Best Buy Review by Panther68
Probably the BEST Stereo Bluetooth Headset
Pre-review thought: To be completely honest, I dont have high hopes for Sonys just-released MDR-XB950N1 headphones. I have several corded headphones, & two stereo Bluetooth headsets. My current go to for music-listening is a v-moda Crossfade M-100 with an Onkyo DAC-HA200 external DAC/Amp. The Sony headphones cant compare/competeright? Read the ENTIRE review, and we shall see. For the review, I focused on the Sony headphones, making minor comparisons to the v-moda M-100. I am not an audiophile, & I dont have a trained earbut, as a musician, I can discern audio quality differences.
UNBOXING, AND INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:
The outer box is on-par with others, although a better job than Sonys usual packaging. The inner box is your basic black cardboard box, except that the lids inside is nicely-lined with a soft, black, flannel-like material. The plastic cradle that the headphones are in is thicker (more sturdy) than usual, & the top has a flat black leather-like texture, giving the internal packaging somewhat of a premium feel. Included with the usual papers are a USB/microUSB cable for charging (and possible firmware upgradesmore on this later), a double-ended 3.5mm cord, and a carrying pouch. NOTE: 3.5mm-to-1/4 adapter is NOT included.
There are two ways to connect the headphones: wireless (standard Bluetooth, or NFC), & wired (for greater frequency range). If your device has NFC, you pair by tapping the headphones left cup to the devices NFC contact point.
COMFORT & EASE OF OPERATION:
Controls are well placed, simplifying operation: power, BassBoost, & Noise Cancelation buttons, plus USB & 3.5mm ports, are on the left side; the volume, play/pause, next/fast-forward, & back/rewind controls on the right. Earpads are a soft memory foam, covered in a soft vinyl-like material (great for comfortable extended listening). The headband is solid, being made of metal & hard plastic, with plush padding along the top. The cups rotate 90 degrees to the rear, and fold inward, compact enough to store almost anywhere.
First, I tested noise-cancelation capabilitiesand where better than inside a car, with the car stereo blasting music different than whats playing through the headphones (not a sound booth, but works equally well). When I listen to the radio, the volume is typically at 5 (usual 3-5 range, rarely exceeding 7), so 5 was my start-point. NOTE: the MDR-XB950N1s volume is lower when BassBoost is on. With headphones at a typical listening volume, & car stereo on, I first tested with BassBoost turned on, playing several different songs. The car stereo reached 22-24 before I could hear it. Turning BassBoost off (same songs), the volume reached 33-34 before I noticed. In both tests, the car stereos music was barely a whisper above the headphones, thus no interfere. Car volume had to be 5-7 higher before I truly noticed, & the car stereo music began to clash. Conclusion: MDR-XB950N1 Noise Cancelation works extremely well.
For corded music tests & comparison, I used Sonys own cord with the MDR-XB950N1 (so as to not alter its original sound), as opposed to using the v-modas higher-quality cord. With CDs first, I listened to Sheila Es Butterfly, Casting Crowns Voice of Truth, and Earth Wind & Fires Got To Get You Into My Life. On Butterfly, the sound quality was slightly flat, timbales sounded slightly muffled, & cymbals were discernable, but lacked their usual crispness. For all songs, vocals were fairly accurately, but slightly muffled, percussion was somewhat flat, & guitars sounded soft. So far, things werent looking good for the MDR-XB950N1.
For the remaining tests, I switched to MP3s, playing Tim Capellos I Still Believe (The Lost Boys soundtrack), Duran Durans A View To A Kill, Kitaros The Light of the Spirit, Matthew Wests Forgivness, & Marvin Gayes Whats Going On, with tests in this order: corded into phone, corded via DAC, then wireless. The corded into phone results were similar to the CD results, except more accurate & closer to the sound of the v-moda headphonesbut still far from perfect. The corded via DAC were much better. To be honest, the results are hard for me to believethe difference between headphones was barely noticeable. Holding one cup from each to my ears at the same time, I thought I was listening to a single headset. Last up was Bluetooth (M-100s still wired)and this is where the Sony MDR-XB950N1 shined. I might go so far as to say they outperformed my M-100s. The sound was crisp, clean, & clear. I actually had to turn the volume DOWN on my GS7 Edge, so as to not blast my ears.
