Sony makes some of the best headphones on Earth – and THE best if you’re not prepared to fork out fortunes for your Bluetooth cans.
Sony’s $350 WH-1000MX4 headphones are the iconic Bluetooth go-to for any smartphone user who’s serious about music. But what if you could get something very similar for $150?
That’s the promise of Sony’s new WC-720N headset, a budget cousin to the WH-1000MX4, armed with some of the same tech under the bonnet.
Launched this Spring, we tested out the headset indoors, outdoors and on public transport – and these really are an unbeatable audio bargain.
Sublime sounds? Testing the new wireless headphones (Supplied)
The headphones come with their own app for in-depth controls (Supplied)
The WC-720N offers Sony’s new Integrated Processor V1 (the same as in their pricier cousin) for cutting-edge noise canceling, plus a very decent 50-hour battery life (35 with the noise canceling turned on).
At this price point, you are lucky to get noise canceling at all, and Sony’s is excellent.
Sony’s Dual Noise Sensor technology uses two microphones on the surface of the headphones and then creates an inverted sound wave which turns the world down a notch.
There is a lot of functions to fiddle with here (you CAN run them without Sony’s Headphone Connect app, but you’re missing out on Sony’s throw-everything-at-it approach if you do).
The Headphone Connect app lets you adjust the level of ambient noise with 20 notches – and you can also allow the app to adjust the audio by itself based on your location (it remembers noise levels from your office or bedroom, for example).
You want to be using the lowest level that’s tolerable, generally speaking, as noise canceling hurts sound quality.
If you’re on the move, you can also switch noise-canceling on and off via a button on the cans.
In practice, we found it could cut very loud train noise to a tolerable whisper – it’s not quite the match of the electric hush of the WH-1000MX4, but it’s close.
You can also listen in wired mode if you prefer (Supplied)
Listening in. Testing the new Bluetooth headphones (Supplied)
There is pre-set equalizer settings (I found the Bright setting is good for lifting guitar rock, and a Bass Boost) and you can also manually set your own, Eighties-style.
If you use Tidal or a couple of other streaming services, there’s also the option for 360-degree audio, which puts you in the middle of the sound/
The headphones obligingly measure your ear shape to deliver this – but while it’s pleasant to listen to, it’s mostly a gimmick.
For some strange reason, the app also offers you awards and badges as you get to grips with the functions from ‘Headphones Connect Lover’ to ‘Bus Stop Listener’ (if you spend a lot of time listening at bus stops).
Seems utterly pointless to me, but whatever floats your boat.
The headset comes armed with Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) for clear calling – in our tests, calls come through crisp and clear even with high winds.
Audio can sometimes get ‘lost’ with over-ear headphones, but these enable you to hold a clear conversation outdoors (and use Google Assistant or Alexa, with alerts and commands read out in your ear)
Music-wise, these deliver the goods, but just lack that last 5 percent of sparkle that puts Sony’s flagship WH-1000MX4 in a class of their own.
At this price, though, they’re frankly stunning, with crisp, detailed sound that flatters vocals (especially on the Bright EQ setting) and solid, driving bass.
Sony uses audio tech which ‘upscales’ digital music to make it sound sharper, and these delivered sharp sounds even while outdoors and streaming music over the cellular network.
A lot of headphones deliver cartoonishly vast amounts of bass in an effort to convince users they’re getting ‘good sound’ (we’re looking at you, here, Beats) – but these deliver a fantastically solid, restrained experience that’s a delight with any genre.
The things you’re missing out on here is a little bit of finish – these feel plasticky and cheap (although to be fair, the flagship WH-1000MX4 aren’t exactly clad in doeskin leather either).
The buttons are also clicky plastic, and there’s no auto-on function as you get on pricier headphones (they do turn themselves off after 15 minutes, though).
But these are minor quibbles on what is clearly a splendid audio bargain – and the most bang you’ll get for this amount of bucks, bar none.
Other great Bluetooth noise-cancellers
Focal Bathys ($799)
These are truly astounding headphones, delivered by a French company with a long history of making wired cans (the incredibly expensive kind).
Gorgeous-looking, they also sound absolutely superb if you can stretch to the price, plus you can enjoy better-than-CD hi-res sound from services such as Tidal if you listen via USB-C cable.
JBL Tune760 NC ($129)
These value headphones deliver noise-cancelling at a fantastically low price – but they’re no match for the Sony on the audio front.
JBL is always a good choice for value, and these don’t break the mould with solid sounds and decent noise-cancelling.
Bose 700 Noise Cancelling Headphones ($320)
Over the years, Bose has slowly been outpaced by Sony on the noise-cancelling front, but these are still excellent headphones for travellers, with touch controls and high-quality materials that look (as well as sound) the business.