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These ear-buds are a natural winner in terms of portability—unfortunately, comfort is not their strong suit.

We’ll be up-front with you: in-ear headphones aren’t typically very comfortable, as they rely on their sleeves to put pressure on your ear canal to stay in your ears. The XBA-1s are very much the same, although you do have the option of distributing some of the weight onto your pinna if you loop the cable over the ear.

There are no in-line accessories, so using this as a headset will not work all that well.

Along with 4 different sizes of sleeve, the XBA-1 has another type of sleeve that you can use on their earbuds, if you like the added foam to block out more sound. Additionally, there is also the option of using the cord wrap to manage your cable in the pouch.

The XBA-1’s 3.94 foot long asymmetric Y cable ends in a standard 1.8th inch plug that does not come with any adapters, but for users on the go, this should be fine enough. There are no in-line accessories, so using this as a headset will not work all that well (unless you're just a really, really good listener).

For mid-range ear buds, the Sony XBA-1s tested with a decent frequency response.

They have a couple of quirks, which we'll cover in more detail on the science page. For now, what you need to know is that the Sony XBA-1s tend to favor bass tones and a handful of higher midrange tones like piano notes above middle C. Expect a little bass boost, and maybe more crash on cymbals or pick sound on a guitar than you're used to. For the most part, though, the XBA-1s stay within the ideal range.

One drawback we found while testing was that the XBA-1s have a fairly high level of harmonic distortion.

One drawback we found while testing was that the XBA-1s have a fairly high level of harmonic distortion. While practically, the mild level of distortion (around 1%) exhibited by these ear buds might not be wholly perceptible, its presence might come as a turn off for certain serious audiophiles. On the other hand, the XBA-1s exhibited little to no egregious tracking preference, meaning they balance sound to their left and right channels equally for all intents and purposes.

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In-ear headphones are typically great isolators—due to the fact that they naturally block sound by filling up your ear canals—and the XBA-1s are no different in this regard. They block out a little sound on the low end and a lot of high end frequencies; essentially, they make it much easier to listen to your tunes outside.

These above average headphones won't disappoint, unless you're specifically looking for a smartphone headset.

If you don’t mind the lack of a remote, and you’re looking for entry-level headphones that punch a bit above their weight class, the Sony XBA-1s are surprisingly good for the money you’d shell out for them. By maintaining a decent frequency response and even tracking, you aren’t very likely to hear any issues outside of a weird presentation of distortion.

It is obvious these aren’t high-end in-ears, but that’s a little unfair, as these are definitely intended to be entry level headphones. They do have struggles with a high THD power sum, but they fill the role of basic in-ears superbly. You will also notice that they block out a lot of ambient noise, much like some of the best isolators on the market.

So if you’re looking for a set of in-ears to take with you with a decent array of options like sleeve types and cable management, the Sony XBA-1s go just about anywhere, and aren’t a bad bet for listeners on the go. If you can live with the fact that they do not work as a headset, give the Sony XBA-1s a spin at your local brick and mortar store.

For entry-level ear buds, the Sony XBA-1s are decent performers. They showed off a healthy response to most frequencies—with a few mild quirks—and their channel tracking was, practically, perfect. They showed off an oddly high amount of harmonic distortion, however, and their frequency response quirks are worth going into more detail about.

We’ll hand it to the Sony XBA-1s, they stay within our ideal limits very well.

We’ll hand it to the Sony XBA-1s, they stay within our ideal limits very well, with only a few points of emphasis no greater than 5dB from the mean where the attack of common instruments reside. Unfortunately, the Sony XBA-1s do fall off quite precipitously after 10kHz, meaning a lot of resonant frequencies and the very highest notes on a pipe organ (if you listen to that sort of thing) will be muffled in comparison to the rest of your music. Keep in mind, though, that this result is still head and shoulders above most headphones in this price range.

Like most in-ears, the XBA-1s physically block out a bunch of outside sound.

These babies are able to reduce the level of outside noise from 1 to 4 orders of magnitude, the XBA-1s at worst block out 10dB (a 90% reduction in sound pressure level) and at best 40dB. What does this mean for you? Well, no matter what the frequency, the sounds from outside will sound at loudest only half as loud as they would without the headphones nestled in your ear canal, and 1/16th as loud. These are perfect for use outdoors, or on a plane, as they physically block out more noise than even some active cancelers destroy.

There's a couple more points, but nothing worth exposition.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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