Sony WF-C500 review: These $99 buds are a top value choice

These budget earbuds bring upmarket features and sound quality in a neat package at a great price

The Sony WF-C500 displayed on a concrete surface
(Image: © Alex Bracetti/Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The $99 Sony WF-C500 are great wireless earbuds for bass lovers on a budget

Pros

  • +

    Powerful bass

  • +

    360 Reality Audio and DSEE support

  • +

    Lengthy playback time

  • +

    Works with Sony Headphones Connect app

  • +

    Strong connectivity

Cons

  • -

    Lacks some features found on Sony's upmarket models

  • -

    Charging case only holds two additional full charges

  • -

    No touch controls

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Sony WF-C500: Specifications

Price: $99
Colors: Black; white; green
Battery life (rated): 10 hours; 20 hours (charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 (codecs: SBC, AAC).
Water resistance: Yes (IPX4 rated)
Size: 1.2 x 1.1 x 0.9 inches (per bud); 3.15 x 1.38 x 1.22 inch (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud); 1.23 ounces (charging case)

If you think about a pair of Sony wireless earbuds, you'll probably think along the lines of one of its high performance models that can also come at a high price. That’s not always the case, though, and every so often the electronics giant releases a design that delivers a terrific brand experience that costs much less than their current flagship in-ears (WF-1000XM4). 

The WF-C500 are that model and, despite being a budget-friendly option, come with some serious functionality, including 360 Reality Audio, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme, and Sony Headphones Connect app support. Not all of Sony’s luxury features made the cut (e.g., active noise cancellation, LDAC support, and smart controls are all MIA), nor does the charging case hold much juice. Nevertheless, the overall package is great value and too good to pass up.

Read our full Sony WF-C500 review to see why this one of the best true wireless bargains available.

Sony WF-C500 review: Price and availability

  • Value model that's often discounted further
  • Choice of three colors

The WF-C500 are sold for $99 via the Sony store (opens in new tab), but we’ve also seen them discounted to $69 at major online retailers. They're available in black, or white as a Amazon exclusive (opens in new tab), or green as a Best Buy exclusive (opens in new tab). A charging case, USB-C charging cable, four sets of different-sized ear tips, user guide, and warranty come inside the box. 

For comparison, these buds have a higher list price than some of the best cheap wireless earbuds out there, including the OnePlus Buds Nord ($39) and noise-cancelling 1More PistonBuds Pro ($59) in our best wireless earbuds under $100. They’re also a lot more affordable than the entire AirPods lineup: AirPods 2 ($129), AirPods 3 ($179), and AirPods Pro ($249).

Bookmark our headphone deals page to stay up on the latest sales.

Sony WF-C500 review: Design and comfort

  • Sturdy design
  • Transparent charging case looks cool
  • Some discomfort when using controls

The WF-C500 earbuds aren’t going to wow you with their looks, and that is fine. You get a minimalist design with very few details: a logo, LED, and mic opening. An oval button sits flush on a plain backdrop. Build quality is solid with the entire frame constructed from hard plastic that gets it an IPX4 rating for sweat and water resistance.

The Sony WF-C500 wireless earbuds on display over a green-dotted backdrop

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The more aesthetically appealing part of the WF-C500 is its charging case. I love the transparent lid that shows the orange LEDs brightly lit on the inside during recharges. The pill-shaped design is convenient for storing in pockets and everyday bags. Construction is surprisingly good, with the magnets keeping the plastic lid shut tight and the exterior made to survive everyday scrapes and knocks.

The Sony WF-C500 wireless earbuds sitting in their charging case

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Working the WF-C500’s controls requires a high pain threshold because the buttons are so stiff that they require extra force to press, causing in-ear discomfort in the process. When you don’t have to activate functions, the buds don’t apply much pressure and can be worn comfortably on commutes or at your desk.

Our reviewer testing the Sony WF-C500's comfort and fit

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Fit is decent with the tips forming a tight seal around the canal. The extra pairs in the box accommodate listeners with different ear sizes. Many will also find the WF-C500’s size to be unobtrusive on the ear.

Sony WF-C500 review: Controls and digital assistant

  • No control customization or Sony smart functions
  • Physical buttons are tough to press
  • Reliable digital assistance

A lack of modern controls hinders the WF-C500’s usability. There are no touch panels or wear detection to initiate auto-pause when taking off the buds. As previously stated, the buttons are difficult to press, and they don’t deliver much in the way of tactile feedback, which will make users second guess whether commands are being enabled. Sony also limited the control scheme, reserving the left bud for volume and the right bud for everything else (e.g., playback, digital assistant). Call management is the only function assigned to both buds.

Our reviewer pressing the Sony WF-C500's multifunctional button

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby can all be enabled and let you execute voice commands without a hitch on their respective platforms. Sony’s mic array does a commendable job picking up words and interpreting requests, allowing Apple, Google, and Samsung’s AI bots to work their magic.

Since these buds do not come with Sony’s V1 processor, they lose out on cool voice-activated features like Speak-to-chat to automatically pause music when hearing your voice.

Sony WF-C500 review: Sound quality

  • Warm and energetic sound profile
  • Compatibility with most Sony audio technologies
  • No LDAC codec support

Music sounds punchy on the WF-C500. Its profile might not be as depth-filled as some of Sony’s other wireless earbuds, but you can expect powerful lows and crisp highs, along with under-emphasized mids. Should you want to tweak the sound, there’s the Equalizer feature in the companion app to manually adjust frequencies or select from nine presets that prioritize different sonic elements, depending on the music genre or content.

