covered, the earpads resist returning your body heat for quite a while. The hinges where the closed-back earcups meet the headband feel sturdy, and the earcups themselves swivel a little. This helps both with getting a secure, comfortable fit and with portability.

You get a slightly wider choice of finish than is usual, too. As well as the predictable black or white, Sony also offers the WH-CH520 in quite a bright blue or an understated/dull (delete as applicable) beige.


Over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH520

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we’re going to repeat ourselves: you have to keep your expectations realistic. If you do, there’s every chance you’ll be quite impressed with the feature set the WH-CH520 are packing.

Wireless connection is via Bluetooth 5.2 (with ‘Fast Pair’ for Android devices). The Sonys have multipoint connectivity, and there’s compatibility with SBC and AAC codecs – the company claims a connection range of 10 metres, which seems achievable. When the digital audio content is on board, it’s served up by a couple of 30mm full-range dynamic drivers and the claimed frequency response is 20Hz - 20kHz.

There are physical controls on the right earcup. The classic three-button strip takes care of ‘power on/off’, ‘Bluetooth pairing’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘volume up/down’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’. A single mic deals with call quality, assisted by some on-board noise-suppression processing.

Of course, you may prefer to control your WH-CH520 using Sony’s stable and useful Headphones Connect control app (free for iOS and Android). It’s slightly truncated compared to the version that accompanies some of Sony’s more expensive headphones and earbuds like the XM5 models – but it’s still a superior example of the type. As well as controlling all the major functions, the app has some EQ presets, a five-band equaliser for you to make some custom EQ adjustments, and a hearing test to help you find your ideal sonic balance. It also features Sony’s DSEE (digital sound enhancement engine), which reckons it can upscale your lossy digital audio files, on the fly, to a higher-resolution standard. 

One of those physical controls also wakes your source player’s native voice assistant. Google Assistant or Siri, that is, but not Bixby – there are limits. 

Battery life

Finally, we’ve reached a point where your expectations can surely be exceeded. 

The Sony WH-CH520 can run for as much as 50 hours between charges. That’s when listening conditions are optimal, of course, but even if you like to listen at full volume all the time, 40 hours is yours with no problem. These are both impressive figures, especially when you consider that, should the worst happen, just three minutes on the juice should hold you for anything up to an hour and a half. Charging is achieved using the USB-C socket on the edge of the right earcup. 


Over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH520

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Fifty hours is a long time to be listening to music – but we have to start somewhere. And with a Tidal Hi-Fi stream of Soccer Mommy’s Soak Up The Sun playing, the Sony WH-CH520 don’t take long to establish themselves as a nicely balanced, quite informative and enjoyable listen.

They’re not the most expressive headphones you've ever heard where low frequencies are concerned, it’s true. But the low end they generate is solid, deep and properly controlled at the leading edges, so the WH-CH520 express rhythms confidently. They hit reasonably hard, and keep bass firmly in its lane where it can’t interfere with the midrange activity above.

The midrange itself lacks ultimate clarity, but by prevailing price standards it’s informative and actually quite eloquent where vocalists are concerned. It integrates nicely with the frequency information both above and below, and projects well – the Sonys do good work, leaving a small, but definite, area of space in which a singer in the midrange can operate.  

The top of the frequency range balances brightness with substance well, so treble sounds have a little body to go along with their shine. Again, there could be greater fine detail retrieval – but that’s really to judge the WH-CH520 by the standards of more expensive headphones. And besides, we’ll probably trade the last shred of fine detail for the lack of rolling-off the Sonys indulge in – that really is a trait quite a lot of affordable headphones indulge in, but not these.

Where dynamic expression is concerned, the WH-CH520 are just a little inhibited. They’ll make the difference between the quietest and the loudest moments in a recording apparent, but not glaringly obvious. They just don’t seem to have sufficient headroom. There’s no shortage of animation to their sound, though, and their overall tonality is convincingly neutral.


Over-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH520

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

We’ll go out the way we came in: by saying you can’t really expect the Earth when you’re paying pennies less than £50 for a pair of headphones. What’s remarkable about the Sony WH-CH520 is how little compromise they demand of you, both in terms of audio performance and ergonomics. They’re a little bit of a bargain. 


  • Sound 5
  • Features 5
  • Comfort 5


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