Pros: BASS, comfortable, inexpensive
Cons: A little flimsy, recessed highs & mids, short cable
Sony MDR-XB500 Affordable Pulsing Throbbing Gobs of Bass
The XB500 is pretty well known to all at this point, however there's more to this little headphone that the immediate and obvious, which is the extra bass that they market the XB line towards and deliver with authority. They are some of the best basshead cans for the cost. But there's actually a gem out of the line and that's the XB500 because it's actually quite capable of more than just pulsing throbbing gobs of bass. It's an interesting little headphone, so let's get to know it if you're interested in a bassy headphone that can be altered a tad through equalization to be so much more.
I received my XB500 second hand, so I cannot go into detail about the packaging, but I do know that you can get it for $49 shipped from Amazon and other stores, and it comes with a carry bag that is not that impressive, but it's an accessory so why not mention it.
Summary for those who are not already familiar with the XB500:
- Full size circumaural closed back headphone
- Enhanced, emphasized and delivered bass response (basshead class)
- Comfortable big soft pillow pads
- Style is relative, you either like them, or think they look silly
- Short cord, terminates into 3.5mm
- Easy to drive, no amp required
- Massively benefits from equalization (EQ)
- Ideal for electronic bass musics (and others, with EQ)
- Recessed mids, recessed highs (this can be corrected with EQ, big time)
- Did I mention bass? Gobs of throbbing pulsing bass?
Construction, Materials & Comfort:
The XB500 is made entirely of plastic, with a short flat cord that terminates in 3.5mm and has big soft pillows that are very deep. At first they look too big, too silly, but that's if you see the XB700 and higher versions which do have larger pillows, the XB500 is actually not too big, it's pretty normal and I'll show comparisons of it's size to other headphones backings to sort of drive that home. They're actually quite normal, so not silly, which was a surprise to me when I took the dive (I expected them to be a little too silly, but they were not I found).
The framing is pretty slim and skinny and does feel a little flimsy. The headband is padded, but not very much. It is however pretty broad so it doesn't cut or anything. It leaves a proper headphone dent in your hair. Deal with it. It adjusts to good sizes, so should fit any head basically unlike other headphones that I've tried.
Wearing it is pretty comfy. It's a very soft, pillowy pad and it doesn't clamp. It does however get warm, as those pads are pleather and sit on your skin, get a little oily and then get warm. So you sweat a little unless it's already really cool and not humid where you are.
Overall, decent build, but don't sit on them, or you'll be ordering new headphones.
Here's some size comparisons:
What really matters about the XB500 is the sound, and there's one reason you're looking at this headphone. Someone told you it was bassy as all get out, and they are right. Alternatively, you may have noticed them on the bottom shelf at Best Buy or something, right below the Beats. Har har. So let's get into the sound more and more specifically into the interesting behavior of the XB500 and what you can do with it.
Quick summary for the impatient:
- Recessed mids, recessed highs (very damp sounding, not harsh at all, dull even)
- Throbbing, pulsing, gobs of bass
- Impactful with bass, it slams you, it's not just reverb
- Below average isolation
- Normal sound stage for a closed headphone
Music tested, from my trusty test-group that I tend to use on all headphones (all lossless), included: Ani Difranco (Acoustic, Female Vocals), Regina Spektor (Folk, Pop, Female Vocals), Sierra Hull (Folk, Blue Grass, Female Vocals), Euge Groove (Jazz, Bassy), Ludovico Einaudi (Classical, Piano), Keith Jarrett (Classical, Piano, Live Concert), Bach Cello Suites (Classical), The Cranberries (Pop, Female Vocals), Elton John (Classic Rock), Avantasia (Metal, Fantasy), Buckethead (Alt. Metal), Rusko (DubStep), JesusDied4DubStep (DubStep), Bay Area Dub (BAD) (DubStep), DJ Fresh (DubStep), Foreign Beggars (DubStep), Stinkahbell (DubStep), DeadMau5 (DubStep), Skrillex (DubStep), Robyn (EDM), BT (Trance, Techno), OceanLab (Trance, Techno). Lots of bass heavy muscis.
Hardware used, Sansa Fuze, Vivid V1 Technologies DAC/AMP, Matrix Cube DAC/AMP, Schiit Lyr, Auzentech Forte Soundcard and my Droid Incredible.
Right away, you'll notice the highs out of the box are low. They're diminished. Recessed. You feel like it's damp. The bass is slamming and humming around, but the highs are just distant sounding like they were turned down. That's because they were turned down. This is not a detail headphone. This is not a headphone for airy instrument listening. You're not getting the XB500 for the treble though. This is known, and expected, but we have a solution for this that is simple and highly effective, more on that later.
