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Sony WF-C500 Earbuds Review: Great-Sounding Basic Buds for $100

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $100
The Sony WF-C500 earbuds in their case with lid open in front of vinyl albums
Kevin Bonnett / Review Geek

When you think about outstanding audio products, it’s easy for Sony’s name to come to mind. And the company’s latest earbuds—the WF-C500—are proof that competition just got tougher at the $100 price point. The basic buds pack stellar sound and are a great pick for the cost.

Sony struck an intriguing compromise with the WF-C500s. The buds are pretty stripped down and basic, hence their lower cost, but still manage to show off a neat modern design and Sony’s reliable and well-rounded audio quality. The company did omit some conveniences—like active noise cancelation, wireless charging, and auto-pause when you remove one or both buds—but the WF-C500s are not bad. Like, at all. Go with these if you have $100 and are in the market for a great pair of earbuds focused on great audio quality.

Here's What We Like

  • Terrific sound for the price
  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Customizable EQ via app
  • Great quick charge feature

And What We Don't

  • No wireless charging
  • No ANC/transparency mode
  • Lackluster IP rating

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  • Drivers: 5.8mm neodymium full-range dynamic
  • Frequency Range: 20Hz-20,000Hz
  • Weight: 1.24 ounces
  • Solo Bud Mode: Yes
  • Active Noise Cancelation: No
  • Bluetooth: 5.0
  • Supported Codecs: SBC, AAC
  • Battery Life: 10 hours, earbuds; 20 hours, with charging case
  • Wireless Charging: No
  • Additional Tips: 3 tip sizes in the box
  • IP Rating: IPX4

Case & Earbud Design

The Sony WF-C500 earbuds sitting in their case with lid open
Kevin Bonnett / Review Geek

I genuinely love the style these earbuds (and their charging case) rock; Sony opted for a black pill-shaped case with a dark grey semi-transparent lid. The case easily fits in the palm of your hand, and won’t take up much space in your pocket or bag. It feels sturdy and well made and even has a flat bottom that allows it to sit flush on a table. Best of all, the matte-plastic lid has a gorgeous frosted-glass look that lets you easily see the glow of the three orange LEDs inside (one for each bud, and another for the case) while they charge.

As for the buds, they’re not the tiniest. They look relatively similar to (albeit a little smaller and plainer than) their older sibling—the WF-1000XM4 earbuds—and pack in a bunch of Sony’s outstanding hardware. They stick out from the ear a bit, but it’s not totally unsightly, and I think it’s fine. The buds also use physical buttons, as opposed to touch controls. They’re responsive and don’t require you to push too hard, which is just perfect.

The Fit

The WF-C500 buds use a twist-in design to sit inside your ear canals. Because of this, they offer a perfect seal and pretty solid noise isolation. They’re super comfortable to wear for hours on end. My only complaint is that I wish they had the same protruding bit that the XM4s do at the bottom of the exterior, as it’d make them a little easier to adjust. Each earbud weighs 5.4 grams (just a hair more than the Skullcandy Grind Fuel buds), but they feel remarkably light.

Person wearing Sony WF-C500 true wireless earbuds

Three different sizes of the rubber ear tips are included in the box, with the mediums as default, and they’re easy to swap out if you want to use a different size. They’re fine for wearing at work, while relaxing, or even while going for a walk; however, no matter what size of tip I used, the earbuds often struggled to stay in place whenever I made more vigorous movements, like while jogging.

Plus, they only have an IPX4 rating, which isn’t gonna stand up to moderate sweat or rain very well. You’ll want to choose buds with a higher IP rating—like Jabra’s Elite Active 75t (IP57) or Skullcandy’s Push Actives (IP55)—if that’s what you want to use them for.

Sound Quality

For these earbuds, Sony seemed to be focusing on sound quality at an affordable price and had no qualms about cutting out other features to do so. And honestly, I think the company did a good job here.

Audio reproduction on these is pretty clear, and the frequency tuning felt decently balanced from the get-go and is, if anything, a little neutral. On the plus side, that neutral sound profile makes the buds better suited for a wider variety of music genres. And while the WF-C500s don’t share the warm and wildly fantastic soundstage of the company’s premium WF-1000XM4 buds (and how could they?), they still handled playback of music spanning from punk to jazz with comfortable ease and balance; nothing ever sounded wonky or off.

The Sony WF-C500 earbuds on a table
Kevin Bonnett / Review Geek

Their impressive 5.8mm neodymium drivers did a great job controlling the bass without overblowing it. The earbuds have great bass and mid accuracy, with nuanced highs, though I did at times notice some light distortion in the treble range that caused elements like cymbals to sound a bit dull.

They boast support for the standard SBC and AAC codecs, as well as 360 Reality Audio, for those who like having an immersive soundscape (though you’ll need to sign up for a compatible streaming music service, a la Tidal or Deezer, to enjoy it). The only demerit the buds earn in this category is voice call quality. While the average person likely won’t notice anything particularly great or negative about it, and it’s plenty sufficient for casual calls each day, it’s definitely not crystal clear or overwhelmingly outstanding by any means.

Companion Mobile App

The earbuds support Sony’s wonderful Headphones Connect companion app (Android/iOS). I was thrilled to see Sony make the exact same app its fancy-schmancy WF-1000XM4 earbuds use available to its lower-tier buds, especially since so many budget-bud companies don’t even bother with making an app. It’s a nice perk, to be sure.

