Sony XBA-3 Review
The Sony XBA-3s (MSRP $279) have a few impressive performance points on their own to boast about.
Meet the XBA-3, the higher-end offering in Sony’s new line of balanced armature in-ear headphones. While these headphones offer good frequency response, they have a few hangups that may give some buyers pause. Still, the Sony XBA-3s (MSRP $279) have a few impressive performance points of their own to boast about.
Comfort Design & Features
As usual, these in-ears are highly portable, but not terribly comfortable.
The Sony XBA-3s offer a decent level of customization as far as in-ears go. With two types of sleeve and several sizes, you can ensure a good fit. Additionally, you can use the included rubber cable wrap to control the rat’s nest in potentia that are in-ear headphone cables. With the included cable management system for the 3.94 foot asymmetric-Y cable that terminates in a standard 1/8th inch plug, and leather carrying case, the Sony XBA-3s can go just about anywhere with you, and will not be a huge burden in your pocket, purse, or bag. However, aside from being able to remove the foam in the nozzle to clean, there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do to maintain the XBA-3s.
Due to the fact that in-ear headphones rely on putting pressure on your ear canal to stay in place, it’s not much of a surprise to note that the Sony XBA-3s do inflict a small level of discomfort upon you if none of the sleeve sizes fit quite right. Even if they do, you’ll still note a strange pressure sensation if you don’t loop the cables over your ears to distribute the weight away from the ear canal. However, if you do this, the cable split ends up in an awkward spot.
Good frequency response and fantastic isolation, dragged down by wonky distortion.
For in-ear headphones, the XBA-3s do a surprisingly good job maintaining a mostly flat frequency response. While there's a small dip in the emphasis of high frequency sounds which will lessen the volume of high pitched cymbal slaps to some degree, for the most part, it's a very good result. The XBA-3s emphasize bass frequencies a little more than normal, but some people actually prefer that, especially considering the human ear tends to naturally need bass tones to be oh higher volume than mid tones to hear.
The XBA-3s struggled with minimizing their total harmonic distortion, resulting in a power sum that's higher than average. What this means for you is not too alarming, though. Those with well-trained ears may notice inaccuracy of sound in very low frequencies, but the vast majority of listeners will not notice this. It's not a good result, but it's more problematic on a technical level than anything. Similarly, even though there are small blemishes with the tracking of the Sony XBA-3, these are largely academic and are not audible to the human ear. You shouldn’t notice any shift in channel preference.
As for their isolation ability, the XBA-3s block out noise quite well. While in-ear headphones are typically very good at preventing ambient noise form reaching your ears by physically preventing it from ever getting there, the Sony XBA-3s are great at blocking out a wide array of frequencies.
The Sony XBA-3s are decent headphones, but are pricy for the low amount of features they offer.
This year, Sony introduced the XBA line of in-ear headphones, with their balanced armature driver technology. Among the higher end models is the XBA-3 ($279 MSRP), the triple-driver in-ear offering from Sony to satisfy audiophiles on the go. While these headphones lack quite a bit in features, they make up for it in frequency response.
No headphones are perfect when it comes to audio quality, and for the Sony XBA-3s, that comes in a high level of total harmonic distortion, even if the general level of distortion is somewhat low. On top of this, smartphone users will probably balk at the Sony XBA-3’s inability to be used as a headset.
All said and done though, these are a pair of headphones with a somewhat radical internal design, and the fact that they turned out this well is good news for the future. If you’re looking for a pair of standalone headphones, there are worse at this price point, and the Sony XBA-3s definitely have something to offer if you lament the loss of high frequencies in lower-priced headphones.
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