Sony is, right now, the Manchester City of the wireless audio world, dominating the competition over the past few years with hit after five-star hit. From the budget WF-C500 wireless earbuds to the exceptional WH-1000XM5 over-ears, Sony is hoovering up Awards and five-star ratings like the Sky Blues monopolise Premier League titles.
Entering this rather rosy scene (for Sony) are the WH-CH720N, which aim to fill a gap in the market by offering ANC and a more premium build quality at a reasonable price. These are designed as a pair of cans for those who aren’t keen on forking out a few hundred quid for a more premium pair of over-ears, but equally don’t want to skimp on ANC or suffer a significant drop in audio fidelity by opting for the entry-level WH-CH520 instead.
If the over-ear CH720N can pull off this impressive trick, Sony will be receiving yet another recommendation from us, that’s for certain.
As we’ve hinted at above, this is a pair of headphones designed to fill a very particular place in the Sony line-up, bringing ANC and a greater feature list to the more budget-friendly end of the cost ladder.
They’ll set you back £99 / $129 / AU$259, a figure that places them around twice the price of the decidedly cheap and cheerful non-ANC WH-CH520 headphones we tested at (£49 / $59 / AU$79) and the recently-discontinued (but former Award-winning) Sennheiser HD 250BT (£50 / $60 / AU$120) with which we compared them.
Build quality & comfort
As is often the case at price points such as these, this is very much a case of managing your expectations. The Sony WH-CH720N are hardly a lavish affair and they certainly don’t make the heart flutter with excitement every time you set eyes upon them, but they’re solid, substantially made and reasonably comfortable for a pair of sub-£100 cans. Uncluttered and unassuming, this is a pair of headphones designed to get the job done. No fuss. No flourishes. All business.
Codec Support SBC, AAC
Battery Life Up to 50 hours (ANC and BT off), 35 hours (ANC / BT on)
Finishes x 3 (Black, Navy Blue, White)
They’re comfy, too. Compare the CH720N with the recently-discontinued Sennheiser HD250BT (a What Hi-Fi? 2022 Award-winning pair of budget over-ears for a slightly smaller price), and the difference is marked. The Sony cans are larger and more substantial than the diminutive Sennheisers, sporting a cushioned headband and lightly padded ear cups. For this price, you won’t find many better.
No, the CH720N don’t fold up and away, nor do they come with a designated carry case, something that we’d still like to see at this admittedly modest price point. Crucially, though, they feel good in the hand, with a construction that, like so many of Sony’s products, never feels as though it’s about to disintegrate, snap or be torn asunder by the wear and tear of everyday use.
You’re even treated to on-ear buttons on the right ear cup, including a play-pause button and volume controls, as well as a switch that toggles ANC between classic Noise Cancelling and Ambient Sound Control. It all works well enough, even if the buttons’ slightly awkward positioning can make them a little tricky to find during a busy commute or when your other free hand is occupied trying to stop your Jack Russell from digging into the neighbour’s backyard.
A big part of the CH720N’s appeal, nay, their raison d'être, is to provide noise cancelling on a budget, so it seems only right that we start with this vital pillar of the new Sony cans’ performance. Thankfully, they don’t let themselves down, and while more premium models such as the WH-1000XM5 over-ears or the Bose QuietComfort 45 will block out external noises more effectively, we find these affordable Sonys do an effective job of dampening, if not silencing completely, the rumble and swoosh of each passing car as it whizzes its way past on a busy nearby road.
There are two ANC modes to choose from: classic Noise Cancelling and Ambient Sound. Both are controllable from the Sony Headphones app, your base hub from which you can also select your EQ preferences, check battery life and generally tweak your cans’ settings to suit your preferences.
Battery life, meanwhile, climbs to 50 hours if you turn ANC off and is slightly more conservative with a higher listening volume, with up to 35 hours of juice available with ANC turned on – similar numbers as those achieved by the cheaper (but non-ANC) WH-CH520. Fifty hours at this level is more than plenty, though, and if you do find yourself running low, a three-minute quick boost will provide up to 60 minutes of extra playtime thanks to the CH720’s quick charge capabilities.
What really helps the CH720N to earn their stripes, though, are those extra, slightly more premium features that, aside from the boon of ANC, help to make these sensibly-priced over-ears feel like a great deal rather than a product designed simply to fill a market gap. Decent sound and noise cancelling would likely have been enough for most users at this price point, but the addition of Sony DSEE sound upscaling (which aims to enhance compressed low-quality audio files), not to mention support for Sony 360 Reality Audio, really add further value to the CH720N.
For all this talk of ANC and an expanded feature set, there’s no question that, in order to justify a significant price leap over the ultra-budget WF-CH520, the CH720N should be offering a much more complete, cohesive sound over that cheap and cheerful model.
Prodding around for a few appropriate test tracks via Tidal immediately gives us a clear impression of how the latest Sony over-ears carry themselves sonically. No shrinking violets, they imbue their musical cargo with heft and conviction, operating on the front foot in delivering an immediate, assertive sound with an emphasis on forceful, burly bass.
It’s a sonic character that can become a little overwhelming at times, and as we bounce across the Tidal-sphere digging out tracks from Ava Max, The La’s and Hans Zimmer, there’s no question that a pushy, bassy presentation is very much the CH720N’s default modus operandi. If you do find that becomes the case, we’d recommend heading over to the Sony Headphones app and adjusting the equaliser (we manually turned the bass down a notch but you can adjust your own settings accordingly), leaving us with all of that assertiveness and drive without so much emphasis on that sledgehammer bass. Now we’re in a better position to really let the Sony cans do their thing.
And boy, do they do it well. For the price, we can’t think of a pair of over-ear headphones at this price that could keep up with such a spirited delivery as we plunge into Muse’s Hysteria and find it to be a pulsating, crunchy delight, very much in keeping with the track’s original intent. The CH720N’s rendition of Tina Turner’s The Best really reveals their understanding of the song’s kick-snare rhythmic drive, while Wu-Tang Clan’s Gravel Pit is an invigorating, pulsating listen.
There’s no question that such an energetic, lively pair of headphones – far more akin to a bounding young puppy than a laid-back cool cat – are thus more conducive to certain genres than others. Rock and hip-hop fare especially well, benefiting greatly from the meat and texture that these over-ears afford. Listen to the absolute percussive force you receive when you listen to Nirvana’s You Know You’re Right and you’ll see, or rather hear, exactly what we mean.
That isn’t to say that subtler, quieter tracks fare poorly. There’s still texture and feeling to Elliot Smith’s Between The Bars, especially with regard to that resonant guitar sound, while alt-J's Every Other Freckle retains a great deal of its signature subtlety and surrealism within its layered arrangement.
Nonetheless, the CH720N’s punchy presentational style feels tailor-made for the genres that can get the best use from it, namely rock, hip-hop, big orchestral numbers and peppy, energetic pop hits. If those are the qualities you prioritise and the genres with which you feel the greatest affinity, the CH720N will really be right up your particular street.
The WH-CH720N have delivered exactly what Sony intended. For a very reasonable price, they’re a dependably made, enthusiastic-sounding pair of headphones that, while occasionally straying into the realm of excessive bass, deliver good ANC and a strong feature set to the mid-to-low price bracket of the wireless headphone market. Most definitely a job well done.
- Sound 5
- Build 4
- Features 5
Read our review of the Sony WH-CH520
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Our pick of the best over-ear headphones
See all the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winners