Pros: Sound stage, Separation, details, bass and price
Cons: Sibilant, thin wires
Samsung Galaxy S2 (International), IPhone 3GS, IPad 2, Macbook Pro > Creative Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium HD
Highs: Bright and detailed highs. Decay at a much later stage, and because of that, you can hear much more, e.g. like the end vibration of cymbals. But also because of this, there's some sibilant due to the extension of the highs compared to UM3X. Different tips help though.
Mids: Westone UM3X is definitely better here. Mids are pretty recessed for these. So this might affect some vocals, especially with the stronger bass, which might drown out the vocals a little.
Lows: This 2 earphones are different beasts.UM3X has got lighter but more impact-ful bass. Some people find it a little lacking, but I kinda like the balance here.
XBA-4SL has got more (read: not stronger) bass and more presence. Bass seems to appear more often, i suspect it is due to the inclusion of the sub driver. A good sub should complement the lows, so i suppose this is not the perfect sub implementation as it appears quite regularly and does not disappear often enough when its not needed.
Doing a side comparison to Westone 4, the bass is in between that of UM3X and Westone 4. W4 has this Ommmphhh to its bass, very warm and rounded sound. XBA-4SL is more impactful but less Ommphhh.. You get what i mean?
In terms of decay, i guess from my Ommphhhh opinion, you can tell that its W4 longest > XBA4 > UM3X.
Hmm... that said, the bass here is better than W4 imo, as i dont really like the "warm" ommpphhh sound to linger too long in my music.. not sure about UM3X as if you like you bass to be less strong but purposeful, you definitely prefer UM3X over this
Sound Stage & Separation:
XBA-4s win hands down here. Havent heard a BA earphones with such a big sound stage. It is still not at the level of good headphones (read: not Beats) nor is it comparable to IE8/80, it is still wider than Westone 3, Westone UM3X, UE TF10. Havent got enough time with W4 to make a good judegment as i was too disturbed by the Ommphhh... (Really tempted to buy a W4R to compare...)Maybe i am a bit bias here as I just came from UM3X which has this tight and concise sound.
Separation:Wins too! different instruments and even vocals are separated much clearer here. For example Franz Ferdinand - Darts of Pleasure, I never knew that there's this almost always present backup vocals throughout the song despite my relatively good set of earphones and more modest DAC/AMP.
In Radiohead's Exit Music, during the "Chorus" (if theres such a thing in that song) where the "diiiiidiiiiiidiiii" sound comes on, you can really hear the separation there and its really surprising. I have since used this track and this portion to grade good earphones and this XBA-4 passed this pretty well, other than a little sibilant that i spoke about above.
Sensitivity & Easibility to Drive:This XBA4 is less sensitive than Westone UM3X. So because of this, it is less likely to pickup source imperfection. This would be beneficial if you are using "noisy" equipment like smartphones and laptops. But even when using dedicated equipment, it is good enough to reflect the change in equipment clearly.Despite its relatively low resistance, it is actually harder to drive than UM3X. The only thing i can say is that, if you have problem hearing and need extreme loudness, be prepared to invest in the amp. E.g. for UM3X, even the lowest volume on my equipment is at times too loud for me. But for XBA4, i need to increase the volume 3-4 levels up to reach the same volume output.
The reason i never touch much for mids is because i mainly listen to guys singing in rock/indie bands and thus, they kinda fall under this category. So going forward, mids and vocals will be used interchangeably.
As mentioned, UM3X does have better sounding mids/vocals. Its smoother and more wholesome, more suited for male vocals i suppose.
For XBA-4, it is brighter and thus, "higher"? And it is also more recessed and due to the "stronger" bass, its get kinda drowned out more. As mentioned, this will not be a problem if you are listening to female, electronic, dubstep or songs that go "gee gee geeee" in general.
That say, somehow rap songs sounds kinda good. This is with reference with Kanye West/Jay-Z watch the throne, esp my current fav "Ni**s in Paris".
In terms of musicality, how do you define this actually?This is more of a reference sounding (read: like UM3X) than say Westone 3 and Westone 4. You kinda hear what is actually recorded compared to something that makes you go "WOW" on the first try and gets weirder the longer you hear it. I like my earphones this way but its just my personal reference. So that means, if you are "Beats" kinda person, you might not enjoy this much.
So in conclusion, despite bringing in other earphones, i shall just conclude with a comparison with UM3X which i have the most experience with.
The result is.... No Conclusion!! Think i still need more time with this new toy. Current feeling is that it is very different from UM3X. Kinda on the short-run, you might prefer XBA-4S but for everyday listening, you might want to stick to UM3X. This because UM3X gives you a less taxing, less detailed but smoother sound, while XBA-4S throws tonnes of details at you at the expense of ear fatigue.
All in all, seems like Sony wanted to bring the best of say UM3X, Westone 4 and AT CK100 and mesh it into 1 but fall short as putting the best of everything together makes it sounds flawed and mechanic. Nevertheless, having hearing it for sometime on hours each, it is growing on me, and this can just be my make.believe. (Back at you Sony!)