There are two things that are certainly true, albeit not necessarily correlated to one another, about the reviews I post. First, my most heavily reviewed item is audio–headphones, speakers, earbuds–and all consumer-grade equipment, at that. Second, Sony seems to be among the most frequently reviewed brand of products on the site. And generally speaking, I’m a pretty big fan of those products.
This review is about a new pair of headphones in Sony’s XB line of audio products, the WH-XB700 headphones, which for those keeping track are the second lowest model in the XB line, a pair of on-ear headphones currently selling at $129.
I recently reviewed the WH-1000X M3 noise cancelling headphones from Sony, and was absolutely floored by them–they are super light, they compete with the Bose QC35 II headphones, and are heralded by some as superior to the Bose headphones which had previously held the title of “King of Noise Canceling Headphones.” The 1000X M3 phones are my current favorite pair of headphones, and I’ll admit it’s not entirely fair to compare the two, but I soon found out that I was set up to be severely disappointed in these headphones.
In the interest of full disclosure–I KNOW–I shouldn’t expect the world of these $129 headphones. But, when the 1000X M3 phones arrived, I was surprised at how good they were, considering the reigning champion Bose QC35 II headphones are such a good product. I’m not one of those people, but I’ll also admit that even at $129, I was expecting a little flash from these.
Also, in March of 2018–a little more than a year ago–I reviewed the Sony SRS-XB31, a small bluetooth speaker also in the XB line, and was super impressed at the sound quality for the $150 price tag…in fact, it was the only speaker of that size that could compete with my all-time favorite bluetooth speaker (by none other than Bose).
Yet I digress…
What I’m trying to say is, I had a lot of expectations that these headphones were going to be really good. In fact, one of my favorite things about the XB series headphones is how chunky, and shiny, and not at all inconspicuous they are. I’ve always liked the design of the XB headphones, and it would appear that the lower-cost XB headphones don’t get the same treatment.
In any case, when they showed up in the mail, I was really excited. The unboxing experience is about as good as you’d expect for mid-range headphones, maybe even a little bit on the cheap side…but when you open everything up, the XB700’s are front and center and nicely presented, and that first look…
THEY. LOOK. CHEAP.
Plasticky, awful, nothing compelling about the design, at all. I think I understand the design on these, to some degree; a lot of headphone manufacturers are releasing “vanilla-styled” headphones with muted, matte colors, and in many cases (as with the 1000X M3’s), it’s a nice, clean, minimalistic look. But on the XB700 headphones, the plastic surface appears almost as it is powder-coated, which looks weird and doesn’t fit in with the design language of even mid-range, $100-$200 headphones that you can buy from anywhere right now. But wait folks, there’s more–I hadn’t even picked them up yet.
Once you get them in your hands, the ear cups and the crown padding are both super soft and supple, and that’s about the end of the positives. I’ll admit, they are light, but because they already look very low quality, a less-weighty headphone doesn’t help that overall impression. Then you put them on, and if you’re like me, you remember why you don’t like on-ear headphones (admittedly, the noise isolation for these seemed overall pretty good, but there was still wear fatigue not long into a listening session).
This is not to nay say on-ear headphones in general; I have a pair of Master & Dynamic headphones that are anything but comfortable, but because they sound so good, and I can deal with shorter listening sessions to experience that great sound, sometimes uncomfortable headphones can be redeemed by their performance (although I think you’ve already figured out that’s NOT where this review is heading).
And sound is, after all, why you’re buying these. In my opinion, the bass performance on any Sony XB product should be second-to-none at its price range, and in the case of the XB700s, the bass feel certainly delivers…dance, R&B, hip hop, EDM–those genres will be decently utilized on headphones like these.
The bass is good, but everything else from a sound perspective is middle-of-the-road at best. The mids are fine, the volume is there (they get extremely loud, but with a lot of audio bleed), but the highs are not good at all–super blatty, uncomfortable and almost painful in some ways. They’re fine as budget (is $129 budget now??), bass-heavy headphones, but they are far from an all-around pair of headphones you should have in your arsenal. One redeeming quality, perhaps, is the Sony companion headphones app which carries across from any of their other wireless products. The app itself is good, but because these headphones don’t have as much spunk as some of the other Sony headphones and speakers I’ve tested, the options within that app are more limited, as the feature set is not as large–and there is no way to adjust the EQ aside from increasing bass, or using the canned sound profiles that the app provides that I otherwise don’t find useful, exciting or good.
So as a recap: They are headphones. They are plastic. Their design is underwhelming. The sound profile doesn’t handle mids and highs well at all. I really wanted to like these when I knew they were coming, but clearly that didn’t happen…and at $129, the price is a bit high for the subpar overall experience.
Pass on these.