Sony XBA-N3

RikudouGoku

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Phenomenal tonal balancing
Massive bass quantity
Bass quality
Vocal quality
Amazing treble
Non-fatiguing/relaxing
Fit
Comfort
Sony
Cons: Not for treble-heads/vocal-heads
Slightly recessed vocals
Not the most detailed
Cable
Discontinued(?)
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Disclaimer: Bought this at accessoryjack at my own expense.

Price: 280 usd

Specifications:

Impedance (OHM): 16Ω (at 1kHz)

Sensitivity (DB/MW): 107dB/mW

Frequency: 3Hz-40,000Hz

Power handling capacity: 100 mW

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Accessories:

S/M/L triple comfort tips

S/M/L/LL Sony Hybrid (EP-EX10) tips

Carry case

Clip

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Cable: Change it ASAP, it looks bad and has a ton of microphonics (even sliding the chin-slider up/down (which works btw) will make a ton of noise). Measured at 0.66 ohms.


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Build: Nozzle is made out of metal but the rest of the shell feels like plastic and something else. But very high quality nonetheless. L/R is marked on the shell itself in white/red color. Very lightweight build. There is a lip on the nozzle that allows you to extend the tip (and therefore get a deeper fit) if you place it further out.

Fit: Very good and works both when worn over ear or down (I wear it over ear). Should fit most people due to the smaller size. From average to a bit deeper than average fit, can be achieved depending on how place the tip.

Comfort: Very good since it is pretty small.

Isolation: Above average but nothing special.


Setup: Ibasso DX160 (low gain, volume around 33), Final Audio Type E LL tips, Tri Through cable (4.4mm)

Lows: Absolutely epic and phenomenal bass quality/quantity. Massive bass quantity on bassy tracks but is still very clean and doesn’t cause the tonality to be overly warm and is actually more neutral (not leaning towards warmth or brightness), while it is just a bit boosted on more acoustic tracks. Very well-tuned bass that is versatile enough while it has a basshead level quantity when a song has it.

Mid-bass: Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), Clean because of the tight/fast bass and the quantity is good but not overly boosted, although individual strikes aren’t that distinct. The (02:55-03:01) section with the chopper is pretty clean but it could be cleaner and more hearable.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), A lot of quantity so it is very fun but still clean due to the speed/tightness. Texture is pretty good as well but could be better.

Sub-bass: Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extends very good and rumbles a lot but still very clean. Punch quantity is also very high, but it could be tighter/faster and with more texture.

Will Sparks – Sick like that (03:08-03:22), Lots of quantity and is very clean due to the speed/tightness while texture is very good.

Mids: Mids are very natural and clean, male/female vocal balancing is excellent. Although a bit recessed on both. Tonality with male vocals tend to be more natural for my library since the female vocals are better if they are a bit on the brighter side.

Female-vocals: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), Timbre is excellent and very clean overall. The vocals do need a bit more brightness to be more accurate, but they are very natural. They could be more forward as well.

Yuki Hayashi – MightU (01:58-02:55), Very clean but tonality needs to be brighter and more forward vocals.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), Not shouty at all and very clean, tonality is very good and sounds very natural.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Crescent (02:07-02:26), Not shouty at all, very impressive.

Male-vocals: Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (00:57-01:17), Spot on tonality and very clean despite the bass quantity.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), Also spot-on tonality but could be more forward.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), very good tonality and without it being sharp at all.

Deuce – America (03:03-03:16), Not shouty or fatiguing, very well done.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Timbre and texture are very good on both the violins/cellos. Tonality with the cellos is spot on. But the violin does need to be brighter. Clarity and details are also very good although the treble extension could be better (would benefit the violin sound more airy and more micro details overall).

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), Tonality needs to be brighter to be more accurate and with more forward vocals

Soundstage: It is pretty wide, but otherwise average at this price range.

Tonality: Bass boosted neutral is what I would describe it as (with slightly recessed mids).

Details: Pretty average and nothing special, but it is quite impressive if you consider how bassy it is.

Instrument Separation: Pretty good.

Songs that highlight the IEM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWjCr2bx9XU

Good genres:
Hip-hop, EDM, Trance, Pop, Kpop, Jpop, OST, Linkin Park, Yasuharu Takanashi, Hiroyuki Sawano

Bad genres: Very versatile, but Jpop artists like Aimer are better with brighter tonalities and acoustic tracks also need less bass quantity and brighter tonality as well.



Comparisons:

IEM: Sony XBA-Z5, Final Audio Type E LL tips, Faaeal litz copper cable (4.4mm)

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower on the Z5 but rumbles more on the N3. Punch quantity is also a bit more on the N3 while speed, tightness and texture are a bit better on the Z5.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), more quantity on the N3 but tighter, faster and more textured on the Z5 so it is cleaner.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), more quantity on the N3 but a bit tighter and faster on the Z5 while texture is similar. Cleaner on the Z5.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), better tonality on the N3 and less recessed vocals as well. More detailed and cleaner vocals on the N3.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), a bit better tonality on the N3, but otherwise very similar.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality and less recessed vocals on the N3, while it is more detailed.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), better tonality and more natural timbre on the N3. A bit more details on the N3 (micro details and especially the cymbals).

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), tonality, timbre, texture and details are better on the N3 with both the violins/cellos. Although the texture with the cellos on the Z5 is better.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality, timbre and details on the N3. But a bit too much bass quantity in comparison to the Z5.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), soundstage is bigger on the Z5. Details, instrument separation and imaging are a bit better on the N3. Timbre is better on the N3 too.

Overall: The N3 is a better tuned iem than the Z5, with more bass quantity but still more balanced overall. Technicalities are also better and more natural sounding on the N3 than the Z5. The Z5 wins in the huge soundstage it has and with better bass quality. But overall, I rec the N3 over the Z5 (even if both were priced the same) and the N3 is easier to drive and also fits better.



IEM: LZ A7 (Pop-Red), Final Audio Type E LL tips, Faaeal litz copper cable (4.4mm)

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends a bit lower on the A7 and rumbles a lot more on the N3. Punch quantity is also more on the N3 but tighter, faster and more textured on the A7. Cleaner and more detailed on the A7.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), more quantity on the N3 but faster, tighter and more textured on the A7. Cleaner and more detailed on the A7.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), much faster, tighter more textured and detailed/cleaner bass on the A7 but more quantity on the N3.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), very similar tonality but more forward and cleaner/detailed on the A7.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), a tiny bit less fatiguing on the N3 but very similar in how non-offending they are. Cleaner and more detailed on the A7 though.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality on the N3 (a bit warmer) but a bit more forward vocals on the A7 and cleaner, more detailed as well.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), a bit less fatiguing on the N3 and better timbre as well. Cleaner and more detailed on the A7 while the electric guitars tonality is better.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), treble extension, details, texture and tonality with the violins on the A7 are better but timbre is better on the N3. Cello tonality, texture and timbre are similar but cleaner and more detailed on the A7.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), timbre is better on the N3, but better tonality, details and cleaner on the N3

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), soundstage, details, instrument separation and imaging are all better on the A7. Timbre is better on the N3 though.

