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I'm re-trying all the tips for the xba-3, but I think I have a basic impression of the sound now.
In general, I find these to be essentially the best of the pairs I've tested "overall". With the best tips and fit the bass is tamed to a much more neutral level. The overall sound has clarity, depth, low end, good separation, decent soundstage, etc. I only hear two flaws in the sound signature, one more serious than the other.
First, they lack some sort of mid frequency that, on certain songs, makes the sound sort of thin in the middle. It is very slight, and overall the mids are good, but simply more dry and laid back than flat or forward. The second and larger issue is a certain treble frequency that can be very fatiguing and/or harsh for lack of better words. This isn't the same sibilant frequency as the gr07 and other pairs that bring out vocal sibilance in a way that is tearing. On the contrary, the vocals are pretty decent. While there might be some sibilance, it is fairly well controlled overall.
The frequency I'm referring to is more of a metallic pitch that makes certain drums and high frequency instruments stand out a great deal, but in a very narrow spike-like band. In other words, sibilance might be in a range of vocals on some headphones because it covers say a few hundred hz of frequency range. The spike in the xba-3 almost seems more narrow, say 50hz wide. This is completely theoretical and I'm not trying to actually nail the frequency, but the issue is that very small details in a drum for instance will sound very forward and loud while most of the drum sounds correct.
Overall, this makes the music sound bright and clear, but with the occasional irritating effect getting in the way. I'm trying to see if I get used to them. Overall, I'd still say the pfe is the most neutral having a bit more forward mid-treble. Perhaps the xba-3 would benefit from a little more mid-treble and a little less high treble? Not sure. The bass give the much needed realism to pianos, basses, etc., which enhances the overall realism of the sound scape in general. However, the treble spike detracts from the whole listening experience, because not only can it be distracting when heard, but it can be borderline irritating on the eardrum. Almost like the small narrow frequency is tapping your ear.
I'll try more and report back later...
Wow you just reviewed in a few words all the IEMs I am comparing for an upcoming purchase, thank you so much ahha!
:-) I'm still working on the xba-3. It's a very interesting set. If I had to pick one now it would be the xba-3. I'm finding the fit it very important with some sets more than others.
I'm not using the smallest tips without foam lining, and not only is the bass very neutral, the metallic highs are almost completely gone. So much so I keep finding myself listening 'trying' to hear it. So far, i've been frustrated because every time i listen to certain sets they sound different. So, at this point, I listened in bed last night and I'm listening now, and I haven't had any difference in sound with these tips. In other words, they have sounded consistently the same with each listen, where as others had changes with minor fit adjustments.
This might be something that is very difficult to gauge for each person, but critical for sound quality. This is my take so far on the fit of each model.
ba200 easy to insert, fairly easy to get the correct sound and seal, however small adjustments for me can change the tone drastically. Once in place though they seem to stay well and fit isn't hard to achieve. this is probably due to the fact the three flange tips simply don't work for me well.
hf5 worse than ba200 for me. almost impossible to get a good fit. when I did it worked well, but the three flange tips can be very uncomfortable for me when inserted deeply due to my canal shape (i assume). less insertion depth never sounds correct.
ue700, pretty easy fit overall, no major strengths or weaknesses. adjustments can make tonal changes, but once in place they don't change at all
gr07 very good fit, easy to achieve fit, despite being larger and heavier than most. adjusting can affect the sound a little, but they stay in place well and finding the right position is fairly easy
pfe112 the best of the bunch by far. ergonomic feeling, they insert easily and stay in place and seal very well. movements don't change them hardly at all. very quick insertion is easy as well if done over the ear style.
xba-3 insertion is easy with practice (the tips are slightly offset, so i have the tendency to want to insert them straight when they need a slight angle instead). Once inserted they never move or change sound on me, however the tips are very different than other sets where the sizes might be similar but fit differently. for instance, i can wear the large tips with the xba-3 but not with others. each tip is much more varied in sound than others as well, which could be a plus for customizing the tone or could be a downfall if you want a certain size but also a specific tone that size doesn't provide. however, again, they all fit decently well but different.
sound isolation on a scale of poor<<decent<<good<<great<<excellent. Please note that I believe a lot of this depends on your ear shape and how they fit 'you'. For me, based purely on how much sound they isolate, here are my opinion:
ba200 decent with tri-flange (for me anyway, see previous comments), good to great with foam tips
hf5 decent with tri-flange(for me anyway, see previous comments), great with mushroom foam tips
ue700 good with silicon tips, great with foam tips
gr07 great with silicon tips, great to excellent with foam tips
pfe112 great to excellent with silicon tips, excellent with foam tips
xba-3 good to great with silicon tips, great with foam lined tips
That was Canadian from futureshop.ca. I got mine when they went on sale for $120 down from $200. They also had them on sale for $100 earlier (I missed that sale though).