The app has three individual pages labeled Headphones, Activity, and Information. The Headphones page has three tabs: Status, Sound, and System, and it always shows the battery levels for each earbud up top. The Status and Sound tabs are really the only two you’ll need to focus on, however, and the Status tab shows you what media you’re currently listening to.

Swiping or tapping over to the Sound tab (my favorite part of the app) allows you to adjust the equalizer quickly and easily. You can opt for one of the many presets or tinker around and set up one (or both) of the two custom EQ profiles. There’s also a Clear Bass option you can toggle if you want more minute control over that. And if you’re into 360 Reality Audio, everything you need to set up that functionality is ready to go on the Sound page as well.

At the bottom of that page, you’ll also find options for toggling Bluetooth priorities (between sound quality and a stable connection) and a neat feature called DSEE Extreme. DSEE stands for Digital Sound Enhancement Engine. Sony describes it as its “proprietary high-quality sound technology that creates a high-resolution quality realism to CDs and compressed audio sources by restoring information in music data back to near original form.” When I tested it, the DSEE worked well, although it’s just a subtle difference you might not notice if you’re listening in a loud area or not paying a ton of attention to the music.

Battery Life & Charging

These are the earbuds to beat when it comes to battery life! The earbuds last for 10 hours on a single charge, which is more than enough to get you through a long flight or an entire workday plus your commute. Plus, the charging case packs another 10 hours. The fact that the case only offers up one additional charge is a bit of a downside here. Sure, the earbuds’ battery capacity is greater than most others out there, but most other charging cases can give at least two (if not three or four) additional charges before it needs to be recharged. It feels like Sony sacrificed this for a sleeker case.

I consistently got 9.5 hours out of the buds in testing despite listening to the music at a moderately loud volume. I love the battery life on these, especially since they’ve proven they can last all day without me having to worry about them dying on me while I’m at work.

The rear of the Sony WF-C500 case, showing the USB-C charging port
Kevin Bonnett / Review Geek

The case charges via USB-C but does not support wireless charging. That’s one of those nice luxuries Sony sacrificed here, presumably to keep the cost down. However, it does have a quick charge feature that’ll give you another hour of juice in just 10 minutes. It takes about three hours to recharge the case and buds fully, so a quick charge feature is great to have here.

User Experience

These buds make a lot of effort to ensure the user experience is pleasant, and despite their lower price point pushing out a few higher-end niceties, it genuinely is. It’s easy to use both the buds’ physical buttons and their companion app, plus they support Fast Pair and have intuitive controls for music playback and taking phone calls.

However (and it’s a big however), these earbuds do not have active noise cancelation—a feature that’s fairly standard now, even in more budget-friendly pairs. Still, the WF-C500s do a fair job of blocking out higher-frequency noises, thanks to their in-ear-canal design. With them, I was still able to stay pretty focused on whatever I was listening to or doing, even though I could still hear the muted sounds of things like conversations and air conditioners near me. The buds block out just enough, though, and they sound great, so I’m not too mad about it.

I do lament the lack of a transparency mode, though, as it allows me to hear my surroundings when I’m riding public transportation, for example, without removing my buds. It’s not a serious ding against the earbuds, especially given how solid they are elsewhere, but it’s still a feature that’s nice to have, and that is noticeably missing here.

The Sony WF-C500 earbuds case, top-down with vinyl albums behind it
Kevin Bonnett / Review Geek

I love that the buds support solo mode, allowing you to continue listening to your music even if you only have one earbud in. The downside of this, though, is that whatever you’re listening won’t automatically be paused when you pull one (or both) out; this is ultimately a matter of personal preference. Additionally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the loud system noises that say “connected,” for example; I’d love to be able to turn that off or at least have the ability to adjust the volume level.

The button controls are all pretty straightforward. With them, you can easily enter pairing mode; answer, end, or reject calls; increase and decrease volume; summon your preferred voice assistant; and play, pause, skip forward one track, or skip back one track. Plus, the buttons have a satisfying, responsive click to them but don’t push the buds too far into your ear, potentially causing some discomfort (or messing up the seal). All in all, the buds are easy to use and don’t get in your way at all.

Final Thoughts

Sony’s WF-C500 earbuds are the ideal pick for anyone looking for buds with stellar audio quality at a reasonable price point. Although they’re far from the most feature-rich options out there, they do a good job of what Sony designed them to do: putting excellent audio in your ears without destroying your budget.

It sucks that they don’t have active noise cancelation, wireless charging, or a transparency mode but honestly, the WF-C500s sound better than any other pair of $100 buds out there, and it’s a worthwhile trade-off. Plus, they have terrific battery life, they’re stylish, and they are incredibly easy to use. These basic buds should absolutely be your next go-to pair, simple as that.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $100

Here’s What We Like

  • Terrific sound for the price
  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Customizable EQ via app
  • Great quick charge feature

And What We Don't

  • No wireless charging
  • No ANC/transparency mode
  • Lackluster IP rating

Suzanne Humphries Suzanne Humphries
Suzanne Humphries was a Commerce Editor for Review Geek. She has over seven years of experience across multiple publications researching and testing products, as well as writing and editing news, reviews, and how-to articles covering software, hardware, entertainment, networking, electronics, gaming, apps, security, finance, and small business. Read Full Bio »