There are almost as many headphones as hairstyles. Selecting headphones is largely based on personal preference, but there are some constants when it comes to what makes the short list: they’ve got to sound great, feel good and for some—look stylish.

Sony has again expanded its Extra Bass line of headphones with the release of the MDR-XB950N1 and the MDR-XB950B1. What can these new headphones do, how well do they work and what differentiates them from each other? Sony sent me a pair of each for a short review period, so we’ll get into each of those questions in this review.

Sony MDR-XB950N1 and MDR-XB950B1 – What’s the difference?

The Sony MDR-XB950N1, are noise cancelling over-ear headphones with extra bass technology and fully wireless Bluetooth operation. Their cousin, the MDR-XB950B1 has most of the same features, minus noise cancellation. Though they have this differentiation, they look exactly the same as you can see in the photo. The only difference; a line of red piping on the B1s.

Sony Extra Bass headphones set up

Setting up these headphones is ultra easy.  Pushing and holding the power button sends the headphones into pairing mode. You’ll go into your phone or device’s Bluetooth menu, and click on the headphones, which should have automatically popped up in your menu. Touch to pair, and you’re connected. In both cases this took under a minute.

Using the Sony Headphones Connect App

Sony extra bass app.jpgWhile you can connect these headphones all on their own, Sony does offer an app. The Sony Headphones Connect App gives you some fine-tuning abilities when it comes to your headphones.

It lets you adjust your bass levels and gives you presets audio soundscapes for effects like “outdoor stage”, “club”, “hall” or arena-style sound, plus you can turn the noise cancelling functions on or off in the MDR-XB950N1.

Sony MDR-XB950N1 – “N” is for noise cancelling

I’ll spend a bit more time here on the MDR-XB950N1 headphones, as they have some additional technology that make them more advanced and thus more expensive. Sony has built artificial intelligence noise cancelling into these headphones.The AI interface chooses the optimal noise cancelling mode from three presets based on what Sony says is intelligent analysis of ambient noise.  In essence these headphones can ‘hear’ what’s going on around you and then can then cancel out that noise and keep it from bleeding in and interfering with your listening.

sony mdr duo headphonesI loaded up some Rage Against the Machine on my laptop and played it at high volume while playing nice ocean waves on the headphones. With noise cancelling off it was very easy to hear the music bleeding through. Then I turned noise cancelling on, the sound was definitely diminished but I wouldn’t say it was eliminated completely. Similarly with other sounds like clapping, snapping, typing and heels on a wood floor, the noise cancelling didn’t totally eliminate the sounds, just muted them somewhat. If you’re looking for a complete sensory deprivation experience you’re not going to get it with these but if you’re looking for some assistance blocking out the neighbour’s barking dog or the music from the kids room, these will help.

One other small point about the N1s and what makes them different; the package includes a simple drawstring headphone carrying bag for scuff-free transport.

Sony’s Extra Bass technology

If there’s one things these headphones excel at, it’s bass. The bass inside these cans is booming. Combine that with the outstanding noise isolation properties of the thick comfy ear cups and you can really immerse yourself in the music. The bass is deep and resonant in the headphones, but not bone rattling as it can be in some other headphones. It’s definitely enjoyable, and not overkill.

Comfort & fit  – Sony MDR-XB950B1 & MDR-XB950N1

Sony MDR erin headphonesI’ve found the entire Sony Extra Bass line to be ultra comfortable.  I’ve tested the MDR-XB80BS and the MDR-XB70BT (both sport in-ear headphones, read the full reviews here) and the MDR-XB950BT over-ear wireless headphones (that review here) and I would recommend them all in terms of superior comfort and great sound. Sony appears to know how to build headphones you can wear for hours in comfort, whether they’re in-ear or over-ear, and for sport or comfort listening.

Battery Life & cable connection

I’ve got no complaints about the battery life of these headphones. I used them for a solid week off and on and they didn’t need to be recharged at all. There is a difference in battery life with these headphones; the MDR-XB950N1 is said to provide up to 22 hours of wireless battery life, while the MDR XB950B1 gives you a few less hours at 18. For commuters, this can give you weeks of use on the bus or the train, and even for office dwellers, you should be able to work through three days without needing more juice.

Sony mdr xb950n1 headphones
The Sony MDR XB950N1

One of the things I like about these headphones is that they have the ability to work wirelessly, of course, but you can also connect them with an aux cable if the battery dies. That gives you so much more flexibility when traveling or commuting and means you’ll never have to sit through someone else’s snoring, loud phone-talking or endless opining. The headphones are fully rechargeable with a small cable.

Sound quality  – Sony MDR-XB950N1 & MDR-XB950B1

Both the MDR-XB950N1 and the MDR-XB950B1 sounded great. I noticed no difference in overall quality between them. The bass is strong and deep without being head-rattling, and the sound isolation the thick ear cups provide really lets you tune out.

Test Music Playlist:

  • Dangerous – Joywave
  • Dreams – Beck
  • More than a feeling – Boston
  • Grenade – Bruno Mars
  • C’Mon -Busta Rhymes, Diplo, Tiesto
  • Feel It – Danny Fernandes and Shawn Desman
  • Forgive Her – Papa Roach
  • The Devil came up to Alberta – Polyjesters
  • Alex Clare – Too Close: felt like a chopper with a loudspeaker was doing aerial laps in my skull.
  • I will talk and Hollywood will listen – Robbie Williams

I listened to these headphones with the sound effects (arena, club) both on and off, and for the most part, I preferred the effects off. I just felt like the overall sound was better and more realistic. Some other audiophiles out there might like these special effects but I didn’t.

While listening, the guitar and bass were clear and noticeable on Boston’s More than a Feeling. The bass was pounding on Grenade while the vocals were clear.  I liked the great synthesizer and pounding  bass on Busta Rhymes’ C’Mon; yet the vocals stood out and made it sound full and rich. I got the full anthem rock concert hall feel on Papa Roach’s Forgive Her, even without the special settings. All the instrumental subtitles came through on the Polyjesters’ Devil came up to Alberta.

I also tried listening through my playlist with the audio cable connected instead of listening wirelessly; things sounded just as good both ways.

Overall Review: Sony MDR-XB950B1 & MDR-XB950N1

Really enjoy Sony’s Extra Bass line. I find all of the products, from the headphones to the portable wireless speakers to be top notch in terms of quality and sound; these headphones are no different. From the extraordinary comfort that lets you wear them for hours on end without getting an ear ache, to the outstanding bass and excellent overall sound, these will be headphones that will make you happy for a long time to come.

Whether you choose the more basic MDR-XB950B1 or go for the more advanced noise cancelling properties of the MDR-XB950N1, you’re sure to be happy.

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