I'm interested.. thanks.
I don't see them on that site right now... Are they no longer any less than $200 anywhere?
Working on songs now. :-)
I've updated the song comparisons and total points on page 1. Essentially the PFE still came out on top, but with a very close second by the xba-3. I'm going to run a few more comparison tracks and update soon. Any song recommendations?
A few more songs...
Pink FLoyd - Us and Them - CDP 7 46001 2 DIDX 226, Capitol Records
pfe112 very enjoyable, soft in an 1970s recording kind of way but still fine details very pleasing warmth. soft but deep kick drum thumps, very listenable even during climax
xba-3 very similar to pfe overall but a little less warmth and more crispness. still very listenable throughout with more extension on both extreme ends of frequency spectrum
Pink FLoyd - The Great Gig in the Sky - CDP 7 46001 2 DIDX 226, Capitol Records
pfe112 sliding guitars are smooth and more apparent in the mids, piano has more body as well, more balanced overall than xba, some instrument lack the super detail of the xba but at the gain of smoothness overall and listenability
xba-3 tape noise is almost too crisp itself, clarity and separation good, but lack overall balance and the piano and vocals just sound unnatural
Boz Scaggs - Look What You've Done To Me
pfe112 very mid-centric warm sound, guitars stand out and some cymbals have more body and softness
xba-3 overall more extension on both ends and better micro detail and separation. very hard call, but i'd probably choose the pfe if i had to but half way between the two would be perfect.
David Gates - Never Let Her Go (Wounde d Bird Records) aka the greatest song of all time ;-)
pfe112 more natural overall, a little lacking in the highest clarity/airiness of the xba, but with zero of the strange treble characters of the xba, a little mid forward, but smooth and pleasant
xba-3 a little too much treble overall and drums sound a little unnatural in the hi-hats, overall lacking a bit of mids but clarity is good i'd have to pick the pfe on this one for listenability, but half way between would be perfect
I have to make a note here. I just am getting tired of trying to "get used to" these IEMs. I'm not jumping back to the tdk ba200, but I want to say I was tired of trying to deal with the sba's treble and the pfe's lack of bass. So, I popped the ba200 back in, and although it doesn't have the airy-ness i like, it also has none of the flaws of the other two models. While it doesn't have amazing bass, or amazing treble per se, it doesn't lack balance or overall quality, and there are no "in your face" deficiencies. I think that in itself says something about the ba200. For those of you possibly not concerned as much with having "perfect bass" or "perfect highs" and are more concerned with a "safe" unoffensive sound signature that is good overall quality, the ba200 is it.
Otherwise, I'm finding the xba treble to be too much or just not right. Things sound too crisp sometimes and fatiguing and some instruments like pianos sound very good, but others like flutes or vocals can sound unrealistic. So I don't think I can live with them. I've switched between every tip 100 times and it just doesn't matter. Too bad, if the treble were tamed a bit they would be incredible IEMs. The amount of sheer detail they pull out surpasses the other sets, and they seem to have the widest stereo separation as well. I just know I would not be happy in the long run with the treble.
As for the ba200, those are going back too. They are great and I highly recommend them if airy-ness isn't critical to you. It is for me. I like to feel like I'm sitting in the room with an orchestra. You don't get that without good airy-ness.
So that leaves the PFE112. I'm in love with them other than the lack of bass. The question now is can I live without the bass. there are a lot of songs where I don't really think about it at all and they sound great. Other songs that have more of a bass presence sometime feel lacking and I with there were more bass. EQ doesn't seem to help much. It has a decent effect, but it doesn't really pull out the bass and make it more apparent. It merely makes the bass of the overall song louder. This seems like the design of the drivers. I don't think they can distinguish the frequencies enough at the low end to allow great eq'ing. So, I'm considering keeping them as they are the last and only pair I find myself actually using and enjoying despite the bass deficiency.
