Sony WH-CH720N wireless headphones review
The WH-CH720N are Sony’s latest
alphabet soup wireless noise-canceling headphones. The CH-series is Sony’s mid-range offering with a balanced feature set that sits under the more premium 1000X series and alongside more specialized models like the XB extra bass series.
The CH720N sits at the top of that range with a fairly broad feature set that makes it essentially a lite version of the 1000XM5. You get Sony’s active noise-cancellation along with a claimed ‘balanced’ tuning for the sound, all powered by the dedicated Sony V1 processor, also found on the 1000XM5. Let’s see how they perform.
Design and comfort
The CH720N have a fairly restrained, understated design that is typical of Sony products. They draw very little attention to themselves and had it not been for the fact that very few people now wear full-sized headphones outdoors no one would even give you a second glance. For a lot of people, this is a positive if all you want to do is listen to your music or podcasts in peace without drawing constant attention to yourself.
The headphones have fairly large ear cups with a flattened outer surface. The yokes are large and designed to fit flush with the cutouts on the cups. The flat headband connects with a concealed hinge although the extension mechanism is exposed.
The left ear cup houses the power and pairing switch, charging port, and analog input. The right ear cup has the volume and playback buttons along with the toggle for ANC modes.
The body is made entirely out of plastic with a matte finish. It doesn’t feel premium but at the same time is of perfectly acceptable quality. Sony claims the CH720N are its lightest overhead ANC headphones yet at 192g. Lightest doesn’t necessarily mean light; you can still quite easily feel their weight and there was never a moment I forgot I was still wearing them.
The earpads are reasonably soft and plush. There is about 2.5cm of room before your ears come in contact with the foam padding covering the driver enclosure. I found the space adequate for my ears, which wasn’t the case with the shallower 1000XM5 earpads.
Like the more expensive 1000XM5, the CH720N don’t fold inward but rather the earcups just swivel till they lie flat against your chest. This also means they take up more space inside your bag and there isn’t a carry case provided with these. Considering the price difference, that’s not a major issue but it would be nice if Sony went back to properly folding designs considering how many people buy these headphones specifically for travel use.
Overall, the CH720N are reasonably well-built with an understated design and good comfort but the lack of folding is a hassle.
Software and features
The CH720N support the Sony Headphones Connect app on iOS and Android. This app has been a staple of Sony wireless products for several years now and has come to be quite a bit bloated off late.
For starters, it takes at least 17 clicks before you can reach the main page of the app after installing it because of the overwhelming number of configuration options the app dumps on your as soon as you launch it. Some on-screen prompts will also not go away unless you dig through the tutorial section to dismiss them. It’s all becoming increasingly frustrating and it’s baffling how no one at Sony sees it this way. Instead, they just keep throwing more things in the app with additional prompts when you first launch the app.
Status and System settings
Once you get through the setup chore, you are greeted with the same familiar UI that we have had for a while now. The Status page will show your currently playing track with playback controls and the Adaptive Sound Control menu, which adjusts ANC by tracking your movements and location.
The sound page has all the exciting options. The Ambient Sound Control menu lets you configure the ANC options, although this has now been limited to toggling between ANC, Ambient Sound (transparency mode), and Off. Sony did used to let you manually dial in the level of ANC you like but that has now been set to adjust automatically based on the ambient noise levels. The company likely figured out it can eke out a few more hours of battery life by adjusting it automatically instead of letting the user keep it maxed out at all times.
The equalizer option has a five-band EQ with a sixth Clear Bass dial and several presets with blank ones to save your custom values. The CH720N also support the 360 Reality Audio feature, which creates an HRTF map of your head and ears using the camera to create a personalized profile. This data is then used in apps that offer 360 Reality Audio content, which admittedly are few and far between.
Finally, you also get DSEE or Digital Sound Enhancement Engine. This feature aims to recover detail lost during compression although I’ve never actually heard any difference with it enabled. The CH720N only gets DSEE and not DSEE Extreme found on the 1000X series headphones. The difference is seemingly the use of AI on Extreme but even that one never produced an audible difference.
Other features on the CH720N include being able to connect to two devices at the same time (both can be managed through the app), being able to use a voice assistant with Amazon Alexa integration in the app, customizing the options you toggle through the ANC button, an automatic power off mode when the headphones have been idle for a certain amount of time (15/30/60/180 minutes), and ability to update the firmware.
A useful feature missing on the CH720N is automatic pausing when the headphones are removed. While full-sized wireless headphones have historically shipped without this feature, Sony recently started adding it to its 1000X series headphones with the 1000XM4. You don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s gone. There were times I removed the headphones forgetting they wouldn’t pause and they kept playing in the background for hours. At this point, it’s fair to expect this feature even on full-sized headphones seeing how it’s all but a given on TWS earbuds.
All processing on the CH720N is handled by Sony’s Integrated Processor V1. It’s the same chip also found on the more expensive 1000XM5, although that model also features a second QN1 processor dedicated to ANC. This, along with the two fewer microphones per earcup (2 versus 4 on the 1000XM5), is the reason for the CH720N having a lower advertised ANC performance over the 1000XM5.
The CH720N have a single 30mm dynamic driver per ear. These are the same size as the 1000XM5 drivers but they aren’t the same drivers, with the 1000XM5 drivers having a wider frequency response and lower impedance. The CH720N also support only SBC and AAC codecs while the 1000XM5 also adds LDAC. Both support Bluetooth 5.2.
Overall, the CH720N have a good number of useful features but there are also several that don’t add much value, and the companion app is in urgent need of trimming and streamlining to improve the setup experience.