Overall: The N3 is a more fun experience but not as clean and technical as the A7. A7 is the easier rec for sure (with 10 configs) but if you like a bassy (but clean) and warmer/relaxing iem, the N3 is a very good iem.



IEM: Tanchjim Oxygen, Final Audio Type E LL tips, Tri Through cable (4.4mm)

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends and also rumbles a lot more on the N3. Punch quantity is also a lot more on the N3 but is faster and tighter on the Oxygen while texture is similar.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), tighter and faster on the Oxygen but a lot more quantity on the N3 while texture is similar.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), much cleaner bass on the Oxygen due to it being much faster and tighter. Much more quantity and a bit more texture on the N3 though.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), more forward vocals and better tonality on the Oxygen. Cleaner and more detailed as well.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), much more fatiguing on the Oxygen and also sharp. While it is very relaxing and fatigue-free on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality on the N3 but a bit more forward vocals on the Oxygen and also cleaner and more detailed.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), Sharp electric guitars on the oxygen and fatiguing as well, not on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality and timbre are better on the N3, but cleaner and more detailed on the Oxygen. Violin tonality and details are better on the Oxygen but texture is better on the N3. Oxygen extends higher though and has better violin timbre.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), Tonality is better on the N3 but more detailed and cleaner on the Oxygen.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Soundstage is wider on the Oxygen but deeper on the N3. Instrument separation, details and imaging are better on the Oxygen. Timbre is similar.

Overall: The N3 is much more fun and relaxing while the Oxygen is more detailed and more analytical. They are complementing each other rather than competing, very good to have both.



IEM: Fiio FH3, Final Audio Type E LL tips, Faaeal litz copper cable (4.4mm)

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower and rumbles a lot more on the N3. Punch quantity is similar but is faster, tighter and more textured on the FH3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), more quantity on the N3 but faster, tighter and more textured on the FH3.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), faster and tighter on the FH3, similar texture but more quantity on the N3.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), better tonality, cleaner, more details and more forward vocals on the FH3.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), more relaxing and less fatiguing on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality on the N3 but much more forward vocals, cleaner and more detailed on the FH3.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), a bit sharp on the FH3 while it is much more fatigue-free and relaxing on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), more textured, detailed and cleaner cellos on the FH3 but better timbre and tonality on the N3. Violins have better tonality and details on the FH3, but timbre and texture are better on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality, details, cleaner and more forward vocals on the FH3.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), details, instrument separation and imaging are better on the FH3. Timbre is better on the N3 while soundstage is similar.

Overall: The N3 is more fun, relaxing and fatigue-free that is warmer and bassier than the FH3. Both are somewhat similar and I love them both.



IEM: Final Audio E5000 (high gain), Final Audio Type E LL tips, stock cable (3.5mm)

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower on the N3 but rumbles a bit more on the E5000. Punch quantity is similar but faster, tighter and more textured on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), very similar quantity but faster, tighter and more textured on the N3 and it is much cleaner.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), Very bloated bass on the E5000, much faster, tighter and more textured.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), better tonality on the N3, the E5000 sounds very dark and unclean.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), better tonality on the N3 and cleaner and more detailed as well. More recessed mids on the E5000 as well.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality, details and cleaner on the N3.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), better tonality, details and cleaner on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), better timbre, details, tonality, texture and cleaner on the N3 with both violins/cellos.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality, details and cleaner on the N3.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), soundstage, details, imaging, instrument separation and timbre are all better on the N3.

Overall: Going from the E5000 to the N3 is like lifting a blanket covering the nozzle. The N3 is on another league with the E5000 sounding bloated and dark. The E5000 is also very hard to drive.



IEM: Sony MDR-EX800ST (EQ simulating XBA-N3), Final Audio Type E LL tips, stock cable (3.5mm)

FIY: My EQ preset on the EX800ST is meant to simulate the N3, so this comparison is more on how close the EX800ST gets to the N3 with EQ. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE EX800ST WITHOUT EQ.

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower and rumbles more on the N3. Punch quantity is also higher on the N3 but is a bit faster and tighter on the EX800ST while texture is similar.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), quantity is similar but tighter, faster and more textured on the N3 while it is also cleaner and more detailed.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), quantity is similar but tighter and faster on the N3 while texture is similar. Sounds more bloated and less clean on the EX800ST.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), tonality is similar but a bit more forward vocals on the EX800ST. Cleaner and more detailed on the N3 though.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), similar tonality but cleaner and more detailed on the N3. Fatigue-free and very relaxing on both.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), very similar tonality but cleaner and more detailed on the N3.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), very similar tonality but cleaner and more detailed on the N3.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), cellos are very similar on both. Violin extends a bit higher on the EX800ST but is cleaner, more detailed and with more texture on the N3. Timbre is similar.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), very similar tonality but cleaner and more detailed on the N3.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), soundstage is similar in width but deeper on the N3. Instrument separation, details, imaging and timbre are better on the N3.

Overall: The N3 is on another level. But the EX800ST is very versatile if you can use PEQ as it responds very well to it and you can get it to sound very similar to the N3 (and also the XBA-Z5).



Headphone: Sony MDR-1AM2, stock pads, stock cable (4.4mm)

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends and rumbles more on the N3. Punch quantity is higher on the N3 as well but is tighter and faster on the 1AM2 while texture is similar.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), quantity is higher on the N3 but tighter, faster and a bit more textured on the 1AM2.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), quantity is higher on the N3 but much faster and tighter on the 1AM2 while texture is similar.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), better tonality (brighter) and more forward vocals on the 1AM2 with better details and clarity as well.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), less fatiguing and more relaxing on the N3 but more detailed and cleaner on the 1AM2 while it is also a bit sharp on the 1AM2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), a bit recessed vocal on both but better tonality on the N3 while it is cleaner and more detailed on the 1AM2.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), cleaner and more detailed but sharp electric guitars on the 1AM2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality is better on the N3 but similar texture and timbre while more detailed on the 1AM2. Violin tonality, treble-extension, details and clarity are better on the 1AM2.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality, details and clarity on the 1AM2.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Soundstage is a bit bigger on the 1AM2. Details, instrument separation and imaging are better on the 1AM2 while timbre is similar.

