Sony XB80BS IRL review

Sony XB80BS wireless sport earphone IRL review; After my Sony AS700BT fizzled out, I was out of ideas of what to use for headphones for workouts. The AS700BT had big shoes to fill. It was reliable in connection, had great features like a stable connection vs. audiophile mode, great design, stable in the ears even in hard runs, great sound that was bassy and fun, good battery life, and low profile (based off the street style Sony headphones from the 90s). I tried a few Bluetooth options afterwards that just didn’t fit the bill. The AS50BS was the first BT from the modern age that I tried (their newest line up at the time), and it was just awful. I got it at a great price used (NIB) so that took some of the sting off. They fell off ALLTHETIME especially at the worst time- when I was in a sprint and didn’t have time of dexterity to reposition them, and losing my focus/music at that time sucks. The neck cable was also really annoying. I tried to use my BT headsets like the SBH54/52 with the Sennheiser PMX680, but the wire was annoying, and the sound really empty/flat. I also tried to get the Sony BT160AS- if you have watched my blog you will know that saga was terrible. I tried using regular wired headphones (even the Simon Cowell X10 Sony headphones!) and that lasted…1 workout. I hated having wires in my workouts. I tried looking at other brands including Jabra, but nothing really had what I wanted – a neckband style headphone that was stable. There was a no name brand model online that folded and was meant for sports, but I was weary of it lacking the whole package, particularly sound. In the end, I decided to check out something that did not have the neckband but had an ear hanger instead of ear wing tips- the XB80BS. It turned out to be so good that I bought all three colors (and have since bought both colors of the AS700BT by luck through eBay Japan and local used ad!). See my thoughts on the XB80BS in my IRL review.

Design: So these are the only earphones with the ear hanger design and wireless connection. This is probably the most important aspect for me- there are only a few ear phones that are wireless and not dependent on an ear wing design (AKA Bose Soundsport Wireless) . The problem with the wing design is that it is not as stable- it eventually wiggles out and you lose the seal and sound is terrible as a result. That’s already a plus for me. Some over ear hangers are mostly useless- the XBA-H3 Sony hybrid earphones are one example where it really is relying on the seal of the eartip to be the majority of the pressure keeping the earphone on- the hanging ear cable loop thing really just catches the earphone if if falls off, but doesn’t really play a major role in keeping the earphone in your ear. The ear hanger on the XB80(shortened here on out) keeps the earphone quite snug. I was originally going to get the Comply sport earphone tips out of desperation from the XB50BS falling out, but the ear hanger solution works really well. So plus points design wise. Outside of that, I do enjoy the overall look- semi translucent plastic adds a nice visual touch, as do minor texture details. Its not a spectacular design like the oddball BT160AS, but its not terribly bland either. I really like the choice of colors as well- the orange is my favorite by far, but the blue and black are not bad. I do wish for a neon green or yellow, but it seems Sony has tamed the colors for this line up. I am not a fan of the cord clip- it falls out easily and I think I have lost one already. Its supposed to prevent excess cable from flopping around, but I haven’t found the excess cable too bothersome so no biggy for me. I find the sport tips generally fine on their own, and no upgrade is really needed ear tip wise- I do wonder what a pair of Complys would be like though. I ALWAYS forget to fully clip the charge cover and do worry about sweat working its way in there. It charges MicroUSB which I am fine with, as I have no USB peripherals, but it might be annoying for somebody who has a USB C phone. The carrying case is a nice touch as well. Its a nice thing to have a pouch to throw in your gym bag, instead of having it roll freely in your bag. Generally I find the design fairly comfortable as well with no problems for hour long workouts. I get the feeling Sony made function over form on this earphone, and they nailed it for me. It works as well as the AS700BT function wise. I do find it pops out sometimes when I am in a hard run, but its easy to push it in, vs. the AS50BS that requires me to adjust the wing tip correctly; with the XB80 I just jam the tip in. I’ve also found that the materials used feel high quality, and there are no creaks or weird seams in the earphone.

Battery- Battery life seems pretty good. Its nowhere near like my WF1000x where I am constantly aware of the battery life and worrying when I need to charge next. I don’t even know the stated battery life- its good enough for me to get through workouts throughout the week with a weekly charge.

Sound– The sound is great on this earphone. While Sony markets this as part of their Extra Bass line, I don’t think it falls under that necessarily. The Extra Bass line has always been a lower tier for me in their line up- fairly consumer oriented sound for the masses. The mass market sound is not necessarily a bad thing (see my love for the tuning of the MDR-Z7 which many audiophiles have a love hate relationship with due to the consumer oriented tuning), but many of their Extra Bass products were garbage (see the Simon Cowell MDR-X10 headphone that had so much bass it was unlistenable with ANY genre to my ears). I find this headphone has a V shaped tune that is moderate. Enough bass to make EDM, and hip hop bounce, but enough mid range that rock can come through just nicely. This is a headphone that you can have fun listening to.

