After having dominated the on-ear wireless ANC market for a number of years with the WH-1000X, Sony repeated the success with an in-ear version too, which never made it to India unfortunately.
But we now have something close to it, at almost half the price. The WF-XB700 is aimed at the younger group of music lovers who like to “feel” the bass as much as hear it, and helping that cause is a massive 12mm dynamic driver. It’s the biggest transducer Sony has installed in any of its TW in-ears and it promises to make for a fun listen.
Trying to differentiate itself from the burgeoning herd, the XB700 comes with a translucent case that shows the charging LEDs inside the case. Unnecessary but cool nevertheless. The case is average size with a flat bottom and angled top that resembles a miniature spectacle case, easy to slip into your pocket. Left and Right ear pieces are marked clearly and the claimed battery life is 9hrs for the earphones and another 9hrs on the case, giving you an all-day power, if your ears can take the bass. But that’s not to say the sonic signature is meant only for those who’ve been bred on a diet of EDM and hip/hop. Although expecting active noise cancellation at this price point would be like expecting a free entry into the MoMA, the Sony offers such a secure and snug fit that the passive ambient noise blockage can trick you into believing that you’ve bought yourself ANCs!
Sound on steroids
We started with the newest single from Honne, No Song Without You and the XB700 instantly grabs your attention with a balance that is a lot more mature than its price and target audience would suggest. The aforementioned fit definitely helps in keeping every bit of detail inside your ear canal without any of the ambient noise filtering in to spoil the experience. You obviously don’t get control over Transparency like in more expensive models, so you have to live with the isolated feel, but if you fly a lot, these are a great (read affordable) alternative to full-blown ANCs. There are basic controls on each of the ear pods in the form of tiny buttons, for track/volume changes and bringing up voice assistants. They’re not as easy as just tapping on the ear pods, but they can get the job done if your phone is inconveniently far away. It also supports the Sony Headphone Connect app so you get a more elaborate control over the equaliser, but that’s about it.
Moving on with more music, Run The Jewel’s The Ground Below was dispensed with a synthetic bass line that was bombastic and sharp, forward-sounding vocals. While the balance is admirable, the highs do tend to get overcooked at times and depending on the quality of the file and the recording, you might experience sibilance, but it’s not too pronounced so as to take away from an overall pleasant listening experience. It’s only during extreme passages of full-bore attack like Radiohead’s The National Anthem that things start to get a little harsh that might force you to turn the volume down a notch. But, for a pair of in-ears that blatantly proclaim their penchant for bass, they are well-behaved too, without any of the annoying and artificial hump around the mid-bass region that a lot of other ‘Extra-Bass’ headphones display, making them fatiguing to listen to for extended durations of time. Sure, they do have a dollop of the good stuff, but not at the expense of ignoring everything else in the frequency spectrum, making them a “fun” listen if not the most accurate ones like the Sennheiser Momentum TW2. Don’t expect refinement and a nuanced performance here, it’s all about putting everything front and centre and amping it up to 11 while at it.
The extra bass certainly helps at lower volumes as it works like a Loudness function, preserving all the low-end detail without making you pump up the volume. I was sceptical about this critical and fragile relationship between the midrange and the low-end, and to my surprise, the XB700 have been tuned for humans, not just for infrasonic-embracing whales. If your music tastes run into hip/hop and EDM or even grunge and metal, these would do an excellent job on a reasonable budget. Being IPX4 certified, they don’t mind being exposed to light splashes or sweat during an intense workout and might as well, considering their secure fit, they actually make for an ideal workout partner. If there is any reason to complain, it’s in fact an irony. The same great fit tends to disorient you over long periods of listening with almost no ambient noise seeping in (if you’re listening at moderate volume) and the seal being too tight. This could be a subjective issue, though, depending on how well your ears adapt to this sensation and how much bass you’re used to.
With a great battery life that did last me for a few days of casual listening for a couple of hours everyday, I’d say their claim to 9hrs non-stop music could be believed. Of course, it all depends on how many calls you take, how much time they spend in the charging case and how much music have you actually played, but they work as advertised. Quick charging compatibility also gives you an hour of playback with only 10 minutes of charge. While there’s no mention anywhere of the XB-700 supporting Sony’s LDAC or Bluetooth AptX HD codecs, the basic support for SBC and AAC seems to suffice as long as you’re not using them in the mastering room.