Products like Sony’s CH-720N headphones can be challenging to review. They’re Sony’s new and improved entry-level wireless noise-canceling headphones, joining a line that includes the $400 flagship WH-1000XM5, the earlier XM4 and the $250 WH-XB910N, an Xtra Bass model. That’s all well and good, but here’s the problem: At first glance — and first touch — they don’t quite look or feel like $150 headphones.
Maybe that’s because they’re so lightweight and have a bit of a plastic-y budget vibe even though there’s some metal in their headband and their earcups have a clean, attractive design. Part of me was expecting them to sound pretty mediocre, but I was pleasantly surprised. No, they don’t sound as good as the XM5s. But they sound more premium than they look (and feel) and their overall performance is a nice step up from their predecessor, the CH-710N. Are they worth $150? Maybe — or maybe not. But the good news is that like the CH-710N and WH-XB910 before them, these should see some nice discounts in the not-so-distant future, which is what you may want to wait for.
Lightweight design, excellent comfort
Truth be told I didn’t love the CH-710N. I thought it was just OK and overpriced, unless it was on sale for less than $75. In contrast, the CH-720N is a significantly better headphone. It’s more comfortable, has better sound, better noise canceling and better voice-calling performance. At 192 grams, Sony says it’s the company’s lightest over-ear noise-canceling headphone to date and it has nicely padded ear cups. In short, it ranks among the most comfortable headphones, which include Bose’s QuietComfort 45 and Sony’s own WH-1000XM5, which weighs in at 250 grams.
Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones for 2023
One of the tip-offs that this may be more entry-level than midrange is that fact that, as noted, there’s no carrying case or pouch with the headphones. They fold flat like their predecessor and only have a single hinge, so they don’t fold up. Some people were upset when Sony chose this type of design for the WH-1000XM5 when the XM4 had a dual-hinge and folded up and flat.
The CH-720N has some faux leather at the top of its headband with just the right amount of padding and the headphone’s look and feel is a step-up from its predecessor despite its lack of premium qualities. I liked the matte finish and the headphones are currently available in two colors: black or white (I only tried the white version).
Note that Sony also makes the CH-520, an on-ear model without noise cancellation that lists for only $60. This model is a big upgrade over that one both in terms of design and sound quality.
Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, the CH-720N eschews the touch controls of the WH-1000XM5 and sticks to physical buttons, which some people may appreciate. There’s a universal control button along with volume control buttons and an NC/AMB button that allows you to toggle between noise canceling and an ambient sound mode (also referred to as a transparency mode) that lets you hear the outside world.
The headphones seem fairly sturdy and don’t make any creaking noises when you adjust them on your head. I can’t tell you how they’ll hold up after months of use, but I’m sure they’d hold up better if you put them in some sort of cheap protective pouch or hard carrying case when not in use.
Limited extra features
As you might expect, the CH-720N isn’t loaded with extra features like the WH-1000XM5 is. There are no ear detection sensors, so your music doesn’t pause when you take them off. The headphones can be set to shut down automatically after 15 minutes if you stop using them, though, which helps save battery life.
You don’t get Sony’s nifty Quick Attention and Speak To Chat features, which pause your music and puts the headphones into transparency mode, allowing you to have a conversation without taking the headphones off (Quick Attention is sort of manual version of Speak To Chat). There’s no support for Sony’s higher-fidelity LDAC audio codec that’s compatible with many Android smartphones when streaming audio over Bluetooth. The CH-720N uses the AAC and SBC audio codecs, supported by both Android and iOS devices.
The headphones do have multipoint Bluetooth pairing, so you can connect them to two devices simultaneously — a smartphone and PC, for example — and have your audio automatically switch to your smartphone if a call comes in while you’re listening to audio on your computer. The feature has to be enabled in Sony’s Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android, which also enables you to tweak the sound profile of the headphones, upgrade the headphones’ firmware and adjust the ambient awareness level.
I tended to set the Ambient Sound at around Level 15 (out of 20) for what I felt was the most natural sound. While the ambient sound mode works well, it isn’t as good as the AirPods Pro 2’s transparency mode. The headphones are compatible with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format for music streaming services that support it.
I should also note that you can use the headphones in wired mode (a cable is included). I didn’t notice a significant difference in sound quality going wired and while you can use them passively with the headphones turned off, they don’t sound so good that way. They’re really designed to be listened to as a powered headphone but you can use them in a pinch as a wired headphone should the power die.
Battery life is rated at up to 35 hours at moderate volume levels with noise canceling on and a 3-minute charge via USB-C will get you an hour’s worth of battery life. You can get up to 50 hours of battery life with noise cancellation off.
Performance and sound quality
Like the WH-1000XM5, this model has 30mm drivers, though they’re not the same driver design. I found the earlier CH-710N’s sound to be a little dull and unimpressive, but the CH-720N’s sound is much more respectable. While it lacks the extra clarity, definition and more dynamic nature of the WH-1000XM5, the headphones sound quite pleasant with good overall tonal balance (it has a slight “smiley face” sound profile out of the box, with a touch of treble and bass push), punchy bass, good clarity and openness. I think most people will be quite happy with their sound and they do work well with a variety of music genres.
You can turn on DSEE, or Digital Sound Enhancement, in the app, which Sony says “restores high frequency sounds lost in compression.” It arguably improves the sound quality a tad, adding a touch more detail (though engaging it does impact battery life slightly).
Sony’s equipped these headphones with its V1 chip, which is supposed to offer better digital processing, especially when it comes to the adaptive noise canceling. And the noise canceling is quite decent and noticeably improved from the noise canceling on the CH-710N. It’s still a step behind that of the WH-1000XM5, but it’s not that far off (Sony describes the XM5’s noise canceling as “industry-leading” while it only refers to the CH-720N’s as “digital noise canceling,” the same way it describes the feature for the WH-XB910N, which also has the V1 chip.
For voice calls, the CH-720N appears to use a pair of beamforming microphones (a single voice microphone paired with a feedforward microphone), with Sony referring to the system as Precise Voice Pickup Technology. The microphone set up isn’t as sophisticated as what you get with WH-1000XM5, but the headphones did a surprisingly good job reducing background noise, including a fair amount of wind noise, when I was making calls from the noisy New York streets. Callers said they could hear me clearly for the most part, with only minimal intrusions of ambient noise. The noise reduction wasn’t on par with the best-in-class noise reduction offered by the WH-1000XM5 during calls, but it’s certainly well above average.
Sony CH-720N final thoughts
We have a list of the best “cheap” noise-canceling headphones that cost less than $100 and there are some models on that list that feature somewhat comparable sound quality to this Sony (the 1More SonoFlow, which costs around $80, also has support for LDAC Bluetooth streaming and includes a hard carrying case). That said, the CH-720N offers the appealing combination of a lightweight, comfortable design with respectable performance. The sound quality doesn’t measure up with what you get from more premium models — it lacks a bit of depth and definition by comparison — but I was happy with what I heard from most of the tracks I listened to and I didn’t experience any listening fatigue.
As I said at the outset, despite all their positives, these headphones seem a tad pricey at $150. There aren’t a lot of competing noise-canceling headphones in this price range (they tend to cost over $200 or less than $100). You have the Soundcore by Anker Space Q45 ($150) and Edifier’s WH950NB ($180), another two non-Sony headphones that support Sony’s LDAC audio codec along with overall strong performance. But watch for the CH-720N to go on sale. You may end up feeling fine paying full price for them, but they feel like they should cost a little less.