Sony WH-XB910N headphones review: Great but munted by the price
- Extremely light and comfortable
- Noise-cancellation is great
- Sound is wonderful
- Similar carry case as the XM3 and XM4
- It’s too easy to accidentally brush the controls
- Too expensive, especially compared to better Sony headphones
- Quite bassy
The Sony WH-XB910N wireless noise-cancelling headphones seem like the perfect answer to their expensive older sibling, the Sony WH-1000XM4s.
The latter are some of the best in the business, but have a hefty price tag. The WH-XB910Ns seem to be trying to fill a gap, bringing pared back versions of the best bits of the XM4s to a more modest set of headphones.
But with an RRP of $350 and a year passing since the XM4s were released, these might not be the great deal they seem to be.
Sony WH-XB910N headphones review: Design
At first glance the Sony WH-XB910N headphones look the same as the XM4s. They have a light foldable design, comfy ear cups and a padded headband. You'll also find a USB-C charging port and a hole for an aux cord, if wired listening is your jam.
But there are subtle differences.
The WH-XB910N headphones are a bit larger and the plastic doesn't feel as premium or sturdy. It's not flimsy by a long shot, but it's not as nice, which makes sense when the XM4s have a more expensive RRP.
Despite feeling a little cheaper, they were still a delight to wear for long listening sessions during work hours. They were comfortable, didn't weigh down on my neck and didn't get too hot.
They also did a great job at the gym until I got too sweaty to deal with over-ears anymore. But to be fair this isn't specific to the WH-XB910Ns.
They come with a similar handy travel case as the XM4s and XM3s, allowing you to fold the cans down for safe travel. Inside the case you will find the charging aux cables, but unlike its more expensive counterpart you won't find a plane adaptor for the headphones.
I do love this touch, though. As a messy bod who routinely shoves headphones into bags with loose makeup, gym gear and climbing chalk, this is perfect.
Sony WH-XB910N headphones review: Performance
Everything about the Sony WH-XB910N headphones is easy, except for rattling off the name.
Pairing is quick and simple over Bluetooth and unlike some other non-Apple headphones, you can have them paired to a couple of devices at once. This means I was able to switch between my phone and laptop seamlessly.
They also have easy-to-use touch controls in the cups that let you skip and pause your content as well as pick up calls.
It has also picked up a fun trick from the XM4s that lets you quickly hear whatever is going on outside of the headphones. Simply place a hand over one of the cups and your music volume will go down and environmental noise will filter in. I loved this for both safety as well as working in an office where someone may come up to ask me something.
However, I did have an issue with the controls. They were too sensitive. I found this to be particularly troublesome at the gym where I was using a lot of arm movement. There were times where I would accidentally brush one of the cups and it would trigger an action. It was annoying and had me longing for the clicky controls of the Sony WF-C500 earbuds.
There were also some slight issues with noise bleeding when the volume was about 50% or so. I could hear music filtering through when my partner was wearing them and that's not ideal. But to be fair, these aren't flagship cans and you can help the issue by lowering the volume. Your ear health will thank you.
Sony WH-XB910N headphones review: Audio performance
If you're not the biggest fan of bass you may not enjoy the Sony WH-XB910Ns straight out of the box.
These cans literally have a dedicated bass duct. According to Sony "air-tightness between the driver units and eardrums help to create precise, punchy rhythms that lift every track."
And the company isn't wrong. The bass is indeed punchy. Alarming, even.
Let's take 3005 by Childish Gambino as an example. The electronics and vocals sitting in the mids and highs at the start of the song sound great. Each element is clear and punchy without competing with one another.
But when the bass kicks in at about 0.23 I could feel it reverberating through the very fabric of my existence.
In the very least it didn't drown out the mids and highs, but it didn't command a lot of attention.
Fortunately, it was a little more reserved when the beat dropped in Hello by Martin Solveig and Dragonette. Here I found a much more balanced harmony between the mids, highs and "dat bass".
While the overall prevalence of the bass was a bit too much for me when it comes to music, the good news is that the Sony Headphones Connect app lets you customise your sound. So if you want to pare it back, you can.
The extreme bass also makes the WH-XB910N headphones potentially interesting for gaming. In particular, competitive titles like CS: GO, Valorant and Apex Legends that rely on hearing footsteps.
