If you're a connoisseur of noise-canceling headphones, you probably know all about Sony's WH-1000XM3. It's the "Bose killer": a $350 noise-canceling headphone that earned a CNET Editors' Choice in 2018. However, not everybody wants to pay that much for a headphone. And that's where the new Sony WH-XB900N comes in. An upgrade over the older and cheaper MDR-XB950N1, it has a similar design to the WH-1000XM3 but doesn't have quite the premium feel of that model. Also, for better -- or worse, depending on your audio tastes -- it's heavy on the bass, as its Extra Bass name implies.
Before I get into the sound comparisons, here are some key ways the WH-XB900N is different from its more-expensive sibling:
Like the WH-1000XM3, the WH-XB900N has touch controls on the right ear cups (they work well), including one-button access to Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon's Alexa voice assistants. You set up your voice assistant of choice (you can only use one) using the Sony Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android.
The "custom" button on the left ear cup can be programmed to access your voice assistant of choice (otherwise you access your voice assistant with a tap-and-hold on the right ear cup). However, the button's default setting out of the box allows you to toggle through the various sound modes, which include noise canceling on and off. This model also retains a crowd favorite extra feature: The ability to muffle your music and let the outside world in by simply holding your hand over the right ear cup. (Sony calls it "Quick Attention" mode, otherwise known as "ambient mode" or "transparent mode.") Once you finish listening to someone -- say, a flight attendant -- you remove your hand and the music resumes playing at its previous volume, and the noise cancellation kicks back in.
Sony touts the WH-XB900N as having 30 hours of battery life, and it offers USB-C charging. A 10-minute charge gives you an hour of playback time.
The WH-XB900N also worked well as a headset for making cell-phone calls. Out on the street, callers said they could hear us fine and background noise was reduced enough not to impede our conversations (they could still tell we were outside, however). While Sony doesn't mention it in the specs, there's some sidetone when you use it as a headset. That feature allows you to hear your voice in the headphones as you speak so you don't talk too loud. That's good.
Aside from missing the aforementioned QN1 chip and atmospheric pressure optimization, the WH-XB900N's feature set is otherwise very similar to that of the WH-1000XM3. It's got "adaptive" noise-canceling, surround modes (which I found pretty useless) and an equalizer in the app that lets you tweak the sound to a small degree. The noise canceling isn't as strong or effective as the WH-1000XM3's, but it's still decent. It's more comparable to the noise canceling found on the original WH-1000X.
The WH-XB900N has different drivers from the WH-1000XM3 and therefore sounds different. While you can make some small adjustments in the app's equalizer settings, they won't fundamentally change the bass-heavy nature of this headphone. Those who dig big, boomy bass will appreciate that, but the WH-1000XM3's bass is better, and by that I mean it seems just as deep but is tighter overall. (The WH-1000XM3 already has quite a bit of bass.)
The WH-XB900N sounds just fine in the midrange, with vocals sounding clear and natural, and the treble provides nice detail. The headphone actually sounds quite pleasant with material that doesn't feature a strong bass line, but as soon as one is introduced, it's the bass line that you hear above everything else. As Sony's own marketing copy on the back of the product's box says, the bass is "overwhelmingly" deep. That's supposed to convey a sense of visceral power, but, as I said, it's not for everybody -- and probably not audiophiles in particular.
I personally like a bit more definition in my bass, but I do admit that these played well with Yung Gravy's Gravy Train, which samples the Maxine Nightingale hit Right Back Where We Started From that's featured in the 1977 movie Slap Shot. In other words, if you have a couple of subwoofers in the trunk of your car or just like your bass to thump, these are the headphones for you. I liked them but would be more tempted by them if they cost $200, especially with the WH-1000XM3 being discounted now and then to $300.