A critical point for me is value. Even though they are not the same quality in detail retrieval, airy-ness, etc. I can use a bass reduction eq on my ex85lp, and they aren't "that" far off from some of the sets. They sound drier, less detailed and still not neutral lack airy-ness and are missing that "ooh" feeling when listening. However, they also don't have any major flaws that are hard to listen to such as sibilance (very minor), lack of bass, lack of treble, etc. So is it worth $150-200 for a minor upgrade? I'm thinking of trying one or two more pairs, such as the fischer audio dba-02 mk2, which seems similar to the phonak in that it is mid-centric with air-ness, but not the best bass, however some reviewers place the bass above the pfe112. And there is the sony ex510lp, which is said to be a great value and has good bass but a more neutral overall tone than something like the ex85lp.
I'm not sure yet. I'd love the pfe232, but I don't think I can shell out the cash for those yet, but if they really did blow my mind with quality I'd save for them. Anyone tried them vs the pfe112?
Other ones to try in the $250 price range - TripleFi 10, Denon C300, Yamaha EPH-100, Re 272 and the one that may be the right choice is Heir 3.A1. I love my klipsch X10s which I already recommended but love you attention to detail. I do not have the cash to test all these side by side but I doing them as I can. I can only speak to the X10s but the others I have read nothing but good things.
O.k. I apologize for being new to all this headphone specific audio stuff, but I found something very interesting. I'm not so sure the tips made as big of a difference as I thought. They do make a difference, but I just found out something that is making a night and day difference with the way the xba sound. My amp.
When I plug the xba-3 into my ipod touch with no eq and no audio settings applied it sounds pretty good. Good bass, good treble, no real spike noticeable. However, when I connect it to my duet sound interface, which is a much higher quality amp, the bass is tighter but a lot thinner/lower and the treble becomes that unbearable metallic-ness and they are extremely bright overall. I triple checked and there are no adjustments on the computer either. Both devices are as neutral and flat as they can be with no processing or eq.
Am I missing something? Is this what the impedance does to headphones with difference sources? Can it really be that drastic? It's so far off I would have thought I was listening to a completely different pair of headphones... Tell me I'm missing something? I don't recall the others sounding drastically different. In fact they all seemed to scale UP in quality with a little bit more resolving power and detail, but no negative effects. Do I need to be comparing impedance when I pick a set now? Ugh. Any thoughts would be helpful. If I can get the sonys to sound like they do on the ipod when i'm on the computer I would have kept them like I had thought a while back. I have been listening on the computer lately, and that's when I just couldn't stand the treble...
For the record they are listed as follows:
TDK BA200 35ohms@1kHz
Sony XBA-3 12ohms @ 1kHz
Vsonic GR07 50 ohms +/- 10%
Etymotic HF5 16 ohms
Ultimate Ears UE700 40 ohms @ 1kHz
Is lower impedance worse with a change in amp?
The headphone output of the apogee duet is listed as 30 ohms...
O.k. I think I nailed the pin on the head. According to this post http://www.head-fi.org/t/608553/review-comparison-two-flagships-pass-in-the-night-sony-xba-4-review-vs-the-mdr-ex1000
that is exactly what is happening with the XBA-3. YUCK!!!!!. It sounds like crap on my nice amp!!!! The treble IS in fact horrificly audible. I can't even believe the differences. I don't know the output of the ipod touch vs. ipod classic, but I read somewhere the ipod touch is around 5-7 ohms. The classic must be a bit higher, because it goes from a fairly soft neutral sound, to a more detailed brighter sound on the classic and then to an all out metal treble fest on the duet. See this image:
That looks almost exactly liek what I would expect listening to the xba-3. The ipod touch would be the red line at <10 ohms so even lower probably. The classic is probably around 10-15 ohms? And the duet is the black line at 30 ohms. I think what kills the sound is probably that 10khz bump really bringing out the metal sounds. You can see at the red line, or lower even, that hump is more in line with the other treble better.
It's really too bad. If there was a way for me to keep the xba-3 at that red line across sources I'd be an extremely happy man... Although, I suppose I could have them as my "ipod" headphones. But then I need another $200 pair for my computer? UGH....
O.k. another update. Knowing this new impedance factor, I connected the gr07 to the duet and ipod and the difference was very minimal with the duet being slightly more bright, but ever so slightly. The tdk on the other hand do extremely well on the duet. They already sounded very flat on the ipod, but on the duet they sound about the same but with a slightly better treble presence, which is what they needed. So amped the tdk ba200 are excellent. On the ipod they're still great, but not as great. :) As if my search wasn't hard enough already... :-o