As an overall listening experience, the WH-XB910Ns are pretty great but don't quite hit the same level of richness and complexity as the top-of-the-range Sony headphones. Don't get me wrong, they're excellent, and make ethereal queens like Stevie Nicks sound wonderful.
The different elements of Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, even the most subtle, shine beautifully. The tinny strum of the guitar, which can be lost on some headphones, peaks through cheekily against the bass and piano. And the multiple layers of voices and harmonies remain individual and gorgeous, rather than fading into each other.
But unlike on the XM4s and even XM3s, the WH-XB910Ns don't make me feel like my soul is being stared into. It's missing a little something that only the best of the best can provide.
The WH-XB910Ns also include 360 Reality Audio functionality. Using the Headphones Connect app you can take a shot of your ears and it will allow you to listen to music in a 3D space. I was able to test a version of this technology at the Consumer Electronics Show 3 years ago and it is truly mind blowing. It lets you hear music in a way that has simply not been possible before.
But from a consumer perspective this is still severely limited. You need a subscription for high-quality music streaming services such as Tidal or Deezer and even then Sony only has around 1,000 compatible songs at the moment. Still, it's very cool.
On the active noise cancellation front, the WH-XB910N headphones do a pretty good job. They block out the vast majority of ambient noise and while some louder sounds will filter in, they do dampen them.
For example, they blocked out the music, conversation and weight dropping at my gym without any issue. But they would not entirely cancel out particularly loud planes flying over my house. Ah the joys of living under a flight path.
This won't be an issue for everyone, especially those who prefer to be a little more aware of their surroundings. But if you like to block out as much of the world around you as possible, you should consider the flagship WH-1000XM4s or even the previous gen XM3s instead.
Sony WH-XB910N headphones review: Battery
When it comes to the battery, you're going to find the same performance as you would on the last 2 generations of Sony flagships.
You get roughly 30 hours of playback with Active Noise Cancellation toggled on and 50 when it's off.
I have only spent a week with these so far, so I'd like to do some more testing. But so far I have been using them 4 hours every day and haven't had to recharge them yet. Past experience with the XM3s and XM4s have also shown that Sony generally tends to be pretty bang on with its battery performance. I'll report back if anything drastic changes here.
I was also happy to find a quick charge mode, which gets you 4.5 hours of juice from just 10 minutes of charge.
This is all reminiscent of the premium Sony experience, which is great.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you can wait until the price drops.
- Don't buy it if you want even better performance for a fraction more, or even cheaper.
If these had been more aggressively priced, I would be screaming at you to buy them. But the problem with the Sony WH-XB910N headphones is that they have been released at a weird time with an even weirder price tag.
There's nothing functionally wrong with them. They're incredible. But they are also $349. This means they are easily overshadowed by the flagship Sony WH-1000XM4s, which were released over a year ago. And this is important.
Despite having an RRP of $549.95, you can actually pick them up for much cheaper. At the time of writing you could buy a pair for just $25 - $30 more than the WH-XB910Ns. Considering how superior those headphones are, that's an excellent deal.
And if you'd prefer something cheaper, you would be better off getting a pair of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones for much less. These are the previous gen of Sony's flagship over-ear wireless noise-cancelling headphones and are still excellent all these years later.
This is because they were very much ahead of their time. In fact, the XM4s are really an incremental upgrade of the XM3s.
It's important to note that none of this means that the WH-XB910Ns aren't good headphones. Quite the contrary. But they're also coming out during a time when their bigger and badder siblings can be found at decent or even much better prices.
If it was sitting around $250 this would be a much different conversation. But being priced so high means Sony is doing little more than competing with itself.
My advice – wait for the price to drop on these. And if you need a set right now, go for the XM4s or XM3s.
Sony WH-XB910N headphones review: Pricing and availability
How we test
The Sony WH-XB910N headphones were tested extensively over a week-long period. We will update the battery section once more time has been spent with them.
The headphones were tested against similar-priced headphones as well as high-end offerings.
Sony provided the WH-XB910N headphones for the purposes of this review. This author has been testing headphones for over 5 years.
Images: Tegan Jones
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