Sony's Cheaper Noise-Cancelling Headphones Are an Instant Classic

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Sony just released a more affordable set of noise-cancelling headphones called the WH-XB900N. The new wireless headphones sell for £230 and are an update to the company’s popular MDR-XB950BT Extra Bass headphones. At the same time, they also represent a cheaper version of Sony’s excellent £330 WH-1000XM3 noise-cancelling headphones. From afar, Sony’s more affordable new noise-cancelling headphones look almost identical to the price model. Up close, it’s evident that they’re not as good as Sony’s flagship, and that doesn’t matter to me at this price.

Lead

Sony WH-XB900N

What is it?: Cheaper noise-cancelling headphones from Sony
Cost: £230
Like: Terrific sound quality
No Like: Noise-cancelling isn't quite amazing

The new Sony WH-XB900N are excellent headphones. In terms of sound quality, they’re almost indistinguishable from the 1000XM3 headphones, since they have the same driver setup and same basic design. One noticeable difference is that the new Sony headphones focus on delivering beefier bass, which they do. Aside from that, I also noticed that the XB900N headphones don’t sound quite as loud as the M1000X, although that might be because the noise-cancelling isn’t as powerful on the cheaper set.

Speaking of the noise cancelling features, the more affordable new Sony headphones do perform admirably. They’re capable of drowning out the quiet roar of an oncoming train, but it’s clear that their noise-cancelling abilities fall short of the excellent performance of the 1000XM3 headphones. The difference in performance is undoubtedly because the XB900N lack the dedicated noise-cancelling chip found in the 1000XM3 headphones. The cheaper noise-cancelling Sony headphones also cannot adjust for atmospheric pressure, which should affect how well they work on planes.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

So there’s a strong B-team feel when you’re using the new XB900N but have also spent time with the 1000XM3 or even the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones. They’re not as good as the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market. The most time I spent wearing the XB900N, the more I wished I were wearing the 1000XM3. Sony’s flagship model has been my go-to set since they came out. The extent to which they’re great makes it hard to see a set of Sony headphones and not wish they were even better.

The XB900N feel a little flimsy, for example. The padding on the headband feels a bit lighter than what’s on the 1000XM3, and the plastic on the outside of the ear cups has a rougher texture. To the outside observer, the differences between the XB900N and the 1000XM3 are still pretty slight. Perhaps the most noticeable performance-related update on the new Extra Bass headphones is a set of vents near where the headband connects to the ear cup. These are designed to help move air around the drivers. Still, the overall XB900N design feels a few quid short of premium, especially when compared to Sony’s flagship wireless headphones.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

But again, I couldn’t spot any significant sound quality differences between the XB900N and the 1000XM3. Bon Iver’s voice sounds equally angelic on “Skinny Love,” and the headphones carried every tricky detail well on Cut Copy’s “Take Me Over.” The bass is stronger on bass-heavy tracks like “Rockstar” by Post Malone.

In a sense, the XB900N are a just slightly scaled-down version of the 1000XM3. The audio quality is extremely comparable. Both headphones have a simple two-button design and a touch sensitive ear cup to control volume and play/pause. Both sets have a sturdy, padded headband and big ear cups that feel super comfortable when they’re on your head. But the XB900N do feel scaled down not only because the build quality is a little bit wimpier but also because the noise-cancelling isn’t as good as it is on the 1000XM3.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

One more thing that’s the same with both the new XB900N and the 1000XM3 is strong connectivity. They headphones definitely connect to a device right away and stay connected. My longstanding gripe with Sony wireless headphones, however, is that the set will only connect to one device at a time. That means if you’re listening to a podcast on your phone and then want to use your headphones with a laptop, you’ll have to disconnect them from the phone before connecting them to the laptop. (The new Jabra Elite 85h are an example of headphones that handle multiple devices really well.) If you only plan to use your headphones with one device you’ll never notice this. Everyone will also enjoy the 30 hours of battery life that the XB900N boast.

The new Sony Headphones are cheaper, and that matters. Decent noise cancelling headphones tend to cost £300 or more. At £230, the Sony WH-XB900N are still a relatively expensive gadget, but they can do a lot of things better than pricier headphones can. The 1000XM3 will cost you £330, and Bose’s new Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 will be £350 when they go on sale at the end of June. If you have much money to spend, by all means, get the best. If you’ll be happy with a slightly downgraded version of the best, the XB900N are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can get for less than £300.

README

  • Nice and cheap for noise-cancelling headphones
  • Feel a little flimsier than Sony’s expensive noise-cancelling headphones
  • Sound just like like Sony’s expensive noise-cancelling headphones
  • Unfortunately do not cancel noise as well as Sony’s expensive noise-cancelling headphones

Featured image: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)