Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): which cheap earbuds are the best buy for you?

Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): which cheap earbuds are the best buy for you?

Want some shiny new earbuds that cost two figures, not three? I hear you. I’ve also got two front-runners in the best budget wireless earbuds stakes for your consideration – but let’s face it, you know them already. What you want to know is: which option is better for me? 

A quick glance at our April 2023 Sony WF-C700N review, with its five sweet stars, might make you think no further thought is necessary. But wait! Just one year (and 17 days, if we’re counting) later, in April 2024, Nothing launched an absolute barnstormer of a set of earbuds, as our Nothing Ear (a) review proves. So, since these also gleaned top marks under intense review at this publication, which has the edge?

That’s what we’re here to solve, although you should know from the get-go it’s not a cut-and-dried case. Why not? Because the best earbuds for one wearer aren’t necessarily the best choice for another. That’s why I’m going to put them head-to-head to help you decide. Luckily, I reviewed both of these sets of earbuds following TechRadar’s strict review guidelines, so I’m confident I can help. 

Know what your priorities are? It’s OK if not, we’ll get to those, but if you know you want something that has the better ANC for the money and for the first time ever offers pinch-to-speak to ChatGPT directly from paired Nothing phones, I can tell you which is more deserving of your precious coin – unsurprisingly, that would be the Nothing option. However, if you want access to Sony‘s 360 Reality Audio (if you’re a Tidal subscriber, say), your ears are on the small side and your budget’s a little tighter, I’d direct you to the Sony earbuds… 

Not easy, is it? So strap in, let’s go! 

Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): Price and release date

The Sony WF-C700N were released on April 1, 2023, priced $119 / £99 / AU$199. They’ve since dropped in price though, to around $99 / £79 / AU$150 and if you don’t see them for this price upon first looking, it is worth sniffing around for deals during big sales events. 

The Nothing Ear (a) arrived just over a year later than the Sony earbuds, on April 18, 2024, priced $99 / £99 / AU$169. Because of that recent release date, we’ve yet to see any discounts – and it would be churlish to expect any, because they’re already excellent for the money. 

Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): Features

First off, both the Sony WF-C700N and the Nothing Ear (a) support issue-free multipoint connectivity for simple switching between a call on your phone and music streaming on your laptop, say – and if that sounds a minimum requirement in 2024, note that you won’t get that from Bose’s September 2023-issue QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. 

The Sony WF-C700N support Bluetooth 5.2 and the biggest draw here is arguably Sony 360 Reality Audio, which means that after taking a few shots of your ears while wearing them (all handled by the top-tier Sony Headphones Connect companion app), you can listen to Sony’s excellent object-based surround presentation wherever you can find it – which is chiefly on Tidal. 

Then again, Sony’s revered adaptive sound control is also here – you can select ‘Walking’, ‘Waiting’, ‘Traveling’ or ‘Registered places’ in the app, which is so good at this level it almost shouldn’t be allowed – and you get Sony’s standard DSEE audio ‘upscaling’ engine, so even your compressed Spotify tracks are going to sound a lot better than they would without it. No LDAC, mind, but for the money it’s still a splendid feature set. 

The Nothing Ear (a) don’t support 360 Reality Audio or any special onboard spatial audio wizardry, but they do have an alternative ace up their sleeve: pinch the stem and you can talk to ChatGPT, as long as you’ve got a Nothing phone to pair them to – so that’s Nothing Phone 1, Nothing Phone 2 or Nothing Phone 2a, running the updated Nothing X app. 

A world-first for $99? I know…

Nothing Ear (a) held in a hand, on brown background

(Image credit: Future)

While the ANC in the Sony earbuds is very good indeed, having personally reviewed both, I think the Nothing Ear (a)’s noise nixing is that little bit better. It’s a touch more robust and, during my tests involving a hair dryer, an AC unit and a microwave, the Ear (a) canceled those extraneous low-level background thrums of life just a little more effectively. 

The Nothing Ear (a) also bags you a slightly newer Bluetooth 5.3 chipset and LDAC support for hi-res audio (the Sony-developed codec that lets you stream high-resolution audio up to 32-bit/96kHz over Bluetooth at up to 990kbps, if your device supports it and the file is up to scratch), which is something I’ve scarcely seen at this level – and remember, you don’t get LDAC with the Sony WF-C700N. 

The Nothing Ear (a) won’t serve up the Ear (2)’s splendid personalized hearing tests (mind you, you won’t get that with the Sony WF-C700N either), however, you do get in-ear detection to pause music when they’re out and resume it when they’re in, plus on-ear volume control – and both of these perks are missing from the Sony WF-C700N’s spec-sheet. 

Battery life? Yes, of course: the Sony WF-C700N gives you 7.5 hours from the earbuds or 15 hours total with the case, with ANC on. The Nothing Ear (a) Buds will only give you 5.5hrs with ANC on (or 9.5hrs without ANC) but the total stamina from the case is far more impressive, at 24.5 hours (or 42.5 hours without ANC). So, the Sony buds will go for longer on their own from a full charge, but the Nothing’s case can deliver more juice before you need to charge it via USB-C – and because I haven’t mentioned it yet, neither of the cases here support wireless charging. 

Sony WF-C700N earbuds in a hand, on white background

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): Audio performance

The fact that both of these options gained five stars under intense review – not just overall, but specifically for sound – is proof that neither the Sony WF-C700N nor the Nothing Ear (a) are any kind of slouch for sonic chops. So let’s unpick why each is so talented. 

