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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.

The Sony XBA-3s offer a decent level of customization as far as in-ears go.

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 do a surprisingly good job maintaining a mostly flat frequency response.

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.

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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.

Overall, the Sony XBA-3 balanced armature in-ears tested with surprisingly good frequency response, though their total harmonic distortion was alarmingly high. As producers of sound and music, we think most people will be pleased to get this kind of performance out of something that's also fully portable. However, audiophiles should take a peep at the graphs and data below to make sure some favored aspect of the listening experience has not gone amiss.

The Sony XBA-3s tested with a solid frequency response, living up to their price.

A frequency response graph illustrates how a pair of headphones responds to each of the frequencies it will process while playing back audio content. Ideally, we want to see a mostly flat response, meaning all frequencies from bass all the way up to overblown piccolo are of the same volume.

Outside of an unusual dip in the 8-9kHz range, the Sony XBA-3s have a fairly impressive frequency response, even maintaining the highs a lot better than many other headphones we’ve seen. The Sony XBA-3s do emphasize bass a bit (10dB, or about twice as loud as other notes), but overall the response is fairly flat, albeit a bit angled towards the lower frequencies.

Less accuracy than we expected

Despite the somewhat low level of distortion on the graph, the total power sum of the distortion is quite high, meaning the accuracy of the sound is quite a bit lower than normal.

Total harmonic distortion (THD) is a measure of error and interference produced by your audio setup that is playing back audio content. If you've ever heard noisy fuzz while tuning a radio, you've got some idea of what distortion sounds like—only the XBA-3s total of 3% will not be nearly as apparent while listening, but it is there. It's not the best result, but for the most part should not overtly impact your listening experience.

More data, but less important

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.

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