Combining comfort with a confident audio presentation, the Edifier WH950NB are a great budget-friendly alternative to the Sony WH-1000XM5
- Supremely comfortable
- Solid battery life
- High-resolution codec support on Android
- No wear detection
- No AAC codec support
Naming your new headphones in a way that invites comparisons to a class-leading option from Sony is a risky strategy, but one that pays off for the Edifier WH950NB.
They may be no match for the illustrious WH-1000XM5 in the sound quality, design or noise-cancelling departments, but that’s to be expected given the gulf in price between the two products.
And compared to similarly priced options, the Edifier WH950NB are very strong performers. Comfort is top-notch, noise cancelling is highly effective, and there’s high-resolution audio support, too. If you’ve been eyeing up Sony’s flagship cans but can’t justify the expense, the WH950NB are a very capable alternative.
Edifier WH950NB review: What do you get for the money?
With a list price of £180, the Edifier WH950NB are the second most expensive over-ear headphones the Chinese manufacturer currently produces, behind the premium Edifier Stax Spirit S3. They operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.3, can remain connected to two Bluetooth sources simultaneously and support the SBC and Hi-Res certified LDAC audio codecs.
They bear resemblance to the Stax Spirit S3 and their cheaper stablemate, the Edifier W820NB, through a minimalist, matte plastic design available in black or cream colourways. On the earcups – dappled to mimic leather – you’ll find rose gold microphone vents that closely resemble those found on the black Sony WH-1000XM4. An actual USB-C port for charging is located on the underside of the right earcup, with controls for switching between noise cancellation modes, changing volume and turning the headphones on/off alongside it. The left cup has no further controls but does house a 3.5mm port for wired listening.
Battery life clocks in at up to 34 hours of audio playback with noise cancellation on, while turning ANC off will bring that figure to 55 hours at moderate volume. From empty, the headphones should be fully charged in an hour and a half, and just ten minutes of juice will net you seven hours of playback. This positions the WH950NB ahead of many similarly priced competitors and outclasses two of our favourite noise-cancelling headphones: the Sony WH-1000XM5 (30 hours with ANC on) and the Bose QuietComfort 45 (24 hours with ANC on).
The headphones come with a hard-shell carrying case internally lined with a soft fabric which has a large pouch to store the included 3.5mm cable, USB-C charging cable and aeroplane adapter. The hinges that connect the earcups to the headband can be rotated and folded inwards for storage in the case or a pocket, unlike the Sony WH-1000XM5.
Edifier WH950NB review: What do we like about them?
The Edifier WH950NB are supremely comfortable. Their faux leather pads are extremely soft and amply cushioned, contributing to a cosy fit that allows for hours of ache-free listening. The earcups proved large enough to encompass my ears without cramping them or causing them to overheat, and given my ears are around average size, most people should have a similarly pleasant wearing experience.
Since comfy headphones encourage longer listening sessions, the safe-volume mode accessible via the Edifier Connect app is a smart inclusion. Turning it on will limit audio to a maximum of 85dB – the World Health Organisation’s safe auditory limit – and I found this upper boundary to be more than loud enough. Including volume limitation options is something certain smartphones have been doing for a while now but is far from a given on wireless headphones and so is very welcome here.
Elsewhere in the companion app, you can select between four noise-cancelling modes: high, low, wind reduction and ambient sound. With ANC on high, I was thoroughly impressed with the WH950NB’s attenuation. They effectively reduced the noise made by passing cars to a murmur when I didn’t have any audio playing, and traffic became largely unnoticeable when I fired up a playlist.
They can’t match the noise cancellation of industry leaders like the Sony WH-1000XM5, with the loudest of London Tube rides requiring volume above the 75% mark to drown out distractions when listening to sparser musical numbers. But given the difference between the two isn’t that dramatic, and the vast disparity in price, the efficacy of the WH950NB’s ANC system is commendable.
The other three modes are effective, too, but provide less external noise reduction. Wind reduction mode worked very well in gusty environments, dampening the impact of gales at the cost of less impactful general noise cancellation. The four speech microphones also coped well in windy conditions, delivering clear, intelligible call quality.
