At CES 2017, Sony announced four new pairs of headphones in its Extra Bass line - including the wireless MDR-XB950B1. This NFC-enabled Bluetooth headset promises a bass-led sound, with aptX for clearer wireless audio, and a companion app that lets you choose between different EQ settings to personalise the sound.
At the time, Sony also released the MDR-XB950N1, which is pretty much the same thing, but with one additional feature: active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, we haven't had a chance to get our hands on those cans yet, but we did get to try out the XB950B1, and used it for just under a week. According to the packaging, this headset is designed to be used with smartphones, and that's how we used it the most, paired wirelessly.
The headset is bulky, but fairly comfortable, and the first impression it made was that the bass was overpowering everything else - which is something that more than a few cans in the XB family are guilty - or proud, depending on your perspective - of. We used it for a couple of days, finding the sweet spot, and after some time, we've formed a detailed impression of it. Read on to know more about whether or not the Sony MDR-XB950B1 is worth your time and money.
Sony MDR-XB950B1 design and features
As we stated above, this headset is pretty big and bulky. The MDR-XB line has some models that can be folded into a fairly small size, while others can only be laid flat. This one falls into the latter category. The earcups are huge and heavily padded, with a rubbery finish that looks like it could get really sweaty. However, the headset is actually fairly comfortable to wear when in use.
Wearing it around your neck while on the move is hugely uncomfortable though - either put it on, or slip it into your bag, if you know what's good for you.
The rest of the design is very typical of Sony's XB family, with the power and bass effect buttons on the left cup (along with the Micro-USB charging port and 3.5mm input), while volume and playback controls are on the right cup. There's also a mic on the left cup for hands-free calls, if you want.
The Sony MDR-XB950B1 promises 18 hours of runtime after a 4-hour charge. There's also an included audio cable that you can use if the battery runs out. Each driver is 40mm in size, and the frequency range is rated at 3Hz to 28,000Hz. Weighing in at 281g, this isn't the lightest pair of headphones, but as we stated above, it feels comfortable enough. How it sounds is, well, a little more complicated.
Sony MDR-XB950B1 performance
Our first impression was that there's way too much bass, and the sound isn't very clear either. If you're listening to pop tracks that have some amount of bass - think something by Arctic Monkeys, for example - then you're definitely going to agree. Vocal-led tracks, such as songs by the Beatles, suffered greatly as well. But when we switched to hip-hop, things started to get better. We listened to a few Ludacris songs, and enjoyed the percussion, though other low notes were not very satisfying. Kanye West's Black Skinhead on the other hand sounded great, which was unexpected.
The MDR-XB950B1 has a very specific sound. After listening to more Kanye and then some electronic music, we started to find a groove that works. We tend to overuse the phrase "it's not for everyone," but this is one place where it really applies. You get a ridiculous amount of bass, especially after you press the Bass Effect button, but although that's important, you really do need to use your smartphone to drive these headphones, as we soon discovered.
You see, the secret is the companion app, with its equaliser, which gives you a chance to actually make the MDR-XB950B1 sound good. You can set the amount of bass boost, and it's a control you'll be playing around with a lot to find the sweet spot for the songs you're listening to. Surround sound settings can be tweaked as well. If there had been at least a few presets that you could change directly from the headphones it would have made this product a lot more versatile, but this is better than nothing, we guess.
With a little tweaking, the rest of the frequency sounds… fine. It's not a sound that will blow you away, but the MDR-XB950B1 will not be a big letdown either. You definitely won't see it used anywhere as a pair of reference headphones, but if you want a really specific sound for specific kinds of music, then it could be fun to own.
Surround sound is something this headset is pretty good at, by the way. Perhaps thanks to all that extra bass, spatial awareness is really good. The barbershop 3D sound demo was excellent. Isolation is also pretty decent, as expected thanks to the large earcups.
Overall, we feel that the MDR XB-800 offers a much better tuned sound out of the box, but if you're willing to play around with the app, the MDR-XB950B1 doesn't disappoint either.
As for calls, that side of things actually worked really well. We had some doubts about the microphone's positioning, but it picked up audio clearly. With respect to the Bluetooth range, the headphones worked reliably even at distances of up to 10 feet - the distance you'd get while walking around in your bedroom or living room, for instance. However, there's one catch - the mic only works in Bluetooth mode, so if your battery is down, you can't use this as a hands-free headset.
The XB family has been around for a while, and the MDR-XB950B1 looks a little dated. It's also somewhat expensive for what you're getting - but it's definitely fun to listen to the right music with. It's hard to say that this is a great pair of headphones. The audio isn't perfect, the signature is definitely weird, and you'll have to spend time tweaking the EQ. However, if you love trying out new headphones and want something that really stands out aurally, then this is certainly an interesting option.
On the other hand, if you're investing in your first pair of earphones outside the entry level, then this isn't the all-rounder you need to buy right now.
Price (MRP): Rs. 13,990
Ratings (Out of 5)