A mass-catching word provides signature, but lacks some key features

April 2, 2022 0 Comments

After seemingly missing out on the highly competitive true wireless audio segment in India, Sony has finally entered the lucrative market with the Sony WF-XB700 ‘Extra Bus’ True Wireless Earbuds and Sony WF-SP800N Noise-Canceling True Wireless Sports Earphones. The former is Sony’s mass-market product, priced at Rs 9,990 and this is what we will be reviewing For a company as prominent as Sony in the audio industry, the price of these truly wireless earphones is quite conservative. Still, spending around 10K for a truly wireless pair of earphone calls is a long order for most Indians, especially since the Indian audio market is full of Noise, Wings and many more brands that offer competitive audio solutions at affordable points. So, the question is, has Sony done enough with their new relatively affordable entrant to the real wireless segment? Find out.

Construction and design

Sony has chosen a ‘tri-hold’ design with the Sony WF-XB700 earphones that rest in three different spots on your ears, creating a more ergonomic fit. The earphones have a strange shape with round, rectangular earbuds that stick out enough outside the ear. The elliptical panel resembles a UFO that descends slightly downwards to connect to another elliptical disk, which contains the driver, and which eventually condenses up to the tips of the earbuds.

The outermost disc or panel has a textured feeling like an egg shell while the inner one has a glossy texture. The tips, on the other hand, have a smooth matte texture. While earbuds are certainly on the broader side of the true wireless earbud spectrum, they make their form factor ridiculously lightweight, making them comfortable to wear in extended listening sessions. This is really a testament to Sony’s design team because the earphones actually host a 12mm neodymium driver and the bud has a huge battery life of 9 hours.

However, due to the fact that a large portion of the earbuds are stuck out of the ear, they feel a bit weak despite the seemingly secure fit. Sony offers a total of five silicone ear tip sizes for users to choose from (XS, S, M, L and XL), ensuring that most users will find the right fit to match the size of their ear canal. Despite finding the perfect fit for our ears, running with these earbuds makes us feel a bit insecure about our fit so we can adjust them every few minutes. Either way, Sony doesn’t advertise them as sports earphones, and if you’re just sitting or walking and listening to music, they should feel adequately protected and soft in your ears.

Each earbud has a media control button at the bottom of the panel that sticks out of your ear. We are very grateful for the fact that Sony has chosen not to place their physical buttons on the surface of the panel as pushing such buttons can cause earphones to dig deep inside the ear. With the buttons at the bottom of the bud, you can easily push them down without any unbearable discomfort. The buttons are raised precisely on the surface of the earbud so that you can easily feel and find them and they are also quite sensitive.

In the charging case of Sony WF-XB700, it is a relatively compact plastic charging case that features a transparent cover. This allows users to check the charging status of the earbud through the lid as the LED light is on. The charging case has an egg shell-like textured feel similar to the outer panel of buds. This material seems plastic and rather inexpensive in both the charging case and the bud. The back of the case also has a USB Type-C charging port. The magnets in the case are extremely strong and ensure that the buds sit there securely.

Overall, the slightly weird, three-layered design of the buds can polarize some users, and the plastic feel of the buds and the case can be depressing. Nevertheless, earbuds are comfortable to the ear and do not cause ear fatigue even after a few hours of wearing. They are protected and stuck to the ear, however, due to their large form factor they may feel a bit weak when jogging or running. The charging case is quite portable, but it is not as compact as the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus and Jabra Elite 75t.

Features

The Sony WF-XB700 is Sony’s true wireless model for the mass market, so it lacks some premium features like Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode and Case Wireless Charging. However, it lacks a few more features that are sometimes found in affordable wireless earphones below 10K or even 5K. Features we miss most are touch control, automatic pause, app support for EQ adjustment, and the AptX audio codec that allows for HD audio. While Sony already has a pretty powerful app for headphones that allows granular control over their audio devices, it’s weird to see that the WF-XB700 can’t be used with the app.

In place of the touch control on the outside of the earbud, Sony has included a physical button on each earbud at the bottom of the exterior panel. The left earbud button controls the volume, while the right can play / pause the track, answer / reject the call, find the track, and call your device’s voice assistant. While these aren’t the most sophisticated touch controls available on devices like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus or the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, they are highly reliable, respond well to clicks, and are tactile. Double and triple clicks that can be mounted on the Touch earbuds are registered without any hiccups.

