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In-Ear item created by Currawong, Feb 25, 2012
Pros - Bass, detail, separation
Cons - Mids, build quality, and especially the treble, value
After picking these up from the Sony Store about a year ago, I can say that these are definitely not worth the $350-$400 price tag. Luckily, I picked them up for around $180 and to me, this seems like a more reasonable price for the XBA-4.
I really wanted to like these IEMs a lot more than I actually do. These were primarily going to be my pair for electronic music. I immediately discovered that these work extremely well with electronic house and heavy trap/bass tracks so it definitely hit the spot for me. However, outside of these genres, these earphones do not sound too good in my opinion.
I can immediately sense that the 4 BA drivers do a great job handling its own set of frequencies. But due to the fact that this headphone does not use any crossovers, the frequencies just don't blend well together. The advantage to not using any crossovers is that instrument separation is good and I can hear every instrument of the track independent from each other but they do not integrate well as it should for a headphone. The bass is extremely powerful and has a lot of body but surprisingly does not drown out the mids too much. However, the mids for some reason are extremely veiled and distant sounding (maybe I am too used to Shure's forward vocals). Therefore, listening to any type of track that has a strong vocal presence tend to sound "muffled". The major gripe with these headphones is the ever-so fatiguing treble. Which I will go into detail in the next paragraph.
Before anyone starts claiming that I do not have the right source (the XBA-4 at 8ohms is a very picky IEM). I paired it with a FiiO E07k which although far from an optimal source, have a low enough output impedance to drive the XBA-4 without a problem, Unfortunately, even hooked up with my E07k, the treble is way too harsh and metallic. Auditioning Steve Hoang's "So Incredible", the sibilance is so strong which renders the song completely unenjoyable. The fake and metallic treble really coupled with its distant midrange really makes for a strange sounding headphone which EDM lovers will rave about and listeners in general I think will find too fatiguing.
At the end of the day, I don't think these deserve the title of flagship and with 4 drivers I was expecting a lot more. I guess the low resale value coupled with struggling to retain its MSRP price is a direct reflection to the IEM's incompetence in the many aspects listed above. I see it listed on amazon still for around $250 I would avoid it at this price point. However, if you could get one under $150 and you are primarily using it to listen to EDM, I would recommend it.
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!
Pros - Instrument separation, imaging, soundstage, clarity, sound quality under certain conditions
Cons - Size, thin and non-removable wires, short nozzles/tips, sound quality is heavily dependent on the source
I have owned the XBA-3 and XBA-1 beforehand and now I own the 1 and 4 only. As far as multi-driver IEMs go I don't think you'll find a more consumer oriented set than the Apple In-ears and the XBA line.
The package includes the earphones, the same fitting kit included with all the rest from the line (4 sizes of standard universal tips, and 3 sizes of "hybrid" tips that have a ring of foam inside the flap of the tip to provide more isolation), magnetic fake leather carrying case like the XBA-3's, and a cord manager. This is pretty much what you would expect for the price and is not as impressive when compared with something like the XBA-1 which are 1/4 the price and include pretty much the same goodies (except for a pouch instead of a case).
The XBA-4 themselves share the looks of the family: glossy paint in sober colors with silver accents, a great stress relief (not found in the XBA-1), semi-flat wire, and a nice L headphone jack. The cord is semi-flat, asymmetrical, and while it is thin and feels fragile, it is very easy to untangle. It is a shame it is non-removable as it looks it would be a hassle to repair if it were to break, which is not that unlikely to eventually happen. I have found the XBA line to be extremely comfortable...except for the XBA-4. They are very large, and even when they don't seem to be that much larger than the XBA-3 (which I could wear for hours at a time), the issue is their width and not their height. They rest on the antitragus but they are so wide because of the two drivers in the middle of the assembly that they chafe my concha after some minutes; some readjustment gets the job done but if you can, try to fit them on before buying. They are heavy in comparison with other plastic IEMs, but not heavy for a 4-driver IEM and here is where the plastic construction finally makes some sense.
Having the same fit kit than the rest of the XBA line has advantages and drawbacks, the first being the super soft and comfortable ear tips. On the other side, there's an issue with the nozzle. I've heard people complain that they don't go deep into their ear canals and it makes sense since the housing is so huge. It only is a problem for me when I try to wear them with the wire facing upwards. The shape of the housing is not an issue there, but the length of the nozzle and the tip is. The isolation is just as the XBA-3's (way better than the XBA-1 but pretty much average isolators). They will work on a plane or bus for sure.
