Big headphones, check. Active noise cancellation, check. Good looks, check. That is, in a way, a rather solid foundation for the new Sony WH-XB900N headphones to build on. The latest set of cans joining the Sony headphone line-up. Needless to say, there will be the inevitable comparison with the truly incredible Sony WH-1000XM3 (Rs 29,990) headphones. There are a lot of similarities between the two, including the noise cancellation capabilities, Quick Attention, support for voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa and more. In fact, the Sony WH-XB900N actually costs significantly lesser too at Rs 16,990. Hence, if the WH-1000XM3 have been on your wish list but at the same time you are priced out of a impulsive splurge, then you could probably consider the WH-XB900N.
The first thing you will notice about the Sony WH-XB900N is the rather understated design. It is all about lines that blend, panels that are clean and minimalism in terms of the visual elements. This then is right at home in the new design language that we have seen on some of Sony’s recent headphones, including the WH-1000XM3. This weights around 250 grams, which is because of the lightweight plastic shell that defines the WH-XB900N. This is in no way to say that there is anything wrong with the build quality, but in fact the lighter weight makes this incredibly comfortable to wear for long hours. While the finish on the outside of each of the earcups is matte, there is the slight metallic tinge that makes you look again at it half expecting a layer of some luxurious fabric that you may have mysteriously missed the first time around.
In each ear are 40mm Neodymium audio drivers. Sony markets these headphones with the Extra Bass labelling, which could make some audio purists cringe by default simply because of the perhaps revolting memory of some of the Extra Bass headphones from the past few years. However, this is anything but alienating once the sound streams into your ears. In fact, the Sony WH-XB900N could just be the first for the more refined extra bass route that Sony now wants with its headphones, and that can only be a good thing. Refined, subtle and sophisticated. There is the option to also tweak the sound via the companion app for Android phones and the Apple iPhones, which adds a rather interesting element of flexibility. One of the reasons for this now subtle and lovable bass are those vents on each earcup, which has been designed to dissipate the extra bass that could have otherwise been overbearing on other frequencies.
Sound is excellent, with a wide soundstage helping deliver pristine clarity, good mids and a general sound of peppy and upbeat sound without ever sounding processed or unnatural. That said, there are times when you will feel these don’t have the sort of really ultra-fine detailing as the elder brother but is important to note that these also don’t have the QN1 processor. Having said that, I would like to clarify this particular observation comes only because I have experienced the WH-1000XM3 headphones—if you haven’t, the Sony WH-XB900N is nothing short of fantastic. As long as you prefer a bit of bias towards lower frequencies. And as far as its competition is concerned, the Sony WH-XB900N is significantly better than the likes of the Sennheiser HD 4.50 (around Rs 15,000) thanks to the wider soundstage, the vibrant sound and the good noise cancellation. This isolates you efficiently, and only very occasionally will you have any ambient sound bypass the virtual barriers.
It is incredible fun to cover the left earpiece to enable the attention mode which reduces the volume of whatever it is you are listening to at that time, and then have a conversation with someone who has just walked up to your workstation. Speaking of which, the noise cancellation capabilities are great.
Battery life is another strong suite. This lasts close to 30 hours on a single charge with noise cancellation and attention mode active, and most of the music listening volume at around 50 percent. It takes about 7 hours to charge a fully discharged Sony WH-XB900N. This has a USB Type-C port, which just makes like easier.
This brings me to the rather important aspect of the fit and comfort. Ear size and comfort is a subjective thing, but for me, the size of the earcups were close to perfect. That meant I could wear these for hours without the cushioned earcups pressing in on the ear. Yes, what you don’t get is generous ventilation, which may mean you have to perhaps take these off if you notice your ears becoming warm. For large headphones, the Sony WH-XB900N is incredibly comfortable to wear.
It is really not much of a competition between the Sony WH-XB900N and the Sennheiser HD 4.50, if you have a wad of cash in your hands which totals up to Rs 16,990. The WH-XB900N sounds better, looks better, has better battery life and the noise cancellation is just in a different league altogether. All in all, the Sony WH-XB900N is by far the best headphone you can buy, this side of the Sony WH-1000XM3.