Like the Wyze Cam, these headphones seem almost too good to be true. What's the real story?
Wyze wins the productivity award for 2020, having introduced no fewer than half a dozen new products this year -- including the excellent Wyze Cam v3, the so-so Wyze Band and the to-be-determined Wyze Robot Vacuum.
Also new: over-the-ear Wyze Headphones, offering active noise canceling and other desirable features for just $50. At that price, how could it possibly compare with the $350-$550 likes of the Bose 700, Sony WH-1000XM4 and Apple AirPods Max?
That all depends on what you want from your headphones. If your priorities include a comfortable fit, a folding design, ANC, transparency mode, wear detection, USB-C charging, an app-based equalizer and support for Alexa voice commands, look no further. Indeed, Wyze packs an embarrassment of riches into a $50 product. (Update: The headphones are now priced at $68.)
And I haven't even mentioned what might be my favorite feature ever: Quick Conversation mode. When you plop your palm on the right earcup, playback and noise canceling immediately cut out, allowing you to talk to (and hear) someone without having to remove the headphones or manually pause the music.
I also have to give props to the excellent quick-start guide and Wyze companion app, which combine to make setup and operation blissfully simple. (The last time I looked at the Sony WH-1000XM4 instructions, I needed to lie down for a bit.)
I'm no audiophile. I can appreciate the sound quality afforded by premium headphones, but most of the time I'm just as happy with a budget set. As long as they're comfortable and the sound isn't muddy, overblown or otherwise flawed, I'll get the same enjoyment from Belle & Sebastian's Dear Catastrophe Waitress or Brendan Benson's Alternative to Love. It's like viewing the Mona Lisa: Art aficionados will pore over every detail, but I'm just happy to be in the Louvre.
That said, I decided to do a direct comparison between the Wyze Headphones and the Sony WH-1000XM4 I have on loan from Back Market. On paper, they're pretty similar, but the latter has a list price of $350. (For the moment, it continues to sell at Amazon for $278 -- still more than five times the price of Wyze's product.)
The Wyze Headphones are a tad heavier at 10.2 ounces (Sony's 'phones weigh 8.8). The Sony has a bit more padding in the headband, too, and therefore feels more comfortable atop the head -- but I actually like Wyze's thicker earcups better. They're ultrasnug.
Read more: The best noise-canceling headphones for 2021
Here's the upshot: The Wyze Headphones sound genuinely good. In a vacuum, they might be considered very good. Do they rival the WH-1000XM4? Not to me: I went back and forth between them on the same tracks and consistently found that I liked Sony's overall sound quality better.
But back to the vacuum: If I didn't have a $350 pair of headphones to compare them with, would I be unhappy with the Wyze 'phones? Quite the opposite: I'd be a happy listener with an extra $300 in his pocket. I'm streaming the Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas as I type this, and it sounds absolutely lovely. Full bass, clear highs and lows, all that good stuff. There's absolutely nothing about this listening experience that makes me think, "I sure wish I had $350 headphones instead." Because it couldn't possibly get seven times better.
As for ANC, the results were surprising: While standing next to a loud heater that produces a deep hum, I tried both headphones. Sony's cans cut back a fair bit of the noise but left some noticeable hiss. The Wyze 'phones eliminated nearly all the noise and produced no residual sound to speak of. So, yes, in that particular scenario, the Wyze Headphones were actually better at noise canceling than the much costlier Sony.
That said, neither offered much help against things like barking dogs or chatty family members -- not without some audio playing to help run interference. But if you're tackling low-frequency sounds -- a fan, an airplane engine, that kind of thing -- the Wyze does a pretty remarkable job.
Wyze supplies only a lightweight drawstring carrying case, and you don't get extras like a 1/4-inch jack adapter or airline adapter. No real losses, there, but I do have a few minor quibbles with the hardware. The headband and earcups show smudgy fingerprints; I can't find a trace of any such touches on the Sony 'phones. And the volume and play/pause buttons under the right earcup are small and crammed together, and therefore hard to navigate by touch.
But there were a handful of minor things I liked, too. For example, the power button works with a quick, single press; I'm not sure why every other set of headphones require several seconds of pressing (which always makes me nervous I'm going to end up in Bluetooth pairing mode). The four-band equalizer in the app is fun to play around with, and you can tweak settings like auto power-off timing and toggle between Alexa and your phone's native voice assistant.
Although I've had only a couple days to live with the Wyze Headphones, I feel like the company has crafted another game-changer. Like the Wyze Cam before it, it seems too good to be true. "Where's the catch? How can this be so good at this price?"
I don't know, and I'm not complaining. I'll leave it to my CNET colleagues to conduct more in-depth tests, to determine if audiophiles will be as happy with these as cheapskates will. But if you're in the latter camp, Wyze Headphones are a must-buy.
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