With the WH-XB910N, Sony capitalizes on the success of the WH-1000XM4 to offer a headset with many promises at a much more attractive price. A price reduction that unfortunately goes hand in hand with serious concessions.
The WH-XB910N replaces the WH-XB900N within the "Extra Bass" range of Sony - which includes products for lovers of kick-ass bass. Compared to its predecessor, the WH-XB910N brings a lot of new features, such as multi-touch, fast pairing with Android and Windows 10, or the support of Sony's LDAC codec.
Compared to the previous model, Sony promises here a more efficient active noise reduction as well as a better voice pickup for calls. It remains to be seen if it does as well, if not better, than its predecessor in terms of acoustic performance.
Manufacturing & accessories
The WH-XB910N has a visual identity quite close to the excellent WH-1000XM4. However, it looks much more "cheap" than its big brother, especially because of a plastic finish of much lower quality, which is not particularly surprising considering the price difference. Despite this, Sony's "Extra Bass" headphones seem to be robust overall: the headband is particularly flexible and the hinges will undoubtedly withstand the ravages of time. In addition, the thick leatherette ear pads are detachable.
The headphones come with a hard carrying case as well as a 120 cm mini-jack cable and a 20 cm mini USB-A to USB-C cable for charging.
Comfort & fit
Like the WH-1000XM4, the WH-XB910N offers first-class comfort. Except for the propensity of the ear cushions to retain heat in the ears, there is nothing to criticize: lightness (252 g), generous orientation of the ear cushions, good thickness of the ear cushions, wide travel of the headband, substantial space to accommodate your ears ... this headset accumulates good points. There are no really noticeable contact points, and the headphones are suitable for both small and large heads. The WH-XB910N also brings satisfaction when placed around the neck by resting gently on the collarbones.
Because you don't change a winning team, the WH-XB910N takes almost all the features and ergonomic qualities of the WH-1000XM4 for our pleasure. In terms of controls, there are two physical buttons on the left earpiece (power, pairing and toggle between active noise reduction and "Surround Sound" mode) supplemented by a touch surface placed on the right earpiece (management of playback, listening volume and calls). The interaction with the set is done in a precise and reactive way, especially since each action is accompanied by beeps or voice commands (in French) to facilitate the handling. The headset is also voice-controllable thanks to the advanced integration of Google Assistant and Alexa.
The Bluetooth connection stability (version 5.2, support for SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs) proved to be flawless during our test, even when the headset is connected to two different sources simultaneously (multipoint support). In the end, only a presence sensor is missing, which would have been useful, for example, to take advantage of an automatic pause/resume of the playback when the headphones are taken off/positioned on the head.
The WH-XB910N is of course supported by Sony's "Headphones" mobile application, in which we find a lot of information and tools to manage for example the sound rendering (5-band graphic equalizer), the active noise reduction or the "Surround Sound" mode. It is also within this app that we find the configuration parameters to optimize the rendering with the 360 Reality Audio, the 3D audio format of Sony.
Like many other recent mid-range mobile headsets, the WH-XB910N offers a very generous battery life. We measured a colossal 68 hours without active noise reduction, and a shorter, but still very generous 41 hours with this feature engaged. Needless to say, this is an excellent score and you can use the headphones for a whole week or for very long journeys without fear of failure.
In a perfectly quiet room, the quality of the microphone pickup is acceptable and allows the user's voice to be reproduced intelligibly, although it fails to preserve its timbre adequately (nasal sound and very present sibilance). When conditions are more complex, in a street or near a busy intersection, for example, the built-in noise reduction algorithm struggles to separate the voice from the surrounding noise, so that it is quickly masked as soon as a more powerful unwanted sound is emitted nearby. It is then obligatory to pass directly by its telephone to be well understood by its interlocutor.
With this WH-XB910N, we measured a Bluetooth broadcast delay of 205 ms. This latency translates into a blatant and uncomfortable sound/picture lag when watching a video. Like many recent mobile audio products, the WH-XB910N is fortunately able to implement sufficient latency compensation with most playback applications (Netflix, Disney+, YouTube...), thus allowing viewing in good conditions. No salvation for video games on the other hand...
The "Extra Bass" range has never been so well named as with this WH-XB910N. But unlike its predecessor, this model suffers from serious control problems: the bass is here over-represented and far too invasive.
You don't need to be an expert in reading frequency response curves to understand immediately where the problem comes from: the WH-XB910N puts a totally disproportionate emphasis on the whole bass region, so much so that the listening experience quickly becomes unbearable, especially on titles that are already generous in this area. The bass is thus omnipresent and masks a good part of the first part of the spectrum. The effect is all the more flagrant as the high mids are really under-represented. The result - which is no better when the active noise reduction is engaged - is not very good. The sound rendering is extremely "boomy", dull and cavernous. In these conditions, it is difficult to correctly identify the different sources present, especially voices whose sound is particularly muffled. It is not simpler to appreciate the spreading of the sound scene, very collected and compact.
The reasons for this poor performance are to be found in the cruel lack of balance, presence and definition, but also in the lack of precision: in addition to the softness of the bass, there are frequent phenomena of sibilance coming from the treble. If it is indeed possible to calm down the bass thanks to the "Clear Bass" parameter of the equalizer in the application (it can easily be set to -10 in this case...) to find a bit of balance and legibility, one should not however expect a radically better result. The overall sound reproduction is still very poorly defined and detailed, and we are still light years away from the rendering proposed by a WH-1000XM4, or even well below the WH-XB900N, its predecessor.
Active noise reduction
The noise reduction offered by the WH-XB910N is far from doing wonders, but it is however far superior to that of its elder, the WH-XB900N. The headset offers two different modes: a standard one activated by default and one named "wind noise reduction". The first one is rather effective on the low frequencies and attenuates correctly the rolling sounds of a train for example, but it is completely at the street when it is a question of blurring the high mids and the highs. These are not attenuated at all, and are even amplified compared to the passive isolation of the headphones. The "wind noise reduction" mode remedies this concern for high frequencies, but at the cost of less bass isolation.
In any case, the headphones emit a slight hiss that can be annoying if you only want to use the headphones to cut yourself off from the rest of the world. The activation of the active noise reduction is accompanied in premium of a sensation of pressure rather sustained which will not be particularly pleasant for the people who are sensitive to it. As for the "ambient sound" mode, the WH-XB910N does quite well and reproduces sounds in space correctly, provided that you don't push the level beyond 16, at the risk of amplifying surrounding noises too artificially.
On paper, the Sony WH-XB910N looked like a solid little brother to the excellent WH-1000XM4, but this was without taking into account its poor sound performance, and to a lesser extent its active noise reduction, which is only just correct. This is all the more regrettable when you appreciate the great ergonomic qualities of this model. In fact, it is very difficult for this WH-XB910N to stand out from its numerous rivals.