David Solomon – Headphones.com
SINGLE BALANCED ARMATURE FROM SONY
I have enjoyed reviewing Sony’s new XBA
line thus far. For the most part, it is a success, especially granted the prices of the individual models. However, none are more impressive to me than the XBA-1
, which at the affordable price of $71.99, is among the best values in the in-ear market today!
THE FIT AND THE FINISH
The XBA-1 comes in two versions. One features a Y-split cable design with Apple remote and microphone embedded into the left side. This model is known as the XBA-1iP. The other version, known simply as the XBA-1, features an uneven cable split intended to be worn behind the head and does not come with an Apple Remote which means you cannot use it for phone calls. I much prefer the Y-split cable design. I wish the cable design of the XBA-1 was the same as the XBA-1iP. Even should you not intend to pair the XBA-1 with a phone, you may in fact find it worth the extra cost just for the superior cable design. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion.
The packaging here is nothing fancy, but still attractive. The XBA-1 ships with a soft carrying pouch which although serves its purpose, may not be suited for busy (and sometimes less than careful) users. I always prefer a hard-shell carrying pouch. Sony also includes an accessory which allows you to wind your cable up both for storage and for customizing the length while using. It’s a nice consideration, but ultimately I didn’t find it necessary.
As mentioned, the cable design of the XBA-1 is designed to rest behind the head. I prefer the Y-split cable design of the iPhone enabled version. The earpieces are designed to have the cable fall straight down rather than wrap behind the ear. Both models feature a right-angle plug, which is always preferred for portable use since it puts less strain on the headphone output.
The XBA-1 ships with a variety of differently-sized silicone ear tips as well as differently-sized silicone / foam hybrid eartips. The foam/silicone hybrids are a fantastic for getting the most noise isolation possible, but some may feel that the plain silicone tips are more comfortable. Overall, the comfort level of the XBA-1 is pretty good. I prefer earphones that have the cable wrap behind the ear because they actually feel less heavy this way as the cable doesn’t hang down from your ear. The earpieces of the XBA-1 are small enough that they do not carry too much weight.
ALL ABOUT THE SOUND…
For its price, the XBA-1 is a fantastic in-ear model. No it doesn’t possess quite the clarity and overall transparency of the pricier XBA models, but it is the best value, in my opinion.
- Balanced tone (close to neutral)
- Good with a variety of genres
- Albeit, a little bass shy
- Not as transparent as pricier models
- Rolled off in the highs
Listening to Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”, I was impressed by the XBA-1’s ability to handle multiple percussion parts with above average clarity. The bass extension was lacking for me just a tad. I felt the XBA-2
is noticeably fuller in this regard. When the panned drum solos start up close to the end of the track, I was rather surprised by the quality of the sound – the toms and timbales had a great snap quality to them.
Listening to “OMG” by Usher, I wasn’t floored. Ideally, I would want more bass than the XBA-1 had to offer. These aren’t the earphones you are going to want if you are looking for sub-bass. While the vocals had great presence and were not fatiguing or sibilant, I ultimately felt that at the end of this track, the SL99 from Soul by Ludacris was far better for r&b.
Listening to “One” by Metallica, I noticed that because the track already lacks deep bass, the XBA-1 did not appear to be bass deficient. During the faster section, I felt that the drums and guitar were competing a bit and the overall fidelity was certainly diminished in comparison to the softer section.
Switching to Wynton Marsalis’s “In the Court of King Oliver,” I specifically wanted to hear how the piano would mesh with the drums. The trumpet was right out front as it should be, being the lead instrument, but the piano was slightly blurred against the resonating cymbals.
The XBA-1 is one of the least expensive balanced-armature earphones on the market today. Based on its performance, I consider it a great value. Many will prefer the iPhone-compatible version, not only for this added feature, but also because the Y-split cable design is more common. Either way, the XBA-1 and XBA-1iP are both worth consideration if you’re in the market for a sub-$100 in-ear.
Rating Chart & Price Point
|Design & Features
||8.5 out of 10