Sony WH-XB910N wireless headphones review: Pump up the bass
Let’s dive right in...
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 has fast become the gold standard for wireless headphones, but not everyone wants to plunk down nearly twenty-five thousand for a pair of cans. That’s where the new WH-XB910N headphones, part of Sony’s Extra Bass (XB) lineup, comes in. With its bias-for-bass that seems to resonate with Indian audiences, the XB910N delivers a fair bit of the flagship XM4’s features at a sub-fifteen thousand price point but does the lower price tag come with any significant compromises? Let’s dive right in.
With a design that’s reminiscent of the pricier XM4s, the XB-910N mimics the broad shape and style of the well-worn design but skips some of the accents and premium styling that characterized the flagship. It’s not a downgrade, per se…but the result is a bit basic while still looking stealthy and inobtrusive in their all-black avatar (unless you pick up the Navy-blue variant). Weighing about 250g, the XB-910N has thick padding around the generously sized ear cups and on the headband, which keeps things comfortable over extended listening sessions. The ear cups flip up toward the headband for storage in the hard carry case, and you get a Type-C charging cable and a 3.5mm stereo cable for wired connectivity.
On the left earcup are the XB910N’s two physical buttons, one for power/Bluetooth pairing and the other for moving between the active noise cancellation (ANC) and hear-through modes. The right earcup has the playback controls by way of a touch panel, and while the controls for volume, track changes, play/pause and invoking the phone’s voice assistant are not customizable, they’re simple to master and not fidgety as I’ve seen in some other headphones. Cupping your palm over the right ear cup temporarily switches the XB910N into Ambient mode, which reduces the playback volume and activates hear-though ANC - perfect for those moments when someone says something to you and it’s just easier to cover the ear cup than to reach for a button.
As with most of Sony’s headsets, app connectivity to play around with ANC, equalizer and other settings is through the Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android). It’s akin to the experience on the pricier XM4s, and you can change ANC intensity, connection quality and even turn on multi-point connectivity to connect up to two devices simultaneously. Sony’s Adaptive Sound feature which sets ANC/ambient mode settings based on your location and habits (like how you listen to music at your gym vs your home, for instance) makes an appearance. You get the usual AAC and SBC Bluetooth codec support, and for Android users, there’s also LDAC support to access better quality audio than AAC or SBC (on Android) … or if you want to go the whole hog on audio quality, just use the stereo cable. With LDAC and active noise cancellation turned on, the headphones lasted nearly 30 hours, and you can quick-charge in 10 minutes for over four hours of listening time.
Unsurprisingly for something labelled ‘Extra Bass’, the sonic signature on these headphones is definitely bass-forward, but it does so without being all about the bass and little else. Out of the box, with no change to the EQ settings, the treble and the vocals aren’t drowned out, and if you use them with an Android phone and the LDAC Bluetooth codec, you’ll enjoy the extra detail and refinement across the frequency spectrum that you’d otherwise miss out on. That said, these are a pair of headphones best suited for those who listen to upbeat music and tracks with thump and aggression, simply on account of just how much energy the audio has. They’re fun-sounding – almost nightclub-like – and they deliver on the bass without killing the mids and highs. Bear in mind, while you can play around with the manual EQ settings to tweak the sound to your liking, these are not meant for audio purists. Active noise cancellation was a tad less impressive than what I recall on the flagship WH-1000XM4, but they’re at similar levels of the previous gen XM3s which I own and use often. Not bad at all for a mid-tier headset.
With the WH-1000XM5 due to launch soon, should you consider this pair or look for a markdown on the older XM4s? It comes down to what kind of music you want to listen to, and in some cases, the XB-910N is actually better for the livelier, punchy music many prefer, more so when you factor in how much money you’ll end up saving in the bargain. Sweetening the deal is the level of audio refinement that the LDAC codec support delivers, and all the other features – ANC, app support and battery life – work as advertised.
Pros: Comfortable fit, good battery life, energetic sound, good noise cancellation, LDAC support
Cons: Sonic signature not for everyone
Price: Rs. Rs 14,990
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar