I tried Sony's new cheap ANC headphones, and they're officially a bargain

The Sony WH-CH720N offer great performance for the money, so I compared them to the older WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-CH520N headphones held in a hand
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

My impression so far of the Sony WH-CH720N is that they're an impressive mix of detail and features for the price. But don't think they're stealing flagship-level performance from the gods – there are clear limitations compared to Sony's step-up headphones.


  • +

    Great sound balance

  • +

    Lots of detail in audio

  • +

    Effective noise cancellation

  • +

    Full of useful features


  • -

    A slightly heavy hand on the sound

  • -

    Noise cancellation leaks in low sounds

  • -

    Plastic feels a little cheap

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The new Sony WH-CH720N noise-cancelling headphones are a direct replacement for the previous CH710N model, adding new features, plus sound and noise-cancelling upgrades. With a price of $129 / £99 / AU$259, they're aggressive from Sony, bringing a lot of flagship-level features from the best noise-cancelling headphones to lower budgets.

But do they bring flagship-level performance too? Well, I mean, obviously not the same as the Sony WH-1000XM5, which cost more than three times as much – but I've been using my trusty Sony WH-1000XM3 for years now, and they were the flagship back in 2018, and recently dropped as low as $180 / £160 in places where they're still on sale (they seem to be finally on the out, sadly). 

So I thought there's a chance that the new headphones might be able to match this older model, which would be incredibly exciting at this price. I took them both out to play in the traffic of the city, because the noise cancellation is where there tends to be the biggest gap between models at different prices.

And the short answer is: the old 1000XM3 were a clear step above the Sony WH-CH720N for blocking noise – and it's the same story for sound quality. The CH720N came out of it looking good for the price still, but it's the extra features where they really shine – they're not the Prometheus of headphones, stealing fire from the expensive gods, which is kind of how the fantastic Sony WF-C700N come across.

The noise cancellation of the CH720N very effectively puts its boot down on the loud sounds of city traffic, to be clear. I walked along the road listening to music that I could hear clearly, and I didn't have to crank the volume loud in order to make out the instruments – at only about 25% volume, I could listen happily. So they pass the core test with flying colors.

But standing at one intersection and switching between the CH720N and 1000XM3 revealed that the older model was able to move into a whole higher gear when it came to blocking the edges of the sound. The clearest example was that with the CH720N I could hear traffic from an adjoining busy road about 200 feet away. With the XM3, that road ceased to exist as far as my ears were concerned.

Sony WH-CH520N headphones worn by TechRadar Editor Matthew Bolton, near a road, who has a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones around his neck too

The roads were very busy at all times other than the moment I took this photo, I swear. (Image credit: Future)

It seems to my ears that the CN720N are close in effectiveness to the XM3 for higher-end sounds, but let in more at the bass end, which means the rumble of that further road came in disproportionately clearly compared to closer sounds that ripple across more of the sound range.

I haven't had a chance to test them on a plane yet, which is always a major challenge for noise-cancelling headphones, but I will soon, so I'll have a more complete picture of their noise-blocking chops for my full review. But I suspect the verdict will be same as now: very good for the price, but if you spend more, you get a real step up.

The sound quality is a similar story to the noise cancellation, in that I've enjoyed listening to the CH720N and they impress in a bunch of ways, but the 1000XM3 are an obvious improvement.

For some reason, the CH720N set themselves to Sony's 'Excited' EQ preset out of the box, and that made them heavily bass-loaded, which I didn't actually hate, but just felt OTT. But after heading into Sony's excellent app and turning off the EQ adjustment, I found they're supposed to deliver a pretty much ideal balance. Bass is warm but level-headed, mid-range is robust and individual instruments stand out in it well, and treble has plenty of clarity to make the little details pop.

It's also a fairly relaxed presentation – even with the ANC on, I didn't find them fatiguing to listen to at all over a whole afternoon of using them nearly non-stop.

Sony WH-CH520N headphones play/pause buttons on the underside of an earcup

The WH-CH520N come in white, black or blue. (Image credit: Future)

But. Switching to the 1000XM3 got me a sound that's clearly more dynamic. Sounds start and stop with extra snappiness, there's a greater depth between elements in dense soundstages, and so it's all just more natural and more refreshing to the ears.

However, the CH720N's bargain status isn't solely about performance. It's about having support for the Sony app and its EQ adjustments, and other sound mode options – including 360 Reality Audio and DSEE upscaling of mediocre-quality tracks (looking at you, still, Spotify).

They have Bluetooth 5.2, so could support Bluetooth LE Audio and Auracast in the future, if Sony can persuade itself to support the same next-gen standards as everyone else. They have multi-point pairing for easy switching between devices. They have a USB-C port and a 3.5mm jack, with a good-length cable in the box. They promise 35 hours of battery, though I haven't had a chance to test that yet.

All that stuff in combination with solid noise cancellation and nice sound is why they're officially a bargain. There are compromises, such as the plasticky feel of the finish and buttons, and lack of sensors to auto-pause when you take them off, but I can live with those.

Our full review is on the way, but if you're looking at mid-range noise-cancelling headphones, they should absolutely be on your list.

Sony WH-CH720N: Price & release date

  • $129 / £99 / AU$259
  • Released in spring 2023

The Sony WH-CH720N are extremely competitively priced at $129 / £99 / AU$259 – you don't get many noise-cancelling headphones from big brands at that kind of price, generally. Much like their earbuds sibling, the Sony WF-C700N, they really over-deliver on features in general compared to most other options in this price range.

Most of the WH-CH720N's competition is from the likes of Anker Soundcore or 1More, though JBL is probably the best known competitor – most notably with the JBL Tune 750BTNC, which costs pretty much the same.

Matt Bolton
Managing Editor, Entertainment

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TVs and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.