Sony's excellent over-ear WH-1000XM4 and WF-1000XM4 earbuds are its flagship noise-canceling headphones -- and they rightfully get most of the attention. But the company makes other more affordable headphones, including two new models: the C500 earbuds ($100, £89, AU$180) and WH-XB910N ($250, £179, AU$400) over-ear noise-canceling headphones.
Sony C500 true wireless earbuds: $100
The C500 are Sony's new entry-level earbuds, replacing the WF-XB700 Extra Bass, which started out at $130 but are now selling for around $55 and sometimes even less. While the C500's design sensibility has more in common with the WF-1000XM4 than the WF-XB700, the C500 is not a noise-canceling model. It's pretty basic as far as earbuds go, with no ear-detection sensors or transparency mode. But the buds are compact, lightweight, fit comfortably and sound good for an entry-level model. They come in four colors: black, white, green and orange.
While these earbuds have background noise reduction during voice calls, they only have one microphone in each earbud. Many earbuds now have two or more microphones to help process ambient noise and capture your voice.
Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones for 2021
In some ways these are similar to Jabra's new $80 Elite 3 earbuds, delivering quite respectable sound quality for less than $100. I don't love the shape of Sony's ear tips and went with a pair of large Sennheiser tips to get a tight seal (these use Sony's older ear tips, while the new WF-1000XM4 have redesigned tips that are better but don't fit my ears perfectly). A tight seal is crucial for optimal sound quality and getting maximum bass performance.
The C500 don't have the richer, more refined (and dynamic) sound of the WF-1000XM4, but they have ample bass and decent clarity, as Sony says they benefit from its Digital Sound Enhancement Engine technology that it says helps "restore high frequency sound to create a more authentic listening experience." The same digital processing technology is found in the 1000XM4 models.
They lean slightly warmer (the treble isn't harsh), which I prefer, and enables you to have longer listening sessions without experiencing listening fatigue. They interface with the Sony Headphones Connect app, so they will be able to get firmware updates.
I liked that they're equipped with physical controls (not touch) and I found it easy to advance tracks with a double tap on the right bud. You can adjust the volume by double tapping on the left earbud (raising volume) or holding the button down (lower volume).
The earbuds are rated IPX4, so they're splash-proof, and offer up to 10 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels on a single charge. That's impressive battery life. There's also an extra charge in the charging case, which uses USB-C.
I wouldn't say the C500 looks or feels cheap, but like the WF-XB700, they don't feel like premium earbuds and have some room for discounts. I expect the street price will be closer to $70 as we head into the holiday buying season.
Sony WH-XB910N over-ear headphones: $250
As for the WH-XB910N, this is the step-down model from the WH-1000XM4. It's an Extra Bass model (the C500 isn't), so it does have a preponderance of bass. I liked the previous version, the XB900N, and it was a decent deal when it went on sale for $150 (it's at that price now). The updated version looks the same but offers improved noise canceling and multipoint Bluetooth pairing, so you can pair it with your smartphone and computer simultaneously. It also supports Sony's LDAC audio codec.
While improved, the noise canceling isn't quite up to the level of the WH-1000XM4. And the WH-XB910N doesn't have some of that model's extra features, such as Speak to Chat, wearing detection sensors and Sony's Precise Voice Pickup technology. However, it does have a Quick Attention Mode that allows you to put your hand over the ear cup to go from noise canceling to an ambient-aware transparency mode. Also, this headphone now comes with a hard case like the WH-1000XM4. Battery life is rated at up to 30 hours at moderate volume levels -- that's the same as what you get from the WH-1000XM4.
With the WH-1000XM4 sometimes selling for $278, I expect to see early discounts on the WH-XB910N, with street prices likely to be in the $150-$200 range. It's a good set of headphones, particularly if you like bass, but it needs to settle below $200 to make it worth considering over the WH-1000XM4.