The earbuds are equipped with IPX4 sweat and water-resistant rating, which means they can stop light splashes and sweat. Although they do not have the aptX audio codec, they come with AAC which is suitable for both Android and iOS devices and offers somewhat better quality than standard SBC. They are powered by Bluetooth v5.0 and come with effective wireless range up to 10m or 33 feet without interruption. The Bluetooth connection was pretty tight for the most part and the wireless connection was maintained even after we set up a wall between the earphones and the smartphone, which is commendable.

Probably the best feature of Sony WF-XB700 is battery life. While it has a decent 18 hours of total battery life, including a charging case, the battery life in the bud is 9 hours. This is the second longest battery life we’ve ever had in a single wireless setup in a truly wireless setup, second only to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus which has 11 hours of battery life in the buds.

Performance

Packing 12mm neodymium driver with 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz frequency response, the Sony WF-XB700 is powerful and delivers sonic performance out of the box. From the truth to their ‘XB’ (extra bus) moniker, the earphones unhesitatingly highlight the bus’s response to other frequencies. We were concerned that the exaggerated bass response would sound muddy and unpleasant. Fortunately, that was not the case at all. While it clearly doesn’t have the range and dimensions of premium True Wireless earphones, it does keep the low and bass clean, crisp and punchy. The pop, rap and EDM tracks sound energetic and thumping, and the bus response shouldn’t impress even the hardcore bus-lovers. The bad guys at Billy Ilish, the beats hit the thunder while still moving away from being too muddy.

The mid, unfortunately, is damaged due to the base-forward nature of the earphones. The middle is somewhat isolated and even suffers from some hearing masking, especially in the lower-middle frequency range. The heights are also slightly emphasized, much lower than the middle. In Kings of Leon’s track Around the World, the voices are distant and slightly confined, and the jolts in the background are almost inaudible. Yet, on vocal-centric tracks with minimal bass, they come out nicely with a silky smooth texture and adequate clarity when not masked by low. The soundstage is quite decent for the ears and at this price point it definitely has a greater sense of space than other earphones. Imaging is stellar and the instruments are positioned almost impeccably in the available space.

Watching TV series and movies with these earphones is a decent experience, however, the dialogues are not as pronounced as you might expect due to the isolated midsoles. It didn’t bother us much but we increased the volume a lot when we watched the show compared to the volume level we kept while listening to the song. Gaming with these earphones is a great experience, especially if you play a game with the sound of explosions and shots that keep ringing in your ears. We can even trace footprints and gunshots with admirable levels of accuracy due to stellar imaging.

Overall, the Sony WF-XB700 provides a rich, base-forward sound profile with deep lows, recessed mid and decent heights. It also provides stellar imaging and a decent sound stage, so the overall sound experience is not phonically accurate but still quite mass-catching and we dare say … fun.

Battery life and microphone quality

Sony sets the total battery life of these earphones at about 18 hours, 9 hours on the earbud and 9 hours more on the charging case. The large size factor of the earphones certainly contributes to the huge battery life of the buds. In our experiments, we found that Bud’s battery sometimes exceeds even the 9-hour mark. We were getting the juice comfortably for about 9-10 hours on a single charge with the buds and the case once again went up on the earphones. It takes about 2-2.5 hours for the buds to be fully charged, which is quite fast. Overall, the WF-XB700’s battery really fascinates us, especially the battery life in the bud.

At the microphone quality, the Sony WF-XB700 provides our crystal clear calling and recording experience. The receiver on the other end of the call indicates that the call was sounding louder than usual when we were using these earphones. The calls are distortion-free and the voice is in no way blocked or distant sound. Additionally, when we wrote a paragraph in our Note app using voice, the microphone was able to pick up exactly what we were told.

The last row

Priced at Rs 9,990, the Sony WF-XB700 Extra Bus True Wireless Earphones are quite an attractive purchase, especially for those who enjoy a bus-forward sound profile. However, they do not miss features like ANC, Touch Control and EQ customization. While we don’t expect Sony to add ANC to a sub-10K pair of earphones, touch control and app support was something we miss so much at this price point. Still, the earphones offer a rich and warm sound profile that will sound decent with many genres of music, they have highly reliable playback control, tough battery life and a snug and comfortable fit. Overall, these earphones can be a good buy if you prefer a base-forward sound profile and don’t care too much about touch control and EQ customization. However, if you want ANC and other premium features, consider increasing your budget and going for the AirPods Pro, or even another Sony True Wireless offer – the Sony WF-SP800N.

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