No doubt, premium sport earphones must deliver on their primary function of allowing unimpeded physical activity. But they should also be able to address the concerns of comfort and stability. We put Klipsch’s T5 II True Wireless Sport and Sony’s WF-SP800N True Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones through the paces to see how well they take these issues into account.
While earphones and visual prominence make for strange bedfellows, design does contribute to the overall experience. And when it concerns premium sports earphones, a functional approach does hold merit. For instance, a matte finish not only looks good but provides improved tactility for handling. Considering that there is a fair chance of sweaty hands, being able to minimise the risk of slippage and subsequent drop-related damage to the earphones comes as a huge plus.
In consideration of this, the T5 II True Wireless Sport’s edges offer a superior grip thanks to the (removable) silicone ear wings. Meanwhile, the WF-SP800N displays a satin-textured plastic housing that’s smooth to the touch. While dry handling didn’t result in any complications, dampened hands proved otherwise. Combined with its small form factor, the smoothness of Sony’s earphones forces handling to be a more deliberate affair when wet fingers are involved. While the charging case is similarly textured, its larger elliptical shape allows it to sit more comfortably in hand and is easier to grip.
One doesn’t need three guesses to discern where Sony was heading with its true wireless offering. There are obvious synergies between the design of the earphones and the charging case; all suggesting a sleek and modern treatment. On the other hand, Klipsch’s T5 II True Wireless Sport gives off a sportier and more urban vibe. Aside from its inky achromatic hue, the underlying honeycomb texture of the charging case leaves an impression of sturdiness. Not unlike a coat of armour with interlocking scales.
The notion of a sports person caring about the sound quality of his/her earphones seems counter-intuitive at first, but the demand for quality sports earbuds proves that there is a market (and a growing one at that). The challenge manufacturers face lies in introducing a sound quality that is on par with over-ear headphones. Most importantly, the design must be streamlined for physical activity.
Doing so requires drivers of significant efficiency, since size constraints rule out the “bigger-is-better” approach. In the case of the T5 II True Wireless Sport, Klipsch has opted for a five-millimetre dynamic armature driver. Meanwhile, Sony takes things a step further with a six-millimetre driver of similar architecture for the WF-SP800N. The difference might appear small on paper, but Sony’s and Klipsch’s software results in two very different-sounding earphones.
Both sets of earphones require a companion app for the wearer to take full advantage of the customisation features
(i.e. EQ, noise-cancelling, ambient mode). Even without the app, the differences are readily apparent. The WF-SP800N continues Sony’s reputation for delivering tones with ample amounts of low-end, which the wearer can boost even further using the Clear Bass feature via the Sony Headphones app. While this characteristic may be something that bass hounds will adore, the tradeoff is a tempered treble response.
Furthermore, the ANC feature of the WF-SP800N falls short of the mark, considering how well it was executed in Sony’s top-performing WH-1000XM4. Even at its maximum setting, it is still possible for very low-frequency noise to seep through.
In terms of audio reproduction, the Klipsch T5 II True Wireless Sport offers a more balanced take. Klipsch has pledged faith in that old saying of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”; the T5 II True Wireless’s drivers are the same as that of the preceding T5 True Wireless. Bass notes are warm, and the mids maintain an ever-vigilant presence. Unsurprisingly, the higher frequencies are bright and clear (it is Klipsch we are talking about). Admittedly, the T5 II True Wireless Sport falters a little in the face of contemporary tastes and bass-heavy tunes. But if we’re talking about a playlist that runs the gamut of genres, Klipsch’s sport earphones more than holds up its end of the bargain. Despite lacking the ANC feature of Sony’s WF-SP800N, a decent amount of isolation is still possible when using the proper-sized ear tips.
It’s easy to dismiss the less apparent aspects of a product when its function is to play a supporting role. While the primary purpose of sport earphones may be to deliver audio playback from a stable platform, its total value is not derived solely from that.
Both Klipsch and Sony display a keen understanding of this fact. Most notable is the presence of a removable moisture-nixing system within the T5 II True Wireless Sport’s charging case. This comprises a layer of gel beads to remove residual moisture from the earphones as they charge. Its efficacy wanes with repeated usage but easily recharges after a quick spin in the microwave to remove moisture. Another impressive feature is the IP67 rating, which applies to both the earphones and its case. While it’s not enough to go swimming with, it can easily survive moderate exposure to the elements. Klipsch has also fielded a small list of upgrades, which includes a smaller footprint, improved antenna design and wireless charging.
While the WF-SP800N only receives an IP55 rating that applies solely to the earbuds, Sony’s offering makes up for this shortcoming through its Adaptive Sound Control feature. Through the app, the earphones can detect the wearer’s actions and locations and automatically fine-tune the ambient sound control. For example, the ANC level will be much lower if the earphones detect its wearer sitting down on a park bench. Start jogging or travel somewhere noisier, and the ANC level rises to account for this change in environment. It’s an intelligent and well-conceived feature that has practical applications, as opposed to being just another “smart device” gimmick.
A matter of taste
So which of the two – Klipsch’s T5 II True Wireless Sport and Sony’s WF-SP800N – does it better? Both options serve their purpose well, albeit after different fashions. The T5 II True Wireless Sport impresses with its excellent case design and technical upgrades, while the WF-SP800N carries on Sony’s legacy of offering premium audio peripherals in an easily recognisable format. Active individuals who frequently exercise outdoors and demand reliability from their gear will most likely prefer Klipsch’s rugged case design and IP67 rating. Conversely, those looking for earphones with a more modern frequency response may find the familiarity of Sony more appealing, while simultaneously benefitting from the sports-oriented architecture.