Don’t let the bass in Beats by Dre fool you – the Sony MDR-XB950N1 headphones are the premier pair of bass-focused headphones – and they are a heck of a lot cheaper.
Hey everyone, Jimmy with JimsReviewRoom.
I tested the Sony 650’s a little while ago, and although they’re only $99 at the time, they sounded nearly identical to the $300 Beats Solo 3 wireless. The Sony MDR-1000x was featured in my Top 5 Active Noise-cancelling headphone video, making it one of the best ANC headphones you can get, and as of late, Sony has been killing it with their Bluetooth speakers – it would be badass if I can afford some of their TVs too. But focusing on today’s review, I’m checking out the Sony XB950n1 headphones. They’re very similar to the 950B1’s, but instead, this model offers Active Noise Cancelling, slightly better battery life, and comparing to last years model, we’re going from Bluetooth 3.0 to Bluetooth 4.1 for improved range and performance. But before I get real deep into this, let’s look at the price. These retail for $250 at the time of this review. As always, I’ll place my links up above. Click on those links, and they’ll give you the most updated prices in real time.
The Sony 950N1 headphones are simple, yet very much functional. The headband up top is reinforced and supported with a metal band extended through the arms. Each side features textured plastics that I’ll admit does feel quite hollow, however, it does make the headphones feel light weight. More on my comfort test shortly. Moving down, the headband does graciously fold in which is always a plus, and they’re able to collapse into a smaller profile for traveling. Oddly with my review unit, the carrying pouch was not in the retail package…
Moving on, I would have preferred a metal hinge for peace of mind, but it’s plastic. Performing my stress test which I’ll admit is over the top, I can confirm there are no creaks that I’ve noticed, there’s nothing flexing that I would say is of a concern. Also, the metal band does retain it’s shape.
COMFORT AND FIT
Jumping into comfort, there’s very minor wearing fatigue at the crown of the head after two hours of straight wearing. I didn’t have any issues with the clamping force along the jawline either making these headphones quite comfortable. The earcups and forks do extend a bit more than my liking making the headphones look a bit bulky. Being mindful to retract the arms every time you wear these does help and doesn’t affect comfort too much. The removable earpads are gargantuan as well; but as stated earlier, everything is functional. With these earpads, the 950N1’s offer commendable passive noise isolation and with my ears, they fit perfectly inside. Wearing these at the studio with temperatures around 70 (21 Celsius) to 73 (22 Celsius) degrees, after 30 minutes my ears do warm up, but I never had nasty ear sweat. Another benefit with these thick earpads, they do help with sound leaking. If you were using this in a quiet environment, say in a library, your neighbor will hear faint music and it’s noticeable if they paid attention. If you were on a train, bus ride, public transportation, it’s barely, if-at-all audible, especially when other background noise is present.
CONTROLS AND BUTTONS
The right earcup has the typical pause play, forward and backward controls which are very easy to reach. Volume buttons are nearby, which would have benefited if they were further raised or offered some sort of texture – it takes a little muscle memory over time to find them. On the left earcup, there’s power, “Bass Effect” to turn on Sony’s Extra Bass features, and directly below that is a Micro-USB port – no USB Type-C just yet – a 3.5mm port for physical connections and very last is Active Noise Cancelling to be toggled on or off. Some things that I would have liked, it would have been helpful to have some sort of bass adjustment on the headphones themselves. You do have an option to control the amount of bass in the app, but without your phone, it’s either blasting bass or it’s not.
With the Micro-USB port, you’re able to charge the headphones when connected to your PC, but I’ve experienced headphones that are able to play through a USB connection and charge the headphones at the same time. With the XB950N1’s, they charge, but they don’t turn on at all for use. Second, if you intend on using the 3.5mm cord for a physical connection, the volume level is dramatically reduced. I noticed I was able to listen at 80 to 85% volume with the wire attached. For me to achieve the same loudness with Bluetooth, I needed only 50% volume or lower. On the positive side, if you are using the wire, Extra Bass and Noise Cancelling still works. And last, if you have no battery life left or want to conserve battery, the 950’s will still work with the wire while the headphones are completely off. Of course, you’ll lose Extra Bass and Noise cancelling, but you’re still able to enjoy your music.
