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Lifewire / Andy Zahn
Relatively budget friendly
Comfortable, with plenty of room for big heads
High-quality, bass-heavy sound quality
Companion app is loaded with useful features
Unimpressive build quality
Heavy bass focus may not be to everyone’s taste
Noise cancelling is less effective than it could be
Does not come with a hard case
What the Sony WH-XB900N lacks in build quality it makes up for with good (if very bass-heavy) audio and a very attractive price point.
The Sony WH-XB900N headphones are a remarkable accomplishment in many ways—it incorporates much of the quality and many of the features found in more expensive wireless noise cancelling headphones into a much less expensive product with surprisingly few compromises. As long as you temper your expectations and have not been spoiled by better headphones, these the WH-XB900N might just be the perfect wallet-friendly option for wireless, noise-cancelling listening.
The WH-XB900N won’t win any fashion awards—no molds were broken creating these headphones, at least visually they are very bland and standard. The look quite bulky and awkward on the head, but overall their appearance is neither especially terrible nor especially great.
In terms of build quality, the WH-XB900N isn’t much to write home about either. There is a distinctly cheap feel to the plastic construction that did not give us much confidence in the durability of these headphones. However, judging from the surprisingly robust adjustment system, it appears that the internal structure may be much stronger than the exterior would lead us to believe. You’ll want to be careful not to wear these in rainy weather, as they are not weatherproofed at all.
In terms of controls, Sony has implemented a touch-enabled surface on the exterior of the right ear piece for media control. By swiping or down you raise or lower volume, left or right skips forward or back, and play/pause, answering phone calls, or activating your virtual assistant is operated by tapping the ear piece. While we would have preferred traditional physical buttons these touch controls do the job, though we did find that the system occasionally failed to register our gestures.
For large heads we found the WH-XB900N to be exceptionally comfortable.
While buttons are nice because they can be detected by touch and are hard to press by accident, touch controls can be better in the long run once the necessary gestures become second nature. However, in the WH-XB900N and other headphones we’ve tested with similar interfaces there’s the issue of detection accuracy and all too frequent accidental triggering of controls.
The headphones come with an audio cable for a wired connection and a USB-C cable for charging, as well as a carrying bag. Sadly the bag isn’t an adequate method of protecting the headphones on the go, offering only minimal protection. A hard case is really necessary for headphones if you plan to carry them with you on a regular basis.
Connecting the WH-XB900N is as easy as turning them on and pairing them with your device, a process that is practically instantaneous. Even the initial pairing was easy and painless. An on screen prompt will ask you if you want to set up a virtual assistant to work with the headphones. The free companion app is also easy to install and set up, as you don’t need to sign into an extra account, and our connected headphones were instantly and automatically recognized by the app.
For large heads we found the WH-XB900N to be exceptionally comfortable. The earcups are spacious and thickly lined with high quality padding. We were particularly impressed with just how wide these headphones can go. However, their minimum size is still rather large, so people with smaller heads may find them too loose.
We found that Sony’s claim of a thirty hour battery life was pretty accurate. The need to recharge is very infrequent, and unless you’re using them for 10+ hours a day you might very well only need to recharge them twice a month. We found that to be true during our lengthy and extensive testing of these headphones through frequent and demanding use, and with the Active Noise Cancelling cranked up.
If you enjoy your music with an extra helping of bass, then the WH-XB900N will suit you down to the ground. Whether a powerful beat in a dubstep track or explosions in Mission Impossible, these headphones pack a punch when it comes to the low range.
However, we found that this super heavy emphasis on bass can overwhelm the rest of the audio range. This is unfortunate, as the WH-XB900N produces rather impressive detail throughout the mid and high tones, and it’s a shame to bury those tones in bass. Fortunately, the sound profile is easily customizable in the app, and this can help to curb the out-of-control bass.
For a low price point without excessively compromising in terms of sound quality and feature set, the WH-XB900N is a real bargain.
As mentioned, the bass emphasis is a benefit to bombastic action movies. The 2014 film Godzilla rumbled and shook with the mighty roars of epic monsters, the headphones imparting the visceral sense of terror those noises invoke.
