Sony is one of the few mainstream audio companies that has been relentlessly launching personal headphones. Currently on hand, I have 3 products, lining up to be reviewed. First up, the SP800N, a truly wireless noise cancelling headphones for sports. It retails at S$299 in Singapore and comes with four colours.
Unboxing and Design
The SP800N retains the Sony design DNA of their true wireless earbuds series, which is certainly unique but arguably not ergonomic. Yes, it looks more comfortable than it appears, but it definitely could have been better. The case is just as sizable as the WF-1000XM3.
The SP800N comes with arc supporters to keep them secure while doing workouts. You don’t feel them when wearing, but it keeps the earbuds from casually falling out of the ears.
The earbuds are controlled by touch, just like the WF-1000XM3. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the 2. Both models support ANC, Ambient Sound, Custom Equalizer, Adaptive Sound Control, 360 Reality Audio, Auto-Pause… But one is designed for sports, and the other is still better in ANC and audio quality (including support for DSEE HX).
To pair the earbuds, press and hold both the touch sensors for 6 seconds until a voice prompts is heard indicating pairing mode.
360 Reality Audio
I would like to cover this feature a bit here. While the 360RA is not new here, it has evolved with enough content to give a proper assessment. 3D audio is not new and many companies have tried to emulate surround sound, with Creative taking a lead in the headlines in recent years through their Super X-Fi chip. Another company that also offers 3D audio is Audeze with head-tracking technology, an icing on the cake.
Sony has positioned it differently: it requires specially encoded content to make it work while Creative and Audeze is able to decode multi-channel audio to sound like music is coming from external speakers around the room. In that respect, Sony 360RA achieves better control on the end-result because the content only works with specific headphones.
Testing over TIDAL, listening 360 Reality Audio on SP800N is impressively immersive, and I feel it is better than Creative and Audeze. However, with the current limitations, the applications are still limited. I believe it’s a matter of time when Sony supports real-time decoding.
Adaptive Sound Control
Similarly, while the Adaptive Sound Control has been a Sony feature for quite a while, it has been improved and more reliable now. What it does is that it detects motion and then switches around the ambient sound. While the motion detection is a a lot more accurate now, I still don’t find it that useful. Nevertheless, if you want the ability to change ambient sound mode automatically, the SP800N works great.
Wearing for Runs
Despite its chunky outlook, the earbuds stay secure in my ears during my outdoor run. I do get a little distracted with the thumping sound during runs, and the reduced effectiveness of the eartip seal due to sweat.
The SP800N sounds warm with cushy mid-bass to midrange emphasis and a mild treble. The bass is elevated but not too hard, vocals are warm, percussion are adequately clear. The sound staging is slightly open, so the earbuds are comfortable to listen to, you won’t feel as fatigue. But if you prefer a different tuning, there is always the Sony Headphones Connect smartphone app to alter the sound signature. The EQ is saved into the earbuds so once you done the tuning right, it’s yours to own and will apply to any audio inputs across all apps. While EQ is possible, there are still limitations, and the drivers will not achieve airy and precise highs, while the bass remains fluid without stiff kicks. It doesn’t sound as engaging or exciting as say Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW.
There is no noticeable audio lag when watching videos, while a short lag is still present during games, so it’s still not ideal for playing critical games.
The earbuds connect directly to the smartphone instead of the master-slave setup, so you can pick up any earbud for calls or music. Thanks to the sensor, the earbuds will activate the mic on the earbud that you wear. The mic pick-up quality offers sufficient brightness and clarity, but under strong wind, it is hard for the mic to pick up my voice.
The WF-SP800N is basically a sports variant of the WF-1000XM3 with a few features removed and with a slightly lower price point. It’s somewhat a mixed bag and will probably appeal to consumers who needs ANC and Ambient Sound feature during their workout routine, with good mic for calls. Personally I don’t fancy the Sony design, the ANC is adequate but not spectacular, there are a lot of sports-centric earbuds in a smaller carrying case for me to choose from.