Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sony MDR-XB700 Review

The Sony MDR-XB700's are a pair of headphones that I picked up more out of an impulsive decision rather than actually researching the headphones.  While I liked them initially, I used them during what I like to call my "bass crazy" phase when I listened to copious amounts of dubstep, electronic, trance music etc.  Today, my music horizon encompasses many more genres requiring headphones that are able to perform well in all genres, whether it's jazz, rock, orchestral or electronic.  The XB 700's from Sony are no doubt bass heavy headphones, designed specifically with the "bass head" community in mind (hence the "extra bass" moniker on the box) and while they may suit many casual headphone enthusiasts or just the average music listener who wants some extra bass punch in their headphones, they will be sure to disappoint if you prefer the balanced sound signature of many audiophile grade headphones. Before I really get into meat of the review, lets overview specs, included accessories, features, build quality and comfort.

The Sony MDR-XB700's come packaged in one of those cheap boxes that I absolutely hate.  You know, the boxes that you are forced to throw away once you have opened them because they are pretty much incapable of holding the headphones after they have been opened up.  I know it's just a box, but I find it annoying the the packaging isn't reusable.  The XB-700's include a "pleather" (synthetic leather) drawstring carrying pouch and that's pretty much it in terms of accessories.  The carrying pouch is absolutely massive, its obviously constructed in this manner in order to accommodate the sheer massiveness of the XB700's themselves.  Even so, there is lots of empty space in the pouch even with the XB700's sitting snugly inside.  There are no spare ear cushions, no 6.3mm adapters included with the XB700's.  Inside the annoying disposable box rests the headphones themselves and the carrying pouch as well as a little instruction manual letting you know how to use a pair of headphones (pretty sad that we have to kill trees just to tell people how to put a pair of headphones on isn't it?)

If you are a spec head, the Sony MDR-XB700s technical specifications consist of the following: Very low 24Ohm impedance (easily powered by your portable device) a 3-28,000Hz frequency response (yes thats a three, as in 3Hz.  Your dog cant even hear sound that that low) large 50mm dynamic driver,  powerful neodymium magnets, 106dB/mW sensitivity (these can rattle your skull with ear destroying bass.  Be careful that you don't lose your hearing prematurely with these on) and a commendable power handling capacity of 3,000mW.

The build quality of the XB700's can be best described as "adequate".  It's not a poorly built headphone by any means, but it's also not the sturdiest built product nor is it constructed from the most durable materials.  Its pretty much 90% plastic if I am honest (not that plastic is necessarily a bad material).  The metal portion located where the headband connects to ear cup is actually an extremely thin layer of metal.  Behind it is just more plastic.  The silver ear cups themselves, are in fact, plastic.  The headband is covered in a soft pleather like material that I like, but the headband itself in my opinion, could use a bit more padding.  The padding is there, but its not enough to be adequate.  The massive "king size" ear cushions are extremely comfortable, yes.  However, if there is one downside to the ear cushions its that they do not let your ears breathe at all.  The result is sweaty ears after only an hour of listening in most cases.  One major annoyance about the XB700's is their incredible tendency for sound leakage.  They do an okay job keeping outside sound from coming in, but sound leaks out of them like a sieve that gets everyone of the airplane/ bus/ train all hot and bothered because they can hear with almost amazing clarity the obnoxious, earth shattering, bass blasting dubstep that you are no doubt listening to with an "extra bass" headphone.  It's almost incredible to me how much these cans leak. There is one upside to this however, your XB700's now do more than you expected: you can use them as a portable speaker system!  I believe that this issue is a direct result of the king size ear cushions inability to keep sound in and I also noticed that the XB700's have three slits or a vent if you will on the ear cup hidden away behind the headband.  Sony claims that the XB700s are closed back headphones, but sound does leak out from this vent.  The flat cord could best be compared to linguini, its the same relative thickness and shape.  I have a love/ hate relationship with the cord.  I like the flat cord style to a certain degree, but the cable is extremely short and connects to both of the ear cups.  Its essentially a Y-cable.

From an aesthetic point of view, the XB700s are absolutely ridiculous.  They look like they designed by Darth Vader or something, with the massive black ear cushions and the black and grey color scheme.  Expect to be looked at funny or pointed at if you wear these around in public, they are absolutely truly massive. Of course, if you don't mind people staring at what appears to be two monster truck tires with your head sandwiched in the middle, thats fine too.  You can however still take comfort in the fact that you wont look as idiotic as your standard brainless teen touting their craptastic Beats by Dre headphones, but thats besides the point.

Size comparison, the XB700's are left
Now for the good stuff: the sound quality.  The XB700s definitely live up to the extra bass moniker on the box.  These cans are extremely punchy and capable of belting out the lowest bass frequencies with absolutely no distortion.  Yes, the bass is a bit bloated in the extreme low ranges but I was overall very impressed with the XB700's bass response.  I thought that the XB700's being so bass oriented was going to result in extremely bloated, muddy, distorted bass but I was pleasantly surprised to hear a surprising amount of bass clarity from the XB700's. The mid range is another story all together and unfortunately it not a good one.  Heres a word for you: recessed. Recessed, recessed, recessed, recessed, recessed! There is absolutely no other way to describe the XB700's mid range! It's so recessed it could practically be non existent!  Then you have the high range on the XB700's that might actually have the potential to be relatively impressive if it was backed up by a non-recessed mid range, but it almost sounds screechy in comparison to the non existent mid range.  If you look at an actual frequency graph for the XB700's you will notice that the XB-700's high range is a bit recessed as well, but not nearly to the degree that the mid range is.  It's unfortunate, with such amazing bass response with the XB700's a non recessed mid and high range would result in an extremely impressive headphone.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  The XB700's perform very well with a very limited music genre selection. Do not even think for a moment of listening to anything remotely orchestral with them, nor vocal, jazz, acoustic or even rock.  If all you listen to is dubstep, these are the cans for you.  Otherwise, get something much, much more balanced!

Note: The Sony MDR-XB700s have just recently (as of this writing) been discontinued by Sony.  However, a few do remain in stores and they can also be found on Amazon.

CLICK HERE for Sony MDR-XB700 Amazon product page


  1. I beg to differ with the author. I have owned a pair of these for over 2 years, and just bought a second as a "back-up" since they are no longer made. I auditioned 8 or 9 other sets of different brands and none came close. I find the mids well pronounced, highs defined, and the bass deep. I cannot understand the author stating these are no good for orchestral - as I am a classical and jazz musician. I am an engineer, and have designed and built my own speaker systems that cover from subsonics to ultrasonics, so the actual listening spectrum is fantastic - from lows to crisp highs. And these 'phones come close to delivering the same full range of music.
    I find I can wear these for hours on end with no "sweat" - and as to being "aesthetic", the cushions are for comfort and sealing out ambient sound - which they do - not as much for looks.
    Bottom line, if you can get your hands on a set of these - try them out.

  2. Have had mine for 3 years now. DO NOT BUY THEM.

    Negatives: bass is not as punchy as you hope, highs are too overwhelming and the mids lack massively. Not to mention you also look like a tool wearing them. Build quality is poor (even for the price) and don't expect them to be portable.

    Positives: insanely comfy, bass extension is great, relatively comfy for long usage. That's about it.

    Get the MDR-XB90EX instead. I've had mine for nearly 2 years and they're my go to earphone 100% of the time. Better everything. No joke. (Aside from comfort, but nothing can be as comfy as the XB700.