“Sony’s XB950B1 promises a chest-thumping bass unlike no other headphone in the sub Rs 15K price segment”
Let me start off by prefacing this – sound is an extremely subjective topic and since no two ears are the same, headphone manufacturers must cater to a multitude of audio preferences. If I had to come up with an analogy, then I’d say that headphones are like cars. A Formula one driver won’t be comfortable sitting behind the steering wheel of a muscle car. Similarly, a bass enthusiast won’t enjoy a neutral pair of cans as much as he / she would, say, Sony’s latest Xtra Bass MDR XB950B1 headphones. But are these headphones a one-trick pony which appeals only to serious EDM-heads? Read on to find out.
There is a lot of nostalgia associated with the 90s and most of it can be attributed to the incredible music from the decade. Headphones, however, are a completely different story and over the years, manufacturers have not just improved the sound signature of their cans, but have also managed to improve the design. Unfortunately for Sony, the MDR XB950B1 won’t win the company any laurels when it comes to style. The headphones are incredibly bulky, which simply put feels like it belongs in the 90s. On the bright side, you won’t have to buy a pair of earmuffs this winter if you settle for the XB950B1.
Having said that, the headphones don’t feel cheap at all. Even though the cans have been constructed primarily out of plastic, the build feels solid. The headphones come with a metal headband which has a faux-leather cushioning for added comfort. The majority of the bulk of the headphones can be accounted to the massive ear cups which have also been fashioned out of faux-leather. Bear in mind that the headphones don’t clamp too tightly, so if I were you, I would avoid exercising or head-banging with the MDR XB950B1. Moreover, since Sony doesn’t provide a carrying case with the headphones, portability is a major concern. The company partially addresses this problem by allowing users to swivel the ear cups inwards, thereby reducing the amount of space the headphones take in your bag pack. But, a compatible case isn’t a lot to ask considering the asking price.
For its shortcomings in style, the Sony MDR XB950BT works like a charm when it comes to music control. Instead of opting for finicky touch gestures on the earcups, Sony took advantage of the XB950BT’s size and has dedicated physical buttons for basically every setting a user might need. You get a play / pause button on the right earcup which also doubles as a slider to skip or go back a track. The volume toggles are embedded just below the play / pause button and since they have a different texture, I didn’t find any problems increasing or decreasing the volume just by feeling for it. The left ear cup is the home to the power button, the Bass Effect button along with the 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB port for charging the headphones.
As I mentioned earlier, the MDRXB950B1 take some time to get used to. However, the headphones are extremely comfortable once you’ve narrowed down the fit for your head and personally, I am yet to find a pair of headphones with cushier ear cups than the MDR XB950B1. I would like to point out that the headphones did start to weigh me down after an hour of listening to music.
Right from the moment you unbox the Sony MDR XB950B1, there is a promise of chest-thumping, earth-shattering bass and to the company’s credit, the headphones deliver as advertised. There’s no denying it – the XB950B1 have exceptional bass capabilities which are second to none. Every beat has a certain depth and oomph to it, and listening to any EDM / techno track will immediately transport you to an imaginary night club in your head. I tested a variety of bass-heavy tracks on the XB950B1 (including Lorde’s Royals and Infected Mushroom’s Where do I belong) and was left awestruck with how clear the bass and sub-bass delivery were on the headphones. And there’s more, toggling on the Bass Effect boosts the already overpowered bass and sub-bass frequencies creating a vibrating effect which will rattle your skull. On the flipside, this does result in more subdued vocals and distorted highs. Songs which are less bass-heavy suffered the most and there was noticeable distortion during the chorus of Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City. As the old saying goes – too much of something is not good. However, with the setting turned off, I found that the MDR XB950B1 performed admirably well with most of the genres. The details in the highs which were lost when I was listening to Paradise City reappeared, albeit sparingly, with the Bass Boost off. The prominence given to vocals in Miranda Lambert’s Vice and Avalanches’ Frontier Psychiatrist improved significantly too.
The headphones have a roomy sound stage and the sound is never inside your head. In fact, had it not been for the XB950B1’s bulky size, I am certain that wearing the headphones over long periods of time would have been a breeze. Unfortunately, the headphones do struggle with imaging and tracks like Arctic Monkey’s Do I Wanna Know sound garbled when there is a lot going on in the background. Having said that, the sound isolation of the headphones was good and I could easily block ambient noise at just 50 percent volume level.
Much like Sennheiser with CapTune, Sony too has a companion app to go along with your headphones. Unfortunately, besides selecting from a handful of presets and changing the bass level, there isn’t a lot that you can do with the Sony’s Headphone connect app. On the bright side, besides allowing you to tweak the songs you have on your phone, the app also comes with support for Google Play Music.
Battery and Connectivity
The battery inside the Sony MDR-XB950B1 lasts 18 hours, which is excellent. However, the Extra Bass feature does hog a good chunk of the battery life. The headphones take a little over four hours to reach full charge.
As far as connectivity is concerned, you’ll have the option to pair the MDR-XB950B1 to the phone either by NFC or by Bluetooth. I faced no problems while connecting the headphones to a variety of devices and music playback remained consistent across different smartphones and laptops too. Seeing how I never had to use the provided 3.5mm audio cable speaks volumes of the headphone’s rock solid Bluetooth connection too. I personally don’t see why anyone would use the MDR-XB950B1 to make phone calls, but the feature is there for anyone who wants to use it. In my testing, the voice on both ends was being relayed clearly and I didn’t come across any dropped calls either.
The Sony MDR-XB950B1 checks a lot of boxes. They come with solid Bluetooth connectivity, have long-lasting battery life and are a godsend for EDM-heads. The bass boost feature lives up to its expectations and the headphones in general, perform as advertised. However, there are some tradeoffs to be made if you buy the MDR-XB950B1. For starters, the bulky footprint of the headphones makes them less than ideal for long listening sessions. Although the headphones perform really well with techno / hip-hop tunes, I wasn’t blown away by their performance in other genres. Therefore, the MDR-XB950B1 has a fairly limited scope but if your music taste is limited solely to EDM, then I can see why you might want to pick up the headphones.
Editor’s Rating: 3.5 / 5
Photos by Raj Rout