If you’re an audio enthusiast, the quest for high quality sound is never ending. There are countless headphones on the market, each of which are specially tunes to have their own unique sound. Shopping for headphones online is particularly challenging, as there is no way to understand how they will perform until the package arrives on your doorstep.
At NerdTechy, we’re always on the hunt for the next great pair of headphones. When we found out that Sony was upgrading their XB line to include a new pair of noise cancelling headphones, we knew that something great was in the works. But before we could make a decision, we decided to put them to the test and find out what they had to offer.
The XB9501N is a fairly large pair of headphones, employing massive earcups and wide-diameter drivers to deliver a powerful sound. They are Bluetooth headphones, allowing them to work completely wirelessly. Although most headphones come tuned with a specific sound signature, Sony’s XB line of headphones are designed to work with their Headphone Connect app, allowing you to dynamically change the sound signature to suit your taste.
Although bass is a very important part of most music, it’s only one component. For these headphones to really impress us, we expect them to perform well in all areas.
Although the earcups are very large, one of the first things you’ll notice about them is that they’re almost entirely padding. The soft, plushy earpads take up about 75% of the width of the headphones, with the drivers enclosed in an ultra-slim plastic enclosure.
On the bottom of the earcup you’ll find several buttons and inputs. Towards the front is a small circular button labelled “NC.” This enables or disables the noise cancelling feature. The headphones remember your setting, so even when you power cycle them the they will return to your specified setting.
On the bottom of the earcup are two inputs. The 3.5mm port can be used in conjunction with an aux cable to use the headphones with wired outputs. Next to that is a Micro-USB plug that is used to charge the headphones. Finally, you’ve got a rocker switch that activates two features. XB is the extra bass option. This enhances the lows, increasing the bass without any distortion. Finally, you’ve got the power button which turns the headphones on or off.
The headband is covered with a faux-leather material and stuffed with plus padding, just like the earcups. They are very extendable, much more so than your typical headphones. This should allow them to fit anyone’s head, even if you’re wearing a hat.
Despite these headphones being extremely large, they are surprisingly lightweight and comfortable. Our favorite part is the large, plus earcups. These are circumaural in design, meaning that they surround the ear. They are a little tighter than some headphones, allowing them to get a good seal around your ear. Because the plush material occupies a large surface area, the increased pressure doesn’t feel very tight around your ear. This makes for a comfortable listening experience. We’d be happy to wear these headphones even for an extended period of time, which is not something we can say about many headphones that are this big.
The sound produced by the XB950N1 headphones is definitely unique, and very engaging. They stay true to the name, as the bass is very pronounced. Sony seems to have struck a balance between “boomy” and “precise.” You still get that energetic kick you’d get with a good pair of subwoofers, but the bass seems a little more controlled than we’re used to. This allows the headphones to give you that kick you crave, without reducing the harmonics of the song.
But what surprised us is how smooth the upper range of the headphones was. They sound very sharp, and it’s easy to pick out the minute details in our music. At the same time, you can tell that certain details such as vocals and snares are brought out. The end result is a very peppy, engaging sound. It’s not quite as clear as studio grade headphones, but this unique sound will be ideal for anyone who enjoys music with a lot of energy.
There are two types of noise cancelling on the market. One is passive, and the other is active. Passive noise cancelling is the most common, and the cheapest to produce. Active is the high-end style, although much more difficult to execute properly. These headphones have both.
Active noise cancellation is performed by a tiny little microphone embedded in the side of the earcup. All of the sound from your external environment is measured, and the headphone compensates with an equal and opposite reaction from the speaker cone. This effectively cancels out soundwaves.
Many manufacturers are using the same style of noise cancellation, but few have implemented it as well as Sony has. With the music off and noise cancellation on, you’ll experience the audio equivalent of a blank canvas. Even when commuting on a busy subway or walking past a construction zone, very little noise got past the earcups.
The passive noise cancellation plays a big role in aiding the active system. The earpads seal quite tightly around your ears, letting very little noise through. Their large diameter allows for a lot of air movement, so the speaker cones can effectively cancel out large sounds. Overall, these headphones have one of the best implementations we’ve come across.
These headphones include a high capacity lithium ion battery, allowing them to have a very long battery life. They’re advertised at 22 hours, and we consider that estimate to be conservative. We got about 24 hours out of them, although some of that time was with them on standby. This means that you should get 22 hours of actual music time, with the headphones going into a low power mode when in standby.
One of the unique selling features is the ability to change the sound signature to suit your specific needs. This is done through the Headphones Connect App. The first thing we played around with was the bass setting. It operates on a sliding scale, and can be adjusted from 0% to 100%. By default, they are set around 50%. Moving the scale down reduces the bass, making them more akin to standard headphones. Going up to 100% borders on excessive, but may be needed for some music styles.
We really liked the ability to change the bass levels. This can vary a lot from song to song, so this lets you get it exactly where you want it.
There are also some premade settings like Club, Arena, Hall, or Outdoor. Club mode is specifically designed for electronic music, while hall and arena modes are better suited for live recordings. The Outdoor setting gives a bit more of an airy sound to the song, replicating the experience of being in a concert.
Personally, we’re not a huge fan of audio presets. We found that music sounded best when played as the artist intended, although we did use the adjustable bass quite a bit.
For rap, hip-hop, electronica, and pop music, the additional bass in these headphones is ideal. But they are heavily polarized, and not designed for everyone. If you’re listening to classical or acoustic music, you’ll want something with a more raw, natural sound signature. For this reason, these headphones won’t be for everyone.
Overall, we found that the Sony MDR-XB9501N are a great pair of headphones that live up to the standards set by their premium price tag. They’ve got a huge sound, producing some of the most impactful, engaging sound stages we’ve come across.
With a very high level of comfort and a long battery life, these are headphones that should last you for many years. If you’re a fan of bass heavy music, we can’t see that you’d need to upgrade anytime soon.
That being said, these headphones are targeting a niche audience. If you’re looking for headphones with a more neutral soundstage, we’d recommend checking out the B&O Beoplay H4 wireless headphones, or the Beoplay H9 headphones. Although they’re not quite as engaging as the Sony headphones, their sound style is designed for a more sophisticated audience, who would prefer to enjoy audiophile grade recordings exactly as intended, rather than coloring their sound to suit a specific style.