Sony WF-C500 vs Airpods: are the budget earbuds a worthy competitor to Apple?

Sony's affordable earbuds get the thumbs up from us, but how do their compare with Apple's AirPods?

Apple AirPods and case on light wood table
(Image credit: Squirrel_photos / Pixabay)

Sony and Apple are both tech companies with great reputations and a deep history for audio buffs, so choosing between the Sony WF-C500 and Apple's AirPods is more complicated than it first appears. With its budget option, can Sony really compete with the premium products from Apple?

Similar to any of the best workout headphones (where both of these products feature) these earbuds both provide solid sound quality, a microphone for hands-free calls, and style elements that will appeal to different people. Additionally, they both come with a charging case that significantly increases their battery life, allowing for enhanced portability.

Making a decision between two great options can be difficult, but this article is here to help you by giving you a clear overview of the most important features of both earbuds, including their design, performance, and other important factors.

Sony WF-C500 vs Airpods: Pricing

The Airpods and WF-C500 are in different price brackets, with the latter offering a budget option with some - if not all - of the features you might want. 

The WF-C500 from Sony currently sell for $99.99, and are the cheapest wireless earbuds currently on offer from the brand. In contrast, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are $279.99, the WFLS900N are $199.99, and the WF-C700N are $119.99.

You won't find AirPods as cheaper as the WF-C500 buds, but pricing isn't a million miles away from the other models in the range. The Airpods (3rd Gen) currently sell for $169.99, while the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) are $249.99 - cheaper than the premium WF-1000XM4 from Sony. You can, however, still pick up the 2nd Generation AirPods for around $99.

  • Winner: Sony WF-C500

Apple Airpods (3rd Gen) in charging case against dark pink background

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WF-C500 vs Airpods: Design

The Sony WF-C500 have a perfectly serviceable look, but they do feel cheaper and more plastic-y than a lot of pricier alternatives. Compared to the AirPods, they don't feel as luxurious, but the translucent lid to the charger and - more importantly - the additional color options will surely appeal to certain tastes. It's tempting with earbuds to stick to the classic black, so the coral and green variations are welcome.

The AirPods from Apple don't include ear tips, as they are designed to fit comfortably without any additional accessories. Consistent with Apple's style, the earbuds have a sleek, minimalist appearance in mostly white with silver accents on the stem. The stem incorporates the microphone and touch controls.

When considering the comfort and fit of the two models, it's worth noting that those (like us) who typically have difficulty keeping wireless earbuds in place with silicone tips may encounter challenges. After testing the AirPods 3, we found them to be somewhat uncomfortable and preferred the more secure fit of the Sony buds.

  • Winner: It's a tie!

Sony WF-C500 buds, charging case and box

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WF-C500 vs Airpods: Audio

Sony's earbuds offer a slightly lackluster sound compared to the more expensive AirPods, and a lack of noise cancellation technology means you're more likely to be able to hear the hustle and bustle around you on the street or in the gym. The Headphones Connect app, however, helps music sound better by upscaling standard audio files to hi-res quality.

The WF-C500s are also compatible with the 360 Reality Audio feature, which helps tailor the sound to the specific shape of your ears.

The AirPods 3 provide a sound that is generally more focused on bass. They are equipped with features such as spatial audio, Dolby Atmos, and support for lossless tracks on Apple Music, all of which make for a superior music streaming experience. Dynamic head tracking ensures that the soundstage is tailored to your individual body, resulting in a more immersive listening experience overall.

  • Winner: Apple Airpods

Apple AirPods (3rd Gen) beside their charging case while being tested in writer's home

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WF-C500 vs Airpods: Battery life

Sony and Apple headphones are both equipped with a charging case that can extend your overall usage time. This is especially useful if you require long battery life and want to use your earbuds for an extended amount of time before having to recharge them.

The Sony WF-C500 offer 10 hours of listening time with an added 10 hours with the charging case. This is differently distributed but ultimately beat out by the AirPods 3, which offer 6 hours plus 30 hours, but both would be a solid offering for most people. Fast charging is also offered by both brands, so you can connect your buds and case for a quick boost when you need it. 

  • Winner: Apple Airpods

Sony WF-C500 in pink being worn by woman with dark curly hair

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony WF-C500 vs Airpods: Our verdict

Sony WF-C500 earbuds are a fantastic affordable option for those whose budget doesn't exceed $100, and were only slightly lacking in the audio quality department for us. Apple Airpods definitely sound better, and seamless integration with iPhones and built-in Siri will sway a lot of people, but Sony's offering works with your phone's onboard smart assistant (so, Google Assistant for Android, and Siri for iOS).

Battery life is also compariable, with Sony's buds lasting for longer without the case, but only offering a total of 20 hours. In short, those looking for the ultimate audio experience might want to opt for the AirPods, but anyone else would likely get on with the Sony WF-C500s, both for function and price.

Caroline Preece
Smart Homes Ecommerce Editor

Caroline is the smart home ecommerce editor for Livingetc, covering everything tech for the home, from smart speakers to air purifiers and everything in between. She is passionate about the role that technology and smart devices can play in daily life, enhancing the home without sacrificing personal style and carefully chosen interiors. In her spare time, she can be found tinkering with bulbs, soundbars, and video doorbells in an effort to automate every part of her small home. Previously, she lent her expertise to the likes of Expert Reviews, IT Pro, Coach, The Week, and more.