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Sony WH-CH710N review: ANC is no longer expensive

  • WH-CH710N is not only more affordable than usual headphones offered by Sony, it’s cheaper than its predecessor
  • Its audio signature is distinctly V-Shaped, which means the bass and high frequencies are elevated, while mids get recessed

Even until last year, headphone makers argued that Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is an expensive feature, and thus, reserved for premium sets. But here we are in 2020 - a sudden influx of competition, and perhaps volume sales, has brought prices down.

The Sony WH-CH710N is not only more affordable than usual headphones offered by the company, it’s cheaper than its predecessor. The price for this is reduced driver size. Last year’s 700N had a 40mm driver, whereas the latest has 30mm drivers. For comparison, JBL’s similarly priced 650BTNC have 40mm drivers.

Now we could argue about the way driver size affects audio quality, but the bottomline is that Sony has tuned the drivers well, and the audio sounds right, if not exceptionally good. But audio firms have also worked really hard to ensure consumers don’t expect “mind numbingly good" audio from headphones priced sub 10,000.

The WH-CH710N’s audio signature is distinctly V-Shaped, which means the bass and high frequencies are elevated, while mids get recessed. Again, that’s something distinct in this price range and tried and tested among consumers. People do prefer it, and it sells.

The WH-CH710N delivers powerful bass, and a lot of details in the lower bass notes, or sub-bass as it’s called technically. There’s no distortion at high volumes either and it’s not loose bass.

As a result, a song like Mann Kasturi from the movie Masaan sounds rich and impactful. Tenor voices, both male and female, sound quite amazing on these headphones. You can try that with famous tenors like Luciano Pavarotti. Most Kailash Kher songs sound great on these as well.

But in emphasising the bass and high frequencies, the headphones lose all the mid frequencies. If you’re used to more premium headphones, this will stand out. But then, why would you buy this if premium headphones are your thing?

The audio signature and quality on the Sony WH-CH710N fits most of us. Songs like Diljit Dosanjh’s Proper Patola retain their rhythm and punch, and though you can follow the bass in the background, they never overshadow what little highs there are, either. For most people, that’s more than enough and I can’t count the number of sub-10,000 headphones that fail to achieve this.

In fact, this is what most people mean when they ask whether audio on a pair of headphones is “clear". I’ve had the chance to use the JBL LIVE 650BTNC too, and the audio quality and signature are almost exactly the same.

That said, this is also where the WH-CH710N disappoints a little. The headphones’ build is fully plastic and feel really - for the lack of a better word - cheap. Something I wouldn’t say for competing products like the JBL mentioned above, Audio-Technica’s ATH-M40X and more.

You may also ask whether these are comfortable, and I’d tell you they weren’t comfortable for me. But that’s primarily because I don’t like over-the-ear headphones in general. If you’re used to them, these feel as good as any other to me. These are lighter than most, which may matter to some.

Onto the most important feature of these headphones then - ANC. The Sony WH-CH710N does well in cancelling low rumbles, like those from aircrafts. My air conditioner is exceptionally noisy, and I couldn’t hear that with these on.

I also tried simulating the inside of an aircraft by playing the white noise sounds they produce on my speakers while wearing the headphones. It drowned the noises out.

At the same time, the sharp high note than the default notification tone for texts on an iPhone, which makes a sharp “ting" noise, could be heard. So could a shrill car horn right outside my window, or the children screaming outside.

In short, it is active noise cancellation in the sense that it’s better than passive offerings. But it’s certainly no comparison to high-end ANC headphones. I suspect Sony knows that, as does JBL, or any other company making cheaper ANC headphones.

For the most part, the ANC works. There are weaknesses, but enough to make you forget distractions while working from home.

The Sony WH-CH710N is worth considering, with above average audio quality and ANC. I haven’t had to charge it in seven days now, with approximately an hour’s listening every day. Sony also bundles a wire in the box, which can be used to connect to a headphone jack and preserve battery.

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