Overall: The 1AM2 is the headphone equivalent of the N3. N3 is more relaxing and fatigue-free because it is warmer though.



Conclusion: If you are a bass lover and prefer a warmer/neutral, relaxing, fatigue-free sound. This is an excellent iem for you and I absolutely rec it. But if you are a treble-head/vocal-head then I don’t rec it for you. Sony has done it again after the XBA-Z5, the question now is…where do Z5/N3 users go next? Thanks for reading.

Graph:
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Sony MDR-EX800ST EQ simulating the XBA-N3:

Low-shelf: 200hz, Q: 0.65, gain: 3.0db

Low-shelf: 120hz, Q: 1, gain: 4.5db

peak eq: 550hz, Q: 1.5, gain: -2.0db

peak eq: 3800hz, Q: 2.3, gain: 5.0db

peak eq: 5500hz, Q: 3.0, gain: -3.0db

high-shelf: 10 500hz, Q: 1.1, gain: 8.0db

Preamp: -8.0db

Reference/test songs:
Last edited:
moskwiz
moskwiz
Pretty sure these are 32 ohm =)
RikudouGoku
RikudouGoku
@moskwiz That is the N3BP version. The N3AP that I have are 16 ohms. Most likely the BP (that includes a balanced cable) have higher resistance to prevent hissing that might come from a balanced amp since those usually have higher output impedance than SE output.
Vamp898
Vamp898
They are not discontinued (at least not in Japan)

They are sold in pretty much every Japanese store including Amazon in 3 version (N1, N3, N3 with balanced cable)

They cost ~150€ (final cost for import including shipping and taxes in Germany), the MSRP in Germany was 199€ back when they were sold here.

You can also get replacement cables and tips in Japan, I'd recommend to just import them.

Redcarmoose

Headphoneus Supremus
The Double Back Whammy Jammer
Pros: 1. Great value
2. Fits everyone
3. Sony House Sound for $299
4. Climbs with better gear
5. Super comfortable
6. Cohesive along with the most cohesive IEMs
7. Complete yet exciting sound signature
8. Seems able to be worn with cable down or over ear
Cons: 1. Discontinued and difficult to find
2. Could be too small; not giving feedback to placement
3. May require special DAPs and tips to sound superior
4. MMCX always has a chance of being fragile
5. Could end up having too much bass
6. Cable included could be too thin
7. Historically an underdog; never getting the hype it deserves
8. Sparse included free accessories may ruin the moment
The First Sony Pentaconn 4.4mm IEM Gets Reincarnated
The Double Back Whammy Jammer


head fi station .jpg


Sorry Kids, nothing new here really as this is more of a resurrection than a reincarnation, but I got you to start reading. So if you have some time to burn we will revisit what has become a modern day (unknown) classic with new eyes. We are going to see just how far we can go with this newly discontinued mid-fi contender............and just maybe get you to spend that allowance your parents gave you.

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Disclaimer:
I’ve had the N3 for years, I tried to make it work. Just the fact that I love Sony should have been reason enough to like it, but no. Up until now the N3 has always represented (to me) the extreme of the Sony House Sound; just laid back and way too much bass. So after some experiences changing Walkman firmware and tips somehow things spun around for a quick 180?

Join me.......will you.........for a tale of a reunion and a success story on all levels. Once again....”It ain't over till the fat lady sings!”

The Sony XBA-N3
Price $299



History and Form Factor:

Picked up mine in 2018 and they stayed at the bottom area of my collection until I went to do some cable tests for a friend. It wasn’t that the N3 really did anything bad necessarily? I picked it up due to liking the Sony House Sound and it came included with a 4.4mm Pentaconn cable. In many ways the N3 comes as a progression for Sony by switching the massive DD driver from sitting sideways to positioning it parallel with the eardrum behind the single BA driver. I don’t want to sound like a know it all, but after owning the XBA-Z5 I kinda knew this would be the new IEM form factor for Sony Hybrids. Sure enough when Sony introduced the IER-Z1R in 2019 you could see the XBA-N3 was in essence a prototype. The design just works well and the N3 has a reputation as a value and a great fitting IEM that fits everyone. That’s a super rare statement right there!

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Sound Characteristic History:
After getting the trio of IER-Z1R, XBA-Z5 and XBA-N3 together I started to realize the N3 has more bass than its brothers. Now as a single concept that’s not all bad but there seemed to be an added slowness in response that seemed to multiply the phenomena? Still the sound WAS cohesive and smooth. DD drivers in this style of installation do offer smoothness. And in this case the DD is fully in-charge of midrange and bass. Added is a custom Sony Corporation super-tweeter. That’s right kids for just $299, you can have your vary own Sony custom super tweeter!

I often retrieved the XBA-N3 for comparisons and experimented with tips and cables but somehow it simply stayed as an extra unexciting speculative purchase.

But Then Something Special Happened:

What happened was so very wonderful and exciting that it moved me to write this review you’re reading. All of a sudden I couldn’t let the XBA-N3 get discontinued and fall through the cracks of time. It needed a sparky review to go along with it’s sparky new sound. Most of the time these big changes probably go along with matching an IEM with new gear? Call it random synergy or luck.......maybe fate? But a change as simple as firmware helped raise the N3 out of it’s plain-Jane-ness forever.

In Comes MrWalkman DMP-Z1MK2
MrWalkman has released two editions of Sony DMP-Z1 emulator firmware for the Sony Walkman 1A and 1Z Digital Audio Players. Upon reading all this a reader must think this is some kind of firmware promoting thing and it is. But most importantly it’s a success story. DMP-Z1MK1 is on the first page of the mod firmwares pages linked below. DMP-Z1MK2, which is what this review is based on is here.

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/sony-walkman-os-fw-mods-non-android.943661/post-15938671

It wasn’t like the N3 wasn’t tested with a range of equipment. I tried it with the Sony $1999 TA-ZH1ES TOTL desktop DAC/amp. I tried it with the Sony Walkman 1A and the Sony 1Z, basically everything I owned that fit the 4.4mm cable. Yet it was adding something as simple as an aftermarket firmware (that’s free) to enable the XBA-Z3 to climb out of mediocrity and shine.

I don’t want to sell the Sony N3 short as if you read all the reviews it has a nice following. People love it for the great fit and smooth sound, many feel the N3 does vocals better than the XBA-Z5? All I can say is before the firmware there was a random collection of budget Chinese IEMs which made you wonder if the value the N3 humbly offered had passed?

