Big numbers, it seems today that this is nothing more than a huge marketing ploy. A bigger number is associated with better quality in the US; however, this isn’t always true.
Although late to the game, Sony releases a new line of balanced armature headphones to get back in. They offer the XBA series with 1, 2, 3, and 4 drivers respectively.
The XBA-4 has 4 drivers, making it the second universal ever to have 4 balanced armature drivers; the first being the Westone 4s I reviewed earlier.
- Driver: 4 Balanced Armature Drivers (1 woofers, 1 super-woofer, 1 tweeter, 1 full-range)
- Frequency Response: 3 Hz – 28 kHz
- Impedance: 8 ohms
- Sensitivity: 108 dB
In the Box
- Sony XBA-4iP
- Hard-Leather Carrying Case
- Silicone Tips (XS/S/M/L/XL)
- Foamed Silicone Tips (S/M/L)
- Cable Clip
- Cable Winder
The design of the XBA4s is really large, but light. They really have a nice glossy, large design to them. Composed of two pieces of plastic, one charcoal colored and one silver, they are just flashy with their design. A red band circles right above the strain relief on the right earpiece while the left strain relief has a bump sticking out to allow the right and left to be picked out blindly.
The Sony brand name is plastered and boldly printed on each housing to tell the world these are Sony’s. On the opposite side is the XBA-4 branding along with the right and left markers, the right marker again in red, the left in white. The entire design of the XBA4s, albeit being large, really looks grand and promising.
On the backside of each earpiece is a series of orange, metallic rectangles. These rectangles show the driver arrangement on the inside of the monitor. In this case, there are 4 drivers in a diamond formation. 2 woofers, 1 tweeter, and 1 full range powers the XBA4. The XBA4s offer a unique sound that is texture driven with a nice punch for the bass. The midrange is smooth, but still energetic and detailed. The high end compares to many other Sony’s I’ve heard, they are laid back, somewhat metallic, but still have good sparkle.
The bass on the XBAs, like said above, are texture driven. That said, the texture and shaping of bass on these is absolutely beautiful and resounding. The entire imaging is picture perfect and amazing in nature. The bass punch is just that, a good punch. However, it just isn’t powerful to create the impact it needs with an overshadowing bass body that is slightly too large and can wash out the bass impact at times. The body, however, does provide great bass presence.
The midrange on these Sony’s is really fluid. However, Sony engineers do give the XBA-4s a good amount of energy allowing them to avoid being too lush, but also not in your face like a pair of Etymotics. The clarity and transparency of the midrange is really well tuned, but don’t offer the largest soundstage. Detailing from the lower-mids all the way up to the upper-mids are done without being forced. Slightly laid back, but still full of energy and power, the midrange is a beautiful artform in itself.
At the high end, the XBAs perform well, but can definitely use some work. The highs have great sparkle and energy. The detailing on these is great, especially knowing how laid back they actually are. The highs, however, have sort of a metallic sound to them; slightly too metallic causing them to become sibilant at times. Slight smearing also can plague these at times. Although it has a few problems, the laid back, energetic sparkle still contains the detailing we want and is still, overall, good.
The housings on the XBAs are extremely large, but plastic. The plastic, however, is tough and strong allowing them to withstand abuse. They really just have a nice solid feeling to them. The strain reliefs coming out of each housings is extremely large and durable, but also flexible enough at the same time.
Moving downward, the cables follow a semi- flat design. This semi-flat design doesn’t become a nuisance when winding the cable up. However, it is able to still resist a good amount of tangling due to its ovular shape. The cable itself has a good amount of thickness throughout and is really well built.
The headphone jack is, like the rest of the build, well made. The headphone jack, like the housings, is made of plastic to match the charcoal color of the housings. The strain relief sticking out of this is large and flexible, but certainly not as obtrusively-large as the one on the housing.
The comfort with the XBAs is absolutely perfect… If you only plan to wear them down. Although the housings are large their light weight really makes them not as problematic as it should be. Even for my small ears, I was able to get a good fit wearing them cable down. However, wearing them up is where the problem comes. Although this style of wearing is entirely possible, it can be slightly problematic due to the enormous strain reliefs Sony used on the earbuds.
To ensure that everyone can get a good fit, Sony does include their comfortable hybrid tips. As a bonus, Sony does provide listeners with their noise isolating, foam-filled hybrid tips.
Although not their flagship model, the XBA4s do bring you back a bit since they are priced at 370 and 350 for the mic’d and non-mic’d models respectively. Although a steep price, the Sony XBAs do serve a good value for their price sound-wise. Although they can use a few more tweaks in the price to really be worth its price. The comfort does also hinder the price a bit since it is difficult to wear over the ear. Everything else is really just solid and adds to the value, that includes the remote and mic as well. However, for 370 dollars I am expecting better audio quality.
With their first steps into balanced armature technology, Sony, although not hitting it out of the park, does get a nice hit on the ball. A great first try, and more importantly a huge step forward. Allowing for a unique signature, the XBA4s are a good value overall.