Lachlan‘s video reviews are going strong, and this time, he decided to review the entry-level Sony XBA-1.
The Sony XBA-1 is an earphone that I used to own — I got it in the heyday of Sony’s massive PR promotion for their Balanced Armature line, and I thought it was quite nice for its price. Plus, it came with a nice promotional coffee mug that I use for my morning caffeine fix!
For simplicity’s sake, the Sony XBA-1 can be described as a balanced-sounding earphone with decent accuracy, but maintains the classic Sony house sound, albeit with the typical single BA twist. The bass is mild, and doesn’t quite have the punch many are looking for, but the frequency response is fairly well-distributed throughout the audible spectrum. The one patent acoustic drawback, in my opinion, to the XBA-1 is that it has a bit more THD and odd-order distortion than the average dynamic driver earphone.
In his review, Lachlan makes many points that I agree with, but I differ from him in one large aspect in that I do believe the XBA-1 is a good value, rather than its being nothing special. While the retail list price is not trivial, street prices for the XBA-1 are quite a bit lower — the single balanced armature earphone can be found for $50-60 USD *brand new* if one is smart about looking for the right deals (perhaps prices in Australia are firmer).
My reasoning for this positive assessment is that a balanced armature driver-based IEM is virtually non-existent at that price point. Yes, there are the models that use Knowles’ SR “Siren” armature driver, which is technically BA, but I consider that driver pretty poor in performance. SR drivers tend to run warm, which is pleasant, but bass is relatively texture-less and can sound a bit boomy. Why would anyone want to buy a BA-based earphone for those attributes? There are plenty of dynamic driver earphones at the same price that can deliver the same type of sound and do it better.
Also, unlike SR-based earphones, at least the XBA-1 sounds classically “BA” — some people might not like that quality, but if you’re looking for a balanced, relatively accurate BA earphone that’s both comfortable and won’t break the bank, the XBA-1 is a great choice. The updated XBA-10 does away with the J-cord, replaces the OFC cable with a high-quality PCOCC-A cable (with improved ergonomics because of the added serrations), and is only marginally higher in price.
In the sub-$100 category, yes, the HiFiMAN RE-400 is probably one of the best choices around when it comes to sound quality (I haven’t yet heard it personally, but I trust in Fang Bian’s capabilities), but it’s priced at a firm $99 (before shipping costs), which is a significant step up in pricing.
If you think the XBA-1/10 may be up your alley, consider giving it a try. I personally believe it’s the best value in the entire Sony XBA lineup. It’ll be great as a backup pair or even as an everyday beater — at the very least, you won’t shed too many tears or fear financial ruin by picking one up.
- Frequency response comparison of the XBA-1 against the Etymotic ER4S (Japanese)
- Frequency response comparison of the XBA-10 against the Etymotic ER4S (Japanese)
Mr. T is an in-ear fanatic by day, and writes SOAP notes by night. He pities the fool who actually has the patience to read through his stuff.
Full Author Bio