If you’re a connoisseur of noise-canceling headphones, you probably know all about. It’s the “Bose killer”: a $350 noise-canceling headphone that earned a CNET Editors’ Choice in 2018. However, not everybody wants to pay that much for a headphone. And that’s where the new Sony WH-XB900N comes in. An upgrade over the older and cheaper MDR-XB950N1, it has a similar design to the WH-1000XM3 but doesn’t have quite the premium feel of that model. Also, for better — or worse, depending on your audio tastes — it’s heavy on the bass, as its Extra Bass name implies.
Before I get into the sound comparisons, here are some key ways the WH-XB900N is different from its more-expensive sibling:
Like the WH-1000XM3, the WH-XB900N has touch controls on the right ear cups (they work well), including one-button access to Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa voice assistants. You set up your voice assistant of choice (you can only use one) using the Sony Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android.
The “custom” button on the left ear cup can be programmed to access your voice assistant of choice (otherwise you access your voice assistant with a tap-and-hold on the right ear cup). However, the button’s default setting out of the box allows you to toggle through the various sound modes, which include noise canceling on and off. This model also retains a crowd favorite extra feature: The ability to muffle your music and let the outside world in by simply holding your hand over the right ear cup. (Sony calls it “Quick Attention” mode, otherwise known as “ambient mode” or “transparent mode.”) Once you finish listening to someone — say, a flight attendant — you remove your hand and the music resumes playing at its previous volume, and the noise cancellation kicks back in.
Sony touts the WH-XB900N as having 30 hours of battery life, and it offers USB-C charging. A 10-minute charge gives you an hour of playback time.