Sony’s WH-XB910N rely on a powerful bass boost and effective noise cancelling. They may not be an analytical genius, but they are a comfortable and fairly flexible accessory for everyday mobile use; they can really let rip when needed and are currently available at a reasonable price.
Sony’s ANC over-ear model Sony WH-1000XM4 are best sellers. In the price range below, the WH-XB910N are similar noise-cancelling headphones but with a specific sound tuning.
Haptics and construction
With a recommended retail price of 179 euros, the Sony WH-XB910N, available in blue or black, are attractively priced. In fact, the device is currently available in stores at a much lower discounted price. The design is along the same lines as Sony’s current over-ear headphones – the WH-XB910N has a matt finish and is comparatively simple but quite elegant.
The workmanship of the plastic construction is spot-on: The adjustable headband is padded, and the earcups, which are also padded, can be rotated, swivelled and folded through 90 degrees. The headphones can thus be stored in the supplied case to save space.
All the controls of the Sony WH-XB910N are located on the left earcup: the on/off button, which can be used to check the battery level, and a button that activates noise cancelling. There is also a USB-C port and a socket for active and passive cable operation. The right earcup is touch-sensitive on the outside and is used to call up various functions. The free Headphones app for iOS and Android is available for further functions.
The WH-XB910N work with Bluetooth 5.2 and offers support for the audio codecs SBC, AAC and the manufacturer’s Hi-Res format LDAC, including display in the app.
Finally, the device we tested had a good battery life of up to 30 hours with noise-cancelling switched on. Without ANC, you can even get up to 50 hours, according to the manufacturer. That’s downright generous. A full charging process takes about 3.5 hours. However, the quick-charge function provides over four hours of capacity within 10 minutes.
The high wearing comfort convinced me straight away. The Sony WH-XB910N fit comfortably on the head and offer good passive attenuation of external noise. The headphones fit tightly enough to be used on the move.
The control concept is understood quickly. On the left, there are two easy-to-assign buttons, and on the right, the touch-sensitive touch surface has a manageable number of functions: If you put your hand on it, the Ambient function is temporarily activated and feeds outside sounds to the drivers, which provides orientation and communication. A “double click” is used to start and stop music playback or to accept and end telephone calls. Finally, a long press calls up the selected voice assistant. The volume can be controlled by moving up and down; track jumps by moving left and right.
Pairing is quick and is even possible with two devices (Multipoint), which can be switched between accordingly. The wireless link is stable and typically spans several rooms.
You will be familiar with the Headphone App (version 8.3.0) from our various other Sony reviews. It allows a comprehensive configuration, including an initial start-up and optimisation for 360 Reality Audio compatible applications. Furthermore, the touch sensor can be switched off completely, the status tones and speech announcements can be set (or switched off), and a voice assistant can be selected. It is possible to configure the period of time after which the headphones switch off when not in use, but no automatic pause when the device is set down. A highlight of the app is the five-band graphic equaliser with complementary clear-bass control.
When it comes to noise cancelling, Sony has a high level of expertise. The Sony WH-XB910N’s circuitry is correspondingly effective, thanks to two feedforward and feedback microphones. The isolation from the environment is powerful and filters out a good part of the disturbing background noise, for example in a high-speed train. Without music, you can create a relaxing quiet room. And even when listening to music in noisy surroundings, the noise level is significantly improved. As usual, low-frequency noises and static are suppressed particularly well, but annoying noises like the clacking of a keyboard in the office are suppressed to a lesser extent.
The app offers dedicated wind noise cancellation, which works less intensively, but is much more efficient at blocking out wind. Without music playing, I notice a fairly audible subtle noise when noise cancelling was activated. When indoors I also noticed low-frequency “diving bell noises” when moving my head.
The Ambient function, which incorporates the outside world has a dedicated button that switches between the desired operating modes, and these can be configured via the app. There, you can also set the focus on speech with the ambient function. What impressed me most was the aforementioned option of a temporary Ambient function.