The monstrous bassline on Future’s “Mask Off” slapped hard, while the somber flute came through clearly and distinctively. Many sub-$100 models can’t handle the record’s boom-filled production and would likely create one distorted mess. The WF-C500 kept the lows fairly balanced but all that bass compromised mids, making the rapper’s vocals a bit fuzzy, although not completely inaudible.

The Sony WF-C500 playing Future's "Mask Off" with a child's boombox in the background

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Cymbals and piano notes were prominent on jazz classics like Ahmad Jamal’s “Dolphin Dance.” The double bass also had some nice reverberation that remained consistent throughout the recording.

Enabling DSEE in the app helped upscale numerous CD-ripped files on my MacBook Pro; the fidelity was much better on lo-fi masterpieces like Wu-Tang Clan’s "Enter the 36 Chambers" album. I'm impressed that Sony made these buds compatible with their spatial audio platform (360 Reality Audio), even if the technology is better executed on its more powerful models. Certain elements like audience feedback still sound immersive, but if you’re thinking that you’ll be thrown into the middle of a battlefield when watching war films, I recommend investing in Sony's WF-1000XM4 earbuds or other spatial audio alternatives like the AirPods Pro.

The Sony WF-C500's EQ settings

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The WF-C500 doesn’t isolate ambient noise well. Occasionally, sounds that occurred around me made their way into the soundscape. Were they distracting enough to pull me away from the music? No. However, if you’re trying to enjoy full audio, consider listening in quiet settings.

These buds only support AAC and SBC. Both codecs ran smoothly on iOS/macOS and Android devices. Most Sony wireless earbuds support LDAC for Hi-Res playback at a rate of up to 990kbps, and some support aptX, but the WF-C500 don't offer support for either.

Sony WF-C500 review: App and special features

  • Access to some Sony features, but not all
  • No ANC or Find My Buds function

You’ll need to download the Sony Headphones Connect app to play around with the WF-C500’s special features. I already touched on the majority such as 360 Reality Audio, DSEE, and Equalizer. Rounding things out are an activity tracker showing how you use the buds, a music player with volume slider, battery level indicators, firmware updates, and a Bluetooth Connection Quality setting to prioritize stable connectivity or sound quality.

Sony WF-C500 connected to the Sony Headphones Connect app

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Some of Sony’s other exclusive features are missing such as ANC/Ambient Sound adjustment, Speak-to-Chat, and Quick Chat. Other notable omissions that one would find on rival apps are auto power-off, control customization, and a Find My Buds function.

Sony WF-C500 review: Battery life

  • 10 hours playback from the buds
  • Charging case holds up to 20 hours
  • No wireless charging

The good news is that you get 10 hours of listening time from a full charge. This is double what the AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro offer (5 hours), and ranks among the highest in the category. Getting 4 days of moderate use (around 2.5 hours daily) before recharging was pretty respectable.

Charging the Sony WF-C500 case

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The charging case holds up to 20 hours or charge, which equates to 2 additional top ups of the earbuds. A 10-minute quick charge mode generates 1 hour of listening time, which is pretty handy. 

Although the Sony gives respectable battery life overall, the case does not support wireless charging. For comparison, an AirPods case holds around 24 hours of extra charge, and the latest versions have MagSafe wireless charging. 

Sony WF-C500 review: Call quality and connectivity

  • Not the best for voice or video calls
  • Superb wireless performance

Sony has stepped up call quality performance on its more expensive models, including the LinkBuds S and WF-1000XM4. Seemingly, these improvements are not present on the WF-C500. Several callers mentioned muffling on our end, an effect that increased when speaking outdoors. The mics also picked up a lot of ambient noise and wind and performance was only acceptable when taking calls indoors in a silent room.

Pairing the Sony WF-C500 to a Google Pixel 6 Pro via Google Fast Pair

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The WF-C500 makes up for its weak call quality with strong connectivity. Bluetooth 5.2 operates well, achieving up to 80 feet of wireless listening and pairing instantly with recognized devices; Google Fast Pair speeds up the process for Android devices.

Would it have been nice to have multipoint technology (pair to two devices simultaneously) and NFC tap-to-pair functionality? Sure, but both omissions are justified when factoring in the MSRP.

Sony WF-C500 review: Verdict

With the WF-C500, Sony arguably has the best wireless earbuds under $100. Getting the bass performance of some of their mid-range models with proprietary technologies that enhance the listening experience is unheard of at this price point. The WF-C500 isn’t perfect, as exemplified by its impractical controls and mediocre capacity from the charging case, but these are trivial complaints when factoring in the level of sound Sony has managed to engineer into these tiny buds, making them a great value buy.

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.

  • ShabaDaHut
    I strongly (but respectfully) disagree. After having spent the last month with the WFC500's - I was left unimpressed. The sound quality was okay, but not what I would've expected from sony. The app felt a bit empty & at times didn't even seem to work for me... One of my biggest complaints is how easy it was to accidentally press the button on the earbuds and accidentally hang-up a phone call when trying to just put the earbud in... Ultimately the reason I returned them was because of numerous complaints from people during phone calls having trouble hearing me... Granted, it could have been an issue with my unit only, but who knows...

    Anyway, I ordered the Jabra Elite 4 as a replacement (they are also $99) and so far I am much happier with these, the sound quality is better, it even supports aptx (which the WFC500's did not) - i dont have accidental presses that end phone calls anymore & the app feels like it's been built out with considerably more attention to detail and quality assurance than Sony's & the features (such as "hear-through") are really useful and effective. (oh I forgot to mention the Jabra Elite 4's also have ANC)
    Reply