Pros: Sound Stage, instrument separation, clearity, and value!
Cons: Bass could be a bit too much for certain musics. Lack of earbud chocies compare to Shure.
Hi I spent sometime at the local Sonystyle demoing these and thought I'd share my n00b impression.
I'll start off with the conclusion for those who don't want to read the full review.
"These are great in-ear-monitor (IEM) with a VERY strong bass presents, with clear and fine detailed mids and treble (highs)!"
The XBA 4 means there are 4 balanced - armature drivers each responsible or the different frequency of music (high, mids, low, ultra low). These are supposed to be compete with well established multi-driver IEMs like Shure SE535(3 driver) and Weston 3/4s(3/4 driver). I personally own a pair of Shure SE535 and have also listened to the Weston 4S. Sony presented a really interesting product at slightly lower price of the SE535 and Weston 4s while providing the 4th driver that the SE535 misses.
Sony is one of the best at making well crafted and polished products at any price point compare to the competitors just like Apple, and the XBA4 is no exception. However the chrome you see in the pics are not actually metal but polished chrome plastic! It feels light in the hand. The wire connectors are all gold plated, while the wire themselves feels a bit thinner than I'd hoped at this price point! BTW Sony claim the drivers are made in Japan while the box say the whole thing is made in Thailand which I've noticed a lot of Sony products are instead of what you'd expect, China! The cable says made in China!
DESIGN & FEATURES//////
I think the XBA4 are greatly designed. As pointed out in Amazon the kit includes:
Hybrid Earbuds (SS, S, M, L x2)
Noise Isolation Earbuds (S, M, L x2)
I couldn't tell if the demoed unit I was using was the Hybrid or the Noise Isolation buds or what size. They fitted in my ear fine while I would of opted for a larger size on both ears. In this regard the Shure SE535 comes on top by providing more variety of earbuds for and more tailored fit and occasion. On my SE535 I choose the cone shaped foam buds not available from Sony which in my opinion provided a better seal than rubber or silicon buds.
At this price point the Sony includes a iPhone control and mic which is something SE535 owners can only envy about as that's a $50 outside option for us.
On the note of the cable, the XBA4's cables are not user replace/upgradeable while the Shure SE535 and Weston 4S are.
I spent an hour at the local SonyStyle store comparing the XBA4 and my own SE535LE (the red ones). I listen to a couple of my current favorite songs: 1 Japanese Rock, 1 Electronic Rock, 1 Nora Jones Jazz, and 1 Adele song.
The first impression of the XBA4 on both Rock songs is that the 4th sub-woofer driver really make its present felt in both songs pumping out the biggest bass I've ever heard from a IEM including my SE535LE and Weston 4S! However the big thumping bass turns out to be a double-edged sword with farther comparing to my SE535LE.
In the 1st song which is a Japanese Rock song that emphasis on mid to hi vocal and symphony instruments, the XBA4's bass provided a full sound with great sound stage (the feel of music being played on stage) and great instrument separation . However compared to my SE535LE the mids and highs are more recessed. The SE535 while didn't have the bass to compete with the XB4 its mids and highs means a more forward vocal and enjoyable symphony portion of the song. Compare to the SE535, the XBA4 had just a bit too much bass, which over shadowed the vocal and the great instruments separation in the song.
In the 2nd song, which is very fast pace and bassy electronic song, the XBA4 really shined through the SE535LE. The extra driver as the sub woofer really played well with this song and provided a much more engaging experience compare to the SE535. However again when the vocals came in the SE535LE just did a better job on presenting a person's voice! For this song I've to say the XBA4 was slightly the better choice. While the XBA4 wasn't as far behind as I'd thought.
In the 3rd song by Nora Jones, I was expecting the audiophile reputable SE535LE to walk all over the XBA4 because bass isn't so present in her songs and from the experience of 2 previous songs. I was actually wrong! In Nora Jone's jazz the XBA4's 4th sub woofer simply didn't engage and I was listening to the 3 remaining driver handling the low-mid-his. Surprisingly Jone's voice sounded crystal clear and great separation of instruments and sound stage. So its shows even though the XBA4 really emphasis on bass the other drivers are not bad also. So in this song the XBA4 didn't trail the SE535 by as much as I'd had thought. The XBA4 had really clear sound but the SE535LE just sounded more warm and musical.
In the final famous song from Adele, I have the say the XBA4 was a tie with the SE535LE. With more bass Adele's strong vocal sounded much fuller than the SE535, while the SE535 had the upper hand in the mids and highs. In this song its down to the personal preference to the listener, both sounded really good with Adele, its really your personal preference on a bassy fuller sound or a more forward and engaging mids and highs. This is why I always demo earphone/headphones before buying because at the same price range the same music can sound very different between brands.
The XBA4 is a fine product thats a very close shoot at the audiophile grade SE535 and Weston 4S but with a very different sound, emphasizing on the bass. So if bass is very important for you, this earphone is not to be missed! However if you listen to a wide genera of music, you might still want to stay with the old guard of Shure and Weston. REALLY DEMO these before you buy!
If you like my review please give me a thumbs up on Amazon!