The Sony WF-SP880N attempts to do for sport headphones what the Sony WF-1000XM3 did for sub-luxury in-ear buds: make active noise cancellation (ANC) seem like a must-have feature. As such these are more durable, more lightweight buds than the WF-1000XM3, but still offer sound-silencing capabilities while cutting the price down to more affordable levels.
The WF-SP800N possesses a bass-forward profile that pumps out energetic audio, which can be customized through the Sony Headphones app, along with some of the best battery life in its class. While these buds hit many marks, they also miss several. There are several bugs in the system, and they lack the QNe1 processor and other notable features that made the WF-1000XM3 one of the best wireless earbuds out there.
- Check out the competition: Apple AirPods Pro review
- And read our Jabra Elite Active 75t review
If you’re looking for a sportier alternative to the AirPods Pro, but with much better battery life and a cheaper price, read our Sony WF-SP800N review to see why these buds are worth a look.
Colors: Black, Blue, Orange, and White
Battery life (rated): 9 hours (single charge), 18 hours (with charging case)
Noise cancellation: Yes
Water resistance: IP55
Weight: 0.33 (per bud)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Sony WF-SP800N: Price and availability
The Sony WF-SP800N has an $199.99 MSRP but is currently available around $148. It's is available in four colors: Black, Blue, Orange, and White. The black and blue versions are available at major online retailers, including Amazon (opens in new tab) and Best Buy (opens in new tab), or directly from Sony (opens in new tab). The white version appears to be exclusive to Target (opens in new tab), while the orange version can be found on Amazon and Sony’s sites.
Sony ships the WF-SP800N with a short USB-C charging cable, reference guide, and two sets of arches and ear tips.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Design
The WF-SP800N is bare in appearance, but brawny in construction. It borrows the same large, elongated design as the WF-1000XM3, only it's more minimal in detail. Gone are the attractive gold accents and Sony branding in favor of a plain white logo. Sony also decided to ditch the cool-looking circular touch panels for what I would describe as tear-drop-shaped panels that offer a bit more touch coverage. The only flair you’re going to get out of these is in the color options, and that’s if you go with anything other than black.
Sony built these buds with an IP55 rating, so they are dust-, sweat-, and water-resistant. They’ll survive heavy splashes, but don’t plan to swim laps in the pool with them. It’s difficult to determine how well the buds perform against perspiration since I’ve had little opportunity to engage in hardcore workouts, but I can attest to how durable they are, having dropped and (mistakenly) stepped on them outside. No scratches or scuffs were sustained. The plastic casing is very solid, which is what you essentially want from any pair of wireless sport earbuds.
Let’s move onto the charging case. It’s a big chunk of plastic, much like the WF-1000XM3, except that one was a lot easier on the eyes with a premium cigarette holder-inspired look and two-tone colorway. This isn’t something you’re going to discreetly slide into your denim pockets. On the plus side, it does have a strong magnetic lid that keeps the case shut and stores the buds securely.
I get that Sony needed to create a bigger frame to house all of the WF-SP800N’s high-powered circuitry, but Apple and Jabra have shown that you can squeeze lots of functionality and special features into a tinier, sleeker design.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Comfort and Fit
Despite its hefty appearance, the WF-SP800N is incredibly comfortable and fits well on the ears. The real question is how well? I can say these buds will remain safely in place when speed walking or during light jogs around the neighborhood. Any other lateral-heavy activities will cause them to slip out on occasion.
Sporting the buds for 2 hours daily was pleasant. The angled sound port slides easily into the canal and the body rests gently on the ears. Even on days when I went past the 2-hour listening mark, fatigue never set in, a similar experience I had with our vary favorite wireless earbuds, the Jabra Elite Active 75t.
The tips created a decent seal, while the arches molded perfectly into the cymba to keep the buds anchored during light exercises (e.g. ab crunches, lunges, pushups). And granted the WF-SP800N is heavier than most other models, it felt extremely light on my ears.
