Though the Sony MDR-XB950B1 is sturdy in structure and considerably comfortable, the Bass Effect button is not to be toyed with unless you’re a true bass head!
Review by: “Charlie” from The Little Audiophile
The Sony MDR-XB950B1 EXTRA BASS™ Wireless Headphones is a pair of well-built, Bluetooth wireless headphones that packs a ton of features.
The EXTRA BASS™ products from Sony are a specific line of speakers and headphones that are engineered to deliver a bass-oriented sound signature to the listener by using what Sony refers to as “Electro Bass Booster technology.” With the rise of EDM, pop, and Korean pop (K-pop) in recent years, this is a timely advancement made by Sony.
The over-ear Sony MDR-XB950B1 headphones are the topic of today. With an asking price of just under $200, does it do the price tag justice, or are you just paying for the brand name here? Read on to find out!
- »Ease of pairing
- »Long battery life
- »Fantastic ergonomics
- »Ear cups swivel downward when hung on the neck
- »Long connection range
- »Ridiculously thunderous bass when Bass Effect is on
- »Cannot turn off the extra bass in wired mode
- »Lacks energy in the mids
- »Headphone controls don’t work in wired mode
The XB950B1 Box
The XB950B1 comes in a simple, yet very well-thought-out layout and the unboxing experience was fuss-free, to say the least. Open it up and you will find all the audio goodies inside. The unboxing is very easy, with zero chance of damaging the headphones when doing this.
Inside the box, you will find:
- A micro USB-to-USB cable for charging
- A 3.5 mm (right-angled) to 3.5 mm (straight) cable
- Some warranty information
- The headphones
Build and Design
There’s only one word to describe the build quality of the Sony MDR-XB950B1: bloody fantastic! (Okay, so maybe that was two words.) The whole thing is made of metal and solid plastic, and you can actually feel how rigid the ear cups and swivel mechanism are.
The headband and slider are made from a one-piece metal that screams quality, though I’d say that the shininess of the metal looks slightly out of place—but hey, I love to nitpick.
Ear Cup Swivel Mechanism
The ear cups swivel 90 degrees downward, which I totally love—simply because unlike an upward swivel design, the drivers would be shielded against elements such as water, dust, or any foreign debris when you wear it on your neck when you’re not listening to any audio.
However, if you place the headphones on a table, the ear pads would naturally face upward. But if you’re at home, for example, you shouldn’t be worried about water or dust entering your headphones. (Unless your place is really dirty, in which case you should get up and clean it!)
You may fumble a bit with the swivel mechanism because it rotates very freely about its axis, so wearing the headphones requires a little bit of care. (Minor gripe though.)
The headband is sufficiently padded and has a very durable feel to it. It’s a fairly short piece of leather that doesn’t flex much when you put it on your head. This, in turn, means that the leather is less prone to tearing or cracking from repetitive strain.
The headband height adjuster is wonderfully tactile. I can clearly feel every click and haven’t “over-clicked” during my time of testing. This also obviously means that the headband adjuster stays at its position when worn. I absolutely love what Sony has done here.
The buttons on the headphones are very tactile and firm as well. I adore them, especially the dedicated skip and replay buttons on the ear cup.
The XB950B1 boasts a pretty good battery life of well over 16 hours (in our test). The battery doesn’t get hot at all, and the headphones remain cool to the touch—even after an extended period of use. It takes roughly four hours to charge from empty to full, which corresponds to how Sony has marketed it.
The cable is unremarkable. The right-angled 3.5 mm jack to the source is made of a hardened rubber with a pretty basic strain relief. Upward, the cable is fairly thick and has this very cool texture, which I presume serves no purpose other than minimizing entanglement.
Finally, the 3.5 mm jack to the left ear cup is made of the same hardened rubber with an even more basic strain relief system. Note: The 3.5 mm straight plug is the click-lock type, instead of the more secure twist-lock as seen on the Sennheiser HD 4.40BT Wireless or Audio-Technica ATH-M40x.
Kudos to Sony on the XB950B1’s comfort, which is above average. The ear pads are sufficiently padded and quite deep. I have average-size ears, and they do not touch the drivers at all.
The clamp force on the Sony is on the higher side, but the softness and plushness of the ear pads alleviate the pressure. A high clamp force also means that there is less pressure exerted on the crown of the head from the headband. These three factors make the XB950B1 a considerably comfortable pair of headphones.
The XB950B1 carries the ever-so-popular V-shaped to a slightly dark sound signature that’s loved by the masses for EDM and pop music. The bass is elevated above the trebles and adds a lot of weight and richness to the music, though I’d say that this sound signature is not especially well suited for tracks with an emphasis on the vocals.
The mids and trebles are slightly veiled due to the bass. The soundstage is compressed—again, due to the elevated bass. Imaging and separation are therefore also not fantastic.
First off, these headphones have fantastic sub-bass extension; it goes deep and rumbles well. Bass takes on an energetic presentation; however, there is more mid-bass than sub-bass, which muddies the mids a little. The bass can get boomy and really rowdy on certain bassy tracks. Well, these headphones are marketed as EXTRA BASS™, so technically, you get what you’re asking for.
The “Bass Effect” button boosts the bass to a level where I felt as if an earthquake is inside my skull! It’s unnecessarily boomy and adds way too much bloat to the mid-bass, above the already punchy and rich bass that comes when this function is off. The mids and highs become even more veiled, which in my opinion is a no-go!
The mids on the Sony are recessed and slightly muddy. Vocals take a back seat; they’re hardly exceptional. Sadly, string instruments do not sound particularly crunchy or engaging. Timbre on this thing is just so-so.
The trebles lie above the mids in term of quantity, but no sibilance is displayed. The treble is smooth and quick, with no obnoxious peaks, but does not reveal a lot of details. Treble extension is fairly decent for the price and sound signature portrayed, and overall, the treble isn’t intrusive and is very easy to like.
In the wired mode, the Bass Effect function is set to on, and there is no way to turn it off at all, as the buttons on board the headphones are disabled.
The difference in sound performance between the wired mode and wireless mode (with Bass Effect on) is not prominent enough for me to notice, though I would strongly recommend using the headphones in wireless mode, as it allows the user to turn down the crazy bass.
Pairing the Sony MDR-XB950B1
I find that it’s better to pair the XB950B1 with forward-mid or bright-sounding sources, so as to help balance some of the bass bloat (in wired mode). In wireless mode, I found that the source doesn’t affect the sound signature that significantly.
Pairing with NFC is super simple. Tapping the headphone and smartphone NFC transmitters together will trigger an alert to activate your Bluetooth, which you can use to pair the devices together. When connected through Bluetooth, a good connection is maintained—even over distances of 10 meters, which feels quite surreal.
- Driver: 1 x dynamic driver (each)
- Impedance: 24 ohms
- Frequency response: 3–28,000 Hz
- Connector: 3.5 mm detachable cable (click-lock)
So here’s what I think:
The Sony MDR-XB950B1 is a very well-built pair of headphones and is, in fact, one of the better ones I’ve seen in the under-$200 price bracket.
I believe these headphones will last at least five years before showing signs of wear and tear. (Really!)
In terms of sound quality, you either love the sound signature or hate it. The heavy-hitting bass is not for everyone, but if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll love the XB950B1. I still stand by my statement that the EXTRA BASS™ function adds way too much bass, but hey … who doesn’t like having options?
These headphones are a great companion for the daily commute or just for casual listening.