On one hand, the earphones bring distinctly above average audio quality to a cheaper price segment. That price segment though is cheap only with respect to Sony’s usual asking price. The WF-XB700 are still much more expensive than the Realme Buds Air or Xiaomi’s truly wireless headphones. And for that price, there are ups and downs here.
For most headphones in India that promise “extra bass”, you usually get muddy audio where the bass undermines everything else. The experience overall is muddy and sub-par. While the XB700 keeps bass as the headline, it’s punchy and really tight bass. So you won’t miss the kick drums in rock music and they won’t overpower the guitars.
The audio is also tuned well enough to suit an eclectic music taste, a weakness many headphones suffer from, cheap and expensive. The XB700 is great for bass-driven Bollywood tracks, but at the same time, it works for songs like Drops of Jupiter by Train. The drums in that song flow along in the background, letting the other instruments take centrestage. Most importantly, you hear the bassline from the bass guitar very clearly, something a whole host of headphones out there fail to handle.
The WF-XB700 doesn’t have the range Sony’s 1000XM3 series does, but its range is admittedly wider than most headphones in its competition. The audio quality is noticeably better than the Jabra Elite E75t, which costs about ₹5000 more. Despite emphasis on bass, a song like Jenny of Oldstones from Game of Thrones still sounds good.
That said, the emphasis on bass does affect the mid-range. This may not matter to most, but at ₹9990, there are many buyers who do know their audio. The impact on movies, YouTube videos etc. isn’t enough to really complain, but if we were to nitpick, the low mid-range does affect audio quality there.
Interestingly, Sony does have a solution to this. It just thinks that it can’t offer that at this price. The Headphones Connect app, which the company pairs with the WF-SP800N (also launched today) and more expensive headphones, has an equalizer built in. This would ideally allow you to tune the audio to your own tastes or for the content you’re playing.
Another big miss here is the lack of gesture controls and active noise cancellation (ANC). Companies like JBL have delivered ANC at such prices, though not in truly wireless headphones. In fact, even Sony does ANC on the WH-CH710N at exactly the same price. The more expensive SP-800N also has ANC built in. Adding the circuitry for ANC surely adds to the cost, and though there aren’t ANC offerings at this price point for truly wireless buds yet, there definitely should be.
Without ANC, the XB-700N isn’t well suited for video calls or even phone calls for that matter. Many complained about environmental noise from my end, though the microphones do pick up my voice well when outside noise is kept to a minimum.
Ultimately though, lack of ANC in this range isn’t something you can really fault Sony for, yet. The bigger miss is not adding gesture controls on the XB700. You can’t touch or swipe the buds to control audio and music won’t pause automatically when you take them off the ear.
The WF700 have tiny buttons on them, to play/pause, control volume etc. But I didn’t use them any more than I absolutely had to to ensure that they work. They just don’t feel intuitive and I’d much rather tap to control music than press a button once, twice and so on.
This would have been acceptable on very cheap earphones, but not at this price. The cheapest of truly wireless headphones have gesture controls today, and though they are often wobbly, it’s clearly possible. The WF-XB700 is expensive when you compare to companies like Boat, Xiaomi, Realme etc. and there’s no excuse for not putting such controls here.
On the other hand, the headphones have IPX4 rating, which means they’re sweat and water resistant. That’s important because truly wireless is perfect when you’re working out. They also have excellent battery life. In the two weeks that I’ve had them, I haven’t charged them since I topped them off after unboxing them. Sony’s 18 hour battery life rating (9 from fully charged buds, and 9 more from carry case) actually feels conservative here.
So, is the Sony WF-XB700 worth recommending? It sure is. But Sony must ask itself who the competition is. The Japanese giant may not consider Xiaomi etc. as its competition, and they definitely do not come close to its audio prowess, but I can think of many people who would buy considerably cheaper true wireless headphones with gesture support than spend 10k on one that delivers distinctly better audio quality without the gestures. If you’re spending around Rs. 10,000 and don’t mind the lack of gesture support, this is definitely worth buying.