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June 25, 2019
Original: $248 USD
May 2022: $199 USD
Sony has been on everyone’s wish list with the WH-1000XM5 active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, but as good as that headset is, it costs a lot. This is the Sony WH-XB900N caught the ears of general consumers. For a good amount less, this offers many of the same features including ANC, touch-sensitive controls, and a very long battery life. So what is this missing? After weeks with the WH-XB900N from Sony, we’re here to tell you about all that’s good and not so good about these headphones.
Editor’s note: this Sony WH-XB900N review was updated on May 18, 2022, to address the Sony WH-1000XM5, include in-line FAQs, and compare this to the WH-XB910N headphones.
- Bass lovers will feel these headphones rattle their skulls, but you can also tame the bass response from the in-app EQ if it’s a bit much at times.
- Anyone considering Beats which are known for bass. Beats may have the branding but they lack many other features like good noise cancelling, NFC pairing, and high-quality codecs.
How is the Sony WH-XB900N built?
The first thing you notice about the Sony WH-XB900N is that it’s made mainly of lightweight plastic (254 grams) which is nice considering that you’re going to be using it out and about most of the time. It’s surprisingly flexible and fits on the head nicely thanks to the padding at the crown and the ear pads. Sony usually does a good job at making sure that its headphones are fairly portable, and this is no different. The ear cups rotate 90 degrees to lay flat and fold at the hinges for a smaller footprint.
The plush memory foam padding feels light, though like most other over-ears they get somewhat warm after extended usage. That said, the padding helps with isolation which is way more important to the listening experience. The ear cups also swivel slightly for a better fit and, on the blue model we’re testing, there’s a visible light blue color accent which I feel is a nice touch.
Then there are the buttons, which are on the left ear cup and slightly raised so you can feel which one you’re pressing. You’ll get a power button and a custom button, both of which are clicky. Also on the left ear cup is the 3.5mm and USB-C input for connecting an audio cable and charging, respectively.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Sony WH-XB900N support?
This has Bluetooth 4.2 which is a bit dated, but on the bright side, it’s packed with Bluetooth codecs. Not only will you get Sony’s own high-quality LDAC codec, but you’ll also get aptX/aptX HD and SBC. Of course, none of these are perfect as our testing shows, but they have their places when you want higher quality streaming than SBC allows.
Pairing to the Sony WH-XB900N with my Pixel 3 is as seamless as pairing to AirPods on an Apple device. As soon as I turn on the headset a small card drops down on the screen of my phone prompting me to connect.
You can still take advantage of the built-in NFC to pair, or you can do it the old-fashioned way by going into Bluetooth settings. If the quick-connect feature or NFC doesn’t work for you then:
- Press and hold the power button for seven seconds.
- The small LED light should begin blinking blue.
- Navigate to the Bluetooth settings on your source device.
- Select “WH-XB900N” from the list of available devices to connect.
If the headphones stop working for whatever reason there are two ways to reset the headphones. The first is recommended as it won’t delete any of the information (like paired devices) associated with your headphones. To do a soft reset just:
- Use the included cable to charge the headphones.
- While charging, press the power button and the custom button simultaneously for a few seconds.
- This will reset the headphones without deleting any paired devices.
If that doesn’t work then you might have to go for the full reset. To perform a hard reset follow these steps:
- Turn off the headphones and disconnect them from the charging cable.
- Press and hold the power button and the custom button simultaneously for seven seconds.
- The small LED light should flash blue a total of four times.
- Now your headphones are completely reset.
Hopefully, your headphones are functioning again and you should be able to pair them just as if they were a brand new pair of headphones.
Should you get the Sony Headphones Connect app?
But you’re going to want to download the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android). Once you do so, you’ll be able to control the amount of ambient noise you’re comfortable with as there are twenty different levels ranging from maximum noise cancelling to using the microphones to hear everything around you. Or you could always just leave adaptive sound control on and let the headphones change on the fly depending on your surroundings.
You can also adjust the sound position control from the app, which as the name suggests: lets you pick from which direction you prefer to hear your music coming. It’s not quite 360 Reality Audio that Sony has been pushing lately, but it’s still pretty neat—although you’ll have to switch from whatever codec you’re using to SBC as it prioritizes stability. The same is true with the built-in equalizer and the reverb presets that you’ll find in the app.
Further down in the app is also where you can choose the function of the custom button on the left ear cup. You can choose between having it instantly access Alexa or the Google Assistant at the press of the button.
Yes, this headset supports multiple connections but only if you use one device for music playback and the other for talking. This is useful if you’re listening to music at your desk but then get a call on your smartphone. As long as you’re connected to both devices the audio should automatically switch from the computer to your smartphone when you answer the call.
What is the battery life of the Sony WH-XB900N?
Sony claims a battery life of 30 hours of constant playback with active noise cancelling turned on, and under our standard testing conditions, the headset lasts 37 hours, 22 minutes of constant playback at an output that peaks at 75dB(SPL).
This charges via USB-C so you can charge it back up with the same cable that comes with most phones nowadays (unless you have an iPhone). On top of that, it has a 3.5mm input and comes with an audio cable so you can still use it if the battery runs dry.
How well does the Sony WH-XB900N cancel noise?
The Sony WH-XB900N’s active noise cancelling is pretty good and renders midrange frequencies about one-third as loud as they’d sound without the headset on. The headset can’t really affect sub-bass notes, and for that, you’ll need something a bit more advanced. Still, passive isolation is quite good and will dull the sharp sounds of your environment.
Hold up! Something’s different:
This article’s frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements, isolation performance plots, and standardized microphone demos. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white). Each new mic sample begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
How does the Sony WH-XB900N sound?
I should preface this section by saying that if you’re into bass, these will be right up your alley. I, however, do not prefer to have my eyeballs shake when listening to Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, which I didn’t even know was possible before wearing these headphones. If you were hoping for similar attention to detailed sound as the WH-1000XM4 headphones, then you’ll be disappointed.
The mids don’t have that same problem and seem to do a good job with both instruments and vocals when there isn’t a strong bassline present. I have no problems with the highs which are clear without being piercing. The cymbals throughout the song Generator ^ Second Floor by Freelance Whales sound fine and had a nice amount of reverb with the cymbals.
If you have a subscription to Deezer, Tidal, Amazon Music HD, or nugs.net: you can stream Sony’s library of 360 Reality Audio content. Using the Sony Headphones app, take photos of your ears, and the app will calculate how to alter the signal to make you hear your music in 3Dspace. It’s a really cool feature, but because the library is limited to about 1000 songs currently, you may find it takes a while for your music to get remastered. Not to worry though: once they are, you’ll get to rediscover your favorite tunes from 1970 on in a way you never could have experienced before.
Can you use the Sony WH-XB900N for phone calls?
As you can hear in the sample below, my voice is pretty much unaffected by the microphone as most of the important frequencies have fairly equal emphasis. That means that my voice is being picked up nicely by the microphone and most of the frequencies will sound equally loud to the person on the other end. Even someone with a deeper voice like Chris Thomas, whose voice was cut off by the Bose QC 35 II in our last versus video, would come away unscathed by this microphone.
Sony WH-XB900N microphone demo (Old):
How do these sound to you?
So should you buy the Sony WH-XB900N?
While the WH-XB900N is a really good pair of headphones, it’s not a replacement for the WH-1000XM5 or the older WH-1000XM4 (seriously, can we get better names for headphones please?). This retails for about $199 USD, which is reasonable, but we may see a more significant drop with the advent of the Sony WH-XB910N headphones. If you have a little patience you can usually find the XB900N for less than $150 USD, making it a steal.
Even though the WH-XB900N packs a serious punch with all of the Bluetooth codec support, the active noise cancelling, crazy long battery life, and the overall quality build of the headphones, the sound signature is drastically different and emphasizes low end notes way too much. If you love bass then this is hard to beat, though.
The Sony WH-XB910N brings significantly better ANC and isolation performance than the WH-XB900N, making it a stronger contender for commuting. The microphone quality is also a bit better here as you can hear in the samples further down.
It seems Sony thought the bass output in the XB900N just wasn’t enough and really ratcheted things up with the XB910N model. Sub-bass notes sound almost twice as loud as our consumer curve recommends, which may be too much for most people. Still, if you’ve got an itch for bass, the XB910N is about as loud as it gets.
In the Sony Headphones Connect app, you get similar feature fixings between the two ANC headsets and this is similar across Sony’s range of wireless noise cancelling headphones. The XB910N doesn’t support aptX or aptX HD though, which is a bummer since LDAC isn’t actually hi-res and its lower rate 660kbps option is typically more consistent than the 990kbps option.
Listeners who love bass, want good noise cancelling, and want to stay below that $300 USD budget should consider the WH-XB910N, but others who want to hear a bit more nuance may like some of the options from Bose like the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Sony WH-XB910N microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony WH-XB910N microphone demo (Street):
Sony WH-XB910N microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
What alternatives are there to the WH-XB910N from Sony?
If you still want bass but can’t ditch the cool factor that the Beats brand has, then you should check out the Beats Solo Pro. While these are on-ears and not over-ears, they’re well-made and have decent active noise cancelling to boot. The problem is the lack of a proper seal causing sub-par isolation, which is to be expected as these are on-ears. You also won’t get any of the codec support you’ll find here or the transparency mode, but still, Beats has actually made a good product with these.
For anyone looking in a similar price range as the WH-XB900N but wants less bass in the sound signature then Sony also announced the WH-CH710N has active noise cancelling, killer battery life, and a similar build. To stay within the Sony realm but venture to something even more portable, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is an excellent pair of noise cancelling wireless earbuds.
If bass is really your wheelhouse, you can try the eco-friendly House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC. For around $150 it has surprisingly decent ANC and its frequency response works well for bass lovers out there. In addition, it’s nice to know some trees get planted because of your purchase.
Save money with the Monoprice BT-600ANC
Now, for a budget-friendly and unexpected alternative to the WH-XB900N, check out the Monoprice BT-600ANC. Monoprice isn’t going to win any award for most original industrial design because it basically looks like a Sony, however, the BT-600ANC hovers under the $100 figure and has some excellent ANC on-board.
Frequently asked questions about the Sony WH-XB900N
Unfortunately, you can’t connect these headphones directly to your gaming console via Bluetooth. For that, you should look into a solid pair of gaming headsets. That said, you can still use Sony WH-XB900N with your console thanks to the headphones jack that you can find on gaming controllers. Just connect the headphones to the controller via a standard 3.5mm audio cable. It isn’t wireless but at least it’s possible.
As long as your portable player has a 3.5mm input and/or is compatible with any of the same Bluetooth codecs as the Sony WH-XB900N.
As long as your TV has Bluetooth capabilities, yes, you can use these headphones to listen to the TV. Even if your TV doesn’t come with Bluetooth, it’s often quite easy to convert your TV into a Bluetooth-compatible device with an adapter like this one by TaoTronics.
You should only have to toggle the ANC on once, or it will be on by default when you turn the headphones on.