Sony has always liked the letter X. Who can forget Sony’s X-plod car amplifiers and the unfortunate connotations of X-plod when applied to automotive audio? Undaunted, Sony has introduced eleven new models of XBA headphones. XBA stands for “Experience Balanced Armature.” Who knew that experience began with an X?Playback chose Sony’s XBA-3 earphones ($279) for review. These sit one below the top-of-the-line XBA-4 earphones and feature a three-way driver system consisting of a full range driver combined with separate tweeter and woofer drivers. The new Sony balanced armature drivers are one fourth the size of a standard 13.5mm driver, so three drivers can fit in a much smaller housing than conventional designs. The XBA-3 earpiece enclosure features a double-layered housing with an inner magnesium shell to hold the balanced armature drivers and an outer ABS shell to block and absorb unwanted vibrations.
The XBA-3s come with a leather case with a magnetic latch, four sizes of hybrid silicon eartips (SS, S, M, and L), three sizes of noise isolation eartips (S, M, and L), and a cord adjuster. Most of the XBA earphone models are available in an iP version with volume and muting for iPads, iPods, and iPhones for an extra $20.
Unlike many earphones, which have the same length cords for the right and left earpieces, Sony chose to make the cord to the right ear substantially longer than the left. You must wear the XPA-3s so that the longer right-hand cord goes behind your head while the shorter left hand side hangs straight down. If you are used to or need to have your headphone cord trail down your right side, you’re out of luck, unless you purposely switch the right and left earpieces (a practice not recommended by Sony). Also because the cord from your left ear hangs straight down while the cable on your right ear has the weight buffer of your shoulders, the XBA-3s pull more on the left side earpiece.
For proper fit Sony, I ended up using the mid-sized noise-isolating tips, which differ from the silicon hybrid tips in that they have a layer of foam inside that makes them slightly firmer than their silicon brethren. Unlike some of the more compact earphones on the market, the XBA-3 earphones do not fit deep within your inner ear canals; instead, their earpieces rest in the main cavities of your outer ears. Once seated properly the XBA-3 stayed in place as well as any in-ear headphone I’ve tried. No amount of head-shaking or movement had any negative effect on the fit.