Now of course this is all subjective but it’s hard to argue with 5 or more BA drivers simply making more detail and being seemingly more technical?

What happened was latent potentials being tapped. What happened was maybe synergy at it’s best.


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Today’s Sound:
We are now met with the same-old same-old coherency and slight laid-back-backness..........yet there is a new lively introduction of midrange sparkle and treble expansion. Did I use the word “expansion”? Yes, I did and in-fact it’s everywhere farther out than you would guess, and just the prescription the XBA-N3 needed. A new injection of life and the legendary N3 has come to life. So much so that it came back from the “lost in my collection” and forced me emotionally to write a 2 year late review due to having results worthy of words!

So does this mean you need a Sony Walkman 1A too? I’m not sure, but what I will say is.......if the N3 is offered a quality signal it can scale up to a nice place........better than ever guessed.

So there I said it. I got that off my chest. And now that we are here.......It’s probably the place to talk about cables.


If you were to try and stay in the Sony Ecosystem you may find a couple of added cables. One favorite is Kimber cable, the Sony/Kimber MUC-M12SB1 also the all black Sony MUC-M12SM2 gets a lot of love. I have tried those two as well as the IER-Z1R cable that ends up being a favorite to use both with the XBA-N3 and the XBA-Z5. I ended up actually using the included cable as I found the others slightly too thick. Also wildly the IER-Z1R cable is an over-ear style which requires you to flip the N3 to work. After so many opinions on the choice of cables it seems I have no answer except that the Kimber MUC-M12SB1 may make the N3 slightly too warm. More on the warmth in the section below.

The Sound Signature:
Bass:

If someone asked me what the full-size Sony MDR-Z1R bass sounded like I would suggest it sounds like the N3 bass. Same as the MDR-Z7 or IER-Z1R IEM. The Sony sound for me carries over to all these products. Typically if a listener starts to gain appreciation for one they normally like the rest of the Sony offerings. Though to be clear IEMs like the XBA-Z5 and the IER-Z1R offer a more refined and complex bass. But the whole reason for this review would have to do with the N3 ability to scale up to a better place. Due to the IEM being easy to drive we actually bypass much of the hassle of getting introduced to bad bass due to under amping. Most owners know how fast the XBA-Z5 and IER-Z1R go from spectacular bass to 2:00AM South of the Border Nightclub Bass if under driven. The N3 on the other hand has a very prominent bass tone and does change with various DAPs and firmware but typically it seems it’s the midrange and treble detail which is offsetting and bringing the signature out of the swamps. For most the N3 will appear to have more bass than the Z5 and IER-Z1R. Though the trick is to experiment with various upstream signals to create a brighter and more detailed midrange/treble to off set and add contrast to the lows. Lows are always going to be a subjective taste yet when Pace Rhythm and Timing get in the way then something must be done. Somehow the N3 walks that line, even though it still could be considered the Poster Child for Sony House Sound? I’m not a big fan of EQ so I will not comment on it and it’s use with the N3. Also as mentioned numerous times......tips can be the final frontier for sound success. Your going to read about tips a lot and reason stands that the Sony tips may actually not be the best way out of the woods if your trying to reduce the bass. Some have found tips to be more effective than EQ. But typically narrow bore tips increase bass and wide bore and shallow length tips seem to enhance the midrange and treble. So really as most know success is going to be from DAP chosen, tips chosen, firmware chosen, cable and maybe EQ. If that’s convoluted; my only suggestion is try and work with the XBA-N3 and have patience to experiment. I write this as words of encouragement as the N3 sat unused as I gave up too soon. Though in many cases the Sony sound is just not going to work anyway.

Midrange:
Surprisingly when you don’t notice any vocal recession or back placement you have won the Sony game. Famously the new Sony sound is at the expense of the midrange. This feeling of an expanded soundstage and detail may be due to what’s been taken away from the mids. Now that doesn’t mean that the N3 doesn’t do vocals as in fact it’s actually noted for doing vocals well. They probably sit farther forward than the MDR-Z1R, which is not that difficult in reference to the Sony Sound Ecosystem.

So the folks into the N3 are liking it due to the whole package. The price, the fit, the sound and the soundstage personality. Yet normally the best way to join the Sony camp would be accepting a V signature, and that’s what we have. It’s only going to be a winner if you can not question the bass, mids or treble and let the music be experienced naturally. This goal is easier said than done. Yet we learned that mental burn in seems to help. So if you just purchase the N3 give it some time before making judgment. The way mental burn in goes will be like one day everything sounds great all of a sudden. If that never happens the Sony sound may not be for you or you need to start tip rolling.

Treble:
Even with a single amazing super-tweeter these are not normally remembered as bright or brittle IEMs. And that IS the magic here. If you go through a hand full of mid-fi IEMs there is a good chance you will not find a smoother IEM. That smoothness is not actually coming off as dark; only lush. The treble is on all accounts not as shimmering as many IEMs, but it just seems to interlock into the signature. Meaning many IEMs both BA and Hybrid will come off non-unified in character. It’s like the bass is not connected to the rest of the signature or the treble is out there on it’s own. If that’s not happening.........it seems there could be small drop outs where only in certain parts.........the instruments just don't blend or sound off? The effect may even only happen in one tiny area of the response but when it happens it can stick out like a sore thumb. Here though maybe the most cherished effect is how integrated the entire signature is. Cymbals are not flashy, nothing is overly bright or even overly detailed for that matter. So we can throw rocks at the N3 at times but we can never accuse the N3 of being disjointed. Even the miles more expensive IER-Z1R gets called disjointed at times by some, yet none to be found here!

Still the XBA-N3 really is the baby IER-Z1R. I’ve had the IER for years and years and have a grip on the tone. Somehow at it’s best (due to consistency of response) the N3 actually sounds just like a less detailed and less filled out IER-Z1R! The point is the N3 has the soundstage character and the bass and treble character. It seems like you are listening to the IER concept prototype.

Cheers! :)


Disclaimer:

I purchased the Sony XBA-N3 in 2018 and have just now learned to like them. They may or may not work for you out of the box. My conclusions here are my own, your own millage may vary.