Now comes a very interesting part for this review in particular. The sound quality is an incredibly mixed bag. I can see in the other reviews that people have very mixed opinions on the sound signature, specially with the highs: some people complain about sibilance and too much sparkle while others complain about a darker sound. I have experienced both and I can only tell something for sure: they are extremely source dependent. This is, in my opinion a huge disadvantage. We all know sound is different with different sound cards, amps, DACs, phones, and so on, but headphones generally maintain a certain signature that doesn't change with the source (for example the "Sennheiser veil" or Etymotics characteristic crispness) and these do change, a lot. In general, the sources I've found to have the most negative effect on these are by far smartphones and mobile devices. They don't sound bad with these per se, but they make the XBA-4 sibilant and make the highs too sparkly, almost to the point of being piercing (Zune 80, iPod Touch 4G, Galaxy S2 (AND very low volume with this one), Galaxy S3, and Galaxy Player 4.0). I've heard this is a result of their very low impedance of 8 Ohms so in order to get the most out of these you'll need an almost 0 Ohm jack on your source (which I haven't tried yet). But when using other sources these issues are almost gone and everything changes for the better and even soundtage improves. Powering these from a Xonar Essence STX card or a FiiO E10 or E17 alone makes a great improvement.
Now I'll mention the constant sound properties of these, which I found to be extremely appealing. First the soundstage, which is fantastic! I can't believe such an open sound can come from closed IEMs. Instrument separation is really good but that's what you'd expect from multi-driver IEMs, although at times it seems as if they lacked coherence when the sounds have a very different frequency from one another; it is funny since this means congested stuff tends to sound better. The mids are very nice, but somewhat recessed (but it isn't an issue with vocals in my opinion), and while the bass is lush and very present, it is not overpowering. The XBA-4 include a super-woofer and I was a little worried about its effect on music but I was pleasantly surprised! The super-woofer doesn't overpower anything at all, but adds warmth and body to the other sounds, makes bass more present and with good extension. Highs in general (sibilant or not) are very well extended as well and work great with classical music.
In conclusion I can say I like these more than the rest of the XBA line. The XBA-3 is better with vocals but most of my music has none or little vocals so in the end the musicality of these won me over. I'm pretty used to the Sennheiser sound so a fuller sound that I hadn't found in BA drivers until now is really nice. They offer great bass while maintaining the separation and life of the other frequencies and an above average soundtage. Comparing these with the Shure SE535 I have to say the Shure have more impact in every single frequency and the Sony offer a more laidback sound. But I don't think one is inferior to the other; in fact they have share similar qualities like the separation and soundstage but with a different sound signature. In terms of construction quality the Shure SE line is the clear winner with a HUGE advantage, but I guess that's were the price difference comes from in the end. But I think neither of these is worth their MSRP considering their sound quality and construction is not that different from the cheaper models of their respective lines.
I got these from Mexico's Sony Store for a ridiculous amount of money; they were a mere $142 USD, price that was supposed to last until March 1st. Of course I got them but then the horror! Of course they were sold at that price until that date! Afterwards they were 46 USD on the online store. Yes, it is not a typo, 46 friggin USD! Of course they are sold out. It makes you wonder how much money do these really cost to make and why was sony so eager to get rid of them (my guess is the updated XBA-X0 line). About being worth their original MSRP....I think it is worth it because of all the technology stuffed inside, but not because of the sound quality which is what matters in the end so don't pay the full price.
I hope you enjoyed reading my insights and found this helpful. Happy listening!
Pros - Great treble, bass, vocals are pretty good, good isolation, very comfortable.
Cons - Treble can sparkle due to spike in frequency response at about 6-7khz*, build quality could be better, no shirt clip.
To get the most out of these i use them with normal buds, as the foam ones reduce treble as per usual with foam, without foam in nozzle as it reduces clarity and with the cable over ear because it allows for the earphone to be in a better position.
I bought them from harvey norman for $197 AU, which is cheaper than ebay, hence why i bought them.
For normal retail price (AU $450) they aren't worth it, but for $200? I couldn't buy them quick enough.
My comparison point is my sennheiser ie8's with a sony walkman as a source, so im used to ridiculous bass.
Treble sparkle is annoying, but forgivable.
Seperation is great due to multiple drivers.
Space is average, especially compared to ie8 which have more space than a truck.
Bass is great, its stays even and detailed when you turn up the volume, unlike the ie8 which just get boomy. (boomy is fun for a bit though)
Bass is probably a strong point, due to the super woofer and woofer it has excellent detail, extension and is clearer than glass. It even managed to suprise me with how low it goes, and im used to the ie8 which are practically mini subwoofers!
There overall presentation of sound is not very loved, and many people seem to dislike them but once you mod them and put them in "correctly" they sound very good.
