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(Pocket-lint) - Sony has embraced the move to true wireless headphones, offering a range of models from the premium WF-1000XM3 through to the WF-XB700, falling into different categories.

The X is the premium model, the XB is all about extra bass, while this SP model on review is designed to be a little sportier. But are these 'buds worthy of your attention?

Design

  • Touch controls on each bud
  • Weigh: 9.8g per bud
  • IP55 protection
  • Chunky case

It's with sport in mind that the SP800N offers IP55 protection - meaning protection from limited dust ingress and water jets from any direction - so it doesn't matter if you sweat or you get caught in the rain when out running.

The sporty angle also influences the design, with ear hooks designed to keep these headphones firmly in place. These hooks come in two sizes, while there are four sizes of silicone tip too, to help you get the perfect fit. Ear hooks fall into that dubious category of personal preference - some people will like them; some will find they don't really fit into the ear in any useful way.

Pocket-lintSony WF-SP800N photo 7

We fall into that latter category, so we stuck to the smaller ear hooks because they were the most comfortable. The moulding of the 'buds is designed for that ear hook to be there. Sure, you could just remove it, but that's not how these headphones were meant to be worn and you'd be leaving a bare patch that's supposed to be covered.

Getting a secure fit is easy thanks to those tips and that's essential to support some of the functions these headphone offer, like noise-cancellation technology and solid bass performance.

The 'buds themselves are rather large and compared to the Jabra Elite Active 75t, we do wonder why Sony wanted to go so big and if that forced the need to have those ear hooks for added support.

Regardless, we found the SP800N to fit well enough - and comfortably.

Pocket-lintSony WF-SP800N photo 1

Looks-wise, the SP800N isn't as premium as the 1000X, but the design is nice enough. We do wonder what happened with the case however: it's rather huge and designed in a way so that it won't stand up, which is frankly weird. It's still pocketable, but measuring 85 x 33 x 52mm at the largest points, it just seems chunky compared to others out there.

Setup, controls and smart features

  • Sony Headphones app
  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri support

There are two touch areas on the exterior of the 'buds to allow control. This is divided into left or right taps, supporting single, double, triple and long presses on each side to enable a range of functions. These functions are controlled by the Sony Headphone app on your phone, so you can customise to your preference.

The default is the ambient sound control on the left and music playback controls on the right. You can swap these around, or select from ambient sound control, playback control, volume control or voice assistant controls.

Pocket-lintSony WF-SP800N photo 8

The last of these isn't really necessary, because a long press from the playback controls will launch your chosen system on your phone - Google Assistant or Siri (or you can opt to launch Alexa).

Ambient sound is the core Sony function we value the highest and playback controls we think are essential, so volume controls are the thing you'll end up not getting. Ultimately, the control system isn't flexible enough to accommodate everything you might want to do. As there's potential for confusion, you'll just have to play around the figure out what you want the most.

Wirelessly connecting the 'buds to your phone is easy. As soon as you take a 'bud out of the case it will start connecting. You can connect a single one if you wish - and that can be either left or right. To get the most out of these headphones you'll need to use the Sony Headphone app - and that's also how firmware updates and custom settings can be applied, so don't ignore it.

We have found the connection to be solid and there's a great deal of sophistication in the voice feedback that these headphones provide. It's a reassuring voice, the same as Sony uses on its 1000X models, telling you the charge, telling you when you've engaged the ambient sound mode, and so on.

Sony's ambient sound control is the same system as you get on other headphones from the company, allowing noise-cancellation control or for ambient sounds to pass through. As it actively controls the balance of sound getting through the headphones it does increase the battery demands, so if you're worried about endurance then you turn the system off.

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It's effective too, although Sony's higher-positioned 1000X models are more effective in noise cancellation. What the SP800N will handle nicely is reducing exterior low tones, while higher tones will get through the noise cancellation. Testing against aircraft noise (via recording, we've not been near a real one for a while), there's a noticeable reduction in hiss, but not to the level you'd get from a pair of over-ear headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4.

In reality, it's a good setup, because with a tap you can shift from blissful reduction to letting that noise through. Sony's app will do this automatically for you too, sensing what you're doing and attempting adjust as appropriate. Again, you can turn it off and adjust how it works to your preferences.

All these things can also be backed up, so you can move your profile to a different phone in the future. The result is a sophisticated noise cancellation solution and certainly Sony is working hard to improve the listening experience.

For the most part it all works, but we did have a few occasions when a tap would give no response, neither would trying again, then there's rush of confirmation beeps as it catches up, so it's not always seamless.

Sound performance and battery

  • Clear Bass control
  • Manual equaliser
  • Preset sound controls

Sony lays a good foundation for performance with a pair of headphones that effectively isolates exterior noise, or can actively reduce it, meaning you're not fighting against those sounds. Thanks to the easy fit, we've also found its easy to get these 'buds into the ears for optimal performance - some rivals require some wiggling to get the position just right for the best sound quality.

The SP800N offers plenty of bass, with Sony giving independent bass control through its Clear Bass system on the app. If you find it's too heavy you can adjust it to suit your taste. There's also a full equaliser (EQ), so you can customise the sound profile, or use a range of presets.

Pocket-lintSony WF-SP800N photo 5

On top of these controls, these headphones support Sony's 360 Reality Audio, which is supported by some apps like Tidal or 360 by Deezer. There's an optimisation process too, designed to analyse your ears, which involves taking a photo of them - yes, really.

Overall the sound quality from the SP800N is great and we've no hesitation recommending these headphones for anyone looking for something that sounds great in a range of situations.

However, the battery life isn't the best. All that processing will take its toll, with Sony's official specs saying there's a 4 hour reduction in playback time when using noise cancellation. Despite the case being huge, it will only really give you one full recharge, while some competitos would give you two.

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Of course, it doesn't work like that in reality, because in normal use you'll use for a few hours and then the 'buds will be topped up. However, side-by-side with are normal usage of the rival Jabra Elite Active 75t, the Jabra product simply last longer - and that's from a much more compact charging case too.

Verdict

The Sony WF-SP800N is a good pair of true wireless headphones, in a competitive market. These 'buds easily slot into a position in Sony's line-up, not quite matching the appeal of the WF-1000XM3, but certainly hitting a more appealing price point.

The negatives come in the form of a slightly short battery life, which seems odd given that the case is larger than average, and that these headphones are a little larger than we think they need to be. The controls are flexible thanks to the app, but ultimately, not flexible enough to cover all the functions you might reasonably need.

The positive points here are the reassurance that these 'buds can get wet without causing damage, and we're happy with the secure fit, too, so we've never felt like either 'bud would fall out at any point - even during vigorous activity.

The ambient sound control system from Sony is one we rate highly, and certainly if you're looking for true wireless headphones with active noise cancellation, then the SP800N should be worthy of your consideration.

Alternatives to consider

Jabra Elite Active 75t

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Jabra's headphones are more compact and come in a smaller case so we find them to be more practical than the SP800N - along with better battery life - but these 'buds don't have proper active noise cancellation.

RHA TrueConnect 2

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RHA TrueConnect 2 offer great battery life and a great fit at a good price.

Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 15 September 2020.