Sony WH-CH720N review: Budget headphones with premium sound | Engadget
Sony has a great track record when it comes to budget headphones. The companies were excellent, but too expensive to begin with. Sony made them incredible value at $150 after slashing the price shortly after their 2020 debut. Excellent sound quality, capable ANC, good battery life and a comfortable fit made the WH-CH710N a compelling and affordable alternative to the premium, which was the company’s flagship model at the time. Earlier this year, the company debuted this three-year-old set: the .
On paper, the 2023 edition should maintain Sony’s reputation for solid mid-range, budget headphones as alternatives to expensive ones. The WH-CH720N houses the same V1 chip from the M5, which powers both Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and overall sound quality. There’s also an updated design and a lower price following another early cut ($130), but battery life remains the same at 35 hours. So is the WH-CH720N another mid-range hit for Sony?
- Affordable price
- Light and comfortable
- Great sound quality
- Some handy features
- ANC struggles in certain environments
- Lots of plastic
- No automatic pause
- Advanced features reserved for more expensive models
Let’s start with the design. The WH-CH720N draws inspiration from Sony’s newer 1000X earphones and the hinges of the headband and ear cups. The exterior of the ear cups are flatter and it’s just hard plastic, no soft-touch material here. Like previous mid-range Sony models, the WH-CH720N has physical controls with a power/pairing button on the left next to the USB-C charging port and a 3.5mm jack. On the right side, there’s a dedicated noise canceling button that alternates between ANC mode and transparency mode. There’s also the typical three-button array with volume controls flanking the multi-function track and call button. This central control also calls your favorite voice assistant. Although the buttons work reliably, the raised indent on the middle button is low, making it difficult to place your thumb quickly.
Like the WH-CH710N, this new model is extremely light and comfortable. I can easily wear them for hours at a time. There’s also ample padding in the ear pads and the headband hinge isn’t wrapped so tight that it pinches my head. I really liked what the 710N had to offer, but overall comfort was at the top of the list, so it’s great to see that Sony didn’t overlook that aspect when designing the follow-up version. The only real problem is that he uses a lot of plastic. While this helps keep the weight down, it also ensures the 720N looks decidedly cheap.
The WH-CH720N’s suite of features in the Sony Headphones app is where you’ll notice the main differences from the WH-1000XM5. Most notably, the 720N lacks Speak-to-Chat, a feature that automatically pauses audio when it detects you’re speaking. Related, this new model also doesn’t have an auto-pause when you take them off your head.
Despite some omissions, there are still a few handy tools available. First, Adaptive Sound Control allows the app to automatically adjust settings based on your location or activity. This allows you to activate ANC when you arrive at the office or activate transparency mode when you start a race, for example. Here, and in the general sound settings, you can specify an ambient sound level and choose to channel vocals when this mode is active.
Additionally, Sony offers an EQ slider for manual adjustments as well as a separate bass adjustment. There’s also a collection of audio presets if you’re in a hurry. 360 Reality Audio is available on the WH-CH720N (with a compatible streaming subscription) and the app gives you the option of DSEE upscaling to enhance compressed content. The app also lets you enable multipoint Bluetooth for two devices and a safe listening feature is there to help preserve your hearing.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the WH-CH710N was the overall sound quality. I was amazed at what Sony managed in a set of headphones that cost half the price of its flagship model. There was plentiful bass with an open soundstage and great clarity in detail. Fortunately, the WH-CH720N is more or less the same. These headphones enable the intricacies of boygenius the record to shine, from dark guitar effects to the quieter keyboard/organ parts of songs like True Blue. There are plenty of quieter parts on the record that you can easily pick up. Cool About It’s acoustic guitar and banjo are also quite dynamic and textural.
Heavier, more chaotic genres do just as well. Better Lovers’ gritty and thrashy metal track 30 Under 13 is quite the ride. Even the fastest, grittier riffs are captured with startling clarity. All instruments are self-contained and at no time do they become a broken mess. The dynamics of tracks like OBrothers Halogen Eye” also go well. There’s plenty of grainy, chunky distortion on the verses and these headphones get every bit of that texture, in addition to the reverb and other effects that create the band’s moody, atmospheric soundscape.
Finally, on Nickel Creeks Celebrants a modern bluegrass record, the WH-CH720N lets you feel like you’re in the room with the band. Aided in part by the positioning of the guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bass in the mix, the headphones retain the feeling of sitting at a private performance rather than just listening to a recorded track.
In terms of noise cancellation, I think the WH-CH720N lags a bit behind the 710N. ANC will be fine for you in most cases, especially with constant noise. However, these headphones really struggle with human voices, which doesn’t make them the best option if your main goal is to block a nearby phone call or talkative colleagues. Transparency mode delivers great natural sound that’s especially handy when taking video and voice calls. Speaking of calls, the 720N does a decent job of blocking out background noise and the overall audio quality makes you hear better than the speakerphone and most headphones. It’s not pristine, but it’s a cut above the status quo.
When it comes to battery life, Sony promises up to 35 hours with ANC on. During what I would consider normal use, a mix of noise canceling and transparency mode for music and calls, and several power offs overnight, the app showed 40% remaining after 28 hours. The macOS Bluetooth menu saved it. The company says you can expect up to 50 hours with ANC off, so my mixed-use testing was on par with that. Battery life estimates have never been an issue on Sony headphones and that’s not the case here either. Plus, 35 hours is on par with most flagships these days, even though it’s the same number as the previous model.
It’s a strong contender to replace the current budget pick in our guide, but if you need a solid alternative to Audio-Technica. While the $79 is our current low-priced pick, it’s a more apt comparison. The M50 doesn’t offer active noise cancellation, but it does have a more refined design, physical controls and a warm, inviting sound. If you don’t need the extra help blocking out distractions, they’re currently available for $69 more than the 720N. Sony introduced the alongside the WH-CH720N, which might be an option if you’re really pinching some pennies. This over-ear model also doesn’t have ANC, but it does have 50-hour battery life and multi-point connectivity alongside on-board controls. Plus, they’re only $50.
Sony has managed to create another compelling set of affordable noise canceling headphones without cutting too many corners. Sure, there are some premium features you’ll have to do without, but the WH-CH720N covers the basics well. Good sound quality with attention to fine detail and ample bass is combined with a convenient transparency mode and automatic sound profile switching. The noise cancellation does a decent job, but it’s not the best, and you’ll have to get by without auto-pausing. Still, for well under $150, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option at this price.
Gallery: Sony WH-CH720N Review | 9 Pictures
Gallery: Sony WH-CH720N Review | 9 Pictures