2879934A-F063-49CF-B18A-C9F30643E14E.jpeg


https://www.head-fi.org/threads/sony-walkman-os-fw-mods-non-android.943661/

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/the-new-sony-walkman-1z-1a-thread.944508/

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/sony-xba-n3ap-and-xba-n1ap-—-impressions-thread.818852/

Features & details
  • Dynamic Type: Closed, Hybrid / Driver Unit: Hybrid
  • Cord Type: Detachable Y type / Cord Length: Approx. 1.2m
  • Frequency Response (Hz): 3Hz-40,000Hz
  • Sensitivities (dB/mW): 105dB/mW, 107dB/mW
  • Impedance (Ohm): 32ohm (at 1kHz)
Comes in your choice of 3.5mm or 4.4mm plug



Product Information

BrandSony
ManufacturerSony
Model number4548736032613
Part Number4548736032613
Colour ScreenNo
Headphones Form FactorIn Ear
Batteries IncludedNo
Batteries RequiredNo
Cable FeatureDetachable
Connector TypeWired
Form FactorIn Ear
Includes AC AdapterNo
Remote Control Included?No
Product Dimensions16.26 x 4.32 x 10.16 cm; 181.44 Grams
Item Weight181 g
ManufacturerSony
ASINB01MF4HU0Z
Item Model Number4548736032613
Is Discontinued By ManufacturerNo
Date First Available14 March 2018

Description
Listen to a full spectrum of sound with extended clarity across the frequency range. These sophisticated in-ear headphones with a newly designed HD Hybrid Driver system pack a wealth of fine detail in a small package. Enjoy the subtlest nuances of studio quality sound in higher-than-CD quality with High-Resolution Audio. Pairs a dynamic driver with LCP diaphragm for rich bass and smooth mids with a Balanced Armature driver for soaring highs. An extended open enclosure design and enhanced airflow improves soundstage for a richer, more natural sound. The 9mm dynamic driver maintains drive force for deep bass and clear mids without dropping off like other drivers, while the airtight Balanced Armature driver provides natural high frequency sound for longer. Both drivers work together to keep sound response steady across the frequencies. More airflow in an extended enclosure design means more space for the driver to move and sound to resonate. The result is a more natural sound with richer mid notes and balanced lows to highs.


Get them here.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sony-XBAN3AP-CE7-Premium-High-Res-Headphones-Black/dp/B01LD5GOD2
Last edited:
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Actually we found the source of confusion. In the link it says you can choose a Bluetooth cable but does not say you can choose the included Bluetooth cable, which would mean no Bluetooth cable included. So sorry for the assumption.

PM me if you want to see the Bluetooth reference in the Amazon listing, it is there. What you want to do is get the N3 with the correct cable for your device. This review was written with the 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn included cable. The Amazon listing is probably is for 3.5mm as after further reading it offers the buyer to upgrade their cable to balanced or Bluetooth. :)
F700
F700
Nice to share the same love for the N3
Vamp898
Vamp898
They are not discontinued (at least not in Japan)



They are sold in pretty much every Japanese store including Amazon in 3 version (N1, N3, N3 with balanced cable)



They cost ~150€ (final cost for import including shipping and taxes in Germany), the MSRP in Germany was 199€ back when they were sold here.



You can also get replacement cables and tips in Japan, I'd recommend to just import them.

F700

Headphoneus Supremus
The Underdog
Pros: + Appealing sound signature
+ Thoughtful implementation of the hybrid technology (1DD/1BA)
+ Built quality
+ Likes extra power via external amping
+ Top-tier level sounding with tips rolling, cable upgrade and a premium source
+ Fit (for my ears and with the correct tips)
+ Fairly priced at time of release
+ Poor man's IER-Z1R
+ It’s a Sony... :-)
Cons: - Requires slight mods to sound at its best
- Might sound too dark and/or bassy for neutral and flat response aficionados
- Stock tips and stock cable
- Discontinued / last available brand new units are expensive, but still worth their price nevertheless
Better late than never… what follow are my long-overdue impressions of the Sony N3ap, a hybrid IEM sporting a 9mm dynamic driver and a balanced armature. It has been released in the Q3 2016. I paid CHF 270.- for my exemplar (approx. USD 290.-). Other iterations of the N3ap have been released. IIRC, we have the N3 (w/o microphone) and the N3bp (with a 4.4mm balanced cable).

IMG_0696.jpg


IMG_0695.JPG


Why?
Since 3.5 years being part of my modest portable audio arsenal, the N3 saw a significant amount of IEMs coming and going, bought with my own money or on loan. I have never thought of selling it, because after investing some extra cash in a better cable (Sony MUC-M12SM2) and aftermarket tips (JVC Spiral Dots) right after the purchase, I knew I held something special in my hands, something that will pass the test of time. Curiously enough, in my book, I consider the N3 as the guy who remains unnoticed yet trustworthy in every situation. The good old chap. You know what I mean, don’t you?

Anyway, I am going to tell you why I love the N3 and why I think this is a fantastic IEM. This is my opinion, based on how I am perceiving sound and how I like my digital files to be played back.

Getting a Sony N3ap today
I was not aware of that before starting writing this review, but the N3 seems to be discontinued or very hard to find. The price also seems to be much higher now (way above USD 300.-) for these remaining factory new units. I even saw a N3bp at USD 438.- on Ebay. There should be second-hand exemplars on sale on Head-Fi, though.

From Caterpillar to Butterfly
What you get in the box is nothing revolutionary. A crappy cable with a microphone and cheap connectors that don’t link very well with the MMCX. Additionally, you get some generic tips, but the real deal seems to be the 3 pairs of Sony « triple comfort » tips, that were newly introduced along with the N3. Nice to the touch and indeed comfortable in the ear, they unfortunately don’t allow the N3 to unleash its full potential. The narrow aperture muddies and muffles the sound, avoiding the nice inherent treble to be shown off, while the bass is presented with too much emphasis. The vocals are more distant than I like them to be and also lack clarity. False start Sony!… But take a deep breath and relax, everything’s gonna be good at the end.

I actually am fond of a warmish and/or darkish sound signature, but only if these traits get balanced with a counterweight in their tuning. I will talk about the Final E5000 later, but this is a very good exemple of what I want to express here. In the E5000’s case, Final tuned their IEM to be in perfect harmony with their stock tips and silver cable. In my opinion, a real success from end to end. I tell you more about that in the « Deathmatches » section.

Back to the N3 and the mandatory improvements to transform it into a sonic marvel. Well, almost. First, the cable. Get rid of the stock one, it has strong microphonic and is poorly built. On top of that, the connection with the MMCX is subpar. Nowadays, the offering for decent cables is much more diversified and cheaper than in 2017. At that time, I decided to upgrade within the Sony’s product range, namely the MUC-M12SM2, a 3.5mm cable made of copper. Good cable, period. A completely another level when it comes to comfort, microphonic, durability and…price. Yes, it costed me almost USD 100.-, but the cash has been more than amortized over the years. Still, if you catch a good deal on a N3 today, Penon Audio or Aliexpress will be happy to sell a top-cable for less than USD 30.- (ISN ones are good). Go for the MUC-M12SM2 only if you are a Sony fanboy or if you have an appropriate budget.