Sony makes full use of adaptive switching. The Sony WH-XB910N can recognise one of four movement patterns (idling, walking, running, transport) and then switch to a noise-cancelling configuration defined for each pattern. The same applies to integrated location recognition or manual location setting. So if you walk past a large construction site every day, you can store this and also switch to the ambient mode when you enter the station. Whether you really need this is something everyone has to decide for themselves. Personally, I would have preferred to have adjustable intensity for the noise cancelling and the ambient function.
Sound of the Sony WH-XB910N
I would describe the sound image in active mode as “pimped” and I definitely mean that in a positive sense. These Sony headphones have no claim to audiophile neutrality and do not pursue HiFi-style tuning. Rather, they aim to be fun to listen to. And that’s exactly what they do well! There’s a push from the drivers and a shove in the low bass – it reminded me a little of a visit to a club or watching an action thriller in the cinema.
Naturally, the wider frequencies are pushed back a little with this tuning, it is genre-dependent but not obnoxiously or exaggeratedly. In my opinion, Sony is unerringly targeting EDM and urban fans, presumably a younger audience that likes to go large. The bass is voluminous and powerful, but at the same time defined enough to avoid sounding mushy.
If you find the thrust from below too much, the equaliser’s clear bass option can be used to counteract it at any time. But the EQ also turns out to be useful in other ways, for example in midrange-intensive genres such as metal as well as in quieter tracks with more accentuated vocals.
At lower levels, in particular, it can sound slightly unbalanced. The midrange and treble cut can be compensated via equaliser, but this is also level-dependent. Accordingly, I was grateful for the two user-defined memory locations.
The dynamic 40 mm drivers are by no means only suitable for parties. You can clearly hear the crooning saxophone in the chorus of the Rosenstolz track “Die Öffentliche Frau” in the left channel or the breathy second voices in “Ich geh’ jetzt aus (sonst geh’ ich ein)”
In the treble range, the unit we tested avoided harshness, but I regularly found it a little lacking in air. However, one should not compare these closed, comparatively inexpensive headphones with noise-cancelling with open or even audiophile designs. Nevertheless: Here, too, the 6.3 and 16 kHz controls of the equaliser can be used.
As expected, fine details such as reverb tails and subtle dynamic jumps can no longer be reliably checked in combination with noise-cancelling in mobile mode. In a quiet environment, however, this was certainly possible. I would therefore rather not recommend the WH-XB910N for acoustic jazz or classical works, or generally as a neutral monitor.
The Sony WH-XB910N’s built-in DSEE sound enhancement, which according to the manufacturer enhances compressed data formats, can be switched to automatic mode. I simply left it switched on for my test, but did not notice any real differences when switching it off, at least not with decently resolved MP3 files. Furthermore, the test headphones offered optimisation for the 360 Reality Audio format, but this is supported in principle by every pair of stereo headphones. The three-dimensional sound impression and the object-oriented panning of corresponding audio files, which are available via Tidal or Deezer, for example, are strongly production-dependent, however, and we will not be evaluating them in further detail here.
I found the passive cable operation dull and flat. It would only work for me in an emergency scenario when the battery was flat. Last but not least, these headphones convinced me in every day phone calls with good speech intelligibility from the party on the other end of the line.
With the WH-XB910N, Sony focuses on powerful bass reproduction and noise cancelling. These are a powerful pair of headphones that are great fun for listening to modern music styles and fit comfortably. If you want powerful over-ears for everyday use that effectively put the environment in the background as required and bring it to the front again at the touch of a button, then you will be pleased with the good price-performance ratio. Audiophiles and lovers of other genres, however, should reach for other products.
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)7 - 25.000 Hz
- Impedance16 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)96 dB
- Weight without cable252 g
- Cable length120 cm
What's in the box
- Mini jack cable
- USB-C charging cable
- Available in black and blue
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, LDAC
- BT version: 5.2
- BT profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP