Justice's DVNO practically thumps you around the head with deep bass notes and thick slabs of treated synth. Help Somebody, from Maxwell's new album, Blacksummers'night, throbs with bass-ridden energy, though the V-Jays and iGrados give the track more punch. The Dreamin' Mind, from Quantic's Tradition in Transition, turns into a warm bath of bass which you can't help but relax into.
Cleverly, Sony has encouraged its design team to mould the physical style of the headphones for the target audience. The styling is slick, black and stylishly retro, with some nice touches like the silver earcups and the leathery finish on the top of the headband. The ridiculously luxurious leatherette ear pads were, apparently, inspired by the big sofas found in club lounge bars, and these babies provide just as comfortable nest for your ears as those do for your backside. At 185g the XB500s are lighter than you might expect, but they are bigger than most portable headphones, so you are going to notice that you're wearing them.
However, while I expected those big pads to feel sweaty and uncomfortable after an hour or so, I've found that's not the case. I'd happily wear these for my usual three hour train ride into London. Build quality is also extremely good for a budget set of ‘phones, and I love the thick, flat cable, which is a lot harder to get tangled than the thin wire found on, say, the iGrados. Overall, the XB500s look and feel a lot more expensive than they actually are. Kudos, too, to Sony for supplying a handy leather carry pouch for the cans.
The final verdict on the XB500s is a tough call. They love bass-heavy music, but they're not well suited to classical (even Wagner at his heaviest), rock, or anything folksy or acoustic, and they're not even the punchiest performers for pop (where the iGrados, the V-Jays and the Sennheiser PX100s do better). They're not even particularly good for hard rock and metal, where the bass overwhelms the mid-range to the detriment of vocals and guitar.
At the same time, the XB500s do a fantastic job of the music they are good with, even if they err on the side of making a lovable noise rather than an accurate or lifelike reproduction. I should loathe them, but I kind of love them - and they also do a fine job of isolating you from outside noise (and isolating outsiders from your noise too). If you want - or need - big bass, and stick mostly to dub, R&B, dance, rap, hip-hop and soul, then you'll find the XB500s give you an awful lot of the stuff to enjoy.
Comfortable and luxurious, few headphones under £100 can dish out this much bass. However, the heavyweight sound can flatten many styles of music, so beware.