The CH720N have decent audio quality. Sony describes them as having a balanced tuning, which is likely to distinguish them from its other offerings, more specifically the XB series.
Despite that, the CH720N still have a warm, bassy sound. Like most of Sony’s headphones, there is a wide bass shelf, particularly in the mid-bass and upper-bass regions. Since most of the bass in music falls in this region, you get a pretty robust increase in low-frequency energy that adds a sizable thump and rumble to your tracks. It’s not quite as extensive as on the XB series headphones and it also doesn’t extend especially low so it feels less overwhelming and boomy in comparison. Still, the somewhat lumpy and dense quality of the bass does add a bit of congestion to the low frequencies.
The mid-range does get some of this surplus energy coming in from the low-end and the lower mids do sound thicker than they should. There is a slight peakiness to the mid-mids, which adds a bit of honkiness to them and awkwardly projects them further into the mix for certain vocals. This does mess slightly with the timbre but by and large most voices and instruments sound natural.
Unfortunately, there is a definite issue with the upper mids leading into the treble. It seems Sony has either forgotten or chosen to ignore factoring in pinna gain into the tuning, as the upper mids sound rather deflated and lacking. Our head shape and outer ear influence how we hear the world around us and headphones effectively bypass all that, which is why they need to be tuned factoring in the impact of our head and ear shape. Without that, headphones will simply not sound natural, which is what’s happening with the CH720N.
Without the 2-5kHz bump, vocals sound congested and dry, and the lower treble is dull and raspy, as most of the treble energy comes in further up in the frequency range. This adds to the somewhat dark tonality of the sound as most of the energy is coming from the low end without sufficient support from the top end.
Having said that, the tuning isn’t terrible and based on your choice of music can still be perfectly enjoyable, especially when you are outdoors and don’t particularly care about sound quality. I also found it relatively easy to fix with EQ in the Sony app, even though it has a rather limited range of frequencies available.
As a side note, there is a noticeable difference in the tonality with ANC disabled. Bass frequencies, in particular, are less exaggerated with the ANC off, which does result in a slightly cleaner, tighter low-end presentation.
In terms of technical performance, the CH720N are nothing special. The resolution and detail are mediocre although that’s more on the drivers than the codecs used as plugging in the bundled cable doesn’t result in an appreciable improvement. Without the audio processing, the drivers sound particularly awful in wired mode, revealing once again how little effort goes into designing and tuning the drivers on Bluetooth headphones and how much work the onboard audio processing has to do to make them palatable. Imaging and soundstaging are also quite lackluster in wireless mode and in passive wired mode the headphones may as well be mono.
The CH720N have respectable microphone performance. Voices sound clean and intelligible with enough amplitude to not require you to shout to be heard. You still get that telltale Bluetooth compression and tonality isn’t as natural as a good wired microphone but for the purposes of phone calls the quality here is perfectly acceptable.
The CH720N have very good active noise cancellation performance and improve significantly over their predecessors. The attenuation works well across a wide frequency range, which means you get good coverage across the spectrum for all types of ambient sounds. Low-frequency attenuation is particularly good but Sony has also excelled at mid and upper frequencies, something you often find lacking on products from other brands. I’m sure there is a measurable difference between the CH720N and the 1000XM5 cancellation but without a side-by-side comparison, even the cheaper model sounds good enough to not make you miss the flagship.
The Ambient Sound or transparency mode also works well, although Sony does prioritize the intelligibility of the sounds over accuracy. As a result, the sound isn’t exactly natural but you do hear everything around you well, which in most cases is what you are after. Also, unlike noise cancellation, you can adjust the level of transparency and also enable voice passthrough, which puts focus on voices while suppressing other frequencies.
The CH720N have good latency performance. For non-video tasks, the latency is low enough to not be a concern and many users will likely not even notice it. Video hasn’t been a concern for a while as mobile operating systems will sync the video automatically to compensate for the delay.
The CH720N had excellent connectivity performance during testing. There were no issues with connection drops or hitches and stutters of any kind during testing. During normal operating conditions, the headphones should work reliably.
The CH720N have a rated continuous music playback time of 35 hours with ANC enabled and an impressive 50 hours with ANC disabled.
In my testing, the CH720N played for 47 hours and 9 minutes with ANC enabled, which was a rather staggering result. I am used to Sony headphones routinely shooting past their rated battery figures but this is perhaps the largest discrepancy on record. And yes, ANC was double-checked to be enabled during the test.
I also tested battery life after a 10-minute charge from 0% and the headphones played for 5 hours 51 minutes with ANC, which is also a great result.
While I didn’t test it, DSEE is known to consume additional battery power and significantly eat into the battery life figures. Also, all testing here was done using AAC but should also apply to SBC as they often have similar power consumption.
The WH-CH720N are priced at $150 but can be had for around $128 at the time of writing. Compared to the $400 1000XM5, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a lot. The 1000XM5 are better tuned and have better ANC but you can make up for the tuning with EQ and you’d be hardpressed to tell the ANC difference in most conditions. The 1000XM5 come with a case but neither headphone is foldable. The CH720N also have better battery life and I found them to be more comfortable.
The prospect of getting the 1000XM5 for less than half the price is enticing. The price difference is even larger here in India, where the CH720N (INR 9,990) is a third of the price of the 1000XM5 (INR 29,990). Sony may have just made the CH720N a bit too good for its own good and I can’t think of too many reasons to pick the 1000XM5 over these, especially if the only thing you are interested in is travel headphones. Considering both price and performance, the CH720N are the new benchmark for travel headphones.
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