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Sony Bluetooth NC Headphones (MDR-NWBT20N) Review

After about a month of waiting, my MDR-NWBT20N headphones finally arrived this past Friday.  This is my first Japanese Sony product and having used the headphones for about 3 days now the first thing that came to me was, Why isn't Sony selling this in Europe?

Rest of the review after the break.

The NWBT20N is a follow up to the previous model, NWBT10N which came out in 2011.  Battery life is almost 3 times longer versus the old model and noise-cancellation on-time is now 8.5 hours.  I've yet to encounter a dead battery on the device but I haven't been using it longer than 5-6 hours per day.
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Build quality of the NWBT20N is okay, it's made out plastic so it feels a bit cheap and the jog wheel for FF or FW is a bit loose.  The top of the device features the play/pause button and the FF/FW jog wheel.  One side features the noise-cancelling controls (OFF, NC, AI NC) and volume control.  The volume control seemed small in photos but works quite well due to it's unique shape and size therefore changing volume blindly is quite easy.  On one end is the 3.5mm jack and on the other the micro-usb port for charging.  The final side features the ON/OFF button, and hold.  I have mixed up the 2 at the start and turned off the device rather than setting it to hold.  Finally the bottom clip which is used to attach to clothing feels sturdy and keep the device firmly attached in any position.  On the clip is the NFC logo which is used to connect to devices like NFC enabled Walkmans and smartphones.

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As with all Bluetooth enabled headphones, the sound quality suffers versus wired headphones.  But I was pleasantly surprised that unlike the Sony MDR-10R headphones, the NWBT20N actually has much deeper sounds with slightly better bass.  I feel this has to do with the fact that these are in-ear and isolate the sound much better.  Comparing to my NWZE575, the NWBT20N still lacks that rich bass provided by wired headphones.

The headphones are almost identical to the MDR-NC033E except for 3 slight differences.  One the cable is shorter, about 30-40 cm in length.  The second difference is a small bump on the outside of the middle circular section.  This can be seen in the image below.  I have no idea why this exists, maybe it is to do with placement in the ears or extra components?  If anyone knows please post a comment. 

(click to see larger)

The third difference is the different construction in the outer part where the cable exists.   On the NWBT20N, casing is all plastic with no rubber anywhere to be seen, not even at the end to allow for bending of the cable.  Such a rubber section exists on the MDR-NC033Es which I feel is a better design to prevent the cable from breaking or bending when it moves.  The same headphones also ship with the new E-Series, (E580), the model # is MDR-NC31ELP on the E580 vs MDR-NC31 on the NWBT20N, only difference being the longer cord.  The cord is made from the same materials so cold weather (below 5 degrees C) also makes it stiff and difficult to bend or lay flat.

Finally connectivity.  The NWBT20N features Bluetooth v3.0 and NFC.  The pairing via NFC is a treat and works flawlessly each time.  Once I paired it my Xperia Z1, all that I need to do now is bring the clip of the NWBT20N to the back of my Z1 and the headphones pair automatically in 2-3 seconds.  For the 3 days I've used it, the connection has never dropped.  I have also paired the device with my Vaio via NFC and it works with no problems either, volume, play/pause and FF/FW all work just fine.

But the NWBT20N is not perfect.  As mentioned before the build quality is nothing stellar and could be improved; second, the device is not waterproof (or dustproof).  The biggest issue is the rain, since it is always exposed to the elements when attached to a jacket or bag strap.  It doesn't have to be waterproof like the Z1 or W-Series but at least splash resistant like the Smartwatch 2.  Third, some kind of battery indicator would be nice in order to see how much is left.  Fourth would be perhaps a slight luxury, a small OLED screen to show the song playing and time, this would be also fit nicely with the battery indicator aspect.  Fifth, unlike the MDR-10RBT headphones which can be used as a headset for calls, the NWBT20N lacks this feature.  Of course it was never meant to serve as a headset for calls so this isn't a surprise.  Therefore, any system sounds like messages, notifications or calls will not be relayed to the NWBT20N.  Finally a bigger battery that would permit >10 hours of NC use would be ideal but this would mean making the device larger and heavier.  Perhaps some of these will be changed for the next model. 

Before I opting for the NWBT20N, I was contemplating either the SBH50 or SB52 for my Z1 to use as headsets but I don't think either were on sale when I got my Z1 and once Sony introduced the NWBT20N, I knew this is what I needed for my Z1.  The only thing the Z1 is lacking to fully replace my Walkman was built in noise cancellation and the S-Master MX amp.  The NWBT20N remedies one problem for now, perhaps Sony will release a future smartphone which remedies the amp issue.

Perhaps the SBH5x headsets could be adapted with noise cancellation and water resistance to be used as the next Bluetooth Noise Cancellation headset?

So this brings the review to a close,  I am extremely satisfied with the NWBT20N and would highly recommend it to anyone with a smartphone who wishes to have noise cancellation on their device and very good quality headphones.


  1. That small bump is the rear of the microphone within each headphone. Hence the five-point 3.5mm jack - each speaker/microphone has a connection to the Sony player for the noise cancellation to work.

  2. I've had the MDR-NWBT10N for almost 2 years and it worked great until it copped out on me recently - probably from getting wet too many times. I love to mountain bike and it's so much better being able to crank tunes cordlessly! Several years ago, when I decided I'd had it with corded headphones, I tried about 8 different brands of earbuds and settled on the Sony's. Personally, I think the Bluetooth sound quality is awesome and I will never buy anything other than Sony. I'm looking forward to getting a pair of these especially with the longer battery life.

    1. I have not been using my set for a while now, I do have the M-Series which I used to connect to my A series but I stopped that as well once I bought the MDR-A3 headphones and preferred a wired connection for better sound.

      Hopefully sony will release an upgraded model hopefully with support for LDAC support but I doubt it.

  3. Can you use a different pair of headphones with the end that has the controls?

    1. I believe so, I haven't used any other headphones but I can test it out today and let you know for certain.

    2. Hi again, I replied last day but for some reason my comment was not registered. I used my MDR-A3s with it, works no problems, sounds quite good as well with the A3s I will say. Only issue is, no noise cancellation sadly.

      I tested it with my Xperia and my A series walkman. All controls work.

    3. awesome! thanks a lot for your help!

  4. I just got one from Japan, but:
    First, It didn't work as headset for phone calls. :(
    Second, I previously had a SBH20 and it can pair at two devices at once... Did you know if is this still possible?


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