EDIT- I've done a comparison between these and the JVC HA-FX850. http://www.head-fi.org/products/jvc-ha-fx850/reviews/13420. Also, I've tried these with Comply isolation tips and done the tape mod now. There is a huge difference with the comply and a small one with the tape. In my opinion, these basically require comply or other foam tips to sound good. Treble and soundstage suffers a bit but the foam tips massively tighten up the bass, which was my biggest issue with these.
I started my IEM journey with cheap IEMs like most, then moved my way up to the Xiaomi Piston 2.0 which were my first real taste of better quality audio. I loved them dearly, but the sound signature wasn't exactly what I wanted. The bass was too boomy, and the treble too sparkly. Enter the Yamaha EPH-100. The Yamaha's still remain my favorite IEM to date, it's not the most technically proficient IEM, even at the price point, but it manage to be more than the sum of it's parts. It has a warm, rich, smooth sound that just makes you want to lay back and listen to them for hours, something easily done considering how tiny and comfortable they are. Needless to say, I loved them greatly. But they are entry-level IEMs and I felt the urge to upgrade again. This review was conducting using an SMSL M2 and a Fiio E10K as sources.
So now, onto the XBA-H3s. I was recommended these by the famous ljokerl of theheadphonelist.com and head-fi.org. While they fall into the warm and smooth category of earphones, they aren't a direct upgrade to the Yamaha's. They sound very different and I still prefer the tuning of the Yamaha, despite it's blatant technical inferiority (doing an A and B test of the two really reveals the Yamaha's shortcomings).
First off, let's talk about comfort. Despite their absolutely massive size, these headphones are surprisingly comfortable once you manage to get a good fit and shape the memory wire. They'll still hurt your ears after prolonged periods of listening but that's to be expected. In this they are very much so the opposite of the tiny Yamaha's which can rest in your ears for hours without fatigue or discomfort.
Build quality is very good. These are extremely sturdy and pretty much everything about them inspires confidence in their durability. They're solid plastic and metal and are actually quite handsome and very, very Sony. Needless to say they manage to look unique (well that and they stick a good inch out of your ears so I guess that also makes them look unique). The jack is metal and everything is properly relieved. The cable really deserves a shoutout. It's visually striking with one side red and the other black, but it's real merit is in what it manages to get right unlike so many other lesser cables. It's soft and supple but not springy or rubbery, doesn't retain memory, and really avoids tangling. In part that has to do with the material used, and other has to do with clever design (I believe it has something to do with the grooves running along the length of both sides of the cable).
Before discussing sound quality, I must say that these drove me crazy the first week I owned them. Insertion depth and ear tip is everything for this IEM. Depth affects bass quantity, clarity, soundstage, and more, as does ear tip choice. I tried many different tips from other headphones as well as the sony hybrid tips with and without foam that were included with this. I ultimately settled on the stock hybrid tips with foam. Other tips would either increase or decrease the bass quantity too heavily and the stock tips without foam increased the bass to absurd levels while destroying clarity and drowning everything else out. These really need foam tips to sound their best as I've yet to find a pair of silicon tips that work well with them. UE single flanges, JVC Spiral Dot, Meelectronics double and triple flanges, Sennhesier CX400 tips, etc, nothing really works.
Once you find a pair of tips that properly fits you and get a good seal, you're finally ready to rock. The first thing you'll probably notice is the bass. It's huge and punchy, but unfortunately, not very tight and doesn't have that much depth. It's like a wall of sound that hits hard but doesn't really have any detail. It is both this headphones greatest asset and failing. The massive 16 mm dynamic driver is definitely doing its job power wise, but I'd be willing to forgo some power for a more articulated, tighter low end. Some reviews have called the bass "loose and flabby" and unfortunately they're right.
Fortunately, the same cannot be said of the the treble. It's the fantastically clear, detailed, delicate treble you'd expect from balanced armature drivers. The "super tweeter" is definitely doing its job here, while somehow avoiding sibilance and sounding very smooth. Vocals really soar, especially when given a song with a female singer. Mids are the most surprising part however, as they generally manage to stand up to the massive bass. Despite the warm sound signature and the hefty bass, these also manage to have a pretty wide soundstage as well. Compared to cheaper, single driver sets, the sound seems to be more three dimensional and less flat. They sound a lot like headphones in that respect. The only real annoyance is when the dynamic driver's bass utterly obscures the vocals. Overall though, a very very fun sound signature that somehow manages to sound coherent and avoid treble fatigue despite the excellent treble. They are not as well rounded as some sets though, and aren't as versatile with as many different styles of music as some other IEMS. If you're looking for a neutral or non bass heavy IEM though, well these definitely aren't for you. And neither are hybrid IEMs in general to be honest.
It might sound like I'm universally lauding these, but they do have their caveats as well. They do grow discomfortable after a while and you never forget that they're in your ears. You're also not going to be travelling around with these or really wearing them in public as they are ported and isolation is relatively poor. And also you look ridiculous with IEMs sticking a good inch out of your ears. In terms of sound, the bass is too powerful, drowning out the rest of the sound. This is prominent in bass heavy songs that also feature vocals, such as EDM. They could definitely benefit from a bit of equalizing. Furthemore, even though they are definitely warm sounding, they are not really rich sounding like the Yamaha's. These are too detailed and the treble too sparkly and clear to achieve that warmth. This also removes some of the intimacy the Yamaha's have, and fair bit of the emotion as well. Also, both a plus and a negative, they are very forgiving of poorer quality sources for a higher-end set, but at the same time, they are revealing enough to really show the flaws in poorer quality sources. Youtube and web sources tend to sound muddy and muffled. If like me you choose to stream most of your music, I would definitely invest in a premium subscription to Spotify, Play Music, Xbox Music, Tidal, etc. These really shine with better quality audio and a good quality amp and dac. They are temperamental though, they pair ok with the Fiio E10k and terribly with the SMSL M2. You really need a good, warm source to make these sound their best. They really become fun to listen to with a warm source and somewhat more forgiving of poorer sources as well..
I will close in saying that I was both disappointed in the difference between this set and the Yamaha, but also surprised by the unique merits this set has and the Yamaha lack. The two are very, very different IEMs despite their sound signatures falling in the same category. These are much more akin to the Xiaomi Pistons, they sound very much like a heavily upgraded Piston (at 10 times the price). The sound signature is not as perfect a fit for me as the Yamaha's but I am satisfied with these and will keep them. They largely manage to mix the best of dynamic and BA drivers, the goal of every hybrid, and manage to avoid the coherence issues of most multiple driver IEMs by eschewing a crossover circuit. Definitely recommended, especially at only 200 dollars. If these aren't your cup of tea though, I'd suggest checking out the DUNU DN-2000 and other hybrids, as well as the Audio Technica ATH-CKR10, and the JVC FX series of wooden IEMs.
Pros - Detacheable cable, highs are not harsh, sound good
Cons - Average isolation, Boomy bass
These headphones are well constructed, altought they already have a tiny chip on the paint (right bud), they come with basic accesories like a case, tips in SS, S, M and L sizes, as well foam-filled tips for improved isolation in S, M and L sizes, a smartphone cable and a normal audio cable for use in mp3 players that don't support remote control or Mic.
I love the fact one can remove the cable when it breaks, instead of tossing your investment to the trash when the wrie breaks, I was tired of this having to throw earbuds and headphones because a broken wire/solder joint.
Sound quality is fine but not excellent as my MDR-1R, these have a mid-bass boost (I presume factory defect or bad engineering), they can sound really bad in songs that have bass like fro example a French Harpsichord which has a robust bass notes (16' stops) making the record sound as it was played on a 40's horn speaker. songs that don't feature prominent bass like masses by palestrina they do shine as well with hi-res audio they do shine.
I assume they do need an amp to overcome this bass bump or EQ on your DAP to tame the bass..
When it comes to isolation they don't do isolate well, you can hear outside even with the so called foam.filled tips, in a noisy office environment, car, train etc they are practically useless, due to a small vent on the casing, My previous XBA-1 isolated way better and did not had this bass like dr. dre's beats
I had previously used the Sennheiser IE60's before buying these. They sounded great but it still lacked some of the sound production that I got out of BA's. But full BA's lacked the bass that I loved from my IE60's. When I tried these out; I immediately knew that I needed to buy these. And for 30% less than MSRP it was a complete steal. All ranges are incredibly produced while the bass still has tons of kick while not losing any of the definition.
The highs and mids are crystal clear. The BA's that Sony included pump out silky smooth sounds to sooth your ears. The bass is where this really shines. The dynamic driver included has the ability to be so powerful that it drowns out the other sounds. With moderation (I simply changed the equalizer on my Cowon J3) it'll sound big but now overpowering; while also keeping songs that don't require a lot of bass nice and tame (ie, the bass is perfectly balanced going from EDM to classical). The isolation on this is just as good as the sound quality. Slip on the tips that are foam filled and you'll hear almost nothing from the outside. This was extremely useful to me since I use a loud train to commute everyday and I usually end up forgetting how loud it usually is.
The number of tips that Sony provides is top tier. The aforementioned tips give it the premium feel that these puppies should have. The cable is also interchangeable. If you want the cable that has a microphone+remote then simply disconnect the buds, swap the new cable in and you're good to go. The housing on this is also fairly large; but with the cable design for sitting on your ear, you don't even notice its there. It removes most of the weight and the only time you notice them on your head is when you need to wear a hat that covers your ears.
Pros: Pretty much everything. There isn't anything missing from what's included. Cons: The price. At $350 I'd still buy them; but I feel it's still steep for IEMs. But on sale at $240; it's a steal. Worth every penny that I paid.