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Researching your next headphone purchase is always an experience. With most technology, the benefits are easily quantifiable. Something can be faster, smaller, or more powerful, and there is rarely any debate on this point. It is, or it isn’t. The numbers can’t lie.
When it comes to audio equipment, the lines are blurred. Whether something sounds “good” or “bad” is a matter of personal preference. Audiophiles might not be attracted to Sony’s Extra Bass line of headphones. But they have a definite following. Just as some Canadians enjoy their fries with an extra side of gravy, many music fans enjoy an extra helping of bass.
Very few companies deliver this as well as Sony has. From their top tier portable headphones to their affordable earbuds, consumers are rarely disappointed. The MDR-XB550AP is one of the more affordable models in the latest generation of XB series headphones. Can they live up to the standard? We decided to find out for ourselves.
Sony’s been in the headphones market for years, producing several pairs of headphones with this exact same form factor. These on-ear headphones are compact and lightweight, but still large enough to house the powerful drivers needed to deliver some low-level kick. While the shape remains the same, Sony relies on bright color to give these headphones an edgy look. As wired headphones, there is no concern about audio compression or battery life. These headphones seem like quite a bargain, but the ultimate test will be their sound quality.
The XB500AP headphones are available in three different colors. Both blue and red have a metallic sheen to them, making the colors seem almost electric. They’ve got a very loud look to them, but are toned down just enough to remain sleek. For those who prefer it, the matte black option is much more reserved in appearance.
We couldn’t help but appreciate some of the finer details on these headphones. The earcups are slightly marbled, with a textured finish to them. This catches the light in a unique way, like adding a touch of grain to your Instagram posts.
The perfectly circular earcups are offset with several straight lines. The cables are perfectly flat, with a very modern square design. In line with this cable is a built-in single-button control, which can be programmed to your liking.
These headphones are designed to be used on-the-go. For this reason, it’s important that they are durable enough to withstand the challenges of day to day life. All moving parts have a very solid, yet smooth feel to them. The earcups are hinged along the top, and on either side. This gives them a lot of movement, allowing you to flatten them when you shove them into a bag.
Speaking of flat, the cable used on these headphones is extremely durable. It tends to hold its shape quite well, so it won’t get all tangled up in your bag like round cables would.
Generally, the biggest point of concern is the plastic headband. It’s difficult to make a headband flexible, while remaining durable. Fortunately, Sony has a full-size aluminum band mounted inside. This prevents the plastic from over stretching, helping them to last a very long time. This isn’t the first time Sony has used this style of headband, and it’s been shown time and time again to last quite a while. So we don’t have any concerns about the durability.
Both the inside of the headband and the earcups are lined with an incredibly soft cushion. The earcups in particular are very soft and plush, and can be worn for a very long time without any discomfort. The headband is a little thinner, but it does a great job of evenly dispersing the pressure across your head. Coupled with the lightweight nature of these headphones, there are no points of pressure that stand out.
Another thing we noticed was the pleather earpads manage to remain quite cool. Even if you’re wearing them in the summer, you’re not going to feel like you’ve slapped no a pair of earmuffs.
Because the earcups are on a swiveling bracket, they’re able to easily adapt to any head size or shape. This keeps them flat against your ears, so the pressure is evenly distributed across them.
When Sony said these headphones had extra bass, they weren’t lying. Every beat from the kick drum sounds like an explosion in your ear. Music felt very forceful and engaging, helping your music to gain a lot of presence. What impressed us was the quality of the bass. It’s not just a boomy, undefined sound like you’d get with a cheap subwoofer. It sounds very tight, controlled, and precise. You can actually make out the notes of the bass, and it works in conjunction with all of the other sounds. It’s not just an enhancement, but rather a better presentation of something that serves a purpose.
What separates these headphones from other bassy models, like Beats, is the frequency response. The human ear can generally hear down to about 25 hz. But sound isn’t just what you hear, it’s what you feel. Take Dubstep, for example. This musical genre is known for its bass. Once of its defining qualities is what you’d call ‘sub-bass.’ These are bass frequencies that you can’t technically hear, but can still be detected by your ear. Sub bass is what creates those wobbles you can feel in your chest when you walk into a club. Sub-bass is generally produced in the frequency range of 10 to 20 hz. The XBR-550s respond to sound all the way to 5hz, so you’re not losing any of your music.
Despite the branding, Sony focused on more than just bass with these headphones. The midrange and high frequencies are still very well presented and clear. We didn’t feel like we were losing any of our music when listening to them. From the smooth texture of vocals to the crisp hit of a snare drum, none of the music elements were filtered out or neglected.
In reality, these headphones feel as if they are placing an enhancing filter over our music. It felt warmer, and had a little more pep to it. If you’re listening to any bass-heavy music, these are definitely the headphones you’ll want.
For the most part, these headphones are simple. You plug them in, throw on a tune, and enjoy. But their functionality is expanded through the inline control. This has a microphone built right in. If you have a call coming in, just hit the button and speak as you normally would. The microphone is very sensitive, and our callers had no problem hearing us even when it was dangling down by our side.
The button isn’t just for answering or hanging up calls. You can also use it as a play / pause button to control the music. If you download Sony’s free SmartKey app from the Google Play or App stores, you can change how this button works. Hold it down to increase the volume? Double press to skip to the next song? There are virtually endless possibilities, and you can choose exactly how you want it to work.
One of the features we liked with Sony’s wireless headphones was the ability to change the sound signature. You could tweak the bass, treble, or midrange frequencies to get something unique. There were also several automated settings for different styles of music. Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible with wired headphones. On the flip side, wired technology allows them to produce sub-bass, so it will be a worthy trade-off for some people.
If you’re looking for an extra helping of bass, nothing delivers this more easily than Sony’s XB series headphones. The 550s offer incredibly good value, producing very clear and detailed sound. Although they’re geared more towards certain music styles than others, it’s unlikely that you’ll find sound quality anywhere near as impressive from neutrally designed headphones.
If you’re looking for eye-catching design, high levels of durability, and a built-in microphone, the Sony MDR-XB550AP EXTRA BASS Headphones are a great choice. But if you’re looking for something a little more impressive, you might want to consider the XB950N1 headphones. This is Sony’s top of the line entrant in the XB series headphones, offering wireless connectivity and improved sound quality. They don’t come cheap, but demonstrate what Sony is capable of.
Want wireless, but don’t want to spend a lot of money on it? Consider adding on the Jack by Podo Labs. This compact little transmitter converts your wired headphones to wireless, so you can have the best of both worlds.