Sony has made ambitious steps to become one of the top manufacturers in high-end active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones over the past few years. They began this journey through the release of their top-of-the-line WH-1000XM3 over-the-ear ANC headphones. They continue to make inroads in the high-end headphone market with a price fighter in that same market: the WH-XB900N Active Noise Cancelling Headphones. I have been using these headphones for almost two months now and in this review, will give you my thoughts on the features and performance of the headphones while also giving you other relevant information you will need to know.
Sony WH-XB900N Headphones: Unboxing
When breaking into the box of these headphones, you will get everything that you need to get started including the headphones themselves, the instruction manual, a USB-C charging cable, a 3.5mm cable and a carrying bag for the device. In 2020, headphones (and other devices at that) should be standardizing on the USB-C charging standard and I am pleased that the Sony WH-XB900N Headphones have this charging standard.
Sony WH-XB900N Headphones: Features
These headphones have a standard shape for over-the ear headphones and felt well constructed. They are made from a hard plastic and a faux leather for the ear cups and despite the headband looking quite bulky, the device didn’t feel heavy after extended use. The ear cups are large enough to comfortably fit most ear sizes and fold into the included case for travel. These ear cups presented a slight problem; they heated up after extended use, especially in the presence of sunlight or an elevated temperature. Apart from this issue, I did not love the look of the top of the ear cup in the blue and grey models. Aesthetically, the “grills” on the top of the ear cups should be less obvious, in my opinion.
Instead of using buttons for all of the controls, these headphones use a touchpad on the right ear cup. This type of control is becoming more common with at least one other manufacturer using this input type for their high-end headphones. Throughout my testing, I had no issues with using touch to change tracks, volume and play/pause tracks with this input. Outside of the touchpad, there is also a power button and customizable action button.
These headphones come with an app (downloaded separately) that can give you an immense amount of flexibility with the sound and noise cancellation settings of your headphones. This app is easily one of the best headphone apps that I have used to-date.
Most importantly, you can adjust the noise cancelling on the device allowing the device’s adaptive sound control to take over or adjust the exact amount of outside noise that you want to hear with the headphones. Equally important is the device’s very granular EQ settings. In addition to adjusting Sony’s clear bass levels, you can adjust individual frequency ranges.
360 Reality Audio
These headphones also come with a technology called 360 Reality Audio. While using one of three apps that support the technology (Deezer, Tidal or Nugs.Net), supported songs will sound as if they are surrounding you. Essentially, different musical elements will sound like they have been positioned around you.
To test out the technology, I first went to John Mayer’s Clarity, a song that I know quite well. I will admit that it was neat to hear the performance in this way; it reminded me a lot of hearing a song live. Even though the effect is interesting, the vocals usually felt like they are buried behind my head and some of the elements in other supported songs were just gimmicky (Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing featured some binaural whispering to start the song). Only some artists have mixed their audio for the technology (like the Chainsmokers, MAX and Earth, Wind and Fire, for instance) making the technology a hard sell at this stage. In short, it’s a fun added bonus, but not the ideal way to consume audio.
Sony WH-XB900N Headphones: Performance
Plainly speaking, these headphones sound pretty good. However, one note about Sony’s high-end headphones: they are heavily tilted towards bass and these headphones are no different. Now, your exact preferences can be tuned using the included app, but the default sound of this device is very warm. When listening to a song like Bryson Tiller’s Exchange, which is an incredibly bass-forward song, some of the higher frequency elements of the song get lost a little bit due to the powerful bass of the device. In another example, the bass line in JoJo’s Man overpowers JoJo’s smooth vocals. For podcasts, you may find that audible plosives (“p” and “t” sounds that “pop” the microphone) are more prominent.
Sony’s noise cancellation technology is some of the best on the market. Fully isolating yourself from outside sound is mostly possible with these headphones, but at times you will hear some loud noises come through. At the coffee shop, for instance, this device will take out most of the sound but may let the movement of a chair’s legs or loud group laugh come through but not much else. Having used both Sony’s WH-XB900N and WH-1000XM3, I can tell you that the biggest reason for the price is due to the noise cancelling. The WH-XB900N have great noise cancelling but the WH-1000XM3 are near perfect.
Outside of the sound and noise cancellation, I do wish that switching back and forth between different Bluetooth devices was a little more straight-forward on these headphones. I usually had no issue, but at times would have to switch the device off to move between device connections (like from my laptop to my phone, for instance). I have used other Bluetooth headphones that allow for multiple devices to be connected at the same time or make switching easier. Future iterations of these headphones should have this feature.
Sony WH-XB900N Headphones: Final Thoughts
In short, the WH-XB900N Active Noise Cancelling Headphones from Sony are excellent and deliver a great customizable sound, feature set and noise cancellation for the price point. Despite being a step-down from Sony’s top offering, you do not lose a lot by choosing these headphones.
For more about Sony’s over-ear offerings, check out the over-ear headphones section of the Best Buy Canada website!