Alongside the WF-1000XM4, Sony offers a much more affordable set of headphones called the WF-C500. Despite their apparent simplicity, they are no less capable.
While Sony is on top of the world with the excellent WF-1000XM4, the Japanese company is hoping to make its voice heard in the highly competitive market of true wireless headphones under €100. The philosophy behind the WF-C500 is to offer the Sony sound experience in a headphone model that is accessible to the most modest of budgets.
However, reaching a low price point does not come without concessions. The WF-C500 omits many of the features found in more expensive models, such as active noise reduction, LDAC Bluetooth codec integration and proximity detection. Simplicity is the key word here.
Construction & accessories
While Sony has been used to designing large and often unattractive headphones, the WF-C500 stands out from its cousins with a compact and particularly discreet pellet-shaped design. The plastic used for the outer shell is not exceptional and can even have a "toy" effect, but its satin finish allows it not to catch fingerprints. The headphones still feel robust, which is supported by an IPX4 certification indicating resistance to water splashes and perspiration.
As for the case, it is in the form of a pill and is relatively small, which allows it to slip easily into a pants pocket. It is composed of the same rather "cheap" plastic as the earpieces and has a transparent cover letting appear the various indicators of load. This case is far from giving a good impression of robustness, only the hinge seems strong enough to withstand many cycles of opening. However, the hinge is particularly rigid, which makes it difficult to handle the case with one hand.
Comfort & fit
The WF-C500 are particularly comfortable to wear on a daily basis, partly due to their light weight (5.4 g per earphone), but also because they are relatively non-intrusive in the ear canal. These earphones can thus be carried during long hours without creating particular embarrassment or acoustic pressure due to their in-ear design. Of course, you'll need to choose the right pair of silicone tips from the three available to make the WF-C500 fit you best. Even if they are not very intrusive, this does not prevent them from offering a quite honest support. They are thus appropriate perfectly for the sporting practice.
The WF-C500s offer few features, but they are easy to use and the basics are covered. The controls are two large physical buttons on each side of the headphones. These have a short enough travel that they don't press the earphones down each time and the "click" is not aggressive to the ears. All the essential controls are taken care of: control of playback and calls, navigation between tracks, volume management and activation of the assistant, nothing is missing. The controls could have been a little more responsive, though - it takes about a second for the requested action to be performed.
The headphones communicate via Bluetooth 5.0 and support SBC and AAC codecs. When the case is first opened, the pairing procedure starts automatically when the headphones are removed. You will then have to force the pairing by holding down both buttons for about 5 seconds each time you change the source. In addition, the WF-C500 are Fast Pair and Swift Pair compatible for quick pairing on Android and Windows 10. The connection was stable overall, but we still experienced some sync issues with the left earpiece at times.
The WF-C500 are of course supported by the excellent Headphones Connect app (Android and iOS). There is a player, an equalizer and various information such as the Bluetooth codec used or the remaining battery level. It is also within this app that it is possible to change the language of the voice prompts or to configure the 360 Reality Audio to your morphology.
We measured a fairly considerable autonomy of 13 hours for a single charge during our various tests. This means that the 10-hour promise is easily kept and the WF-C500 is one of the longest-lasting true wireless headphones on the market. That said, the case only offers a few additional hours and not a full additional charge to reach a total of about 20 h in operation. Charging is done via USB-C thanks to the 20 cm mini cable that comes with the headphones.
The WF-C500 does not really shine by the recording quality of its microphones. Even if the voice is intelligible in quiet environments, it has a particularly pronounced metallic and nasal appearance. The voice also sounds distant and completely narrow.
In the vicinity of a busy intersection or street, the microphones are completely overwhelmed and simply cannot distinguish the voice from other noises such as engines. In any case, we advise you to pick up the phone directly if you want to be understood by the person you are talking to.
According to our measurements, the latency in Bluetooth communication is 242 ms. Such a delay causes a significant delay between sound and image, particularly unpleasant for video viewing. Fortunately, latency compensation is available for the vast majority of applications such as Netflix, Disney+ or YouTube. However, video content is not compensated and is therefore difficult to watch.
Sony has paid particular attention to the sound signature of its entry-level model. The rendering is quite surprising and particularly well mastered in the bass and midrange. It's a pity that this is less the case for the high mids and highs.
Let's focus first on the first part of the spectrum. The treatment reserved for the bass and midrange is quite typical of what we find on other Sony headphones and earphones. Indeed, the WF-C500 benefit from an excellent base and a very good extension in the extreme bass. The bass generally benefits from a certain embonpoint which gives a particularly flattering warmth and rendering to the overall rendering without ever falling into overkill. In itself, only a slight lack of precision tarnishes this picture. As for the midrange, it enjoys a good treatment and is very well controlled. The balance is good and the timbres are respected.
Unfortunately, things get worse when it comes to the treatment of the upper midrange and treble. The high mids are indeed over-represented, which gives the overall rendering - and especially the voices - a slight nasal aspect. Also, this overdoing does not leave any room for the highs to express themselves: the instruments officiating in this register are hardly identifiable and certain flickering effects, which one can usually detect on instruments such as cymbals, brass instruments or other bells, are simply not transcribed. This also results in a lack of airiness of the soundstage, which is not particularly wide or deep. To make matters worse, the upper mids and highs are not particularly well defined and sibilance phenomena are quite present.
Sony is the undisputed king of the high-end sector, and has produced a model that is much more modest than the excellent WF-1000XM4, but which manages to impress with its comfort and more than generous autonomy. The WF-C500 are also able to offer an honest sound experience thanks to a warm signature that is however tarnished by highs that are too low. In the segment of true wireless headphones under $100, the WF-C500 have almost everything to please, but the competition may be tough given the number of models just as capable and sometimes offering the active noise reduction they lack.