Our glowing Sony WF-C700N review reads: “Stream XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel on Tidal and guitar riffs and whooping vocals attack each ear in one of the most expansive, three-dimensional, and fun soundstages I’ve heard from a set of earbuds – and that’s not a statement I make lightly.”

Our Nothing Ear (a) review, meanwhile notes that “Those with a Sony smartphone (I used the Sony Xperia 1 IV) will find LDAC codec files delivered with expanse and pinpoint accuracy when it comes to the placement of each sonic article. In Aerosmith’s Going Down / Love In an Elevator, a shaker sits comfortably in the well of my right ear as backing vocals come in through the left. When the heavily processed ‘Going down’ vocal bridge sweeps across the soundstage like a freight train, it grazes the back of my brain en route.”

So, with so little to separate the audio quality in terms of talent, clarity, detail, verve and zeal, it might be best to consider how you listen – and to what. Have a Sony phone? Bizarrely, I might point you to the Nothing buds, since these will give you higher-resolution LDAC audio support. That said, if you like your audio immersive, you only get 360 Reality Audio from the Sony WF-C700N. 

OK, if really pushed, I believe there’s an extra sixth of an ounce of bite and snap from the Nothing Ear (a), but if you prefer an integrated, expansive, layered hi-fi listen when not listening in 360 Reality Audio, you may prefer the Sony proposition. I cannot do better than that. 

Nothing Ear (a) held in a hand, with the case in the background

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): Design & fit

Here, there’s plenty to separate the two contenders. The biggest selling point of Sony’s WF-C700N from a design perspective is their bijou size and weight, at just 4.6g per bud. They’re beautifully compact and will fit even the smallest of adult ears (see my best earbuds for small ears guide for more of these, friend). That said, the build is resoundingly plastic and, while perfectly functional and durable, both the Sony case and the buds are devoid of any particular flair or flourishes. 

That is not true of the Nothing Ear (a), which not only showcase Nothing’s much-vaunted half-transparent (Nothing-y, get it?) design language, but have also made it available in a bright, eye-catching yellow finish. They’re a little heavier, at 4.8g per bud, but for me their stems aid with security and comfort and honestly, the classy build and finish make them look far more expensive than they are. 

While a “toothbrush head” design (first seen in Apple‘s AirPods; you knew that) isn’t loved by all, these stems can be squeezed for on-ear volume tweaks or a hotline to ChatGPT, from your Nothing phone – and I found them very comfortable indeed. The Nothing earbuds are also some of the easiest to retrieve on the fly I’ve ever tested. Aside from the transparent case (so you’ll always know if they’re in there or not) Nothing’s right-red, left-white dots also help you match the colors for charging.

What if you don’t care how they look? I hear you. Pushing aesthetics to one side, the Sony earbuds are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing, a fact that shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the Sony LinkBuds S are another firm favorite for my smaller ears. They fit without having to stretch my ear or screw them in – and thanks to the new material (which Sony says “holds on to the inner cup of your ear”) they stay put for hours on end. 

OK, the Sony case does not feel high-end in direct comparison, but it’s pocketable, functional, and shuts with a reassuring snap. The mesh over the mic on each earbud also helps your finger navigate to the little raised lip of the multi-function button with ease. It’s a great solution; push it and you know you’ve done something (unlike so many touch-based solutions) and you will find yourself neglecting your source device to answer calls, scroll through ANC profiles and pause music.

Quick note on the drivers: 5mm in the Sony; 11mm in the Nothing. If that sounds significant, know that in practice both sound excellent (see above) but the actual driver housing of the Nothing Ear (a) is a little larger to accommodate this. 

Sony WF-C700N vs Nothing Ear (a): Verdict

I need to clear something up here. We’ve rated Sony’s WF-C700N among the best budget wireless earbuds for most people for just over a year now, owing to their all-round quality, good noise-cancellation, and the fact that they bring Sony’s splendid 360 Reality Audio to this entry-level price point. 

The thing is, I considered switching the Nothing Ear (a) into that spot. I really did, they’re that good. Why didn’t I do it – especially when the Nothing Ear (a) now feature as the ‘best mid-range’ pick in our best earbuds buying guide? 

It all comes down, as most things inevitably do, to the delicate topic of coin. By reducing the price of the Sony WF-C700N to just $99 or £79 (rather than their MSRP of $119 or £99 at launch), Sony has undercut the Nothing Ear (a) and made them just that bit more tempting – if budget is one of your biggest priorities. 

Keeping a tight hold on the purse strings? You will not be disappointed in the Sony WF-C700N. However, the Nothing Ear (a) look a lot more expensive, and they’re far from it. Yes, they’re a bit dearer (which is why they’re not my ultimate budget pick) but for that nominal extra outlay, you’re getting ChatGPT integration, fractionally superior ANC, LDAC support for better-quality audio (if you have a Sony phone, say) and a truly classy finish. 

Would you rather have LDAC audio over Sony’s 360 Reality Audio? Actually, it might be more prudent to ask: do you currently have (or are you considering the purchase of) a Sony phone, or are you thinking of getting a Tidal account? If you own the former, go with the Nothings. If you want to get into 360 Reality Audio for not much money, get yourself a Tidal trial and go for the Sonys.

Also, consider the benefits of AI, because Nothing’s ChatGPT integration is the ideal gateway to start speaking to the chatbot frontrunner – if you like that kind of thing.

Smaller ears? You’ll do better with the Sony WF-C700N. Frequent flyer? The Nothing Ear (a)’s case holds more juice for the long-haul destinations – but do note that either of these options sounds incredibly good for the money. I hope this helps and whichever you buy, enjoy the music. 

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