Mids are also recessed, diminished. You feel like vocals are wet and distant. Everything for that matter is. It's all in the background, takes a step back, for the bass to come forward and just own the floor. There's not really much you can really do here, except notice they're not detailed, there's not a lot of congestion thankfully, but out of the box, the mids are just not doing work. You can however of course correct this, which is again, going to be focused on in a minute.
The idea here to take home is that there's nothing special about the Highs & Mids stock, other than they're really recessed and diminished. But they're actually just a sleeping giant waiting to be awaken. Move on to the Equalization section for more information.
This is what it's about. The bass of the XB500 slams, it has impact, it hits hard and low. It's a complete basshead can where everything goes out of the window in favor of bass, hence the complete lack of anything to talk about for highs & mids. The bass is absolutely monumental. I can't even express it other than to say you've got hear it. You've probably heard some bassy headphones. Probably heard a nice subwhoofer. When you feel the XB500's slamming bass reverb tones into your skull, you'll either love it as it really rustles your jimmies, or you will think it's just too much and you will scuttle back to your non-basshead headphones a little traumatized and wonder why people like this headphone. This is a basshead headphone. You only get it, if you really like heavy gobs of throbbing, pulsating, bass. The bass quality is actually great, it's not just quantity, the quality of this bass is also nice. The impact is good, the control is good, the tightness is good and recovery is good. Absolutely nothing wrong with the bass here, it has it all, it was built for it.
Out of the box, the XB500 is a bassy basshead headphone, and nothing more. But there's a sleeping giant in there. I've yet to find a single headphone that equalizes as well as the XB500 does. A few bumps in the mids and highs bring the mids and highs out of the fog and into the sound stage and it's a totally new headphone. Suddenly other genres can be played, with lots of bass, but still sound right thanks to now having adequate mids and treble. It doesn't distort out either. That's why it's so special. It's like it was purposefully dropped, which leaves all that room to bring it back up should you want to. I did, and man, what a good headphone with this small easy everyone-can-do-tweak. I tested acoustic, with the highs & mids increased, and it did it rather well considering it was awful for that kind of music prior to equalization. I used FooBar2000, so here's my quick equalization settings to bring out the highs and mids to a level that makes it sound more balanced, and when done, to me, sounds like a much better and far more expensive mid-tier headphone does, yet it's only $49 for this thing, and retains all the throbbing good slamming bass that you got it for. Literally, a sleeping giant in this regard.
There's actually less than average isolation for a closed headphone here. Those pads let a lot of sound through. It doesn't do it in a way that is degrading to the sound, but be aware of it, because if you plan on using these around other people or in a quiet place around people, they will hear what you're listening to pretty easily. It doesn't dump out like a Grado. But it's definitely not isolating the way some other closed headphones do.
Sound stage is pretty normal. It's not cramped, but it's ok. It has a lot to do with the depth of the pads. Sound stage seems to go up with space on headphones in general. So big cups and deep cups tend to have better sound stages. It sounds good. Especially when you equalize the mids and highs up to make it a more balanced, yet bassy, sound.
Conclusion & Closing:
The XB500 really is a basshead headphone that will deliver the gobs of throbbing pulsating bass that you crave if you're a total basshead. It can become quite a bit more if you equalize it and it can suddenly handle all genres of music pretty well. The quality of the bass is very good as well as the quantity, which is pretty distinct about the headphone, as it also has impact as well as just good bass sound and low tones. Very few headphones, especially in the price range and even in the mid-tier price ranges can get that kind of bass. It does it at a price of course, the highs & mids, but again, this headphone benefits from equalizing like no other. All headphones can benefit a bit from tweaking for your own personal sound signature. But the XB500 takes it without distorting and really just comes to life. It's an ideal headphone for someone looking for an inexpensive way to get into Dance, Trance and Dubstep for example where it's all about the bass. Equalized, it can do anything pretty well. Not perfectly of course, but very well, which is opposite of what it was out of the box, stock.
Quite a while after reviewing this headphone, I stumbled upon a headphone that covers the same bases as the XB500, it does the bass, it does the slam, and it actually sounds so similar that it's scary, but already has increased mids & highs, unlike the XB500, so it doesn't need to be equalized to make it balance out for all music genres. And it happens to be $20 cheaper, so it's only $30 shipped. It's the Panasonic RP-HTF600-S. Plus it looks nicer, is constructed better, and sounds better out of the box with all the bass. All for less. So if you're interested in the XB500, please, take a look at the RP-HTF600. I consider it the replacement of the budget-bass-head-king from Sony.