A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
The MDR-XB500 headphones occupy the middle spot in Sony's "extra bass" trio of headphones. As the name suggests Sony designed these headphones to kick out serious low-end response while also providing excellent performance through the rest of the frequency range.
The XB500s styling is pure hip-hop and obviously aimed directly at young consumers who probably drive cars packed full of amps and giant subwoofers. The ear cups are just massive and remind me of the puffy coats that littered MTV not too long ago, and probably still do. The pads measure nearly two inches thick and are almost four inches in diameter. I must admit however that they are extremely comfortable, and if you don't mind the strange looks you get while wearing them, then they could be worn for days without fatigue.
If you can look past the beanbag ear pads, the rest of the headphones are very stylish. I especially like the sophisticated profile. The wide black headband is terminated at the driver with concentric silver circles, which helps to reduce visual heft. Even the Sony logo adds to styling rather than detracting which is often the case. Normally, I am not a fan of headphones with cords on each driver as they tend to always be in the way, but these headphones wouldn't look right without them. Overall, these are very cool looking headphones.
Listening to the XB500s is probably exactly as you think it would be. The bass is unbelievable and played so deep that it was a bit unnerving. It's as if somehow Sony managed to fit a fifteen-inch subwoofer in these headphones; perhaps that's why they need such large cushions. Frequency response is rated down to 4 Hz and while they played deep, I'm pretty sure they didn't go that deep; however I have no way to actually measure the results. The rest of the headphone performance was honestly difficult to assess because the bass simply overpowers everything. I played some acoustic music through the XB500s and they did a pretty good job with it, but even then I wished for a volume knob to turn down the low frequencies just a little more. Midrange performance was a little flatter than expected and the treble even seemed a touch rolled off, but this was probably due to the massive contrast with the bass.
Competition and Comparison
Feel free to compare Sony's MDR-XB500 headphones against their competition by reading our reviews for the Audio-Technica ATH-PRO5VA headphones and the Grado SR80i headphones. You can also find more information by checking out our Headphones section and our Sony brand page.
- The XR500 headphones are easily the most powerful headphones I've ever heard in terms of bass performance. If you listen to hip-hop or club music I think you will absolutely love them.- The XR500s are very stylish although the ridiculously sized ear cushions will be difficult to pull off in public if you are much beyond a twenty-something.
- The XR500s are supremely comfortable and can be worn almost indefinitely without any fatigue or aggravation. If you are into all-night raves I can't imagine a better headphone for that duty.
- It's too bad Sony doesn't offer a control which lets the user dial back the bass response, because it simply overpowers the rest of the music. I would really consider an extra bass type headphone because I do like deep, solid bass but this is just way too much of a good thing for my tastes.
The Sony MDR-XB500 headphone does exactly what it promises. It delivers unbelievable bass performance in a stylish well-built product. If you are a bass head then these are going to be your dream come true. If however you are looking for audiophile headphones that offer a little deeper bass than most headphones offer, you will be disappointed. Depending on which kind of consumer you are will determine if you love or hate these headphones. At this point in my life and my musical tastes, these simply are a novelty, but a well executed one. For those truly demented people who will want even more bass, turn your attention to Sony's MDR-XB700 headphones.