Sony WH-XB900N Review




Design


The circumoral (over-ear) design of the matte black headphones is exceptionally comfortable. The earpads are generously cushioned, as is the headband, and getting a precise, secure fit is easy. The left earcup's side panel houses a power button and the Custom control, which is used to summon your voice assistant of choice (more on that in a bit). There's also a 3.5mm connection for the included audio cable, and well as a USB-C port for the charging cable.


The circumoral (over-ear) design of the matte black headphones is exceptionally comfortable. The earpads are generously cushioned, as is the headband, and getting a precise, secure fit is easy. The left earcup's side panel houses a power button and the Custom control, which is used to summon your voice assistant of choice (more on that in a bit). There's also a 3.5mm connection for the included audio cable, and well as a USB-C port for the charging cable.


The Sony Headphones Connect app (for Android and iOS) has some very useful features, as well as some not-so-useful features. An Adaptive Sound Control tool determines what you are doing—walking or sitting—and adjusts the ANC (active noise cancellation) experience accordingly. It's just as easy to adjust things yourself in the app whenever you want to, using a slider that blends the mix of ANC and ambient audio, and has a Focus on Voice option for conversations. The 360 sound feature is best avoided—nothing it does to a stereo mix will improve it.


You can use the headphones with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant by connecting them in their respective app. This mic is controlled using the Custom button on the outer panel of the left earcup. Once you go through the setup process with whichever assistant you prefer, it works quite well, but there's no wake-word control like you get with the Apple AirPods Pro.


In addition to the charging cable, the WH-XB900N ships with a detachable audio cable for passive listening (though the cable has no inline remote control), as well as a nylon drawstring carrying pouch.

Sony estimates battery life to be roughly 30 hours with ANC on or 35 hours with ANC off, but your results will vary with your volume levels and your ANC usage.


Performance


The WH-XB900N's ANC is far better than average. The ability to adjust its levels and blend them with the ambient mics in the app is an excellent feature. The actual noise cancellation performance is also solid—it doesn't seem to create much, if any, hiss. This is a bit hard to fully confirm, however, as it's impossible to turn the ANC off—you can only have 100 percent ANC, 100 percent ambient mics mode, or a blend of the two—there's no turning both off to compare with a neutral state.

So the next best thing is simply comparing the sound of the headphones when powered off with the sound when powered on. When we tried this, we didn't detect added hiss, which is impressive. The ANC eliminates a large swath of sounds, from powerful low-frequency rumble like you hear on planes or trains, to higher-frequency whir, like you get from a fan or an AC unit. It's not necessarily the most powerful ANC we've tested recently—it doesn't seem to tamp down keyboard typing or room chatter as Bose, for instance—but it's still quite good for the price. The ambient mic mode also feels seamless—it's easy to quickly switch between the two modes, or a blend of the two, using a fader in the app.


For music, on tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the headphones deliver powerful low-frequency response. At top, unwise listening levels, they don't distort, and at more reasonable volume levels, the bass is still quite powerful, yet also balanced with the highs.


Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the WH-XB900N's general sound signature. The drums on this track sound somewhat thunderous—the drivers are capable of deep bass, and the default sound signature doesn't hold back. This means Callahan's baritone vocals also receive quite a bit of added low-mid richness. The high-mids and highs are well present enough, however, that things still sound fairly balanced and crisp. The tilt is definitely toward the bass-forward end of the scale, but that's why the multi-band EQ is such a welcome feature, making it easy to dial back the bass and give the high-mids a little tweak, too.

With the EQ in default mode, the kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" receives a bit less high-mid presence than we're used to hearing, which dulls its punchy attack slightly. But again, this can be adjusted in the EQ. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with power, and the drum loop itself gets some added bass oomph. The vocals on this track are delivered cleanly and clearly, without any sense of added sibilance.

Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, have too much boosted bass in the default audio mode, but dialing the lows back results in a more balanced sound that still retains its richness.

The mic offers excellent intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could understand every word we recorded cleanly and clearly. There was little to no Bluetooth distortion, and there was even some bass depth to the mic, which also sounded close. Few mics on Bluetooth headphones sound as clear as this, making the headphones a solid choice if you're looking to field lots of phone calls.