Nokia WH-500 hands-free headset

Nokia's WH-500 is a decent, if expensive, hands-free headset, but we wouldn't recommend them to someone looking for a set of good sounding headphones.


7.0
CNET Rating

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon


Design
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.

Performance
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.

Overall
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.

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