Noise-canceling headphones are becoming the go-to accessory for many smartphone owners, and the Sony WH-XB900N headphones might be the best value option for those wanting great audio and the ability to block out the background noise.

As far as smartphone accessories go, wireless headphones or earbuds are becoming almost essential if you want to enjoy your favorite music, podcasts, or video content and don’t want to have to deal with the frustration of a dongle. The death of the headphone port means you’re forced to have to choose between “dongle life” or invest in Bluetooth to get your portable audio fix.

For a few years, the best over-ear headphones with ANC (active noise cancellation) have been widely regarded as the Sony WH-1000XM3. But with a retail price that is $100 lower, the Sony WH-XB900N headphones are a great compromise that leverages some of the best features — and manages to improve in some others — of the more expensive counterpart while offering that sizeable discount.

Unlike many other alternatives, these over-ear headphones also come with tighter Google Assistant integration — making them the perfect Android companion for just about anyone that values high-quality audio.

Hardware & Design

Headphones — especially over-ear headphones —  often tend to look very similar and differentiating one pair from another is not always that easy. Like smartphones, there’s only so much you can do with the foundations of the design. Of course, as these are made by Sony, they do look very similar to the other headphones from the brand.

There is no doubt that they are massively inspired by the WH-1000XM3s and at times feel like a homage but manage to differ in a number of key areas. Flexible plastic does dominate but unlike the expensive XM3 model, the XB900N’s come with a slightly textured matte finish. I’m pleased Sony opted for such a finish too, as it means that grease, dirt, and grime are far less noticeable on either earcup. I think a dotted matte finish seems far less prone to scratching and marking too.

It’s a sleek look that is enhanced by the shortage of hardware buttons. On the left earcup, you’ll find the only two: a power button and one labeled “Custom” — which activates the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa on your Android phone. On this underside edge of the left earcup, you’ll also find the 3.5mm input port, and there is also a USB-C charge port. Despite lacking a few physical buttons, the WB900N’s include a right-sided touchpad for device control. Taps and swipes are used for control of audio and calls.

Naturally, Sony includes a USB-C charge cable and 3.5mm audio cable in the box but omits a hard carry case in favor of a cheap and frankly disappointing canvas pouch. Considering that the XB900N’s fold up quite neatly, it’s a bit frustrating that Sony chose not to provide a proper carry case. After buying I picked one up for $12 on Amazon to keep my headphones safe and protected in my bag — the canvas bag provides very little protection of note.

Comfort & Fit

Sony WH XB900N comfort and fit

I do love the over-ear design and fit. The pads are especially comfortable and these cans are deceptively lightweight. There is a nice spongey cushion in the middle of the underside of the headband that not many headphones tend to have included. This really helps stabilize the WB900N’s on your head and also alleviates pressure when worn for long periods.

I’d say that I have been blessed with quite a small head, so I don’t need to extend the arms at all for optimum comfort. While I can’t for certain say you’ll have the same experience, I have found the Sony WH-XB900N’s to be the most comfortable headphones I own by some margin.

For reference, I wear the Sony MDR-7506 monitoring headphones daily for up to 10 hours a day — at least five days a week — and have to take regular breaks due to discomfort from earcup pressure. With the XB900N’s I haven’t had the same issues and can wear them literally all-day without feeling like my ears or head needs a break.

Pairing Process

The pairing process is painless in-part thanks to the direct integration with the Google Assistant. When in pairing mode, your Android phone will automatically prompt you to connect your device and then link to your Google account for access to these enhanced Assistant controls.

As part of the tight Google Assistant integration, once connected you can have the Sony WH-XB900N’s read out your notifications and your Android phone will prompt you to select which apps you want to have read aloud by the softly-voiced lady inside the headphones. Unfortunately, there is no “Hey Google” hot word support. Instead, you’ll have to press and hold the “Custom” button to activate the Google Assistant and the in-built microphone will pick up your voice commands.

Alternatively, you can use the dedicated Sony Headphones app to connect to your smartphone and access a whole laundry list of extra audio and device controls that come with the dedicated Sony Headphones app.

Sound Quality

If you didn’t already know, the “XB” on the Sony WH-XB900Ns actually stands for “extra bass” — which should give you a clue as to the audio characteristics of these headphones. If, like me, you are a bit of a “bass head” you’ll love the response in tracks that rely on bass as a core component.

With the standard EQ settings enabled, the low-end really is emphasized as you would expect from a pair of headphones with “Extra Bass” emblazoned on the box. Despite the heavy emphasis on bass, I haven’t experienced any infringing in the nuances of tracks.

Vocals have weight and balance, while the highs are crisp, clear, even in busy tracks. The mids in most tracks are balanced and complement the deep lows incredibly well. The overall soundstage feels spacious and well contained for an overall warm sound signature that is typically Sony.

