rsz_sony_mdr-xb950bt_square_headphones.jpgHeadphones are very personal. After all, of all the electronics we use, headphones are worn closest to you, right inside your ear canals in some cases. That’s why people are so passionate about their headphone choices, and it explains why a headphone loved by some will be unpopular with others; headphones are almost like electronic jewelry, so tastes and preferences are as varied as the designs

I recently got a pair of the catchily named Sony MDR-XB950BT wireless Extra Bass headphones. What they lack in nomenclature, and maybe looks, they more than make up for in sound quality.

Sony MDR-XB950BT – What’s in the box?
The packaging is cool. The box opens up like a book, with the headphones displayed carefully and attractively inside. Inside the front cover of the book is a small hidden compartment where you will find your charging cable, auxiliary mini cable (if you want to forgo the wireless connection), as well as the necessary manuals and paperwork. That’s it.

About the Sony MDR-XB950BT
The headphones are wireless, using Bluetooth or NFC technology to connect to your smart phone or device. The headphones also feature and electro bass booster, a 40 mm driver unit which reproduces natural and powerful base, according to Sony.
The headphones will give you approximately twenty hours of play time from four hours of charging.

The headphones are basic black with a small amount of red piping around the ear cuffs. You could definitely call the styling of these headphones ‘basic’. There is almost no embellishment on them, they don’t look funky or hip, instead they look serious and utilitarian. For some people that might be a problem, for me, these are headphones I would wear while sitting at home watching some TV, listening to music, or perhaps while travelling on an airplane to block out ambient noise. In any of those situations, I don’t really care what I look like while wearing them, so styling for me is not an issue with these.

The headphones have fat ear cups with about an inch of squishy padding, and the headband is padded too, though with a lot less foam.
Setting up & Connecting the Sony MDR-XB950BT Extra Bass headphones

Set up was super easy; a lot like the like the Sony Extra Bass wireless portable speaker I reviewed last week. (Read that review here.)
You enter pairing mode by pushing and holding the power button for 7 seconds. A small light flashes blue and red. Then go to the Bluetooth menu on your device, select the Sony phones and enter a passkey if requested.

These phones also offer NFC or Near Field Communication connections with Android devices, but since I’m an Apple user and Apple isn’t offering NFC technology for gadgets like these yet (ever, Apple??) I was not able to test this feature. (If anyone has had that experience, please do tell us how it works in comments, below.)

Connecting each time I used the headphones was easy; I’d hit the power button on the phones, and dial up my music on my iPhone 6Plus, and the connection was instant. Most of the time, I didn’t need to constantly re-connect the Bluetooth.

Testing the Sony MDR-XB950BT Extra Bass headphones

These headphones have good large, comfortable over ear cups, that formed a great seal for me. One of my first tests was wearing them while my husband sat beside me on a conference call, speaking loudly. With the music on, I couldn’t hear a peep from him. I was very pleasantly surprised.rsz_sony_mdr-xb950bt_wearing_funny.jpg

I put on a podcast (Decoding Science and Politics with Neil Degrasse Tyson, if you’re curious) and I was pleased at the quality of the voices in the headphones. Tyson’s deep voice was nicely resonant, but I could still hear each breath he took while speaking. Cool.

I tested a variety of music on the Sony Extra Bass phones. I put on each song and then made some notes about how it sounded (see below). I found myself not just enjoying the music, but being able to pick out subtleties and instruments I hadn’t noticed before.

Test Music Playlist:

  • Deadmau5 – Ghosts n Stuff: Powerful skull pumping bass.
  • R Kelly – Home Alone: Deep head-bopping thump with a richness. Not just pounding noise.
  • Macklemore – Downtown: cool stomping thump with a nice low bass line plus the piano notes and even the cowbell were crystal clear. “Oooh, it’s too real!”
  • Saint Motel – My Type: the bass line was clean and clear. Could easily pick out the subtleties of the cowbell and the high hat.
  • Sam & Dave – Hold on I’m Comin: an older recording with a thin sound normally. But the bass was substantial.
  • Daniel Ratlieff – SOB: a tub thumping symphony between my ears. The double bass beat sounded like it was reflecting off the inside of my brain and bouncing around like a squash ball on the loose.
  • Mozart: It was like a tiny orchestra was sitting crescent shaped inside my head. It was almost like I could picture individual instruments sitting there.
  • Chromeo – Tenderoni: a Japanese drum corp visiting my brain. And bringing a synthesizer along for the ride.
  • Alex Clare – Too Close: felt like a chopper with a loudspeaker was doing aerial laps in my skull.
  • Foo Fighters – Bridge Burning: as the guitars kick in it sounds really neat, then when the drums come in: BOOM! I felt silly but I actually smiled as the song came together.
  • Big Pun – Still Not a Player: I felt like I could picture the drumsticks hitting the drum case edges or the high hat, while the both the piano and the bass were discernible and substantial.

The great thing about these headphones is that I was actually re-experiencing music I knew and liked and finding subtleties I didn’t realize were there.  By the way, the whole time I could see my husband gesturing on his conference call, and I still couldn’t hear a thing, but he was giving me funny looks as I was bopping around the living room lip synching and dancing.

The sound from these Extra Bass headphones is outstanding. I found them clean, and clear, with a richness I enjoyed. I can’t make a single complaint about the sound quality here, unless it’s about the Bass Boost.

Bass Boost option
At first, all the music I tried was without the “Bass Boost”. When I put on the boost it was almost too much. It made me feel like it does when you bite down on an electric toothbrush; I could feel the vibration in my cheekbones and eye sockets. Not unpleasant but definitely reverberating around my skull and jittering my teeth.

After his conference call, I passed the headphones to my husband to verify the skull buzzing Bass Boost capabilities. He agreed it was substantial, not enjoyable, and kind of overkill. I also found that with Bass Boost on, I lost some of the subtler higher tones, like the cymbals or the high hat; they virtually vanish when this feature is on. While the Bass Boost may be kind of neat for some, I found the music more enjoyable without it.

rsz_sony_mdr-xb950bt_distance.jpgConnection Concerns

I took the headphones off to answer the door and suddenly lost the connection. When I went to Bluetooth menu and it was indeed disconnected, but I have no idea why.

While most of the time I could turn the headphones on and the Bluetooth connection was made automatically, from time to time, it would not connect. In some cases, the the Bluetooth would show the headphones were connected but audio was blaring from the speakers on my iPhone instead. I needed to disconnect and re-connect the headphones manually.

I also noticed that occasionally, you don’t get a great amount of distance between your device and the headphones before it disconnects. I’d get up from the home office, and walk into the kitchen and lose the connection sometimes.

So I did some testing. I laid out a tape measure, placed the phone at zero, then walked around. Outdoors, I started noticing dropouts at about 36 feet. At 43 feet it disconnected fully.
Indoors with walls, dropouts started at about 30 feet and disconnected fully around the 43 foot mark as well.

Frequently if I would walk into a different room and there were too many walls between me and the phone, I’d lose the connection altogether. Is this going to be a problem for most users? I doubt it. Most people have their phone or device close enough to them that they will not lose the connection on a regular basis, or often enough for it to become a problem.

Normally I find on-ear headphones extraordinarily uncomfortable. And very often I find the same with over ear varieties too. I find that my ears begin to ache from being pressed on after a relatively short period of time. So I was not sure what to expect with these headphones.
I was pleasantly surprised then when I was able to wear them for more than an hour at a time without any discomfort. The ear cups stretched all the way around my ears, and the padded headband also made them easy to wear.


Overall – Sony MDR-XB950BT

I love the sound quality of the Sony MDR-XB950BT. They did not disappoint me whatsoever. I love that they’re wireless, making it easy to move around unencumbered, and this will make them extra great for travellers. Throw in the great seal they make over the ears, and they’re a must-have for airplanes.

If I have a complaint about these headphones it’s that the buttons on the ear cups were hard to find and use. They’re hard to feel for, and since I wasn’t used to them, I needed to take the headphones off every time I needed to make an adjustment. I imagine that might improve with familiarity and repetition.

In short, I’d definitely buy these headphones for myself. They deliver on great sound, and good comfort.

Get the Sony MDR-XB950BT headphones at Best Buy

Erin Lawrence
Editor TV and Home Theatre
Erin is a journalist, writer, and TV producer with a fascination for technology and a love of gadgets. Check out her blog


  1. Got a request… can you pair those headphones to your laptop?  Does it work?


    I got myself a pair of Sony Bluetooth headphones and found it only works my smartphone.  I really wanted it to work for my laptop.

  2. Hey XL,

    That’s a great question!

    I tried pairing these with my Macbook Pro just now and YES, it worked!  I have to say, I never wear headphones in my home office with the computer, but I do all the time at work, and the cords there are always WAY too short! This is a way better option.  I’ll have to ask el jefe for an upgrade!

    These are perfect for you, XL.

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