Sony WF-SP800N Review

Sony WF-SP800N Review

After waiting inordinately long to enter the congested true wireless market in India, Sony finally introduced two of its true wireless offerings - the Sony WF-XB700 and the Sony WF-SP800N. The former is Sony’s mass-market product and we’ve already reviewed it, so be sure to check it out. The latter is Sony’s premium sports true wireless earphones packing features such as Active Noise Cancellation, touch controls, and more. Priced at Rs 18,990, these premium true wireless earphones undercuts the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, the Powerbeats Pro, and Apple AirPods Pro, however, the Jabra Elite 75t can be purchased for a slightly lower price, albeit it doesn’t have ANC. Sony hasn’t brought the highly-acclaimed Sony WF-1000XM3 packing the QN1e processor to the Indian market, so the WF-SP800N is the most premium offering by Sony in India. So, let’s see how it performs in our tests and how it matches up to the other premium true wireless offerings in the Indian market.


Build and design



The Sony WF-SP800N are big, brawny earphones with a charging case to match. While many audio manufacturers are veering towards stripping down the size of their true wireless offerings, Sony seems to have gone the other way around with these earphones. The earphones have an oval, elongated design with a matte texture all over, except the teardrop-shaped touch panel on the top half of each earbud. The touch panel features a slight indent and has a glossy texture. The indent makes it easier to feel for and touch the panel.



The earphones are available in three colour variants - Blue, Black and White (we got the blue ones for review). The tips of the earphones are angled inwards at a 45-degree angle which aids in getting a secure fit. Speaking of the fit, since these are sports earphones, achieving a secure fit is paramount. To that end, Sony has incorporated four sizes of silicone ear tips and two sizes of ear hooks or ear fins. To ensure you get a snug fit, you will need to twist and ‘lock’ the earbuds in place.



The earphones are in no way, shape or form what you’d call small and understated. They jut out of the ears considerably and call quite a good share of attention to themselves. Nevertheless, they are lightweight, so it doesn’t necessarily feel like they may pop out of your ears due to the overbearing weight during most activities. During jogging and walking, they stayed put at all times, however, some high-intensity workouts can cause them to come loose slightly, although they don’t completely fall off, thanks to the silicone hooks. All you need to do is readjust them, and you’re good to go.


Overall, they offer a supremely secure fit, they are comfortable to wear over short periods of time, and have plenty of customisation options (silicone ear tips and fins) to ensure that almost every user out there will find the perfect fit. Since the fit is extremely snug, the tightness does get slightly uncomfortable and even painful after say, 2-3 hours of wearing the earphones. We did have to take them out at this point, rest our ears for a bit before wearing them again.



The underside of the earphones also features three magnetic pogo pins which attach to the pins in the charging case quite firmly. The WF-SP800N also comes with wear detection sensors on the buds that sense whether the buds are inserted in the ear or they have been taken off. Accordingly, the music is automatically paused and played, so that the user doesn’t have to manually orchestrate the pause/play touch commands when taking off the earphones.



Now, coming to the charging case, it’s a massive chunk of plastic and sometimes, does feel slightly less premium than its cost. The matte-texture feels mediocre in hand and the insides of the case also feel quite ‘plasticky’. You are not getting the feeling of premium-ness through the case as you get with the Jabra Elite 75t and nowhere close to what the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 offers.



Even the significantly cheaper Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus’ case feels much more luxurious and of course, way sleeker. The Sony WF-SP800N’s charging case is slightly wider than the Samsung Buds Plus and about three times taller! Additionally, it features a rounded shape at the bottom, so the case cannot stand upright and needs to be laid down flat. At the bottom of the case, you will find the USB Type-C port. The case is quite robust and the magnets within it are extremely strong, both to keep the lid shut and to secure the buds within the case.



Seeing that the case only holds 9-13 hours of battery life (one extra charge for the buds), the case seems to be inordinately large and will definitely bulge out of most pockets. The charging case needs a larger real estate due to the sizable earbuds themselves, which packs Sony’s circuitry within. However, true wireless offerings from Jabra, Samsung and Apple have successfully demonstrated that you don’t need tons of space to squeeze in an ample number of features and functionality.