MUC-M12SM2
IMG_0708.jpg


On a separate note, I also bought the 4.4mm balanced Kimber cable, the MUC-M12SB1, along with the MUC-M12SM2. I might get some homecoming missiles for saying what follows, but even if this cable just is magnificent in its execution and built quality, it brings back a slight muddy sound into play that prevents the N3 to shine as it does with the single-ended MUC-M12SM2.

The Kimber cable (MUC-M12SB1)
IMG_0707.jpg


Now, the tips. Nice effort from Sony to introduce the « triple comfort » tips, but as stated before, they aren’t able to give the N3 justice. I have tried Final E-tips, better but not ideal, still too boomy. Double and triple flange? Comfort wise not optimal, they reduce the muffled sound yes, but there is still room for improvement. Generic Chinese tips? Not bad, but they generally are slipping out of the stem after a few minutes or are too uncomfortable for a long listening session. Having a standard ear anatomy with a pretty narrow ear-canal, I tried the JVC Spiral Dots (size MS) and the fit instantly was perfect. Like an old advertisement said, it was for Pirelli tyre I think, « power without control is useless/nothing » or something like that. Well, great sound coming into your ears without the right fit exactly deserves the same slogan. Fortunately, fit and sound have matched so well, the transformation took place that night. Big smile on my face and intermittent electrifying shivers in my spine for the following hours. I remember that moment as if it was yesterday. The larger aperture of the Spiral Dots lets the N3 breaths freely. The stage opened, coherency improved, and the boomy bass tamed exactly how I expected it to do. Mediums gained in clarity yet maintainIng their flavor. Floored. That’s what we are sayin’, right? Well then, I was floored… still am today.

Hmmmm, which one?
IMG_0694.jpg


Well, this one. The JVC Spiral Dots.

IMG_0725.jpg


Caution!
Switching cable with MMCX connectors is a risky business. Nothing happened to me so far, but I have read that connectors broke by switching cable. In order to prevent such misfortune, I use that tool from Final Audio:

IMG_0690.jpg


Soundcheck
Please find below a non-exhaustive list of the music I listen to:

• Alpha Blondy / Masada (African pop)
• Dykehouse / Midrange (Instrumental pop/rock)
• Thomas Köner / La Barca (Ambient, Field recordings)
• Alva Noto / Xerrox vol. 4 (Electronic)
• The Sight Below / It All Falls Apart (Electronic)
• Yagya / Rigning (Dub Techno)
• Massive Attack / Blue Lines, Protection & Mezzanine (Trip-Hop)
• Dire Straits / On Every Street (Pop/Rock)
• Roxy Music / Avalon (Pop/Rock)
• Simple Minds / Best Of (Pop/Rock)
• NAS / Illmatic (Rap/Hiphop)
• Pink Floyd / The Later Years Box (Pink Floyd)
• A-HA / East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (Pop)
• Kate Bush / Hounds Of Love (Female Vocalist)
• Jono McCleery / Pagodes (Male Vocalist)
• Johnny Cash / The Legend (Johnny is one of a kind)
• …and Sting, Interpol, Kraftwerk, Simply Red, UB40, King Creosote, Boards of Canada, The Black Dog, Aaron Neville, Björk, REM, Aphex Twin, Manu Katché + French artists and some OST (Blade Runner, Interstellar, Inception, Hannibal, Twin Peaks)

Please also check my Bandcamp profile, because a significant part of my Electronic music library can be seen there.

The Good, the Great, the Awesome and the Rest
Every aspect of the following section will get a mark. 5 is the best. You might figure what is the worst. The mark is given based on the performance/price ratio and considering the whole sound signature and how I am perceiving it.

Medium (the good)
Slightly recessed, the mediums are benefiting from my fine-tuning quite a bit. They are more forward and clearer. A welcome improvement over the stock package. The vocals and instruments have more presence without becoming over-exposed. I really am closer to the recording and the inherent warm character of the N3 is still around. 4 / 5 (without mods 3.5 / 5)

Treble (the great)
The treble is tamed a bit too much for my taste with the standard tips. The N3 deserves his reputation of being a dark IEM. Fortunately, the JVC Spiral Dots tips exist. The true potential of the N3 is unleashed by switching tips. Find your own flavor, the portable audio market is full of aftermarket tips providers. The Spiral Dots present a wide aperture and this is exactly what changes the game. The N3 breaths and never shows sibilance or harshness, if the recording is not calling for it. Still, we cannot talk about the N3 as a treble-friendly IEM, but the mids and treble section really are benefiting from the JVC tips. 4.4 / 5 (without mods 3.2 / 5)

Bass (the awesome)
OOTB, the bass is where the N3 shines. Some might find it wholly, bloated, inaccurate, etc… In my opinion, The subbass is there, it pounds hard with a good decay and realism. The rumble is tad attenuated thanks to the JVC tips. In any case, it surely will not suit people seeking for a neutral signature, but it’s obvious. The whole signature is a slight V and tips rolling reduce this impression a bit. The N3 is great with electronic music, with lots of bass or not, but also with pop where the vocals are well separated from the rest of the spectrum. Bass lovers will love the N3! 4.7 / 5 (without mods 4.4 / 5)

Soundstage and Imaging (the rest)
After my slight mods, the soundstage becomes wider and the whole sound presentation is more accurate. The imaging makes a step up as well, but we are still in presence of an IEM that is ruled by its bass. It might be a surprise for some, but the soundstage and the imaging are better on the Final E5000, a single DD IEM.. 4 / 5 (without mods 3.8 / 5)

Brother in arms
My two portable rigs are:
  1. The Calyx M with or without the Dethonray HA-2 amp
    IMG_0698.jpg
  2. The Dethonray DTR1 with or without the Phatlab Chimera amp
    IMG_0699.jpg
I could switch aforementioned DAPs and amps, but with the N3, these are the best combinations. The amp is not necessary, but it helps in improving dynamics. I strongly believe and have been experiencing it myself for over almost 2 years now, a premium amp (not price-related, but only quality-related) brings some DAPs to the next level. This is the case with the Dethonray DTR1, which is parading with the best-in-class and, to a lesser extent, the Calyx M. The Calyx M is a very special device (check the dedicated thread in that regard), which extracts all informations from your recordings and adds a slight warm/analog flavor. With that in mind, it does not require an amp as much as the DTR1 to get a truly better sound. Linking the Dethonray HA-2 with the Calyx M via the HO (the M has no dedicated LO, but it doesn’t matter, really), the N3 sounds simply magnificent. Bass gets even tighter, mids are not recessed and finds an ideal balance between clarity, presence and body. The treble remains a bit rolled-off, but all details are there, smoothly presented. With the DTR1 and the Chimera, the sound is almost as good, I mean, I am splitting hairs here. The fact that the amp (Chimera) is warmer sounding in this set-up changes a bit how the N3 sounds. It’s just slightly slower and vocals are losing a very faint amount of matter. Once more, it represents such a minimal difference, I am really searching for the devil in the details.

