We review the Sony XB650BT wireless headphones. They promise to pump up the bass, but these Bluetooth headphones deliver the goods in other areas too...
Ace bass, but these are good all-rounders
The XB650BT are inexpensive yet exciting, especially if you're music taste favours punchy bass and drum sounds
First off, let’s clarify something. Despite Sony’s marketing bumf’s assertions, the Sony XB650BT headphones are ‘on-ear’ not ‘over ear’. This means that the ear pads rest on top of your ears and do not enclose them completely to seal in the sound.
The advantage of this is that they are relatively light – weighing in at just 191g – which makes them comfortable to wear and easy to transport. The downside is that they allow in some external noise and also leak out more sound to others nearby. We’ll return to that later.
In the box you get the XB650BT headphones, a USB to mini USB cable and, er, that’s it. No wired connection lead, no carrying case, nothing. Sony are obviously trying hard to keep the XB650BTs competitive in price terms – and they are succeeding, given that these cans cost around £80 if you shop around. But the lack of accessories of any kind is a bit deflating.
The headphones themselves look relatively conventional, made of plastic with a small piece of aluminium in the adjustable band. The ear pads swivel to allow the device to be flatpacked but otherwise there’s little here out of the ordinary.
The right-hand pad has all the controls and connections including a volume switch, a jog controller, power button and micro USB port for charging.
The power button, as usual, doubles as the Bluetooth pairing control – holding it down puts the headphones into discoverable mode, indicated with the power light flashing quickly between blue and red. We found that the Bluetooth pairing process was as painless as can be, given the format’s well documented issues. Our only caveat is that the headphones are listed somewhat cryptically by their catalogue reference: MDR-XB650BT. (There’s a mini-prize for anyone who can tell us why Sony labels all its headphones with the ‘MDR’ prefix, it must have meant something once upon a time, surely).
Once connected, the XB650BTs stayed connected, even if you wander up to 10m away from the source. Impressive. Even more impressive was how reliably these headphones reconnected with a paired device – especially as the headphones use Bluetooth 4.0 rather than 4.1. Just power the XB650BTs up and they reconnect automatically – if all Bluetooth products worked this well Apple wouldn’t have needed to make a big song and dance about the W1 chip in its new AirPods.
You like bass? You’ll love these…
The XB is XB650BT stands for eXtra Bass – and reflects the fact that the audio profile of these speakers unashamedly pushes up the lower registers. This is by no means unusual, Beats has build an entire company on the same practise, but it does tend to upset audiophiles who like a more neutral and accurate EQ.
In practice, these headphones do emphasise the bass – but not in a cartoonish or particularly unpleasant way. They are not designed as reference headphones for a recording studio, and with the right type of music can offer a fun and rewarding listening experience.
The ‘right type of music’ is something with rolling drums, a defined bass, wide dynamics and a limited number of music sources on the soundstage. So a rock song like Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance ticks all the right boxes. And the XB650BT serves this remarkable track very well, especially with the volume pushed to the max. The sound is punchy and exciting, though not especially subtle. The uncomplicated arrangement allows the headphones to do what they do best – deliver a one-two combination to your diaphragm and gut.
But it’s not just like having a couple of subwoofers strapped to your head: the mid and high ranges are delivered precisely and free of distortion, even at the loudest volume. Throw too much at the XB650BTs and they lose focus and start to muddy the mix, so opera and orchestral music fans should look elsewhere.
The fact that these headphones need to driven hard to deliver their best sound is both a positive and a negative. On the plus side you’ll be excited and energised by the music – on the red side of the ledger is the fact that the on-ear design means that a lot of your music taste will be shared with others nearby. So if you don’t want to be the person attracting scornful gazes on the tube or train, you’ll need to control the urge to pump up the volume.
But all in all, if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive set of Bluetooth headphones and have musical preferences that dovetail with the XB650BT’s strengths then these are a really good option. No frills or gimmicks (or accessories for that matter), just a pair of wireless headphones that connect reliably, are comfortable to wear and deliver exciting and vivacious sound quality. The 30-hour battery life is also a nice bonus. Good work, Sony.