The problem with the overly potent bass was apparent in Bear Ghost’s “Necromancin’ Dancin’” where the vocals and brighter instrumentals got pushed into the background. In Slade’s “Run Runaway,” the extra bass pumped up the beat and made the song feel all the more impactful, and this tune really demonstrated the capabilities of these headphones when paired with the right song.
Neil Diamond’s “Shilo” also sounded great with the WH-XB900N, though something about the stereo rendition of the piece produced a distractingly bass tone constantly in the left ear piece. However, we were able to easily fix this issue with the app’s Sound Position Control.
Phone call quality was generally very good. The headphones captured vocals with great clarity, though they didn’t do so well at isolating extraneous noise and extracting it from the call.
The WH-XB900N doesn’t have the greatest Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) around, but it does block enough exterior noise to be worth using. It won’t, however, give you truly deep silence in loud environments. On the plus side, we found that those who are sensitive to the illusion of pressure that can be a side effect of ANC were not as affected by it wearing the WH-XB900N headphones.
This is probably due to it being less aggressive, but even compared to lower ANC settings on other headphones like the Jabra Elite 85H it was less annoying to ANC sensitive individuals. Of course, if it still bothers you, ANC can be switched off entirely, though at that point you’d be better off saving some cash and investing in standard headphones.
When it comes to connectivity, the Sony WH-XB900N goes a step further than other wireless headphones by including NFC connectivity in addition to traditional bluetooth pairing. This can remove the minor irritation of fiddling with menus and connections—just hold the headphones with the NFC symbol touching your device and they will automatically pair to your device. The bluetooth connection is strong, allowing use even through multiple walls.
Sony’s headphone app is useful and provides a number of interesting features. These include Adaptive Sound Control, which detects your changing environment and adjusts the headphones’ noise reduction to match. When this is disabled you can choose your own noise cancelling settings, which is aided by a visual representation of what situations the various levels are suited for.
Sound Position Control allows you to alter the behavior of the stereo sound to focus on four angled directions in addition to a forward oriented setting and the default mode. We were able to use these controls to improve the sound of songs that didn’t play nice with the default stereo mode.
Surround sound modes to emulate different environments such as “Arena” and “Concert Hall” are included, but they seem a bit gimmicky and largely seemed to decrease sound quality. They don’t so much replicate different venues as they do mimic the experience of listening to a poor quality speaker in a room with poor acoustics.
The equalizer is much more useful, and can be used to counteract the prominent bass or tune the headphones to be more appropriate for your mood or environment. We were surprised by how much we appreciated the “relaxed” mode, which puts sound more into the background so you can play your tunes but concentrate more on work or studying.
You can also use the app to change basic settings such as language and how long the headphones will stay idle before automatically powering off. Overall we were very impressed with the features available in Sony’s slickly designed and highly responsive app.
It is hard to argue against the value of the Sony WH-XB900N. With an MSRP of $250 it offers most of the features you’d find in more expensive wireless noise cancelling headphones at an attractive price point. For a low price point without excessively compromising in terms of sound quality and feature set, the WH-XB900N is a real bargain.
For just $50 more, the Jabra Elite 85H offers many improvements over the WH-XB900N. For starters, the sound profile is much less bass heavy, and overall sound quality is markedly improved. The sturdy design of the Jabra is also a significant upgrade over the Sony, with an attractive cloth exterior as well as water and dust resistance. Furthermore, the Elite 85H provides more powerful noise cancelling, excellent ease of use features, and is simply more stylish than the very basic appearance of the WH-XB900N.
Fit may also determine your choice - the Elite 85H is much better suited to smaller heads than the WH-XB900N, while the Sony will fit even the largest noggin; the Jabra has limited room for adjustment and may be too tight for big heads.
A bargain with extra bass.
If you enjoy an extra helping of bass, have a plus sized head, and want the best sound quality for your buck, then the Sony WH-XB900N headphones are a very attractive option. They may not feature the most robust build quality or powerful noise cancelling, but they do provide considerable bang for your buck.
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