Unfortunately, the enlarged shape of these buds isn’t practical for exercises that require lifting your arms; they got in the way many times when raising dumbbells above my head. When factoring in their extra weight and some moisture, the buds are prone to slip out as well, especially during side planks. I prefer the Elite Active 75t or Beats Powerbeats Pro for a more secure fit.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Smart controls
One area where the WF-1000XM3 fell hard on its protruded posterior was the touch controls, which didn’t operate well. Sony must have taken this criticism to heart because the WF-SP800N is a complete 180 with far-improved touch input. The sensor now has a tiny bump near the end that serves two purposes: it acts as a border to keep the user within the surface range and offers a second method to execute touch gestures. I found that the WF-1000XM3 responded better to swipes than taps, and though taps register fine on these buds, you’ll find that swiping provides more accurate results.
Sony programmed the WF-SP800N with on-ear detection too, Music will automatically pause when removing the buds from your ear and resume playback when wearing them. Like the WF-1000XM3, it works half of the time; my buds would continue playing songs when placed on a flat surface.
The WF-SP800N supports the big three digital assistants: Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri. The feature is extremely buggy. Every time I called up Google Assistant, either nothing happened, or the program would wait for me to voice a command without any notification. Normally, a pop-up appears on your smartphone screen giving you the greenlight to share an inquiry, but nothing would ever show up. On rare occasions when I did get to use the feature, it lagged horrendously, responding 5 seconds later to a request. It was much of the same when using Siri on macOS.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Active noise cancellation and ambient listening
The WF-1000XM3 offers highly effective noise cancellation, thanks to the QN1e processor, which is basically a toned-down version of the chip featured in the brand's flagship Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones. It’s a workhouse capable of cancelling out a large amount of ambient noise and producing hi-res sound. Sadly, it’s absent on the WF-SP800N, but despite its omission, these buds do an admirable job of blocking unwanted noises — enough for it to make our list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds, in fact.
I’m not sure what ANC technology Sony employs here, but it’s effective enough to silence barking dogs, chatty neighbors, and speeding cars. It won’t make louder noises (e.g. bus engines, power tools) unnoticeable, but, then again, neither does the AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation; high frequency sounds eventually make their way through. The WF-1000XM3 handles these transient noises slightly better. Still, the WF-SP800N is adequate for minimizing environmental distractions during workouts.
Sony’s Ambient Sound mode has also been improved, allowing you to hear what’s going on in your vicinity more clearly. When enabled, I could hear birds chirping and the gleeful kids right next to me pestering their parents for candy. The feature benefits outdoor runners most, as it keeps them aware of oncoming traffic or construction work. Sony even lets you adjust the amount of ambient sound you want to hear via mobile app.
There are some other intuitive listening features programmed into these buds such as Advanced Adaptive Sound Control, which automatically adjusts the ambient sound settings based on your environment or what you’re doing. It’s been a challenge testing this thoroughly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m hoping to provide an update in the coming weeks on how well the technology works.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Sound quality
The WF-SP800N is a minor step down from the beautiful-sounding WF-1000XM3. Is that a knock? No. These are some bass-forward earbuds that produce lively audio to fuel your workouts. At the same time, the absence of Sony’s QN1e processor is noticeable, especially with clarity.
To get the engine running before my jog around Midtown, I pulled up Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” and was instantly met with vivacious lows. The WF-SP800N’s signature is definitely on the warm side, which is practical for sports earbuds and perfect for bass lovers, granted it also harshens the vocals on certain tracks. This was certainly the case when hearing Vanessa Williams’ “Work to Do,” as the default profile accentuated the low end more than necessary and produced sibilant noises; there were lots of hissing and static effects. I feel the WF-1000XM3 does a much better job of rendering audio.
To test the WF-SP800N’s musical range, I played some Jazz classics during my post-workout cool down. John Coltrane’s “In a Sentimental Mood” demonstrated the buds’ quality reproduction, allowing me to fully hear some of the record’s subtle details such as the different hi-hat arrangements and lightly touched piano keys. The song does sound clearer on both the WF-1000XM3 and Elite Active 75t.
If you really want to get the best sound out of these buds, switch the EQ over to the Bright setting in the Sony Headphones app. This makes a huge difference and equalizes the soundstage so that mids and highs aren’t lost in the background. You’ll also enjoy better bass performance when listening in standard or ANC mode, which gives songs some extra oomph.
