Impressive for a $200 wired headphone, yet this headphone is also a Bluetooth headphone that absolutely is the undisputed best BT headphone I’ve ever experienced. Not to knock Koss’s recent BT headphone, as it was decent, but this Sony has really raised the bar to a level I didn’t expect to hear in a BT headphone for some time. Scratch that, never expected BT to sound this good. There simply are no solid, weighted and thick sounding Bluetooth headphones that I am aware of, all of them sound thin and lifeless, usually bright and grainy as well. This Sony XB950BT is nothing like these sets and makes the recent Koss BT headphone I’ve just reviewed sound like tissue paper emitting some shoulder shrug worthy sound…yet both cost the same $199 or so.
Bass on this headphone is extreme, this is in fact one of the most bass heavy headphones I’ve come across in a while…and I love it. Via BT enabled, the Bass Booster button on the left ear cup becomes available. Starting off with a very potent bass to begin with, the Booster function ups it to silly levels…too much actually…but damned if it isn’t extremely fun. I had no idea Bass like this was even possible in a Bluetooth headphone, compare and contrast for yourselves if you get the chance. Holy smokes that is some serious bass. Although the quantity is high, punchy and extremely yummy, the overall clarity is just okay with the Booster active. The Bluetooth experience is not as good as the wired connection though, which seems more noticeably clear when paired with the likes of my FiiO X1 and SR71B via Line Out. Frequency Response changes drastically when running off BT alone, reaching only 20-20,000hz, where as the wired connection dips down to a gut wrenching and inhumane 3-28,000hz.
Quality is the downfall of this headphones low end, but still far from ugly or muddy. I am very impressed with the control factor: not my Urbanite, Fidelio L1 nor my Momentum can retain control like this on seriously bassy tracks…especially not with an EQ boosting their low end. This Sony XB950BT plows right through the most intense and sick bass tracks I could muster up without a hiccup. It isn’t until I really get nuts and start pushing it to +8gb on the low end via Foobar2000, or when I use the BT mode with the Bass Booster button enabled that the headphone goes whacky. Yet, through that sudden loss of control, the actual responsiveness and deepness factor change is audible. This is crazy…the low end of this headphone could be the most responsive to bass that I’ve yet heard in the $200 tier.
Midrange is annoyingly recessed, but not in a significant way, made up for by the treble also playing ball side by side. ( IE: The treble feels like it is coming from the same place as the midrange ) Via a wired connection, this headphones midrange is very good, colored and shockingly solid. I am having trouble believing this headphone costs what it does for this type of sound signature, as I don’t really own any other sub $199 headphones that have an extremely satisfying and weighted vocal experience as good as this. Trying to explain this is similar to comparing the Sennheiser HD800 to the Stax 007, where the HD800 sounds thin and lifeless by comparison to the Stax, so too do most sub $199 headphone sound thin compared to the Sony XB950BT. Something about that electrostatic lushness in tone and texture of the entire presentation. Here on the Sony XB950BT, the comparisons are similar to every other portable I own here with the AKG K267 as the exception, which sounds similar, yet is much more expensive. What is blowing my mind here is that this headphone doesn’t lose much via a Bluetooth connection, that fantastically thick sound signature that more expensive headphones offer is still there.
There is no doubt that this headphone is going to be my primary portable headphone, as I’ve never come across any other work horse in the sub $200 that can even remotely compete with how useful this little thing is. From classical to jazz standards, the vocal and midrange experience is accentuated by the headphones beautiful black background, one that doesn’t offer even a hint of grain to it. The midrange and treble pops, which is pretty insane when you consider the fact that the headphone also offers intense bass as well. On wired connection on flat EQ, the bass is still powerful and satisfying but I found it incredible that the mids and treble were not lost behind the potent low end. The quantity of midrange and treble is excellent and works very well so long as the EQ is disabled or flattened. Via the BT connection with the Bass Boost function enabled, things take a nose dive in clarity across the board. The Bass Booster ruined everything and I think it is for extreme bass sicko’s like myself and nobody else. If you want a BT headphone with nutty bass quantity and good bass quality…there is nothing else out there that will make you happy except this that I am aware of.
While on the subject of genres and how well rounded this headphone is, I’ve noticed my playlists were changing inside my portable setups. Where prior my playlists were divided by genre type due to the fact that it wasn’t likely whatever portable headphone I was using at the time could handle mixed bag of tunes, they’ve become much intermingled with genre types that swap in an instant from Rap to Classical, Jazz to Soundscape. This headphone is one of the best and most well rounded headphones in this price tier, period.
The treble is a bit lacking but very clear for $200 in a wired headphone, yet once again I keep forgetting this is a Bluetooth headphone. That general consensus of terribly awful upper ends in BT sets is washed away as Sony sets the bar higher than anyone else has thus far. I have a new Sennheiser Urbanite on ear here that is roughly the same price, it doesn’t compare on the top end to the Sony’s clarity, nor does it compare to how well the top end is portrayed in a physical sense. The weightiness of the treble is stellar for the price, firm and solid, yet not at all sibilant or harsh. There is a bit of brightness to it and I do find it lacking quantity, but if it had more quantity than what it comes stock with the entire presentation of the headphone would churn itself into a classic U-shape…which is a type of sound that I hate quite a bit.
Thankfully, the XB950BT’s treble and midrange are fairly linear; it is only the bass that is significantly more powerful, more forward and lively. I am not sure I can consider the midrange and treble truly recessed, due solely to the fact that the bass is just so vividly upfront and omnipresent. When I drop the Bass EQ down and listen to a smoother track, the midrange and treble appear to lay in a very nice and relaxed area in the sonic void. There are sets out there that are much more recessed in the midrange, ones that offer that damned U-shape sound signature that is god awful, so it feels weird to me to hear the XB950BT’s mids and treble walk hand in hand behind the powerful bass.
