If you have so far avoided investing in the Sony WH-1000XM5 you can now buy the Sony WH-CH720N, which comes up trumps with an excellent price-performance ratio. You will get powerful-sounding over-ear headphones with efficient noise cancelling and an ambient function, which make a great accessory for travelling, public transport or office use, but you can also treat yourself to some peace and quiet at home. In return, you will have to make do without a touch control and make sacrifices in the drivers and workmanship. If you are looking for a budget over-ear model, then you should take a closer look at these headphones.
- efficient noise cancelling
- reasonable price with good sound quality
- reasonable battery life
- lack of higher quality audio codecs
- muffled sound in passive cable mode
The smaller sibling of the Sony WH-1000XM5 impressed us with its attractive price. Sony has succeeded in creating a good-sounding over-ear model for everyday use. It has practical operation and runtime, importing the benefits of the manufacturer’s esteemed noise-cancelling technology into a significantly lower price range without making too many sacrifices.
The various generations of the Sony WH-1000 series have set the bar high for efficient noise-cancelling but don’t fall within every budget. The Sony WH-CH720N aims to change that, as they are a decidedly affordable over-ear design that uses similar noise cancelling. This really piqued our interest!
The Sony WH-CH720N is available in matt white, blue and black and, at 192 grams, is really light in weight. The plastic construction feels robust enough for everyday use and looks appealing to boot. It is reminiscent of the WH-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM4 models, but as expected, the finish is less high-quality. The leatherette upholstery is less substantial and, in the case of the earcups, not completely flawless. When it comes to the packaging, Sony pays attention to a solution that is as free of pollutants as possible and, according to the manufacturer, opts mainly for recycled plastic materials – which is not something to take for granted.
What the Sony WH-CH720N can do
The selling point of the Sony WH-CH720N is its noise cancelling and associated ambient function, which allows you to bring your surroundings back to your ears for improved orientation and communication. In this matter, the affordable newcomer is supposed to match the quality of Sony’s current top models. In addition, there is a considerable battery life of up to 35 hours, the option of cable operation and multipoint support. For sound reproduction, these headphones use dynamic drivers with a diameter of 30mm, but these do not correspond to the WH-1000XM5, which uses neodymium magnets.
Clear savings can be found in the audio codecs. The WH-CH720N offer the basic SBC and AAC but does not have Sony’s high-quality LDAC codec. However, they can be operated in wired mode and so can be used without the limitations of Bluetooth wireless.
The headphones we tested did not have touch controls, relying instead on a series of function buttons on the earcups. Apart from lacking the WH-1000 models’ practical temporary ambient mode, I don’t necessarily see this as a disadvantage but rather a matter of personal taste.
The free “Headphones Connect” app (iOS, Android) is tried and tested. In addition to updates (firmware version 1.08), it provides a significant expansion of functionality, including visualisation of the battery status. Here, for example, Sony’s sound improvement for MP3 format “Digital Sound Enhancement Engine” (DSEE) can be activated or you can activate the aforementioned multipoint connection to use the headphones with two players. Furthermore, optimisation of playback with the Sony 3-D audio format “360 Reality Audio” can be configured for various streaming services. However, the main focus is on the control of the noise-cancelling and ambient functions as well as the 5-band equaliser with additional clear bass control, which has different pre-sets and editable user settings.
The Sony WH-CH720N in practice
The wearing comfort of these headphones is good thanks to the light weight and length-adjustable headband with padding as well as the padded, rotatable and tiltable earcups. The synthetic leather outer surface is soft while at the same time providing a secure fit that does not disturb the user even during longer listening sessions. These headphones are not foldable and must accordingly be worn around the neck or stowed away when not in use. A carrying case is not included in the package.
As mentioned, the buttons on both the earcups along with the app are used to control the functions. On the bottom of the left earcup is the on/off switch, which is used to initiate pairing. You will also find the USB-C charging port and the mini-jack for optional cable operation here.
On the right side is a multifunction button surrounded by two more volume control switches. There is also a dedicated button that switches between noise-cancelling modes (this is configurable via the app)
The multifunction button takes over the start/stop function and track skipping when listening to music. However, it is also used to make phone calls and to call up smartphone voice assistants. In addition to Siri, Alexa and Google are also supported.
Speaking of phone calls: The WH-CH720N uses voice-optimised directional microphones that are supposed to be protected against the wind. In practice, the call quality is good, and the device we tested was reliable not only on the move but also for everyday office use. In addition to the multipoint connection, it is also worth highlighting the noise cancelling as this puts the focus on conversations or simply on the task at hand.
