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Sony XBA-4: Exciting but Flawed

A Review On: Sony XBA-4SL

Sony XBA-4SL

Rated # 193 in In-Ear
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Price paid: $384.00
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Pros: Good comfort, strong isolation, holographic instrument separation and uncanny imaging

Cons: Very dark, thick sound, metallic shimmer to the highs, hard to wear cable up, cable tangles easily, needs low impedance source

Along with the summary below, I have a review thread comparing the Sony EX1000, 7550, XBA-4 and XBA-40 here:
The XBA-4 has quite a comfortable design. Despite the large size of the earpieces they fit in my ear well and the light weight makes them quite comfortable. However, depending on the shape of your ear the large body may be uncomfortable with your outer ears. I found the elliptical cable tangled quite easily. The XBA-4 is designed to be worn cable down and doesn't work with cable up wear, which means microphonics is an issue (though not severe). 
The XBA-4 is a very dark sounding earphone, and to some it might even sound congested. (Think Earsonics SM3). The bass reaches very deep and the mids have a glossy clarity about them. Unfortunately they have a metallic shimmer to the treble that pops up every now and then in tracks and sounds decidedly unnatural. Because of the severe impedance swings of the XBA-4, the IEM is highly source sensitive and will sound shriller with sources with a higher output impedance. The real drawcard is that the XBA-4 has, lurking underneath the thick and intimate sound, a absolutely astounding ability to separate instruments and place them within a soundstage. On densely layered electronica the XBA-4 sounds like a revelation.
I would recommend the new revision XBA-40 over the XBA-4, but only for those who are fans of dark signatures to begin with. The XBA-4 is definitely an acquired taste and not nearly as balanced as some other earphones on the market. I personally really liked the XBA-4 but concede that it is not a good choice for most people, considering that even at a discount price there are more balanced dynamic drivers that are more balanced and more ergonomic. Still, if you listen to a lot of electronica and you have a chance to get these at a decent price (below $150) they may be your cup of tea!


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