Not only is there zero audible distortion, these headphones also strike an even balance of volume in the left and right channels. From sub-bass up to the highest range, emphasis is expertly allocated, which captures a wealth of musical detail. Add to that killer isolation and you've got just about everything you could ask for.

Sony's XBA-C10IP in-ear headphones ($69.95) deserve praise for great sound quality. No audible distortion, great balance, proper emphasis across the audible spectrum—these little guys deliver all the good stuff.

Unfortunately, the build quality and price tag aren't as admirable.

When it comes to in-ears, the competition is pretty vicious: Terrific sound is an obvious must, but in order to truly stand out, you also need to be the toughest, the cheapest, or the prettiest—which means these Sonys (as great as they are) aren't a 100% win.

To determine how a product allots emphasis to various points along the audible listening spectrum, we test the frequency response and chart the results. The Sony XBA-C10IP in-ears produce a very healthy soundscape, which means that music is detailed and balanced.

During this portion of testing, we often find that headphones boost volume throughout the sub-bass and bass range, creating the sort of thumping, pounding bass that many listeners today prefer. These Sony in-ears are more refined than that, though. Instead of blasting bass, the C10IPs handle the lower range very evenly, simultaneously dropping volume on middle and high notes. That way, the bass still thumps, but nothing sounds garish or unnatural, and no portion of the range is so grossly over- or underemphasized as to compromise little details in music like harp plucks or delicate notes on a flute.

Listeners therefore can expect to enjoy ample bass support, along with plenty of texture and detail in the mid and upper range.

House made of straw

Sony didn't exactly shoot for the stars in terms of the XBA-C10IP's design. Although the scheme is fairly pleasing to the eye, many of the materials are basic and flimsy—which is a letdown, given the $69 asking price.

A little bar latches onto the cable—just pop it onto your cord and coil the slack to get the perfect length.

Buyers can choose from white or black—and that's it. The silver speaker backs are the only sleek design element you'll find. Users are sure to love some of the accessories that ship with the C10IP, though. The most unusual extra is a little bar that latches onto the cable; just pop it onto your cord and coil the slack to get the perfect length. There's also a shirt clip and three extra, different-sized silicone sleeves. The shirt clip is certainly a useful inclusion—just affix it gently to that flimsy cable to avoid damage—and the extra sleeves make it easier to find the right fit. On the whole, these simple headphones are really quite comfortable.

Maybe my biggest complaint is the lack of a carry pouch. These in-ears don't have any sort of special protection for vulnerable flex points, and the cord itself is very bottom rung. A case would have been an excellent way to preserve these headphones, but users are instead left to their own devices (likely a bedraggled sock).

Performs well beyond its price

Audio quality this good is something you'd expect on more expensive in-ears than the Sony XBS-C10IP. Common pitfalls like distortion and major imbalances in emphasis simply aren't an issue here.

You won't hear any unwanted noise, distorted harmonics, and the like—just clean, clear music.

In fact, the C10IP tested with truly excellent results in more ways than one. Unless you're listening very loudly, you won't hear any unwanted noise, distorted harmonics, and the like—just clean, clear music. Stuck next to a gaggle of yapping loudmouths at the office? Pop these things in your ears and enjoy some monster isolation. As in-ears, the C10IPs naturally block a bunch of outside noise from entering you ear canal. I used the XBA-C10IP on a cross country flight and even screaming children didn't stand a chance against the C10IP's dynamite isolation.

Bass rumbles, but the pluck of a harp string or the rata-tat-tat of a snare is easy to make out, too.

Of course, now that we know the devil isn't in the details, we can get into the real meat and potatoes: In terms of emphasis, these headphones balance sound expertly and tastefully from top to bottom. Instead of boosting bass, the C10IP handles this range flatly and evenly. Does that mean your music sounds "thin" and high pitched? No, because a moderate drop in volume occurs throughout middle and high-middle notes, making bass sound plenty prominent in comparison. Music therefore sounds detailed and full: Bass rumbles, but the pluck of a harp string or the rata-tat-tat of a snare is easy to make out, as well.

Of course, all the great balance in the world won't matter if distortion riddles the soundstage. When we test for distortion, we're looking to find no more than an average of 3% total harmonic distortion across the whole spectrum.

The Sony C10IP in-ears leap to almost 8% distortion in the sub-bass range, but that's nothing to cry over—the human ear isn't especially sensitive to these super low frequencies. Elsewhere, the measures remain below a 2% threshold, making for very solid overall results.

Just don't listen louder than 98.38dB or total harmonic distortion will rise above 3%.

The C10IP in-ears naturally block your ear canals, making it very tough for outside noise to get in. That's why users can expect some monster noise isolation here. These things block 25.6dB of outside sound, which is comparable and even better than what we find on active noise canceling models.

Low noises, like growling engines, are cut to as much as a half their volume or more. Midrange irritants are reduced to as much as 1/8, and very high-pitched noises to 1/16. These are wonderful results. I used the XBA-C10IP on a cross country flight and they served me very, very well—talk about golden silence.

Other Tests...

Top sound quality, bottom-rung body

Thanks to time in the lab, it's completely clear what a winner the Sony XBA-C10IP headphones are in terms of sheer audio quality. From distortion, to balance, to emphasis, to isolation, it was just one strong win after another.

Brands like AKG and Panasonic offer compelling sound quality and cheaper prices, making these Sonys a tougher sell.

But you'd better keep the XBA-C10IP in-ears wrapped up, safe and sound, if you want them to last. Scrounge up an old glasses case, maybe a stray sock, because these $69 headphones are very fragile—and they don't even come with a case. The cable isn't removable, and it's as flimsy as can be, so don't expect these things to hold up for long at the bottom of your gym bag.

As long as you keep them somewhere safe, you'll probably really enjoy these Sony in-ears. They look good and they sound great, after all. Still, brands like AKG and Panasonic offer compelling sound quality and cheaper prices, making these Sonys a tougher sell.

Meet the testers

Virginia Barry

Virginia Barry

Former Managing Editor

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Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.

See all of Virginia Barry's reviews

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