Features


The Sony WF-SP800N comes packing almost every premium feature that’s currently present in true wireless earphones in 2020. The most anticipated one is Sony’s acclaimed Active Noise Cancellation, which blew the competition away in the over-ear headphones category with the Sony WH-1000XM3. Unfortunately, Sony’s powerful QN1e processor (seen on the Sony WF-1000XM3) is absent on these, which does lower the quality of noise cancellation, especially in comparison to the expectations one has from Sony noise-cancelling headphones.


The ANC on these earphones is effective at diminishing constant, low-end sounds such as ACs, however, it does have a hard time subsiding erratic, high-pitched sounds. So, office chatter, noisy fans, traffic, horns, and other such sounds will penetrate through the ANC barrier pretty easily. Still, when you do have music on, the passive isolation coupled with the ANC and the music does amount to a pretty immersive experience with minimal distractions. However, if you often use ANC headphones without music on, you may experience lacklustre external sound mitigation and there’s even a slight hiss in the background when ANC is turned on which can be a tad bit distracting.


Still, despite the absence of the QN1e processor, the ANC is quite decent and rivals the ANC present on the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, with the Sennheiser beating it only marginally. ANC aside, the earphones also come with a pretty capable Ambient Sound Mode that enhances external sounds, allowing you to hear what’s happening in your vicinity more clearly. This is quite useful if you run outdoors since it can keep you aware of traffic and construction work. Additionally, the amount of Ambient Sound you want to let in can also be adjusted by using Sony’s Headphone Connect app. There are 20 levels of ambient sound you can choose from.



The app actually hosts quite a few advanced features that allow users to get more out of these earphones. There’s something called Adaptive Sound Control that adjusts the Noise Cancelling or Ambient Sound modes as per where you’re going and what you’re doing. You can toggle this on or off within the app. Utilising AI capabilities, your current activity is determined - Staying, Walking, Running or Travelling and then the ambient sound settings are adjusted accordingly. You can customise what settings you’d prefer for which activity on the app as well. There’s also location-based ambient sound settings. For instance, the app recognises places you frequent such as the Gym, your home and work (you can even set these) and then sets up the corresponding ambient sound settings and even equaliser settings that you have chosen for a particular location. These settings worked pretty well in the short period of testing we could manage during the Covid-19 lockdown.


Apart from these settings, the app also offers a fully customisable equaliser and some preinstalled sound presets you can choose from such as Bright, Vocal, Bass Boost, etc. It also displays the battery percentage of your earphones and charging case, however, the case battery percentage only updates every time you connect your headphones to your device, so it is not the most accurate. There’s also support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, however, there are no apps available in India, so we couldn’t test this feature.


Another premium feature available on these earphones is customisable touch controls. While touch controls have become increasingly prominent in even budget-mid-range true wireless earphones, customisable ones are rare. The only other pair of true wireless earphones we have tested with customisable touch controls is the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, so it’s great to see Sony add this feature at a lower price point. By default, the left earphones’ touch panel cycles between Ambient Sound and Noise Cancelling modes and a long press starts up Quick Attention Mode. Quick Attention is an extremely nifty feature which lets you get into a quick conversation without pausing your music. Tapping and holding the left earbud will lower the volume and fire up Ambient Sound so that you can have a quick conversation with your colleague or friend nearby.


The right panel, on the other hand, features the pause/play, next track/ previous track, and Voice Assistant controls. In the app, you can choose to change the controls on either touch panel to Volume control, Google Assistant, Alexa, or none. Sadly, you cannot have Ambient Sound controls, playback controls, and volume controls at the same time, since only two of these can be applied. We stuck with the default controls since those are what we used most, but we did miss the volume controls. Additionally, if you do use Google Assistant a lot, setting that up on one touch panel can be useful since you can get your notifications read out, reply to messages, and much more, without picking up your phone. Overall, the touch controls are extremely responsive.



Apart from these headlining features, the Sony WF-SP800N also comes with an IP55 dust and water-resistant rating which means that it can easily shrug off splashes and rain. The only missing feature is wireless charging for the case. The Realme Buds Air, which costs significantly lesser has this feature, so it is a bit disappointing that Sony hasn’t included this feature on its most premium true wireless offering in India.