$450 is just too much though, which is why my "local" audiophile store no longer stocks them, which is a shame beacuse i wanted to try the xba-3.
The deisgn is good, very comfortable, but j cord is too long on one side, and too short on other, but it barely bothers me, having no shirt clip does. Leather carry case is cool but too big, so i use sennhesier pouch, hybrid buds are great, i wont bother getting anything else for them.
Its a good thing i got them too because i had majorly stuffed up the ideal eq setting on my walkman (it has a custom eq), so my music sounded terrible, even though i thought it was fine.
I now use the eq the xba-4's "gave me" for everything, with slight modifcations, and now my ie8's sound much better... Only took me another pair of earphones to figure that out.
Ill clean this up and make it sound like it written by an adult later.
Ti's a real shame the xba-4's cost so much and are so unpopular.
Pros - Sound, comfort
Cons - Eartips can be longer than it is.
I'm no audiophile and these are my first audiophile grade headphone(Sony claim it so). [I got these from Japan for ¥18800 and use XE to convert the price to US dollar]
Comfort-It is amazing! I thought a 4 BA with such big housing will cause discomfort but no! I was wrong, it is very comfortable. It comes with 4 hybird eartips and 3 noise isolation. It shouldn't go wrong but I hope it can be a little longer.
Isolation-Pretty good! Isolates much of the noise from the outside.
Sound-It sounds great! Nothing is over powered. The treble is slightly weak thought but if are willing to do some modification on it, it's perfect!
[The mod is perma (once you did it, you can't undo) but it's simple. Remove the foam in the earphones. You might need some tools to remove it. I use toothpick, break it into half and gently remove it] Not much sound changes at first but as you listen to it more, you will find both the highs and lows clarity increased!
Pros - Built
Cons - Sound
Tested the XBA4 vs. the EX1000. So, this might be not the most fair comparison, but shows where (all?) multiway drivers lacks.
No doubt, there are highs, mids and deep tones, the only thing that's hard fo find is music.
Especially if you like voices and wide / open soundstaging. Compared to the non BA, one way dynamic predecessor top model EX1000, I instantly get hitted by the extreme differs in overall sound quality and musicality.
Even my old Klipsch 2 way BA Custom 3 is much better overall. (also it has a little less base and highs, but it makes emotions / music)
IMHO Sonys new top model XBA4 is a extreme draw back. O.K. you have to pay only the half price than the EX1000, but it's not worth it.
To be fair: It's not only a Sony problem, there are many multiway BAs out there with the same shady construction, they all got phase problems caused by to many crossoverpoints and drivers. Some manufacturers do a better job building 4 driver BAs, but none of them made a 'close to perfect' one / reference type, cause it's simply impossible.
Hope this trend will end soon (like multiway loudspeaker boxes in the 80s), let's see when it ends ... 6 drivers are 'state of the art' now, when will be the point of return? 8 drivers 4 ways? 10 drivers 5 ways?
O.K., enough slagged. Built qualtiy is O.K., but they don't feel comfortable on the long run, sound is adequate for tech / electronic music. You'll find better choices in this price range, better look for other constructions, less ways or dynamic drivers.
Pros - Decent treble, decent mids, decent bass, detail, nice looking
Cons - Noise issue, nothing is unique at all...
If i rate the W4 is 10/10, Xba-4 is 8/10. The W4s are Ok at every expect but lie down a setback note from the W4s ability. Only one thing which the Xba-4 is better than the W4 that is: the Xba do not have the zz zzz sibilance sound..
The biggest issue on this new Sony flagship iem is having a freak noise when playing music and the smaller one is no-unique sound signature.
Pros - Sound Stage, instrument separation, clearity, and value!
Cons - Bass could be a bit too much for certain musics. Lack of earbud chocies compare to Shure.
Hi I spent sometime at the local Sonystyle demoing these and thought I'd share my n00b impression.
I'll start off with the conclusion for those who don't want to read the full review.
"These are great in-ear-monitor (IEM) with a VERY strong bass presents, with clear and fine detailed mids and treble (highs)!"
The XBA 4 means there are 4 balanced - armature drivers each responsible or the different frequency of music (high, mids, low, ultra low). These are supposed to be compete with well established multi-driver IEMs like Shure SE535(3 driver) and Weston 3/4s(3/4 driver). I personally own a pair of Shure SE535 and have also listened to the Weston 4S. Sony presented a really interesting product at slightly lower price of the SE535 and Weston 4s while providing the 4th driver that the SE535 misses.
Sony is one of the best at making well crafted and polished products at any price point compare to the competitors just like Apple, and the XBA4 is no exception. However the chrome you see in the pics are not actually metal but polished chrome plastic! It feels light in the hand. The wire connectors are all gold plated, while the wire themselves feels a bit thinner than I'd hoped at this price point! BTW Sony claim the drivers are made in Japan while the box say the whole thing is made in Thailand which I've noticed a lot of Sony products are instead of what you'd expect, China! The cable says made in China!
DESIGN & FEATURES//////
I think the XBA4 are greatly designed. As pointed out in Amazon the kit includes:
Hybrid Earbuds (SS, S, M, L x2)
Noise Isolation Earbuds (S, M, L x2)
I couldn't tell if the demoed unit I was using was the Hybrid or the Noise Isolation buds or what size. They fitted in my ear fine while I would of opted for a larger size on both ears. In this regard the Shure SE535 comes on top by providing more variety of earbuds for and more tailored fit and occasion. On my SE535 I choose the cone shaped foam buds not available from Sony which in my opinion provided a better seal than rubber or silicon buds.
At this price point the Sony includes a iPhone control and mic which is something SE535 owners can only envy about as that's a $50 outside option for us.
On the note of the cable, the XBA4's cables are not user replace/upgradeable while the Shure SE535 and Weston 4S are.
I spent an hour at the local SonyStyle store comparing the XBA4 and my own SE535LE (the red ones). I listen to a couple of my current favorite songs: 1 Japanese Rock, 1 Electronic Rock, 1 Nora Jones Jazz, and 1 Adele song.
The first impression of the XBA4 on both Rock songs is that the 4th sub-woofer driver really make its present felt in both songs pumping out the biggest bass I've ever heard from a IEM including my SE535LE and Weston 4S! However the big thumping bass turns out to be a double-edged sword with farther comparing to my SE535LE.
In the 1st song which is a Japanese Rock song that emphasis on mid to hi vocal and symphony instruments, the XBA4's bass provided a full sound with great sound stage (the feel of music being played on stage) and great instrument separation . However compared to my SE535LE the mids and highs are more recessed. The SE535 while didn't have the bass to compete with the XB4 its mids and highs means a more forward vocal and enjoyable symphony portion of the song. Compare to the SE535, the XBA4 had just a bit too much bass, which over shadowed the vocal and the great instruments separation in the song.
In the 2nd song, which is very fast pace and bassy electronic song, the XBA4 really shined through the SE535LE. The extra driver as the sub woofer really played well with this song and provided a much more engaging experience compare to the SE535. However again when the vocals came in the SE535LE just did a better job on presenting a person's voice! For this song I've to say the XBA4 was slightly the better choice. While the XBA4 wasn't as far behind as I'd thought.
In the 3rd song by Nora Jones, I was expecting the audiophile reputable SE535LE to walk all over the XBA4 because bass isn't so present in her songs and from the experience of 2 previous songs. I was actually wrong! In Nora Jone's jazz the XBA4's 4th sub woofer simply didn't engage and I was listening to the 3 remaining driver handling the low-mid-his. Surprisingly Jone's voice sounded crystal clear and great separation of instruments and sound stage. So its shows even though the XBA4 really emphasis on bass the other drivers are not bad also. So in this song the XBA4 didn't trail the SE535 by as much as I'd had thought. The XBA4 had really clear sound but the SE535LE just sounded more warm and musical.
In the final famous song from Adele, I have the say the XBA4 was a tie with the SE535LE. With more bass Adele's strong vocal sounded much fuller than the SE535, while the SE535 had the upper hand in the mids and highs. In this song its down to the personal preference to the listener, both sounded really good with Adele, its really your personal preference on a bassy fuller sound or a more forward and engaging mids and highs. This is why I always demo earphone/headphones before buying because at the same price range the same music can sound very different between brands.
The XBA4 is a fine product thats a very close shoot at the audiophile grade SE535 and Weston 4S but with a very different sound, emphasizing on the bass. So if bass is very important for you, this earphone is not to be missed! However if you listen to a wide genera of music, you might still want to stay with the old guard of Shure and Weston. REALLY DEMO these before you buy!
If you like my review please give me a thumbs up on Amazon!
Pros - Sound stage, Separation, details, bass and price
Cons - Sibilant, thin wires
Samsung Galaxy S2 (International), IPhone 3GS, IPad 2, Macbook Pro > Creative Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium HD
Highs: Bright and detailed highs. Decay at a much later stage, and because of that, you can hear much more, e.g. like the end vibration of cymbals. But also because of this, there's some sibilant due to the extension of the highs compared to UM3X. Different tips help though.
Mids: Westone UM3X is definitely better here. Mids are pretty recessed for these. So this might affect some vocals, especially with the stronger bass, which might drown out the vocals a little.
Lows: This 2 earphones are different beasts.UM3X has got lighter but more impact-ful bass. Some people find it a little lacking, but I kinda like the balance here.
XBA-4SL has got more (read: not stronger) bass and more presence. Bass seems to appear more often, i suspect it is due to the inclusion of the sub driver. A good sub should complement the lows, so i suppose this is not the perfect sub implementation as it appears quite regularly and does not disappear often enough when its not needed.
Doing a side comparison to Westone 4, the bass is in between that of UM3X and Westone 4. W4 has this Ommmphhh to its bass, very warm and rounded sound. XBA-4SL is more impactful but less Ommphhh.. You get what i mean?
In terms of decay, i guess from my Ommphhhh opinion, you can tell that its W4 longest > XBA4 > UM3X.
Hmm... that said, the bass here is better than W4 imo, as i dont really like the "warm" ommpphhh sound to linger too long in my music.. not sure about UM3X as if you like you bass to be less strong but purposeful, you definitely prefer UM3X over this
Sound Stage & Separation:
XBA-4s win hands down here. Havent heard a BA earphones with such a big sound stage. It is still not at the level of good headphones (read: not Beats) nor is it comparable to IE8/80, it is still wider than Westone 3, Westone UM3X, UE TF10. Havent got enough time with W4 to make a good judegment as i was too disturbed by the Ommphhh... (Really tempted to buy a W4R to compare...)Maybe i am a bit bias here as I just came from UM3X which has this tight and concise sound.
Separation:Wins too! different instruments and even vocals are separated much clearer here. For example Franz Ferdinand - Darts of Pleasure, I never knew that there's this almost always present backup vocals throughout the song despite my relatively good set of earphones and more modest DAC/AMP.
In Radiohead's Exit Music, during the "Chorus" (if theres such a thing in that song) where the "diiiiidiiiiiidiiii" sound comes on, you can really hear the separation there and its really surprising. I have since used this track and this portion to grade good earphones and this XBA-4 passed this pretty well, other than a little sibilant that i spoke about above.
Sensitivity & Easibility to Drive:This XBA4 is less sensitive than Westone UM3X. So because of this, it is less likely to pickup source imperfection. This would be beneficial if you are using "noisy" equipment like smartphones and laptops. But even when using dedicated equipment, it is good enough to reflect the change in equipment clearly.Despite its relatively low resistance, it is actually harder to drive than UM3X. The only thing i can say is that, if you have problem hearing and need extreme loudness, be prepared to invest in the amp. E.g. for UM3X, even the lowest volume on my equipment is at times too loud for me. But for XBA4, i need to increase the volume 3-4 levels up to reach the same volume output.
The reason i never touch much for mids is because i mainly listen to guys singing in rock/indie bands and thus, they kinda fall under this category. So going forward, mids and vocals will be used interchangeably.
As mentioned, UM3X does have better sounding mids/vocals. Its smoother and more wholesome, more suited for male vocals i suppose.
For XBA-4, it is brighter and thus, "higher"? And it is also more recessed and due to the "stronger" bass, its get kinda drowned out more. As mentioned, this will not be a problem if you are listening to female, electronic, dubstep or songs that go "gee gee geeee" in general.
That say, somehow rap songs sounds kinda good. This is with reference with Kanye West/Jay-Z watch the throne, esp my current fav "Ni**s in Paris".
In terms of musicality, how do you define this actually?This is more of a reference sounding (read: like UM3X) than say Westone 3 and Westone 4. You kinda hear what is actually recorded compared to something that makes you go "WOW" on the first try and gets weirder the longer you hear it. I like my earphones this way but its just my personal reference. So that means, if you are "Beats" kinda person, you might not enjoy this much.
So in conclusion, despite bringing in other earphones, i shall just conclude with a comparison with UM3X which i have the most experience with.
The result is.... No Conclusion!! Think i still need more time with this new toy. Current feeling is that it is very different from UM3X. Kinda on the short-run, you might prefer XBA-4S but for everyday listening, you might want to stick to UM3X. This because UM3X gives you a less taxing, less detailed but smoother sound, while XBA-4S throws tonnes of details at you at the expense of ear fatigue.
All in all, seems like Sony wanted to bring the best of say UM3X, Westone 4 and AT CK100 and mesh it into 1 but fall short as putting the best of everything together makes it sounds flawed and mechanic. Nevertheless, having hearing it for sometime on hours each, it is growing on me, and this can just be my make.believe. (Back at you Sony!)