Usability– the controls on this are unfortunately quite small, which is probably just a limit to the design of the headphones size/design. Surprisingly, the entry level XB50BT has easier to click buttons with easy to register clicks, while the XB80 buttons are like soft mush that you are not sure you really clicked anything. There are controls for volume, track control, and play/pause/power. Battery life is great on this model- you can press a button to check an auditory cue of how much battery is remaining; it also shows in the iPhone battery meter. The headphone EQ doesn’t work with Sony’s headphone app but that’s ok. I also find the connection quite solid on this model- it doesn’t cut in and out at all really. It doesn’t have any fancy options for stable but lower quality streaming vs. unstable but higher quality streaming like the AS700BT but I haven’t worried too much about that. I do love the NFC connection on this headphone because I have a ton of BT headphones and its easy to get it up and running without even hitting the power button. Unfortunately the iPhone does not have this pairing feature and I have to manually connect the headphones if they pair with my tablet first. I do find that the headphone fits nice and snug and works well for lifting workouts. With runs, the headphone generally is good for slow to moderate runs for stability, but for sprinting, they still pop out a bit – not so much that they come out your ears due to the ear hanger design, but enough that the seal is broken and bass is not as impactful- its a simple fix by pushing the earphone back in. I say simple because on other sport earphones that use the ear wing tips rather than the ear hanger design like the XB50BS, they really barely just hang there like they are about to fall off (but not quite) and you need to focus a bit to get the fit back into your ear. Its  a mild annoyance with the XB80BS but not as bad since the ear hanger keeps the ear tip in the right position. I do think it might be worthwhile to check out the Comply sport ear tips for this earphone but not as necessary as it is with the XB50BS. I also think this makes the AS700BT superior as a sport headphone as it never loses the fit or seal. I really wish Sony would have a follow up to the AS700BT.

Wireless connection- special section given that this is a premium model and competes with newer truly wireless earbuds. The connection is strong and never craps out on me. While the AS700BT occasionally dropped out, this XB80 is great overall. It doesn’t have the AS700BT two connection system (one for sound quality and one for stability) but it seems to satisfy both. I don’t have a LDAC equipped device to run on these, but apparently they support LDAC.

Conclusion- I’m a big fan of these earphones. At their original MSRP they aren’t too tough of a sell to me- certainly they are a premium earphone that command a good chunk more than random generic Bluetooth headphones on Amazon. There certainly are other sport earphones that are in the same bracket like the Power Beats, that are probably just as good. I’d have a hard time paying full price for these earphones- for 199, I’d only get them as a die hard sport enthusiast. The argument could go that you spend less on cheaper sport Bluetooth earphones and replace them as they break. I don’t follow that one as much, because I think the value isn’t just in durability (which I think the XB80BS has in spades with fit and finish). I think it also offers fantastic sound quality with a grunty bass that keeps me pushing hard in a workout. The BT connection is stable through the run, with no drop outs. Call quality is not something I can comment on as I barely use it that way, but I do think people are not impressed with it, not surprising since the mic is so far from my mouth. I do wish the buttons were less recessed, which is annoying if you are trying to do a quick change during a hard sprint. I also wish the ear tips remained stable during hard runs like the AS700BT. My trouble is that I think there are other unique offerings in this premium price point like Sony’s own SP700 truly wireless earbuds which offer newer functionality like total wireless operation. My scenario is quite specific- I need something stable in the ears during my runs, and it more or less delivers that, just not quite to the extent as the AS700BT (the break in tip seal), which is a monster step up from all the other workout earphones I have used. There typically are compromises to be had somewhere. The closest I have gotten non-Sony wise was the Sennheiser PMX680 Adidas edition- the earphones were very stable, but the sound quality and lack of wireless support was not great. The SP700 is part of first/second generation truly wireless earphones that still suffer from BT stability connection and battery life issues. The AS700BT are an absolute grand slam for fit, finish, sound quality, BT connection, but some sketchy durability given they crapped out after rinsing them. The BT160AS just break down period. The XB50BS simply falls out my ears during a hard workout.

I’ve since delegated the XB80BS to running only- I don’t want to ruin the AS700BT through sweat so that goes to my lifting alongside the Adidas RPT-01; the XB30BS are just trash for fit for me so …they don’t get used. The XB80BS used to be paired to my old 3rd gen iPod Touch for runs, but I have since settled for the Apple Watch/Nike Run app and the XB80BS instead. Generally a good combo and nice and light for me.

I feel like these XB80 are a near home run for me, but I also feel my need is quite specific. Which might be actually ok because people pay premium for specific needs that entry and mid stream tier products cannot fulfill. At any rate, I’m pretty satisfied with these, enough so that I bought three pairs of them. My favorite workout headphones are still the AS700BT, which were half the MSRP cost of the XB80, which is probably why I am hesitant on saying these are a grand slam product. At 199, I’d shop around first, but I would definitely put these on a top 3 list for wireless sport earphones.

Pros; sound quality, BT connection, battery life, comfort, fit and finish, design, stability of fit for workouts overall (some breaking of seal during sprints)/ Cons; price, breaking of seal during sprints

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