Sony Singapore was kind to send me a review unit of its XBA-3 Balanced Armature Headphones, which was first unveiled by the company in September. As I noted in an article posted on VR-Zone at that time, Sony says its Balanced Armature (BA) drivers were optimized for music enjoyment, and located in a sealed housing to reduce ambient noise and sound leakage. The result is a deeper and richer sound, says the company.
Earphones with a difference
One clarification that I must make is how the XBA-3 “headphones” is really an in-ear “earphone.” Blame it on the marketing department, but I think Sony’s intention was to convey how its Balanced Armature series is capable of conveying the full dynamics of a headphone. What is particularly interesting though, is how some members of the XBA family comes with multiple drivers. The XBA-3 for example, comes with 3 of them: full range + woofer + tweeter.
So does the XBA-3 stand up to its claims? I tested the Sony XBA-3 over the span of a few days. Though this review isn’t a an outright comparison of its performance against other headphones or earphones, my remarks and opinions are influenced by what I typically listen to.
So in approximate order of use, they are:
- Bose On-ear Headphones [On-ear headphones]
- Bang & Olufsen A8 Earphones [Standard earphones design]
- Able Planet Sound Clarity NC510B Headphone (My review here) [Over-ear headphones]
The XBA-3 delivered very credible sound for an in-ear earphone. Sound stage was satisfactory, and its discrete treble drivers really made a difference in accentuating instruments and nuances that have sounded muddled in far too many low to mid-end earphones that I’ve tried. The woofer driver delivered a satisfying punch without drowning out the details, or being overpowering; this is very much welcome and a clear sign of a desire to achieve fidelity as opposed delivering the loudest bass.
On the down side, the mid-range wasn’t as strong or powerful as I would have liked. Vocals sound all right, though nowhere as clear as my Bang & Olufsen. In addition, folks who enjoy their music loud and punch may find the bass slightly lacking. Of course, such users yet may find the XBA-4, which comes with a super woofer, as perfect for their needs.
I felt that the greatest weakness of the XBA-3 is that the highs and lows sound just a little too discrete for my tastes. The result is that the music sounds (very slightly) on the mechanical side and not as “cohesive” as I would have liked.
Ultimately, I do think Sony has delivered a very credible earphones in the XBA-3, which delivers performance almost comparable to far bulkier headphones. My initial thought was that a price of between S$150 and S$200 would be a compelling price for an earphone of the XBA-3’s quality.
Well, Sony has since updated the price of the XBA-3 as $379.00 on the official website (inclusive of GST). $379 does seem a tad on the higher side to spend on the earphone, though the fine print does state that prices are subject to change without prior notice.
Finally, though the default package includes 4 different sizes of hybrid silicone rubber earbuds (SSx2, Sx2, Mx2, Lx2) and 3 different sizes of noise isolation earbuds, the latter earbuds weren’t included in my review kit. As such, I have no way to verify the XBA-3 overall noise isolation properties.