The world of headphones is getting more and more crowded, with features galore and budgets as varied. If you’re after the best of the best there are a number of high end options you may wish to check out. But what if you’re after something a bit more budget-friendly without compromising heavily on the sound quality?
The Sony WH-CH710N is another set of noise cancelling over-ear headphones — but there’s a significant point of difference with some others on the market and you’ll see that at the point of sale. The retail price — at the time of writing this review — is AU$199.00 which is pretty reasonable when you can spend upward of $600 for a set of Bose NC700 or around $550 for the Sennheiser Momentum 3.
When it comes to electronics there’s the time-honoured saying — “You get what you pay for” — so it would be reasonable to expect that at $200 versus $600(ish) you’re compromising on something. Let’s take a closer look and find out what, if anything, is missing.
Design and Features
One thing I’ve previously criticised some Sony headphones for is the lack of comfort compared to some other options. This is an area that Sony has — for my mind — got right on these. They’re exceedingly lightweight, are well padded across the headband as well as around the ears, and have a lot of adjustability for varying head sizes. The earpieces are attached to a hinge and swivel which are not just part of the adjustability, but also play a huge part in that comfort.
The earcup padding is possibly a bit of a double-edged sword though, while it meant the comfort level was high I suspect it will make them quite hot to wear in warmer months. The padding was just the right size for me too, as was the headband. This meant that even out for a vigorous walk or moving around a lot, the headphones barely moved.
I really like the simple implementation of the minimal buttons, but with good functionality included. The buttons on the right ear include a control for the noise cancellation cycle (ambient noise, noise cancellation or off) and three for playback control: play/pause, volume up and volume down.
On the left ear is the power button which also doubles to trigger the pairing mode to change your connected device. The left ear also houses two ports, one for the USB-C charging and the second for a 3.5mm connector if you need or choose to run the headphones in a physically connected state.
Sony got a lot right with these headphones
As mentioned above I found them to have a reasonable level of adjustability and plenty of padding. That’s really important for any set of headphones, they can be the best sounding on the planet but if they’re uncomfortable – they’re essentially broken!
Another area that Sony got very right with the WH-CH710N is the battery life. It has genuinely outstanding battery life with the noise cancelling on and it gets better when you turn it off. The Sony site shows a battery life of up to 35 hours, but that’s probably a bit conservative. I’ve had them running for a full week through the workday, plus the weekend and still not had to charge them.
If you happen to get caught out just plug in the USB-C charging cable for 10 minutes to get yourself a further 60 minutes of listening time. The other option is — minus noise cancelling of course — you can run these plugged into your device providing you have the required headphone jack.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns though, there are some omissions and problems
Let’s start with what’s missing because there’s a couple of things missing that I would have expected from a name like Sony. I know these aren’t Sony’s top headphones, but in the current era it’s disappointing to not have a carry bag or see an option to integrate with any smart assistants. There are cheaper headphones that do it and I’d question the decision to leave this out — it does reduce the pull of these headphones for some users.
The other glaring omission is the lack of app integration. We’ve seen some recent entries into the audio field have really good apps, giving audio and noise cancelling adjustment. This improves the user experience and allows users to dial in the audio to their preference and unfortunately, it’s just not there.
Those things being left out aren’t the extent of it though, there’s a few areas of note where these could be better than they are. The build quality feels a bit cheap. They present as a little bit bland or “boring” if you will, with lots of plastic included. Even the Sony WH-XB700 (in my opinion) looked more modern and sleek than these and included Google Assistant.
Sound quality and noise cancelling
Let’s start with the sound quality because that’s where the user experience really kicks in. They sound good, not great for some music straight out of the box but if you’re looking for full sound it’s not here. The mid-range sounds are very good, but the upper register is lacking power.
Then we get to bass — it’s underwhelming to say the least. To my ear at least, they lack some punch to the bass which will really affect your listening depending on what you have on. These sound issues could be sorted out with either Sony app integration, or (if you’re happy spending more money) getting yourself a decent EQ app which is exactly what I did.
Essentially I wound down the mid-register sound to match with what was there in the treble and brought the bass up to balance the sound to my ear. I’m a very eclectic listener so am pretty picky with the sound balance I have, rock, orchestral score, metal and acapella are all on my regular listening and once I balanced them – the WH-CH710N performed pretty well.
I agree that this shouldn’t be necessary to have really good sound but that’s what you’re faced with in this case though. Doing so made for a very different listening experience, still lacking a bit over their top headphones but at $200 vs $600 plus you can’t fairly expect the sound quality to be the same.
The noise cancelling like the out of box sound is good but not great. If you’re a regular commuter, then these will be right up your alley with the cycle for noise cancelling — ANC, Ambient sound or off — being perfect for those users. Like others we’ve reviewed over the last couple of years, the ambient sound option is there to ensure you can hear traffic and general noise around you for safety.
The noise cancelling is enough to get rid general noises around you during the day including road noise, air conditioning, general noise and — for the most part — kids! 😀 Given that I could hear a little bit of what was happening even when I had ANC enabled though, I just can’t recommend these as a listening solution for regular air travel whenever that resumes.
Should you buy them?
It’s easy to take away that these are not great headphones but that’s far from the truth. They’re actually pretty decent, particularly when you consider the $199 price tag. Out of the box, they’d be great for a laid back listener who perhaps wants to watch some Netflix, YouTube or other visual media.
The sound quality is good, although not great but with a little work on an EQ it would be difficult to knock them unless you’re prepared to spend a lot more on a set of headphones. Regardless of the audio quality, if they’re not comfortable they’re going to be unpleasant to use and these Sony headphones are comfortable, that’s for sure.
I’ve had significantly more expensive headphones in the past that were nowhere near as comfy as these. Sony has done a great job delivering really good comfort levels and good — but not great — audio on a reasonable budget.
Of course, they’re not going to match the likes of the Bose NC700, Sony’s own WH-1000XM3 or Jabra Elite 85H but the budget for those are two or three times higher. You can check them out in-store at your local Harvey Norman or if you’re keen to grab some just head to the Sony Store online. If you keep your eyes out a little later in the year you’ll probably be able to pick some up for an even more enticing price.