Something else worth mentioning is the WF-SP800N’s great noise isolation. There was barely any outside interference that pulled me away from the music. The buds do a surprisingly good job of minimizing sound leakage as well; my fiancée couldn’t even tell I was blasting hip-hop songs right across from her. In addition, the volume levels are well balanced and don’t get obnoxiously loud, nor do they distort sound when listening at max volume.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Sony Headphones app and special features
Sony’s mobile app has been updated with some new features and a cleaner, easy-to-navigate interface. You’re blessed with a host of options to personalize these buds, from the controls to the soundstage. Most of your time will be spent playing with the EQ; users can create their own sound profiles by adjusting the frequency levels or selecting from nine different presets that each lend themselves well to specific genres. They’re all on point.
The WF-SP800N works with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio platform. This technology delivers a more immersive listening experience, though it requires a compatible streaming service (e.g. Deezer, Tidal) to get the most of it. There’s also the aforementioned Advanced Adaptive Sound Control, along with battery life indicators for both buds and the charging case. Other standout features include toggle options for automatic firmware updates, power off, and notification and voice guide alerts.
While there is plenty to be thrilled about here, I would be remiss not to mention what is missing, which in this case, are some surprising exclusions. The first is touch-to-pair NFC, a signature feature that’s become synonymous with most of the brand’s wireless audio products. Second is multipoint connectivity to pair to two devices simultaneously. Third is wireless charging, something that many modern wireless earbuds with charging cases are adopting.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Battery life
The WF-SP800N is rated at 9 hours with ANC on, 13 hours with ANC off. After several days of testing, I can say these numbers stand, as I secured about 8.5 hours on a single charge during my trial run. Keep in mind this includes heavy ANC usage, loud volume, and a few Skype calls. That's very impressive. I also loved that the buds came 70% charged out of the box.
This places Sony’s buds in the same company as the Powerbeats Pro (9 hours) and higher than most other competitors, including the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and Elite Active 75t (7.5 hours).
The real difference in battery life lies in the charging cases; the WF-SP800N only holds 18 hours compared to the Powerbeats Pro’s 24-hour and Elite Active 75t’s 28-hour charging cases. That’s about 2 to 3 fewer charges. Luckily, 9 hours fully charged is a lengthy amount to work with in between charges. Also, the buds have quick charging to get 1 hour of playtime on a 10-minute charge.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Call quality and connectivity
When using Sony's buds for calls, volume was great and I could hear people loudly and clearly. I also liked how well the buds performed indoors, which made video chats with friends more fun. Some claimed that my voice sounded a bit muffled, but still understood what I was saying.
I’m afraid to report that the same issues present in its fancier predecessor remain here. My fiancée mentioned hearing a lot of background noises when taking her calls outside, from loud passengers to taxis speeding through the streets. I’ve yet to test the WF-SP800N in breezy conditions, but when taking into account its mic sensitivity and what other reviewers are saying about wind resistance, I can see these buds not performing well in drafty environments, much like the WF-1000XM3. I’ll make sure to provide an update when the weather is more brisk.
Connectivity has never really been an issue with Sony’s wireless headphones and earbuds, which is why I’m disappointed in the WF-SP800N. Oddly, the setup process was more seamless when pairing to my MacBook Pro than it was to my Google Pixel 2 XL and 3 XL. Trying to pair to these Android devices resulted in several troubleshooting errors.
I had to go through the Sony Headphones app, and when my handsets finally recognized the buds, it wasn’t until I gave the app access to my contacts that they finally connected. This is where NFC support would have been most clutch. Once past the frustrating setup, the buds operated smoothly and re-paired to devices instantly.
Sony WF-SP800N review: Verdict
The Sony WF-SP800N is a solid addition to Sony’s popular wireless earbuds lineup with dynamic audio, strong battery life, and water-resistant protection. These three facets may be its biggest strengths, but the real selling point for these buds are the adaptive listening modes, in particular, active noise cancellation.
While not up to the caliber of Sony's own WF-1000XM3, or the AirPods Pro, the ANC on these buds is serviceable to at least enjoy peaceful runs in your neighborhood with minimal distractions. You’ll just want to stay away from super-rowdy environments to get the best performance. Ambient Sound is also a great feature to have on hand for practicing better social awareness.
Do they warrant their $200 price tag? When compared to the more advanced WH-1000XM3, or category leaders like the Jabra Elite Active 75t? I don’t think so. They can definitely benefit from a price drop. But if you're a fitness junkie who favors excellent battery life (on a single charge), Sony’s bass output, and some sonic privacy in the form of noise cancellation, then the WF-SP800N is an ideal workout companion.