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Sony’s budget wireless earbuds are a good value with inevitable compromises

The WF-C700N earbuds fit great, sound decent, and offer plenty of software tricks. But even within Sony’s own lineup, you might have better options.

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A photo of Sony’s C700N wireless earbuds.
Sony’s new WF-C700N earbuds are its latest entry-level pair.

Sony’s WF-C700N earbuds give you a lot for their reasonable price of $119.99. That’s always been true of the company’s underrated entry-level wireless earbuds dating back to the corkscrew-like WF-XB700s in 2020, and Sony has gradually tacked on more features with each revision. The WF-C500 buds switched to a more conventional design and added support for Sony’s companion smartphone app. And a few weeks ago came the new WF-C700N earbuds, which bring noise cancellation to Sony’s budget tier for the first time. 

But over the last several months, I’ve come to really enjoy Sony’s midrange LinkBuds S, which feel impossibly light and almost imperceptible in your ears. Can the C700N buds still stand out among the company’s own lineup?

The thing that’s always impressed me most about this series is comfort and stability; Sony has consistently nailed the in-ear fit so well that I’ve never been concerned about these buds coming loose or falling out. They seal securely and have naturally blocked out a lot of ambient noise even before there was proper ANC. There’s a lot to like, and the C700N buds seem poised to keep building the company’s momentum at this price point — even if I do have one small quibble with a change Sony made.

And that nitpick is visible as soon as you remove them from the box. See, both the XB700 and C500 earbuds had a semitransparent upper lid on their carrying case. This made it effortless to see the charging status of each individual earbud as well as the case itself since the LEDs for all three were visible. But now, Sony has switched to a fully opaque case — perhaps a necessary tradeoff to use more recycled plastic in the construction — and you don’t get the benefit of seeing the earbud LEDs anymore. In fact, Sony removed them completely and left just a single indicator light on the front of the case. 

A photo of Sony’s C700N wireless earbuds.
The C700N are Sony’s most affordable earbuds with noise cancellation.

Putting aside this one gripe, the case doesn’t at all feel cheap; it has a smooth hinge motion, closes with a nice snap, and the magnets keeping the earbuds in place are sufficiently strong. There’s no wireless charging, but that’s a forgivable omission at this price. The pill-shaped case is longer than that of the LinkBuds S or 1000XM4s, but I still consider it easily pocketable. 

As for the earbuds themselves, the C700Ns have a design that’s similar to their predecessors, with some elements borrowed from the LinkBuds S; the circular, mesh-covered microphone cutouts are in the same spot on both products. And, at just 4.6 grams per earbud, these budget buds provide an airy feel similar to the LinkBuds S; you can easily wear them for a couple of hours without suffering ear fatigue or discomfort. They also grip well enough to make them suitable for runs and gym workouts, and you needn’t worry about getting them wet: they’re rated the status quo IPX4 against water and sweat.

A photo of Sony’s C700N wireless earbuds.
Sony’s entry-level earbuds are very light and suitable for extended listening.
A photo of Sony’s C700N wireless earbuds.
The C700N look similar to the LinkBuds S, but these earbuds have physical buttons.

Setup is a breeze; Sony conveniently includes Fast Pair support on Android and Swift Pair for Windows to speed up the process in as few taps as possible. Multipoint connectivity isn’t available at the moment, but the company says a firmware update this summer will let you pair with two devices at the same time. Sony made good on a similar promise with the 1000XM4s and LinkBuds, so I don’t have any reason to doubt it’ll happen, and it’s great to see multipoint trickling down to lower-cost earbuds and (finally) becoming so ubiquitous. 

 The C700N buds don’t support Bluetooth codecs beyond the standard AAC and SBC, so you’ll need to step up to the LinkBuds S if you must have Sony’s LDAC for higher-bitrate playback. (Only Android users need to weigh codec support since the iPhone tops out with AAC.) But the Headphones Connect app offers plenty of EQ control; you can select from Sony’s presets or make your own adjustments if the out-of-box sound profile isn’t what you were hoping for. I didn’t feel the need to change anything, but there’s also a slider for layering on some extra bass that might come in handy for certain music genres.

A photo of Sony’s C700N wireless earbuds.
The C700Ns come in black, purple, green, and white.

Sound quality is a step behind the LinkBuds S, but if you’re not comparing the two in close succession, I don’t think the C700N earbuds will disappoint. They deliver full-bodied bass alongside pleasing mids and treble frequencies. The overall sound balance is a noticeable upgrade from the C500 but doesn’t match the definition and dynamics of Sony’s higher-end earbuds. Higher frequencies occasionally sound a little flat compared to the sparkle those other pairs can achieve. 

It’s the noise cancellation and transparency modes where Sony made some unmistakable compromises. The company isn’t making any big claims about how effectively the C700N can shush nearby distractions, and there’s good reason for that: it’s nowhere close to the level of the flagship 1000XM4 earbuds and less powerful still than the LinkBuds S. Sony’s tech specs only mention “noise sensor technology” for these earbuds, whereas the 1000XM4s and LinkBuds S both share the same dedicated chip for noise cancellation purposes. It makes a difference.

The C700Ns can eliminate some low hum / rumbling frequencies, but other than that, you won’t notice a huge difference between having noise canceling on and off. That’s partially because the passive noise isolation is already pretty effective. Likewise, the transparency mode is serviceable — far from the worst I’ve heard and adequate for short conversations but not as natural as what you’ll get from the LinkBuds S or 1000XM4s. Voice call performance is adequate but nothing special. You won’t want to take important calls with the C700Ns.

A photo of Sony’s C700N wireless earbuds.
You get many of the same software tricks as the rest of Sony’s lineup — but no LDAC support.

Like the C500s, these have physical, clicky buttons on each earbud for controls. I always prefer actual buttons over gestures, which can prove finicky in certain weather conditions and get even more frustrating if you’re wearing gloves during the winter. You can remap the button functions to some degree, but Sony doesn’t offer the same flexibility as some manufacturers. You can use one earbud to adjust volume or assign track controls to the other, but then you lose out on an easy way to toggle noise cancellation.

The C700Ns last for up to 7.5 hours on a charge, putting them square in between the LinkBuds S (six hours) and 1000XM4s (eight hours). But the case only holds one full extra charge, so you can only count on around 15 hours of total listening before you’ll need to plug in and recharge. One other way Sony tried to save some cash was by removing the ear detection sensors, so you lose out on automatic play / pause. 

When you view the C700N earbuds through their full $120 retail price, those cost-saving measures add up, and I’d steer most people toward Sony’s middle child LinkBuds S. They sound better, are more capable at canceling noise, have a slightly more compact case, and support the higher-fidelity LDAC codec. But I suspect many retailers will drop the price of Sony’s entry buds frequently, and if you can find them for $100 or less, there’s still plenty to like. The fit remains unshakeable, and you get to explore a ton of Sony’s software features (like location-based sound settings, etc.). Multipoint will be a nice cherry on top when it arrives this summer.

There’s no shortage of competition in this price bracket from the likes of Jabra, Skullcandy, JBL, and other earbud makers. But Sony fans tend to be pretty loyal. If all you’re looking for is a relatively inexpensive, straightforward pair of earbuds (and you don’t need strong noise cancellation), the C700Ns clear that bar without any problems.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge