Its been more than a year that I have these earphones in my possession. Due to my being busy with high school exams, I never got round to posting this review. Nevertheless, I am uploading this for anyone interested.
Note: The music used to review these earphones are mainly metal music, from Melodic Metalcore to Melodic Death Metal. I do not listen to any other genres apart from metal, so I cannot give any information on how these will sound with other genres.
Source used for review: iPod touch 4G (Fiio E7)
Nothing Left - As I Lay Dying
Wait For You - Atreyu
Pacing Deaths Trail - In Flames
The Jester's Dance - In Flames
The Mirror's Truth - In Flames
Forsaken - Dream Theater
Dear God - Avenged Sevenfold
Throes of Perdition - Trivium
Like Light To The Flies - Trivium
Enter Dog Of Pavlov - Soilwork
I first listened to a pair of XBA-3's during my visit to Mingo in Hong Kong. I had tried out the whole XBA lineup. The 1's to me were very impressive for the price, they were detailed and had clarity that justified their price tag. The 2's were the least impressive to me, they just reminded me of my Shure SE215's and my Turbines, but with less articulated mids. The 3's were just amazing, they presented a clarity I hade never experienced before. The amount of detail wasn't too apparent at that time though. I did find the soundstage too be oddly shaped for some reason as well. Finally, the 4's were just confusing to me. I didn't quite understand the sound signature of them at the time and they had less of a "wow" factor during this first listen. I ended up buying the 1's for my sister and the 3's for myself.
The box my 3's came in was decent to say the least. They came with 2 types of eartips of 3 different sizes. There were the normal silicone eartips by Sony and "Hybrid" eartips that had foam under the silicone. Like all the eartips that Sony provides nowadays, each size is colour-coded. You also get a nice faux leather carrying case to hold your IEM's.
They seem well-built. And they look beautiful as well. The cable is smooth and quite flat with nice strain relief at the L-shaped plug. The cord is a J-cord however, but I really don't find it bothering at all.
When I saw pictures of these online, they looked huge to me and I doubted they would be comfortable. I was wrong. They are very comfortable and I have no issues with comfort whatsoever. The isolation is adequate. I'm using the medium-sized normal eartips. The hybrid eartips weren't as comfortable IMO. I could wear these for long hours, but so far I have honestly not used them for many hours at a time.
Bass: There is a nice presence of bass overall. The bass transient response isn't too great however. The amount of mid-bass is almost perfect to me. Not too much, not too little. The sub-bass has got a nice impact to it but just not as strong and impressive as on my Turbines. The bass overall has good speed and does not bleed into the mids at all. The bass could be tighter though. Kick-drums sound impactful and have got nice thump. My Fiio E7 does help these IEMs by broadening the bass presence. When on-the-go, the small boost in mid-bass helps to keep the warm sound signature of these IEMs, especially in noisy environments such as on the bus.
Mids: The mids are nicely articulated, handling complex passages well. There is great texture to both the mids and upper mids. The vocals don't sound too impressive nevertheless. They are just "there". The "s" and the "t" sounds do sound accentuated but not to a point where it’s too annoying. This gives the vocals a ghostlike feel nonetheless. I would have preferred fuller and warmer vocals. Acoustic guitars sound very beautiful I have to admit. The transient response of the mids with the acoustic guitar is just amazing. They do sound a tad "artificial" though. The upper mids sound clear and articulated, electric guitar solos shine very well. However, they have a metallic feel to them that could be a little bit annoying.
Treble: Shimmers, great level of detail. Metallic-sounding. A small amount of sibilance is often present. I have never heard cymbals so clear before. It has quite a large amount of brilliance. I could say that it is quite coloured although I do not know the exact definition of a "coloured" treble.
Soundstage: Oddly-shaped, slightly circular. Not too large. The instruments however seem to be nicely positioned, each separated from another. There is a resonance that is apparent mostly on the quiter tracks.
They are very revealing. I can hear the poor mastering and distortion on some tracks, which is to be expected with metal songs. The instrument separation is excellent. Even in the most complex passages, the instruments are discernible from each other. They are very fast. Great attack, a good amount of decay. Imaging is near excellent.
In conclusion, these are the best IEMs I have ever owned and are pretty solid at their price point. Although the bass could have been tighter and more defined, the sound quality of the XBA-3s is near perfect IMO for a pair of universal IEMs. Despite this fact, they have given me a thirst for more and the excitement of discovering even better IEMs.