A quirky audio device with some convincing strengths and definite weaknesses.
- Quirky but comfortable design
- Decent microphone quality
- Long battery life
- Average sound quality
- Design isn’t adjustable
- Impossible to listen completely privately
- Touch controlsMute microphone with a tap on the neckband
- Splash proof designRated at IPX4 to resist splashes of water
- Battery lifeCan last all-day with 20 hour battery
The field of audio hardware is generally a conservative one when it comes to the question of design. Between open and closed backs, wired and wireless earbuds and on or over-ear headphones the general shape of the things I use to listen to music hasn’t changed very much in the past few years.
Enter the Sony SRS-NB10, one of the latest attempts by the veteran Japanese manufacturer to differentiate itself from the competition. This quirky customer doesn’t sit anywhere near the ears (contrary to received wisdom) but instead rests on the shoulders, while still providing a private listening experience.
But is there enough mileage in this new form factor to make the NB10 a product worth considering, and moreover does the execution do it justice?
- Light design
- Comfortable to wear for long periods
- Constructed from soft matte plastic
There is little else on the market quite like the Sony SRS-NB10. Constructed of a soft finish, matte plastic, it sits around the neck, resting on the shoulders, resembling for all the world a small toilet seat cover. At 113g it is somewhat substantial in the hand, but on the neck feels next to weightless. Indeed, it is disconcertingly easy to forget you are wearing it.
The intent behind the design is simple. As Work from Home continues to expand as an option for an increasingly large portion of the workforce nationally, more and more people are teleconferencing as an integral part of their daily routine. For some, this can mean upwards of twenty hours a week on calls with headphones in their ears.
That is a lot of strain to place on the average ear and raises the potential for irritation of the ear canal, particularly when using ‘normal’ buds. Enter the NB10, which avoids this situation by sitting on the shoulders and using directed speakers to aim sound at the ears.
Everything in the preceding paragraph will likely decide whether you think this is a good idea or not, and the design certainly proved to be divisive when introduced to others. Some hailed it as the best thing since sliced bread, others aren’t so convinced.
If you are someone who does spend a lot of time each day on calls, the difference in comfort compared to in-ear buds is palpable. It is much easier to just keep going and going, as there is no irritation, heat, or discomfort to contend with.
A disadvantage of the design is clear however, sound leakage. If you use the NB10 with someone else in the room, they’ll be able to hear every word and/or note of your work routine. As such the potential utility for those who share a home-working space, or work in an open office, is diminished considerably. This is really a product for those who work solo.
From a pure design perspective, the band doesn’t quite look worth the price of admission. It is grey and easy to forget, but this is an advantage on calls. Working with a multitude of different calls in differing situations, no one was able to see the audio accessory or comment on it. This is a product that is definitely suited, from a pure looks’ perspective, for office use.
Another positive is the use of hardware buttons. The volume controls, power button and Bluetooth connection Ire all easy to find and activate by feel alone and responded quickly when used. There’s no gestures or touch controls to content and wrestle with, which is only a good thing here.
The jury will be out for quite some time on whether the likes of the SRS-NB10 will prove to be a hit with the wider public (catchy name aside), but for a certain subset of users it will be a lifesaver.
- Two beam-forming microphones
- Upward firing positional speakers
- Multi-point Bluetooth connection with two devices
Beyond its shape, the NB10 has one further peculiarity to its name, that being a general lack of ‘attack’ in its marketing. There are no great claims regarding its sound or microphone quality, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective.
That isn’t to say that it doesn’t come with a bevy of features in tow that need to be discussed, indeed quite the opposite is true. The first point worthy of discussion are the microphones, for there are two and these are described as ‘beam forming’.
What this should mean is that the device will pick up the direction your voice is heading from and compensate delivery accordingly, so that listeners on the other side receive a clear signal. Whether this included tech made a difference or not is difficult to discern with any great accuracy, callers across multiple calls on laptops, smartphones and an iPad commented that I came through clearly. This is an essential for a device marketed as good for conference calls, so this is a big win for Sony on that front.
Bluetooth connectivity was also rock-solid working through walls and in areas with lots of other signals to contend with. The band does have the ability to connect to two separate devices at once via multi-point, though I found this a little fiddly to work reliably. That may be a complication of Windows 10’s slightly fraught relationship with Bluetooth, the nature of the multi-point tech used means that one device can be used for voice and another for audio. There’s none of the seamless switching available on more expensive options.
As might be expected on the device, its speakers are aimed at the ears, with the sound coming from behind them. It is marketed as something which can be used at home and in the office, but given the amount of sound bleed I experienced, only the former is realistic. If you work by yourself in the office, or indeed at home, the NB10 makes an excellent companion, but co-workers and co-homeworkers will soon find cause for complaint.
Lastly, the device is IPX4-certified, meaning it will be able to take a light splashing of water and keep on going, which is a pleasant extra and adds a needed layer of durability. Battery life is claimed at 20 hours, and in general I found this to be accurate. The device charges via USB-C and a cable is included in the box.
- On-device audio controls
- Supports AAC and SBC
- Bluetooth 5.1
Much of the SRS-NB10’s appeal lies in its form factor and convenience, and this is reflected in its marketing. Almost every feature mentioned details comfort and convenience, the sound quality is dealt with as an afterthought.
This, unfortunately, shows in the device itself. It isn’t to say that the sound coming from the NB10 isn’t good, but that it isn’t versatile. As it is a device primed for both content and voice calls, it has something of a sonic balance to strike. And to keep that balance, it has mostly invested in treble at the expense of bass.
Which is to say, that this device has almost no bass of which to speak. No matter the music genre, there is no rumble or energy there. While it might not matter so much for fans of classical music or spoken word, it leaves the sound profile of the NB10 a little thin.
Not that this matters much on calls, where voices came through clearly. On some devices I did experience a small issue with call volume, as before this may be a quirk of Windows 10 rather than a fault with the NB10.
So, if you work from home, solo, the sound quality of the NB10 will likely be good enough generally. Indeed, for working in general it is sufficient. But for those who would like to listen to music while working, or who are looking for a hybrid device to cover both times of work and leisure, dedicated options will be a better investment.
Should you buy it?
You work from home If you want to protect your ears from being overworked, then the SRS-NB10 is a smart alternative
You work in a space with others The very nature of the speaker’s design means anyone nearby will be able to hear your music and call conferences
The Sony NB10 is a product unlike almost anything else on the market at the moment. Its unique design allows for comfortable use over extended periods of time with none of the irritation and issues typically found when using conventional earbuds.
For this reason alone, it will be a valued companion for those who work regularly at home. With a solid pair of microphones onboard, it is particularly good for video conferencing and calls.
But for those who work with others at home and/or in open offices, the sound bleed will annoy others. Moreover, the complete lack of any kind of bass limits the potential for the band to work Ill as a medium for listening to music.
If you work from home and dislike wearing earbuds for long periods, the NB10 might Ill be a lifesaver, but for the rest there are better dedicated options available for voice calls and for content consumption.
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We test every headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested with real world use
Tested over the course of several days
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Yes, if you connect the NB10 via a Bluetooth connection.