SONY HEADPHONES CONNECT APP:
In short, the app is not a good thingits somewhat of a bad thing: Surround (VPT) effects are all but useless. Theres little difference between them. A couple of them stood outbarelybut never enough to make a real difference. I recommend keeping this setting Off. At the same time, I still recommend installing the app, as it has other useful features, most importantly the remaining battery time.
THE GOOD: When used for what these are designed formobile devices playing compressed-format music (MP3, AAC, FLAC, etc), theyre outstanding, producing clean, bright (but not overly/unrealistically), accurate, crisp sound.
THE BAD: The included 3.5mm cord isnt very good. If using a cord, replace the included cord with one of higher quality. The Headphones Connect apps Surround (VPT) settings produce no discernable difference, & lowers the volume.
THE UGLY: Do NOT use these for listening to CDs, as they ruin the audio quality.
These are not headphones to use when listening to CDs. Overall sound is good, but no better than $25-50 over/on-the-headphones (youd be better off with $50 in-ear headphones). If your intent is listening to music on mobile devices, thats what these are forand theyre great at it. For corded listening, the included cord is good, but replacing it with a high-quality cord will produce better sound. For listening via Bluetooth, this is where these are the best. Sony did an incredible job designing these, outperforming almost all other Bluetooth headphones Ive listened to.
Having viewed Sonys webpage for the MDR-XB950N1 headphones, theres the possibility that the firmware installed can be updated. Sony hasnt posted anything on the product pageyetas these were just released. However, that being said, if you go to Sonys product page, and scroll down to the Support section, you will find a tab labeled Drivers & Software. I am not claiming to know there will be firmware updates, nor am I stating that there wont beall Im saying is, considering theyve added that tab to the products support section, theres a high possibility/probability that firmware updated could be forthcoming.
If youre in the market for stereo Bluetooth headphones, you will be hard-pressed to find anything betterat this price-point, or any other. The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are equally good, but youll pay $100 more. The Beats Solo3 cost $30 less, but they dont sound as good, plus you lose Noise Cancelation. The Beats Studio Wireless has Noise Cancelation, and costs $20 less, but, again, they dont sound as good. If you truly want the best, you can get the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H8, or Senheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless, but theyll each cost you $500+. Finally, you could get Sonys MDR-1000X which will sound slightly better, and includes Noise Cancelationbut youll pay $150 more for them.
For corded listening w/ DAC, the v-moda M-100s will remain my go to. For corded listening w/o DAC, the MDR-XB950N1s can almost rival the M-100s. If you only want to listen to music on-the-go via Bluetooth, GET THESE HEADPHONESits that simple. These are now my go to for Bluetooth listening.
At the beginning of my review, I asked a question about the ability of the MDR-XB950N1s being able to compete/compare against the M-100s. Im here to say that my internal assumptionalthough I never stated itwas wrong. I had assumed that the M-100 would outperform the MDR-XB950N1. The truth is, they are just as goodand, in some ways, better. The M-100 headphones are corded-only, whereas the MDR-XB950N1 headphones are Bluetooth, plus they work when corded. Added to that is Active Noise Cancelation, which the M-100s dont have. If you want the BEST sounding Bluetooth headphones, with Active Noise Cancelation, for the lowest price, theres only one choice: Sonys MDR-XB950N1 headphones.
Disclaimer: This product was provided free, or at reduced cost, for the purpose of reviewing the product. Nevertheless, the above review, be it positive, negative, or anywhere in-between, is a 100% honest review, and the price paid played absolutely no part in my review.