An important factor when purchasing headphones for mobile use is their battery life. Sony claims a runtime of up to 35 hours for the WH-CH720N with noise cancelling activated but without DSEE. That should be enough for several days of travel. In practice, I can roughly confirm these claims, meaning that these headphones pass muster in terms of their runtime for everyday mobile use.
Finally, the pairing speed, the stability of the wireless link and the range were also impeccably practical.
How good is the Sony WH-CH720N’s noise cancelling?
In addition to two microphones per side, the Sony WH-CH720N has a low-latency signal processor (V1), which also provides good results in the WH-1000XM5. However, their additional QN1 processor that is also in the WH-1000XM4 and -XM3 models is missing from this model. Nevertheless, the performance was convincing. At the touch of a button, you can create a quiet room that effectively lowers ambient noise without creating a diving bell effect. Static and very low-frequency noises largely disappear, but so do large portions of background conversations and other noises. The resulting convenience was remarkable, particularly when travelling by train. Of course, there are limits. For example, the distinctive clattering of one’s own computer keyboard did not completely disappear, but at least it was significantly reduced. A low background noise could also be heard, but this was usually drowned out in everyday life and when listening to music. The circuit cannot cope with direct wind, which caused unwanted background noise. Even though the intensity of the noise cancelling cannot be adjusted, Sony achieves a top result with these headphones considering the price range. The Ambient function, which feeds outside noise back to the drivers via the microphones at an adjustable level, with an additional focus on speech if necessary, was also convincing, and thanks to dedicated switching, it could be activated sufficiently quickly.
I was surprised, but the WH-CH720N also features adaptive noise cancelling. Noise cancelling can be switched on and off or switched to the configurable Ambient function in four movement patterns (idling, walking, running, transport). This switching can be done automatically and can even learn from the user’s behaviour. There is also the option to have the switching take place on the basis of location data. For me, the simple manual switching on the headphones was usually enough, and some modes could also be deactivated via the app.
The sound of the Sony WH-CH720N
In view of the particularly low price, one should refrain from making claims about audiophile sound. Nevertheless, the dynamic over-ear design delivered a remarkable performance. It sounded balanced and punchy, with a slight bass emphasis, but this is not necessarily a disadvantage for mobile use.
The passive noise reduction was already good, so that at home you can deactivate noise cancelling. However, on the move, the circuitry created an improved quiet space in most situations, focusing on the music without any real loss of sound.
The Sony WH-CH720N delivered rich levels when needed without being out of step, and it gave an impressive performance in the bass. On Adel Tawil’s “Katsching”, it is possible to perfectly understand the different pitches and decay phases of the tuned TR-808. The headphones reached down into the low bass and remained sufficiently contoured. Although the bass in such productions is quite powerful, the midrange did not suffer. Tawil’s voice always remained clearly understandable. The same applied to Whitney Houston’s slightly spacey voice in “Until You Come Back”. Individually recorded acoustic instruments also provided the necessary proximity and a thoroughly realistic timbre. When it comes to acoustic jazz, these headphones’ good dynamic imaging was also evident.
Even in denser mixes, such as Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, the WH-CH720N remained calm and more than satisfactorily resolved the interplay of the numerous instruments. Here, too, it was noticeable that the bass did not disturbingly outshine the mids. In addition to the details, it also brought out the sound character of the mix. AC/DC’s “Can’t Stand Still” sounded much tighter and more open. Finally, the headphones passed this round of the test by producing good results when listening to a variety of different Metal productions.
Finally, the device we tested was open and rich in detail in the highs. Harshness was avoided and hardly ever became annoying, even in productions like “Toxic” by Britney Spears. The fast response resulted in a transparent sound image that also reproduced the width of the stage and included any movements. A sophisticated silvery feel in the overtones was not expected in this price range, nor was an explicitly worked-out spatial depth.
In this context, I would like to emphasise the usefulness of the equaliser, which can be used to tune the basic sound to suit your taste. For example, I lowered the two treble bands slightly in order to take away a certain amount of sharpness from the sound image.
Passive playback via cable connection should be regarded as a fallback scenario for situations in which the battery has reached empty. This made the headphones sound muffled in the highs and boomy in the mids. When the electronics were switched on again, the sound was immediately louder, punchier and more transparent. It became clear how much the signal processor interferes with the sound, which does not necessarily reflect the quality of the basic design.
The sonic gain with high-quality source material (here we used Tidal Master via AAC) via the DSEE circuitry was small and, in some cases, barely perceptible. I thought I detected a slightly better contour in the playback and, subsequently, a better resolution in the details and therefore left the circuit in automatic mode.
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)7 - 20.000 Hz
- Impedance31 - 325 ohms
- Weight without cable192 g
- Cable length120 cm
What's in the box
- USB-C charging cable
- Available in black, blue and white
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC
- BT version: 5.2
- BT profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP