What We Like
- A classic, comfortable design.
- Audio is highly customizable through the use of the (free) app.
- 18 hours of battery life + wired mode is a solid proposition.
What We Don’t Like
- Audio clarity is lacking; bass response is aggressively high by default.
Sony is one of the biggest names in consumer electronics, and their audio offerings always do well. The MDR-XB range has been one of their best selling products for some time, but how does its latest manifestation hold up?
Sony has provided just three color combinations for the XB950B1s, but what they lack here in options they more than make up for in how good each of them actually looks. The black is understated, cool, and sleek. The red is vibrant, and the blue is a particularly nice choice. Whichever you opt for, you’re getting a high quality visual design with subtle accents, branding, and a tidy aesthetic.
Once you get over how good the colors look, the next thing you’re likely to notice is that these are a pretty large, pretty bulky design. The ear cups themselves are giant and feature a lot of padding. This all contributes to making an extremely comfortable fit, but it is worth keeping the heft of these headphones in mind when considering them as an option. Especially as, unlike some of the other members of the MDR-XB range, the XB950B1s do not fold; they just rotate to become flat.
The remainder of what’s on offer design-wise is fairly typical of a standard Sony headphone set up: power and bass buttons (more on the latter soon) plus an integrated microphone on the left ear cup, volume and playback controls on the right. Fairly typical stuff, but all of it well placed and functional.
Like many wireless headphones around the $200 mark, the XB950B1s come packaged with an audio cable that you can use should the battery die on you midway through your favorite song or eighth replay of Serial season one. The headphones also charge over Micro USB, so you’ll probably never be further than about 20 feet from someone who can loan you a cable even if you forget your own.
The titular, flagship feature of the X9B50B1s is their Bass Effect button. As you might expect, this ramps up the bass response dramatically. Like, a preposterous amount. It’s probably overkill in most instances without further tinkering. Luckily, as Steve Jobs used to say, “there’s an app for that”. Specifically the rather boringly titled Sony Headphones Connect app which lets you dive deep into customizing your audio experience.
Quite a few brands have an app—it’s increasingly popular, and means they can shift a lot of the optimal sound configuration onto the user—, but few provide this variety of options. You can apply a range of ready made filters to the audio, adjust the levels for Bass Effect, and mess around with reverb and the EQ as a whole.
Connectivity was good throughout our tests. The headphones feature NFC one-touch pairing which, as you’d hope, was an extremely quick and simple process. We found the range was pretty solid, and we didn’t experience anything in the way of noticeable audio skipping, lagging, or other errors.
Out of the box, the audio performance is somewhat questionable. The first impression we got was that the bass was already too overpowering, and that was without even activating Bass Effect and ramping it up even further. The trick is to jump straight into the app and play around until you find what you like. For us, this meant turning the bass down significantly, adjusting the surround sound settings a little, and generally toying with the EQ. It took some time, but the difference was pretty noteworthy.
Battery life was almost exactly as advertised at just around 18 hours. This is really quite good, and while it’s great to have the wired mode as an option, you probably aren’t going to have to use it too often. It’s worth noting that the microphone doesn’t work when you’re in wired mode. Not a major problem, but it could trip you up. Metaphorically.
The design is really nice, it ships with tons of features, and the sound is customizable. Audio clarity isn’t the greatest, and overall listening experience won’t win awards, but 18 hours of battery life means it’s hard to complain much.