Staging properties are good, but not great. Very nice separation qualities and an above average width, height and depth. That good treble really helps makes the stage feel airier than most closed $200 headphones I’ve owned, it has impressed be a great deal with tracks like Hands Up ( Yellow Claw Remix by the Dirtcaps. This track in particular starts off with a large vocal experience that is followed by ridiculously deep bass. The first time I heard this headphone, I’d booted this song up, jaw dropped, eyes widened…this is a small closed headphone with a great sense of air between instruments, yet also retained excellent solidity as mentioned before. Staging is impressive overall when you add up the point values for each subcategory of sound staging. I recommend you try this track out in .Flac if you are able to, you will be impressed. Play tricks on your friends if you have one, don’t tell them it is a Bluetooth headphone and see what they say about it. Not one of my audio buddies believed me when we did blind testing and I didn’t tell them what headphone they were listening to, nor that they were using the BT function and I had purposely not connected the wire into the socket. Staging properties in general are not lost between wired and Bluetooth enabled listening, however the treble seems more solid and clean via the wired connection with a good source quality.
Some Matching Experience
Via my $99 FiiO X1, the experience is lively and immensely fun, but the party started when I connected the X1 to my SR71B portable amp from Ray Samuels. Now that is a hell of a pairing. Not that the X1 isn’t great with the XB950BT as well, because it is. But, synergy is a bit higher with the SR71B in the mix and the bass certainly cleaned up along with the treble. The headphone doesn’t need an amp and the likes of the Sansa players as well as the FiiO X1 are more than powerful enough to cause hearing damage. None of these cheaper players have trouble driving this headphone, the XB950BT sounds nicely driven and no thicker or thinner than using my RWAK120 and the SR71B, or perhaps the X1 and the SR71B. No amp needed, grab yourself a decent portable music player and enjoy. If your player had Bluetooth, that’s just a bonus for you if you don’t like wired connections.
Call Quality and Microphone
Receiving calls was pretty astonishing, I’ve never heard a phone call conversation this clear before and it actually made me feel uncomfortable while listening to others speak to me. I am so used to that metallic compressed sound phones generally have, so to year a lush and thick, higher quality voice on the other end really shook me up a bit. I did experience the typical cut out now and then which occurred every few minutes, just as I did with the recent Koss BT headphone that I’d reviewed. However, it isn’t at all a problem. The audio mutes for an instant and is only just noticeable, no calls dropped out of the 15 or so that I’ve taken with the Sony XB950BT, but that very brief muting that is common in Bluetooth headsets during phone calls reared its ugly head throughout. Don’t let that bother you, it doesn’t affect the call itself at all. The Microphone as I am told sounded like it was my house phone to the rest of my family, which isn’t really great, but not nearly as bad as my the iPhone 5s for example that I’ve used to compare with. Not as good as my Samsung S3, but certainly better than Apples cell phones in outgoing audio quality. This means that the sound quality of my voice as appearing to others is only a bit better than average cell phone audio quality.
Bonus: The XB950BT is one of the best Gaming headphones I’ve ever used. While not amazing with pinpoint accuracy that is best suited for FPS gaming, the overall experience is so vivid and fun that I have discontinued usage of all other headphones for gaming needs in most cases. When I play single player games, perhaps something like Borderlands, Alan Wake or similar I am running on BT alone and the experience is amazing. It feels great to be able to pause the game and go to the bathroom, not having to worry about wires or something getting in my way. Pinpointing sounds is good, but not great and I consider it more than acceptable for FPS Gaming like Call of Duty or Battlefield binges. The bass is so delicious in gaming soundscape that I am not interested in using anything else, as it is a “Thing” in my gaming that I’ve neglected for years. Opting for audiophile grade sound is a good thing if you don’t care for explosions or anything hefty on the low end, the XB950BT portrays bass so nicely, so addictive. This is a great gaming headphone, get yourself a cheap BT dongle and a desktop microphone and call it a day, never buy a gaming headphone again because none of the Tritton, Razer or Turtle Beach headphones are even half as good as the Sony XB950BT.
What I Don’t Like
Hard to judge a sub $199 headphone for not having real leather pads, but the thought looms in the back of my mind at all times. Not much venting in the design allows for the heat to build up, the thickness of the pads aren’t helping that issue out either. Despite being very comfortable, my ears do sweat a bit after about an hour of usage. I am also not fond of the included cable, it is very cheap but I am very thankful it isn’t a proprietary cable that nothing else can be used to replace it. I’d have preferred a better cable than this and will probably try to upgrade soon. I’ve found the included cable to be too thin, also too prone to cold weather. Had some 32F nights here in Cleveland recently and the stock cable becomes immensely stiff quickly. Seems as though the casing is incredibly prone to cold weather. I wish the headphone were able to imply that Bass Booster via the wired connection, sad that it is only available for Bluetooth enabled listening. I want a revision of this headphone that doesn’t have Bluetooth, instead taking the saved costs and investing them into audio quality improvement on the bass and treble. The midrange is perfectly fine, the treble needs to be boosted just a bit to make me happy and the bass quality could use a little cleaning up. Sony RnD, please with a cherry on top find a way to make any future Bluetooth headphones pair with Wasapi and 24bit output via Foobar2000. We need a BT dongle that handles this, as well as a headphone capable of actually doing it justice.
Click on next page for final thoughts…