You can cycle between three of the five ANC modes using the mode button on the right earcup. Since you can select which modes are cycled through using the Edifier app, there’s a level of customisation that ensures you’re able to access the modes you use most frequently with minimal fuss.
Many headphones don’t allow you to set alternative ANC modes like wind reduction as a physical button, or even change them at all as with the Urbanista Los Angeles, so this freedom is appreciated.
The WH950NB offer two audio presets: classic and dynamic. Whichever you choose, you’ll be getting a V-shaped sound signature that slightly inflates trebles and has plenty of punch when it comes to bass frequencies. Low-end extension is more impressive than most over-ear headphones costing under £200, and Dynamic mode delivers some real sub-bass oomph. The WH950NB handled dynamic shifts well across a wide range of genres, too, and their soundstage proved wide enough to accommodate a decent level of detail.
To get the best out of the headphones you’ll want to make use of their LDAC support. Hi-hats in the chorus of “With a Little Help from My Friends’ by The Beatles had a more colourful, natural timbre when compared with streaming over SBC, and trebles really sparkled over the high-resolution codec. Thom Yorke’s falsetto lost some raspiness when listening to busier sections of Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers” over SBC, but switching to LDAC improved clarity significantly.
Should you prefer a different sound profile altogether, the Edifier app offers something I’ve not come across before: manually adjustable equaliser bands. Using these is a multi-stage process. First, you specify a value within the 20Hz and 10kHz frequency range for each of its four bands. You then select a “Q factor” for this value to determine the bandwidth around it, with a larger Q value representing a narrower bandwidth and vice versa. Once both the frequency value and Q factor have been input, you can boost each band by up to 3dB or reduce it up to 9dB. This audio customisation may prove a little daunting for some, but provides a level of precise EQing that most headphones in the WH950NB’s price bracket can’t match.
The aforementioned sound effects are within a wider “Music” mode, but there are also “Game” and “Theatre” modes. Game mode sounds identical to the classic music preset but reduces latency between audio and video signals, while Theatre mode – when used for video content – widens the soundstage to produce a fuller, more enveloping sound.
Edifier WH950NB review: What could be improved?
Though a lot of music typically sounds better over a wired connection than a wireless one, I found the opposite to be the case with the WH950NB when they’re switched off. The sound was weightier, with a marginal increase in volume, but less refined. Comparing the opening to “Les Aventures de Tintin” by Taeko Onuki and Ryuichi Sakamoto, the 80s-style synth wasn’t nearly as crisp in the mid-range and bass lacked definition. On the other hand, switching the headphones on, while still using the wired connection, brought the quality back to the standards found via Bluetooth.
Given the WH950NB’s fast charging and above-average battery capabilities, you may never have to rely on an analogue connection without power. But this difference in audio quality is worth considering if you were banking on battery-less listening – even if having it at all is a useful feature.
I experienced a few other minor irritations, too. While the headphones are an absolute joy in the comfort department, the headband picks up fingerprints very easily. The physical controls are a little annoying, too; I found that they weren’t distinct enough in texture or form to easily differentiate between the volume up, play/pause and volume down buttons. Over time you get accustomed to the layout but you’ll be fumbling around for the correct buttons to begin with.
AAC codec support is conspicuous by its absence, too. Most headphones support both SBC and AAC codecs at a minimum, so the WH950NB are unusual in this regard. This isn’t an issue if you own a LDAC-compatible phone, but Apple iPhone users don’t have access to LDAC so are limited to listening tracks in lower-quality. Another surprising omission is that of wear detection – the WH950NB won’t automatically pause when taken off or resume again when put back on, a feature found on the majority of over-ear headphones these days.
Edifier WH950NB review: Should you buy them?
The Edifier WH950NB may not be the last word in luxury, but they offer above-average battery life, engaging high-resolution audio courtesy of the LDAC codec and effective ANC for the money. Various EQ options, widget controls and a safe listening mode add to their appeal, even if the list of bells and whistles isn’t as extensive as those found on more premium models.
Wear detection would be a boon for all users and iPhone owners will rue the lack of support for the AAC codec, but as a significantly cheaper alternative to Sony’s sensational WH-1000XM5, the similarly named WH950NB get just about everything else right.