Sound quality


The Sony WF-SP800N carries the ‘Extra Bass’ branding despite not being part of the XB lineup. The warm sound profile does hold that branding up. The bass notes are slightly emphasised while the mids remain largely neutral apart from a small dip in the upper mids. The treble is slightly underemphasised, although there are some peaks in this frequency range as well. Overall, the 6mm drivers deliver well-balanced sound with energetic bass response, which suits an array of genres pretty well. However, the absence of the QN1e processor does hamper the detail a tad bit, especially in the upper-mids and highs.


The low-end calls the shots in these earphones, with tracks such as Another One Bites the Dust by Queen pumping out the bass kicks with substantial low-end drive and attack. Bass guitars also sound punchy and energetic in tracks such as Mindstreet by Motherjane. The depth of kick drums and bass guitars is quite prominent, however, it doesn’t take away from the clarity of mid-range vocals, which is impressive. However, the accentuated lows sometimes produce some sibilant noises in the upper mids.


Male vocals sound slightly better than female ones, which could be due to the slight dip in the highs. Nevertheless, there is no harsh distortion in the bass response and highs even when the volume is turned up to the maximum. In Shine One by Pink Floyd, you can notice the distinct separation between instruments, however, the soundstage is slightly congested. The roll-off point in the highs is mediocre which creates sibilance yet again, but it is barely noticeable.



The positioning cues on the earphones are brilliant with adequate channel separation. If you listen to rock music, you might notice that the cymbals sound quite faint. This is mainly due to the dip in this frequency, however, you can easily adjust this in the customisable EQ on the app. Due to the snug fit of the earphones, passive isolation is quite good as well, with voices and external sounds diminishing a fair amount. The ANC makes the isolation better, but not by much, especially when it comes to chatter and other high-pitched sounds.


Watching media and playing games with these earphones is a pleasurable experience. Sporting Bluetooth v5.0, the earphones are not at all prone to lags and skips in audio and there’s very little noticeable latency. The explosions in movies and gunshots in games sound punchy and dynamic. Dialogues are also sufficiently clear even in the midst of action and explosions.


Overall, the earphones have a pleasing, warm sound profile with slightly underemphasised highs and extended bass response. The energetic quality of sound makes listening to pop, EDM and rap genres extremely fun. Additionally, adequate passive isolation and ANC makes the experience even more immersive. However, the lack of aptX and Sony’s LDAC codec does negatively impact the detail in the mids and highs.


Battery life and microphone


The battery life of these earphones is quite stellar. You get 9 hours of playtime with ANC on and 13 hours with ANC off, on the earphones alone in a single charge. The only earphones that beat this figure (on the earphones alone) is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus with 11 hours on the buds. With mixed ANC usage, we managed to squeeze out about 10 and a half hours playback from the earphones alone, which is wildly impressive on true wireless earphones.



The battery life of charging case, on the other hand, is where we got thoroughly disappointed. Owing to the large form factor of the case, we were expecting the case to charge the earphones at least 2 times over. However, the massive case only holds one measly charge within it. So, as soon as you top off your earphones, you will have to go and charge the case immediately. Along with the charging case, you get a total of 18 hours of battery life with ANC on (9+9), and 26 hours with ANC off (13+13), which is impressive overall, but not so much when you look at the gargantuan size of the charging case.


The microphone on these earphones does a pretty decent job at making calls. The receiver on the other end could hear our voice pretty well, although sometimes it did sound a tad muffled. Still, speech intelligibility is not an issue on calls as well as recordings, and even Google Notes could pick up almost every word we said accurately. However, on calls, the microphone does pick up a fair bit of background sounds which does hamper the overall quality of calls.


Bottomline


The Sony WF-SP800N is no doubt a superb addition to the true wireless audio segment, offering ANC and other premium features at a sub-20K price point. However, for those vying for minimalism when it comes to the appearance of their earphones, these may not be the ones for you since both, the earphones and the charging case are big and bulky. Nevertheless, the sound quality is pretty balanced and pleasing to the ear, and most genres of music will sound good on these earphones. Additionally, you also get a sizable 9-13 hours of battery life (depending on if ANC is on or off) on the earphones itself, with an extra 9-13 hours from the charging case. So, if you’re someone looking for a pair of sports true wireless earphones with a secure fit, ANC and good battery life, these may be the ones for you.