Reviews: Audio

Headphones that make heavy bass fun to listen to

Despite the headphones' large size, they are quite easy to take around outside and can be used wirelessly with up to 20 hours of battery life.
Despite the headphones' large size, they are quite easy to take around outside and can be used wirelessly with up to 20 hours of battery life.PHOTO: SONY

As someone who prefers his headphones to be clean and analytical, I didn't expect to like the latest entry in the Sony Extra Bass line.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise when I gave the MDR-XB950N1 a whirl and found that overwhelming bassiness can be pretty fun to listen to every now and then.

As the name implies, Sony's Extra Bass headphones are geared towards bassheads who want to feel every ounce of bass thumped directly into their skulls.

The MDR-XB950N1 is also the first headphones in the Extra Bass line to feature active noise-cancellation (ANC). It's not as good as the one on, say, Sony's dedicated ANC headphones, the MDR-1000x. But it works sufficiently well in most conditions.

Sudden loud volume changes in the environment, such as a bus engine revving up as it leaves the bus stop, do make their way through the ANC at times. But, for a pair of $339 headphones, the ANC is of a superb quality, and the additional features make the MDR-XB950N1 well worth its price.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $339

    DRIVER DIAMETER: 40mm

    FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20Hz - 20kHz

    WEIGHT: 290g (without cable)

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The "extra bass" nature of the headphones is achieved by toggling on a bass effect switch that pumps up the lower-end of tracks.

But turning the bass effect on and off isn't as seamless as it could be, though, as there is a noticeable second-long pause before the music starts back up again.

Even without the bass effect on, the headphones' sound signature is already warm and powerful, with lots of body that thankfully doesn't muddy up the mids and trebles. Even so, there is less clarity overall, due to the pronounced bassiness to tracks that adds rumble to vocals.

But there is no point buying the MDR-XB950N1 if you leave the bass effect off. When that kicks in, the already powerful bass transforms into a weapon of destruction that rattles the skull and could potentially knock loose a tooth or two with prolonged listening.

Having recently got into electronic music, I was eager to put the MDR-XB950N1 through its paces with electronic art-rock artist Grimes' 2015 album, Art Angels.

When the heavy bass hook of Venus Fly kicked in, the headphones shook my ears so hard I almost passed out from my brain's shaking within my skull.

Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But exaggeration is the name of the game for these headphones as they pump up the lower end to ridiculous heights.

Exaggeration carries over to the headphones' garishly large size, featuring a soft leather padding that's plush and generous. They do look quite bulbous and round, but are thankfully quite easy to take around outside, as they can be used wirelessly with up to 20hr of battery life. They aren't too noticeably heavy but are quite comfortable to have on for hours due to the thick earcup padding.

These are bass headphones done right, even for a non-basshead like me. But this oversized, eye-catching package has made me a convert, or at least it shook my consciousness awake to the possibilities of bass that doesn't ruin songs.

• Verdict: The MDR-XB950N1 is a relatively cheaper pair of noise-cancelling headphones that packs a monstrously strong bass effect that will move even the sturdiest of bassheads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Headphones that make heavy bass fun to listen to'. Print Edition | Subscribe