Looking at the Nokia WH-500 on-ear headphones reminds us of the identically-dressed working class in any dystopic sci-fi movie. The headphone's matte black plastic headstrap and pleather-cushioned ear-cups make the WH-500 indistinguishable from so many other on-ear headphone options from the various brands that dabble in audio products.
Running down from under the speakers are two cables which meet at a "pod" which houses the hands-free speakerphone mic and audio controls. The pod features six buttons in all: a volume rocker, play/pause and track selection keys and a call key. This in turn runs down to a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the end of the cable. The cable is 1.3-metres in length.
The WH-500s are a lightweight pair of cans, though this gives them a cheaper feel compared to others he have in the office. We found the headband didn't grip to our head as well as we'd have liked, though the swiveling ear-cup design did help the WH-500s sit on our ears reasonably comfortably.
There's two ways to approach this, the right way and the wrong way. The wrong way would suggest we compare the WH-500s to the set of crappy headphones that Nokia (and Apple, and Samsung, etc) put in the box with the mobile phones we buy. Compared to those, the WH-500 sound like God speaking to you through a pair of cups connected by a piece of heavenly, golden string. The bass especially is much better represented in these headphones then in the sub-par in-ear set you get with your phone.
But don't forget these aren't a freebie, in fact Nokia expect you to shell out a hundred bucks (give or take) for these cans, so the right way is to compare the sound to the products made by companies who design these products on a day-to-day basis. Nokia's headphones suffer a murky mid-range sound that is punctuated with clearer high-end and decent sounding bass. The sound produced is loud enough, but on a song like Nick Cave's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! you lose the intricacy of the mid-range, sacrificing the melody for a series thumps and crashes. In a side-by-side comparison with Sennheiser's excellent (and similarly priced) MM 50 hands-free headset for iPhone, we saw the difference straight away.
Even though the MM-50's are in-ear headphones, they also feature a hands-free microphone, and this is obviously a big part of the WH-500's value proposition. That said, we know from previous tests that the MM-50s don't play well with Nokia phones, so if you're a Finnish phone aficionado you should forget the otherwise-excellent Sennheisers and check out the WH-500s for yourself.
On its own merits, the WH-500 is a reasonable set of cans and very good hands-free speakerphone option — they sure beat wearing a daggy Bluetooth headset. While we wouldn't recommend the WH-500 for someone looking for a set of decent headphones to use with their MP3 player, this headset is better than most hands-free options we see. If only they were a little cheaper.