BATTERY LIFE & BLUETOOTH RANGE
Since we touched base on battery life, Sony is claiming up to 22 hours of use. I left these things on at 50% volume with extra bass on, let it play for an entire day straight and I was able to get 32 hours and 12 minutes, which is insane. We’re talking over an entire day of playing before it dies – crazy.
Wireless range has been improved. I was able to walk 50 linear feet away from my phone until the signal started to skip, and that was with a wall in between.
ACTIVE NOISE CANCELLING
Alright, so enough about the physical stuff, let’s talk about Active Noise Cancelling. I tested this walking through the city, I wore this in my local coffee shop, and wore these randomly in various environments, sadly, Active Noise Cancelling was really a big let down. I’ve tested the Bose QC35’s, Sony 1000x’s, Sennheiser PXC550’s, and several more ANC headphones over the past several years, nothing blocks out 100% of the noise, I’ll admit that, but with these, with the 950’s, I can hear car horns clearly going off, I can still construction going on behind me, environmental noise is still very apparent. The competitors muffle down the sound quite substantially, while the 950’s do struggle.
Jumping into the audio tests, when you’re using them wirelessly, these things are loud. At 40% it’s good – at 50% it’s equivalent to most other headphones are at 70 to 75% volume – loudness will not be an issue. Going into the audio experience, bass will be the biggest reason why you would get these. The first time I put these on, I was thinking, “god these things perform like the SkullCandy’s I had reviewed a few weeks back.” Those were so bassy, they were literally vibrating and shaking my ears, no exaggeration. That was on Day 1. On day 2, that’s when I started appreciating the bass characteristics that Sony offered. I’m not sure if the headphones had to break in or if my ears acclimated to the sound signature. I recommend, give it at least two days minimum before you decide to keep or return these. For reference on bass, the 950’s fall right in between those Skull Candy Crushers I just mentioned and these new headphones I’m also testing on the website, the Beats Studio wireless. Sony hits deep in sub-bass frequencies with tons of thump, fullness, and warmth. For hip-hop, where bass has always been abundant, it’s very much emphasized. Pop music is thumping, and EDM gets you moving. As for the mid-range, there is some inherent spill-over of bass into vocals. There is some droning that is noticed in singer’s voices at the low end. Nothing for bass heads to be deterred by, yet this characteristic might turn off some audiophiles out there. To alleviate these headphones from being too niche, those who only want the bass-heavy feature occasional and not permanently, Sony allows the ability to adjust bass levels with their Headphone app, available on Apple and Android.
Regardless, with Extra Bass on and whichever setting you have it at, the mid-range still comes off as being pronounced, having vocals stand out and not recessed. The high notes do have a good bit of roll-off so cymbals and those snare drums weren’t as sharp and pronounced as much as I would have liked. As for audio separation, the Sony does good with left and right audio channels, but soundstage is lacking. I would have loved more of an open soundstage to round these out a bit more. Although Sony does offer different sound profiles once again in the app, such as Concert Hall, to being at the Club, or an Arena, from my experience, they’re not earth-shattering enhancements, I didn’t find my sound stage performing much better.
In the end, if you’re looking for bass-focused headphones, Beats By Dre don’t come close to these. If you’re looking for bass focused headphones, Skull Candy Crushers has you feeling the bass, literally! The Sony MDR-XB950N1’s provides that perfect medium for bass lovers out there. They’re not perfect, but with everything accounted for, if you like bass, I would highly recommend these, hands down.
So, that’s it for this review. In the comments section below, let me know are you Team Sony, Team Beats, Team Sennheiser, JBL, the list goes on. I want to know, who’s on fire right now in the headphone game. I’m Jimmy with Jim’s Review Room, and I’m here to help you make that purchase decision. You guys take care, I’ll see you, on the next one.
[table id=1 hide_columns=”all” show_columns=”a,b,d,g,l” /] Specs from manufacturer. If incorrect, please contact us.