I just got my first IEMs ever, moving up from my trusty Sony EX500 that I've used for the past 3 years. I just bought the last piece of the XBA-40 at Sony Singapore at S$388 yesterday! I'm inexperienced in describing SQ but i'll give my first impressions as best I can. My source is the iPhone 5 and I'll be trying out different sources with different impedance to see how it affects SQ. I listen to most types of music, acoustic, rock, jazz, classical, pop (luv k-pop currently!) and vocals.
The XBA-40 floored me. Period. I've never heard my music open up like this. The level of detail retrieval and sound staging was just unbelievable. The highs can be a tad piercing for certain types of music but I think with more burn in, it'll only get better. I auditioned UE-900 a few weeks ago which was retailed at S$600, and it impressed me with detail retrieval but the overall sound signature was a bit too veiled for my liking. The 900's sound stage also didn't feel as 3D as the XBA-40. Like what dsnuts said in the first post, I'm sold on BAs. I felt like someone had stuffed hi-end speaker components into my ear canal because the sound separation and and imaging was just "out of my head"! Last night I listened to Jason Mraz, Stacey Kent, Coldplay, smashing pumpkins, k-pop, etc.... I was just so excited like a little toddler to find out what this awesome IEM would do to my music. Everything sounded so opened up omg! Timbre of the instruments was great. Sub bass was great too. An older Mraz track "Make it mine" had plenty of horns and trombone solo. Amazing was what the XBA did! I didn't need to EQ my iPhone at all.
One track especially floored me last night - "Isn't She Lovely" by Livingston Taylor which I'd listened on various presentations over the last 10 years. The singer starts with whistling the melody, then vocals, and then full instruments come in mid-way. When I heard it on the XBAs, I almost wanted to weep and curse at the same time. The imaging was unbelievable. There was just a tenderness and fragility to the vocals that I never heard before. Every breath, phrasing, pause, intonation, whisper, accent and most of all, the emotions of the vocals came out like never before. And when the instrumentation comes on mid-way, the vocals remain there... Right "in front" of me and so 3D!
There've been some criticisms of the XBAs, and I'm no expert. I wouldn't dare comment on coloring as I had been very used to colored phones previously. I have an impression that audiophiles want neutrality and at the least, do no harm. But as far as sound staging and imaging and transparency goes, I take my hat off to Sony for the XBA-40. I believe mugen3's experience with the XB-30 is also testimony to Sony's BA series. At this price point, it is extremely bang for buck.
Got the new XBA-30s. I never had the XBA-3s so I'm not sure if they sound any different. But the 30s are amazing. I can't pick any bones with them.
The build quality is fantastic. The earpieces feel more solid this time around, and not as plasticky as the original XBAs. The cable is now a 4' Y-cord instead of the old annoying 2' J-cord. It is light, very flexible, and strong. Same with the strain reliefs. Almost no microphonics here. Just one of the best IEM cables I've seen.
Sound quality is top-tier for sure. The bass comes out strong and powerful like a dynamic, but it never masks the rest of the sound. It's linear, goes deep, tight and well textured. There's no bleed into the mids, which are just sublime. Super liquid smooth and not recessed at all. I've heard people say that voices and highs sound a bit metallic on the XBA-3s, but I'm not hearing such a thing. Everything sounds natural to me. This might've been fixed in the XBA-30s. The highs are a bit soft, but there's a lot of extension. Its non-fatiguing but still very detailed, which is the perfect highs to me. Soundstage is huge, very 3D. The background is black and imaging is super precise.
This is the most satisfying purchase I've made at $200+. The XBA-30s have a very complete and enticing sound that somehow works well with all genres. They should easily please most listeners.
Edited by Oaken - 1/16/13 at 4:24pm