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Sony MDR-XB950BT headphone review: Good for the ears and great value for money

Given the host of features that it boasts, it definitely is a good contender in this mid-range of headphones.

Written by Andrew Clarance | New Delhi |
Updated: November 13, 2014 2:53:22 pm
Sony MDR-XB950BT headphone review Given the host of features that it boasts, it definitely is a good contender in this mid-range of headphones.

Being a musician, I’m always looking for the perfect sound, that perfect balance of bass, treble and mids. I was a bit skeptical when I got the Sony XB950BT headphones to review. When I saw Extra Bass written across the big Sony box, I imagined this would be standard bass-boost fare. I might add that I am a video editor, and so I was looking at these headphones from the point of how well it helps me achieve the perfect to-visual balance.

Design

The headphones come neatly packed in a sturdy box with the usual micro-USB charging cable and a 1.2mm cable. The black matte finish with streaks of muted red around the cans give these headphones a demure sense of class. Unlike other flashy, brightly-coloured over-priced headphones these don’t draw the eye out, rather they just make a big deal of the ear and therein lies all the difference. Given the typical Indian Commute, with its dust and grime, any bright colour is going to look faded and dirty within weeks. The steel grey band with padding for head support makes it a comfortable wear.

Sony MDR-XB950BT review

The ergonomic ear-pads are comfortable and trust me when I say this. I usually sit and work on video edits for 4-5 hour stretches. These headphones are over-the-ear cans which are very pleasant to wear unlike some ill designed pieces which end up hurting the ear more than making it a satisfying experience.

The headphone ear-pieces swivel completely on their axis to make it easily foldable. When I was not using them it was easy to hang them around my neck, folded-up flat, cans down – makes all the difference while using the packed-out Metro.

The headphones have a volume toggle, a play/pause toggle, a bass-boost button, a micro-USB port, a EP in and a built-in mic all neatly situated on the edge of the headphone can hiding it from plain sight yet making it easily accessible.

Sound

I put this headphone piece through various levels of sound mixes and music genres. I was keen to see how it would perform in interaction with various environs with differing decibel levels of noise.

Sitting in office, I started off by playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, a ritual I follow when trying out new headphones. Within the first 7 minutes of the first movement, I knew that this set was not going to disappoint. Through the arpeggios of the soloist and the swaying tempo, each instrument in the track was clearly and uniquely decipherable, rich and in full tone, a very satisfying experience.

Sony MDR-XB950BT review

Through other genres of the quiet understated folk songwriter, independent music and bass heavy hip-hop tracks I liked what I was hearing. Through all the tracks that I played – guitar heavy rock, the soft-nuanced notes of the upright bass or the crisp shrill notes of the trumpet, this headphone set delivered clear, processed rich sound. Coming to vocal heavy music, I tried it with Allegri’s ‘Miserere mei, Deus’ a piece written for two choirs, an a cappella form. It delivered, rendering perfect clear tones, giving that slight bass undertone when the male choir kicked in. The performance on this track really had me impressed.

On the commute back home, I took an auto during peak-hour traffic and did a road-test of sorts. The headphones gave clear clean rich sound, even delivering amazing tones for soft jazz pieces during the loud hustle-bustle of 6.30pm Outer Ring Road traffic.

There are some issues I found while using the headphones. While editing a video project for a phone-review, I found that there was a basic latency. At first I though it was just due to a slow render but when I looked closely I found that were was a 7-10 frame lag. This is possibly due to the onboard processing.

There is another explanation though. While this headphone is apt-
X compatible ( aptX is an audio codec which is designed to encode a CD quality/44.1kHz audio stream without a loss in quality through a high data transfer rate) my MacBook Pro ( OS X Mavericks) is using a SBC audio codec. I’m still trying to figure how to change the codec to apt-X. I also found that the Nexus 5 which I primarily use for music is not apt-X compatible too ( As far as I know).

I found the bass-boost button a bit redundant. Out of the two weeks that I used the headphones I didn’t once need the bass-boost. Instead when I tried it out, the bass-boost just sounded like a badly equalised bass player, drowning out the clarity and sharpness of the entire track. This bass-boost is helpful only in situations where the track is not equalized properly, like home-recordings, etc.

Verdict

Out of the box, the headphones synced to my MacbookPro without any issues whatever. I imagined it would then throw up issues to sync with my Nexus 5 device. It synced with no issues.

The hands-free function with the built in microphone worked with no hassles. I thought that talking mid-traffic on the headphone’s omni-directional mic would produce a channel full of noise but it was relatively clean and crisp. It is a very useful feature especially when you have both your hands full. The only drawback of such a feature I can think of is that I probably looked a bit weird talking to the air!

The battery life is superb. After taking it out of the box, I used for a day and a half before charging it. In the two weeks that I used the headphones I have only charged the headphones twice.

Priced at Rs 10,650 on Flipkart, I feel that this set is good value for money in the mid-price range. Given the host of features that it boasts, it definitely is a good contender in this mid-range of headphones.

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