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Good all-round sound and reasonably priced for Sony's newest offering

A Review On: Sony XBA-3SL

Sony XBA-3SL

Rated # 154 in In-Ear
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Price paid: $257.00
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Pros: Comes with both noise-reducing and ordinary tips and good accessories. Sound is fairly well-balanced.

Cons: Cable is a bit short by itself so the extension is always necessary.

Naotaka Tsunoda is the first person I've ever met who has the title of "Distinguished Engineer". He handed me his business card at the Fujiya Avic show in Tokyo and suggested I try the new range of IEMs he had designed with his team.


I have been looking for a reasonable pair of IEMs for a while. I previously owned the UE TF10s and have a pair of RE-ZEROs, each has their faults. The TF10s had fit issues, even reversed and the bass was too strong, as well as the cable being terrible, introducing harshness. The RE-ZEROs have a lovely treble, but almost no bass to speak of. Every pair of IEMs I tried in-store with my iPhone and Pico Slim sounded wrong in some way or another. I don't need bass cannons. I don't need screeching sibilance. I don't want mids that sound honkey. I like instruments to notes to sound like something other than a flat fart.


So, trying the XBA-4 and XBA-3 I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while not perfect (no regular IEM will ever be for me) they didn't seem to do anything majorly wrong. Now having had some time to go over a greater variety of music with them, they do lack one thing: Deep bass. But, as with my full-sized headphones, I can live without listening to club music and related genres when I use IEMs.


I almost paid the extra for the XBA-4s, but to get the subwoofer, you get a pair of IEMs which are rather huge, so I went with the compromise. The result is a sound that seems to be a bit distant, especially when I use them with the Fostex HP-P1 and, being a bit bright, I don't want to turn the volume up to compensate for that. In this regard the XBA-4s might have been a better choice as they have a slightly darker sound signature, though not significantly enough I felt (in the store) that it would change my opinion. 


Opening up the box for the first time, one finds they have a short cable, presumably intended to be used with the included extension cable, whether it be a normal one or the iPhone/iPod version. Thankfully a "cord adjuster" to wind the cable around is included. Three sizes of noise isolating and four sizes of ordinary tips are included, with the different sizes color-coded to make it easy to distinguish them. The noise isolating tips have rings of foam under the flange to reduce background noise, making them a bit stiffer on insertion. Also included is a generously-sized carrying case to put them in with a magnetic latch, similar to the case for my Plantronics Voyager, but without the belt hook.


Comparing them, briefly, to the Audio Technica line, the ATs seem to be excessively bright, though did a good job of making the music sound very spacious. In the end, the excessive sibilance with the ATs made me head back to the Sonys. My only disagreements with the frequency response would be that the usual treble peak may be a dB or two too strong and the mids and/or upper mids needing a dB or two boost, as quite a bit of music sounds a tad muffled to me, though it's hard to know how much this is purely because they are IEMs and unavoidable or just my ears, as I'm not a frequent IEM user.


In the end, I'm satisfied for my 19,800 yen. For something comparable from Audio Technica, they were asking considerably more, though the newer Pro and MKII versions have dropped in price, they still want ~$500 for the top-of-the-line models. It will definitely be interesting to read comparisons between them and the ATs from others in the future.


Pictures will follow at a later date, when I remember to take some. ;)


wait what? seriously? I tested all 4 XBAs last friday & saturday, and I found that XBA-2 & 3 are extremely dark, while XBA-4 is very balanced in either high, mid and lows :/
Seriously. Could be the result in differences of what we plugged them into. I was using the Pico Slim in store, and the Fostex HP-P1 at home and travelling. I have an iPod Classic as well, so I'll give them a go at some point and see if there is a significant difference.
possible, I tested directly to Cowon J3, and also borrowed their sony walkman Z series. My XBA-4 will arrive next week, I'll burn it in and give another impression later
I just had a question if I buy this from Japan will the warranty offered by sony be valid in Australia? I am hoping to buy XBA-4
I bought the XBA-3 and I was amazed at how good they sound. You can get them alot cheaper on kakaku.com.
I would consider myself to have a little smaller than average ears (for a guy) and I feel these hurt after using them for a while. The noise isolating tips are making my ears wider and hurt alot, so I would really recommend trying them on before buying. If anyone has an idea for more comfortable tips, I'd be grateful. Still the best sounding IEMs I have heard so far.
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