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Sony's WF-1000XM3 is considered one of the best set of true wireless noise-canceling earbuds. But to the dismay of some people, it lacked any sort of water-resistance, making it unsuitable for sports. It took a while, but now we finally have a new true wireless noise-canceling sports model from Sony: The WF-SP800N ($200, £180, AU$450).
This isn't quite the WF-1000XM3 with a water-resistant body, however. It's missing Sony's QN1e processor, but there's still a lot to like about it and it's definitely a nice upgrade over the WF-SP700N, which came out in 2018.
I received the black version but it also comes in a blue color and the design is sleeker than its predecessor's. It also fit my ears a little better. That model had an IPX4 water-resistance rating. This one is IP55, which means it's dust resistant and can take a sustained spray of water.
The case is similar to the 1000XM3's but it doesn't feel quite as premium. I like its shape and overall look better, and it is slightly smaller. You can't stand it up on a flat surface and the top isn't flat, so you have to just lay it down on its side. It did fit in my pocket fine but obviously there are a lot of wireless earbuds out there with smaller cases. But it doesn't feel gargantuan.
There's no wireless charging, just USB-C. You get nine hours of battery life on a single charge and up to a whopping 13 hours if you turn the noise-canceling mode off. The case gives one full extra charge and a 10-minute quick charging gives you up to 60 minutes of music playback. That's excellent for true wireless. By comparison, Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus deliver about 11 hours of battery life on a single charge.
The buds themselves are slightly heavier (about 1 gram) than the 1000XM3s and are similarly shaped. They stick out from your ears a fair amount, but they're comfortable to wear, even though they do weigh more than your typical true wireless earbuds. One of the biggest design differences is that these come with a couple of different sized stabilizing arcs, which help lock the buds into your ears. The 1000XM3 fit my ears securely, but the sports fins feel like insurance. And they work well for running: I went on two three-mile runs with them without a problem. Because they stick out a bit, they can pick up some wind noise on windy days, but a lot of earbuds do that.
The larger arc worked well for me, but I couldn't find an eartip among the three sizes that allowed me to get a tight seal so I had to put a set of my own larger tips on. I've told Sony several times to include extra-large tips for the small percentage of people who might need them, but it hasn't happened yet. Maybe they'll come with the rumored WF-1000XM4, whenever that comes out.
I'm griping about it because if you don't get a tight seal, the noise-canceling really doesn't work and they also don't sound all that great because you lose a lot of bass. Trust me, it's night and day with a tight seal.
These don't sound quite as good or have as effective noise canceling as the WF-1000XM3, but they're still solid on both fronts. They do have the same drivers as the 1000XM3. But that's where that missing QN1e processor comes in: It plays a role in both noise canceling and sound quality with all the digital processing it does, so its absence here is notable.
The 1000XM3 has both top-notch sound and top-notch noise canceling -- for true wireless anyway. The noise canceling here is pretty good, but it's just a little lighter (read: not quite as effective), which some people who are sensitive to noise canceling may appreciate.
As for the sound, this is technically a Sony ExtraBass model. And yeah, there is a little extra bass -- but it isn't overwhelming or bloated (it has decent definition). These don't sound quite as refined or smooth as the 1000XM3 but they're still excellent sounding true wireless earbuds with dynamic bass, good detail and a pretty wide soundstage. In short, they're not much of a step down from the WF-1000XM3 from a sound standpoint -- but it is a step.
They measure up well against other earbuds in the $150 to $200 range, only a few of which currently offer active noise-canceling. But I wouldn't say they outclass them. Those models include the Galaxy Buds Plus and Jabra Elite 75t, both of which I've rated a tad higher, partially because they offer a more discreet design.
These have a sensor that knows when the buds are in your ears or not and pauses your music when you take them out. The touch controls worked well. You grab the bud on each side, then tap the right bud to control track playback. Tapping the left bud controls noise-canceling settings, including a transparency mode that lets sound in. That's an important safety feature if you want to be able to hear traffic while you're out running (Sony refers to this as "ambient sound mode" and its levels are adjustable in the app).
Like the WF-1000XM3, if you tap and hold the left earbud you go into a quick awareness mode. Your music pauses and you can hear the outside world and have a conversation. Let go and it resumes. It's a nice little feature.
Tap and hold the right earbud and you get your voice assistant of choice. These support your phone's voice assistant along with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. They also work with Sony's new 360 Reality Audio surround sound audio format, available with certain music streaming services such as Tidal, Deezer and Nugs.net.
What else? Well, my wireless connection was pretty much rock solid (the older WF-SP700N's wireless connection was quite the opposite). These use a Bluetooth 5.0 chip "borrowed from the WF-1000XM3," according to Sony, and its engineers seem to have made some progress with call quality because these did a decent job reducing background noise when I was on calls. The WF-1000XM3 had some issues as a headset when they first launched but has improved subsequent firmware upgrades. Ultimately, these seem significantly better for voice calls at launch than the WF-1000XM3 did when they launched.
The WF-SP800N links to the same Sony Connect app for iOS and Android that other Sony headphones do. The app allows you to tweak the sound and set your preferences for noise-canceling and ambient sound modes. It also allows you to update the earbuds' firmware, which happens regularly and tends to offer tiny improvements to the earbuds over time.
There are some feature upgrades in the app worth noting. You can now select your favorite settings based on your activity -- say, running -- or location. One location is listed as "office," which unfortunately, many of us won't see for a while.
Some people like to be able to Bluetooth pair their headphones to multiple devices, including their phones, tablets and computers. You can wirelessly pair these with multiple devices, but you have to manually switch between them so there's no multipoint pairing. Sorry.
That's the WF-SP800N earbuds in a nutshell. They may not be outstanding, but I liked them. They're good true wireless sports buds that have pleasant sound (particularly if you like bass) and a strong feature set. I think the only issue is that with all the competition out there, they're a little expensive at $200, which is what the WF-1000XM3 seems to cost these days. I'd like to see them more in the $160 to $175 range, but that's me. I think everything should be a little cheaper.