There is also a microphone contained within the XB900N’s, which is actually a lot better than I had anticipated. It is used to capture ambient sound to enhance the noise cancellation but also manages to pick up voice commands with precision — even in noisy environments.

If in quiet surroundings I’ve found it to be very good, but not quite excellent. The reason being it can be muffled in certain situations — like wearing a jacket with a high collar for instance. For the most part, call quality is solid and conversations sound full and clean on a solid cell connection.

Noise Cancellation

Sony headphones app

Good noise cancellation is hard to find in over-ear headphones at lower price points. But luckily, the Sony WH-XB900N manage to provide ANC that is far better than almost all competing headphones at a similar or lower price. Being able to adjust, tweak and control the actual level at which background noise is dampened is very impressive.

I have also been incredibly impressed that these “cans” manage to do it without any real “hiss” or interference of note. It’s really nice that you can adjust the ANC quite substantially to allow more ambient sound. This is great if you want to be fully aware of your surroundings but will affect your listening experience quite dramatically.

These headphones do a fantastic job of dampening sound, although if you are expecting complete silence, then you will be disappointed. Complete ANC is something that very few headphones can do at even double the price of the Sony WH-XB900N’s. That said, the difference when at 100% cancellation is quite stark and you can block out things like traffic and aircraft engine drone for a more pleasant ride — crying babies are also similarly drowned out.

Controls & App

As far as dedicated headphone or earphone apps go, the Sony Headphone app is one of the best. It really is a great companion that gives you some advanced features to really make the most of the Sony WH-XB900 headphones.

There is an Adaptive Sound Control toggle that is able to identify what you are doing when wearing the headphones — sitting, walking or standing — and then adjusts the ANC based upon the activity. You can manually adjust this to suit your own tastes but the auto feature works so well in my experience, that I left it activated from the get-go. I’m impressed at just how well the app is able to detect activities too.

You might be enticed by the 360 sound feature but this feels like a bit of a gimmick and requires you to take photos of your ears to “analyze” the shape. The app then makes audio adjustments based upon these pre-analyzed images. I have to say though, that I found it made no noticeable difference and so haven’t used it since first testing.

Another neat but equally odd inclusion is the Sound Position controls. This function allows you to adjust the sound so that it feels as though the audio is coming from six preset positions. It works really well but I’m not sure why you would want to mimic the experience of music being played behind you or in any of the preset positions.

There are some preset Equalizer settings that you can tweak, as well as custom settings that you can save after tweaking. For audiophiles, these might be another powerful inclusion but I couldn’t find a consistent enough profile to use for all of my listening habits, so left that turned off too.

As for the controls, the touchpad really is fantastic. Double-tapping the right earcup pauses and plays tracks or answers and ends calls, swiping up increases volume, swiping down decreases volume, swiping forward skips forward, and swiping backward skips backward. You can swipe forward and hold to fast-forward and swipe backward and hold to rewind, however, I found that this worked maybe one out of 20 tries — so avoided attempting it on most occasions.

Battery Life

Sony WH XB900N battery

Sony claims that the WH-XB900N headphones can last around 30 hours on a single charge but boy have they undersold the actual lifespan. Wearing as my main cans for a week solid at around 65% volume, I was actually able to eke out over 42 hours of battery before they eventually gave up and died.

Considering that ANC is activated by default, that is in well into “exceptional lifespan” territory. I’ve never owned a product that has exceeded my battery expectations in such a vast fashion. With that in mind, you could probably get away with a solitary charge per week as a light listener or once every two or three days if you’re a heavy listener like me.

Even with exceptional battery life, I still don’t take being able to charge via USB-C for granted. Although at this price I was kind of expecting it. Not having to worry about an extra charge cable is really nice and charging seems pretty quick. I have to admit that I simply left the headphones on charge for overnight which would top them up fully. Sony states that it takes 7 hours with the included cable to go from zero to 100% battery.

Verdict

As a partner for your Android phone, the Sony WH-XB900N headphones are one of the best value packages out there thanks to a combination of a sleek design, exceptional comfort, top-tier audio, and battery life that far exceeds expectation.

If you prefer over-ear headphones to the slightly more popular in-ear option, then there are few better pairs to consider as a companion to your Android-powered smartphone. The extra controls that come with the dedicated Sony Headphones app help you tailor your audio experience better than most comparably priced options too.

Not including a proper carry case does knock the package back a tiny bit but there is so much to love that you’d be a fool not to consider the Sony WH-XB900N’s even over their more expensive sibling. If you value audio but want to go wireless, then you likely won’t get a better pair of headphones for the money.

Where can I get the Sony WH-XB900N?

When priced at $250 on Amazon, there are very few pairs of over-ear Bluetooth headphones that match what you get here. The biggest issue is that the slightly better Sony WH-1000XM3 go on sale quite regularly at similar prices but retail for $350 on sites like Amazon and B&HPhoto.

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Damien Wilde's favorite gear