Deathmatches
Let’s the Final Audio E5000 (6.4mm single DD), the Etymotic ER2XR (?mm single DD), the P-EAR-S SH-2U (2 Sonion BA) and the Blon BL-03 (10mm single DD) enter the ring for some exciting head-to-heads. Please keep in mind that the following comparisons take into account that the N3 has reached next level via tips rolling and cable switching. I am only talking about the sound in this section, because fit is a very personal affair and built quality in excellent in all cases. Finally, this section is to take with a grain of salt, I have tried to make it entertaining, but the comparisons, even if presented in analogies, are seriously meant.

So, this is where the fun begins… Let’s fight a bit, ok?

BLON BL-03 (USD 35.- / USD 80.- with the extra accessories)

IMG_0704.JPG


I like the Blon…after inexpensive and necessary modifications. ISN S16 SPC cable and size L Final E-tips is my way to go with it. Now, even with its pleasing sound and warm tonality that rightfully created the hype it deserved, is it able to knock-out the N3? The BL-03, with its big muscles, cannot keep the pace with the agility of the N3. The Blon gets tired pretty quickly and even with its powerful bass and fleshy mids, the N3 has no problem to dodge the BL-03’s attacks with a more refined technic that allows him to turn around its opponent and to heavily hit him in the face and in the liver. The TKO comes pretty early in the match. The BL-03 goes back on diet, has to improve the cardio and changes fighting league.

Etymotic ER2XR (USD 200.- / much cheaper today) . Review link https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/etymotic-research-er2xr.23811/reviews#item-review-23622

IMG_0705.JPG


The Ety is sharp and fit, has the best stamina from the fighter roster, and has enough punch to end any combat in its favor. Its fighting style is varied yet traditional. It doesn’t fear the more athletic shape of the N3 and shows an aggressive attitude while the referee tells both competitors to not hit the other one in the « connectors ». FIGHT! Both are giving all they have and it’s difficult to say who will win. No one is falling on the floor, but both are bleeding. The N3 hits harder and more often, but the Ety shows its surgeon skills and exactly knows when and where to attack. The bout ends and both fighters are completely exhausted. It’s a draw. Spectators and pay-per-view viewers are very divisive about the confrontation’s outcome and start fighting online or around the ring to defend their vision of the combat. The fighters accept the draw and shake hands before going back in the locker room. Namaste.

P-EAR-S SH-2U (USD 700.- / without discount USD 900.-) - Review link https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/p-ear-s-sh-2u.24375/reviews#item-review-23710

IMG_0709.jpg


Think Ong-Bak. You know, these legendary 15 minutes in the illegal fight club at the beginning of the movie. Tony Jaa facing different kind of opponents and ultimately entering a combat against Mad Dog. Who’s is who? I let you guess, but not too long, ok? The SH-2U has not the same morphology as the N3. It’s lighter and quicker. If only Mad Dog really would have tried to stop Tony Jaa… the outcome might have been different in the movie. Well well well, how all this is gonna end? Actually, this fight cannot end. Both fighters have their own attributes and they have no reason to fight, only for the sake of it. Back to the real world for a second: The SH-2U is a neutral, balanced yet warmish IEM that seems boring at first. Let it growing on you, its coherency might appear to you as it did in my case, and even it the bass is a bit lacking in precision, the mids and treble are presented how I like them, meaning with enough presence and control, but without exaggeration. A very solid package, but the price is high for getting swiss made quality. The N3, on the contrary, is correctly priced for its performance alone and the rest of the package is useless to me. The N3 and the SH-2U are sparing partners, but not meant to be fighting against each other.

Final E5000 (USD 270.- at time of purchase) - Review link https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/final-e5000.23161/reviews#item-review-23375

IMG_0706.jpg


This looks like a final match (no pun intended). A Japanese derby. I love Japan btw, been there in 2005 and going next year again. Best food ever. Anyway. I have 2 rigs that I consider top level when it comes to audio playback. The first one in the Calyx M with my CIEM, the P-EAR-S UT-3, and the second is the DTR1/Phatlab Chimera combo with the Final E5000 and the 4.4mm OC Studio pure silver cable. You should have guessed it by now, the N3 is gonna lose this match, ceteris paribus. it’s not a defeat by TKO, but an unanimous decision in favor of the E5000.

Match report: The N3, full of confidence, is going for the win early in the bout, because the E5000 is just a bit smaller and also seems slower, with an apparently shorter range. Don’t be fooled by its appearance, the E5000’s punch is more powerful, finds its target more often and the overall technique is slightly ahead. Fair enough, the E5000 took some protein, but the N3 also got its drug. Let’s get ready to rumblllllllllllllllllllle!! Pif, Paf, Bang, Boom, etc… The E5000 welcomes the N3’s punches without feeling them or at least it seems to be the case, keeping its guard high enough, a deadly high kick can come anytime. Watch the 2005 PRIDE special match between Mirko « Cro Cop » Filipovic (N3) and Fedor Emelianenko (E5000), it’s a legendary MMA bout and there is no better analogy when it comes to compare the N3 and the E5000. Both are great contenders, but at the end, there can be only one! In this case, the E5000, because it handles what we throw at it with Maestria. Its horizontal vision and understanding of a real fight are its decisive assets. It’s a DNA affair.

The Bang and the Bucks’ romantic affair
At time of purchase, the N3 was 10x times cheaper as the IER-Z1R. I tried the Z1R… I want one, but cannot afford it. For now. Still, my UT-3 CIEM is even better than the IER-Z1R, just sayin’, so I can wait, but I want them, but I cannot afford them, but, but, but… you see? Am I happy with my IEMs, but more specifically with the N3 (after my mods)? Yes, very. I am blessed being able to hear my music at this level of playback quality. For approx. USD 300.-, my advice to those who are looking for an engaging yet detailed sound signature is to get a N3 and to try my simple mods. If you don’t like what you hear or read, I would like to get your feedback, just to know your opinion about what it’s lacking or what it has in excess.

Epilogus
I talk about what I know (about). Not less, not more. It makes sense, isn’t it? The Sony N3ap is, after some extra investment, a gem. This is my opinion and if I could give a mark in %, I would give the N3 93% out of 100% with my mods and 75% in its stock iteration. I hope you enjoyed reading my impressions about this « underdog » IEM.

The Sony XBA-N3ap - Star of the day
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Pricklyears101
Pricklyears101
So i just got them, and I quite like them! They are very similar in tonality to the MH1C, but very refined in all areas with a wider soundstage. Despite the weird shape, they fit and seal well, unlike the IER-Z1R. I'm having no qualms with the stock tips or cable either, so I'm gonna keep it stock for now. They don't sound that dark to me actually, just nice to be detailed enough and not sound sibilant. I can hear the BA tonality in the upper mids and highs, but they play well with the DD and not disrupt the listening experience. Overall, a consumer-friendly sound signature that's hard to hate, yet not skimping on technicalities. A very welcomed contrast to my EX1000.
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dogtagkz
dogtagkz
I've tip rolled many and yes, as per your suggestion, it is the best. Thanks man!
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Reactions: F700
Vamp898
Vamp898
They are not discontinued (at least not in Japan)

They are sold in pretty much every Japanese store including Amazon in 3 version (N1, N3, N3 with balanced cable)

They cost ~150€ (final cost for import including shipping and taxes in Germany), the MSRP in Germany was 199€ back when they were sold here.

You can also get replacement cables and tips in Japan, I'd recommend to just import them.

FelixTheFylax

New Head-Fier
Bass delight
Pros: Overall tonality
Bass
Fun signature
Easy to listen to
Cons: Cable from hell (microphonics)
Bass might be too much for some
Better detail retrieval would have been great
First review (?)



Hello everyone.

Since this is my first review, I would like to preface a two things.

Firstly, I do not completely believe in audible “burn in” or cable changes (in regard to sound). My review however will be based on my final impressions after 20-25 hours of “burn in” with the stock cable.

Secondly, my music preferences consist of many genres ranging from Rock/Metal, Rap, J-Pop/K-Rap, and some acoustical/vocal based music. They will be listed below as examples.

Lastly, my reference over-ear headphones are the Sennheiser HD58x Jubilee. These are the first and open-back cans I have. Just in case it mattered, I wanted to put this here.

Sample songs used to evaluate gear to get an idea of the type of music I listen to. Hopefully you can find a new artist/band.

Wage War – Twenty One, The River, Low

Slipknot – Before I Forget, Duality, Psychosocial

Hoshino Gen – Koi, Continues, Sun

Mariya Takeuchi – Plastic Love, Yume No Tzusuki, September

Jakubi – Holiday, Pillow, Nobody Better

Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood, On Melancholy Hill, Ascension

Tupac – Ambitionz Az a Ridah, Changes, All Eyez on Me

Mos Def – Mathematics, Hip Hop, Ms. Fat Booty

Polkadot Stingray – Free, Mermaid, A Stinging Spica

Etc.



Now onto the review!

All listening was done off the Shanling UP4 (bluetooth and USB Dac mode) and LG V30 using Flac files or Tidal premium. This was purchased with my own money as well.

Let’s start with bass, the highlight of these for me. The bass is elevated making them quite nice for more modern genres. Bass extends low, hits hard, all while never bleeding into the mids in my experience. There is a good amount of texture and impact. Bass guitars and kick drums sound fantastic, piano keys feel weighty, and with certain songs you can really feel a nice rumble. The added bass boost adds warmth to the overall sound. I think bassheads would be pretty happy with these honestly.
9.5/10.


Onto the mids. The mids are never seem left behind. They seem to be neutral with a bit of warmth. String instruments sound full and never sound too forward. Male vocals sound smooth and seem to about on the same level as everything, if that makes sense. Female vocals on the other hand feel a bit distant. Many of my favorite songs include female vocals so this was a bit of disappointment. Not to say that they’re inaudible, but I do wish they were a tad more forward. 8/10


Lastly, the highs. Highs seem kind of relaxed to my ears, while still having enough details. Cymbals sound quite good while never being over-the-top. I never experienced any kind of sibilance/harshness, although I don’t consider myself sensitive to that. I honestly feel these are really non-fatiguing. I do wish they had more “sparkle” or a little more energy. There doesn't seem to be a whole ton of air as well.
7/10


In terms of soundstage/imaging, these are adequate. Soundstage is larger than most Chi-fi I’ve tried, but never feels huge or give me an out of head experience. Imaging is definitely better. I feel like I could pinpoint where certain instruments were placed.
7/10


Genres that work well with these: Rock/metal, Rap, EDM, Pop


Select Comparisons:

FiiO FH5

The FH5 can be seen as a competitor to the N3. They are more similar than not. Bass on the N3 has a bit more presence/warmth and can even be considered “boomy” in comparison. Slam/impact is close but is overall more enjoyable on the N3. The FH5 does give slightly more texture to the bass though. The Mids are where these differ. Mids are much more forward and slightly more detailed on the FH5’s. Although I never felt the vocals on the FH5 were ever shouty, in comparison the forwardness gives off that impression. Highs seems to be a tad more detailed on the FH5 as well and never get sibilant/harsh. Overall detail retrieval seems to be better on the FH5’s but not by much. The N3 just seems to fall a hair behind. Soundstage and imaging are on par with each other. The N3 seem to be a warmer version of the FH5, which can be a good thing depending on your preferences. I personally enjoy the FH5’s more due to the forward midrange, but that can be a dealbreaker to some. If that’s the case, the N3’s would be a better set. These are both really nice sets for rock and metal/rap/edm/or anything needing that extra bass emphasis.



BLON BL03

Ahh yes, the infamous BLONs. Why compare these you ask? Because these are both what I would consider basshead iems. With the popularity of the 03’s I feel like it makes sense to compare what others probably have. Let’s start with the obvious, bass. Both have a generous bass elevation making these the stars of the show. The 03 have a bit more rumble/impact to the bass but is also slower in comparison to the N3. Bass notes are better defined on the N3 and provide more detail. Unfortunately, the 03 has noticeable bass bleed, not that it really matters since you can find them for <$30. The N3 presents mids in a much cleaner and well-defined manner. Vocals never feel behind and give good clarity as they do with the 03's. Highs are overall better on the N3 providing better clarity. So do I think the N3 is better than the 03? Yes. Do I think it’s worth 10x the price? Depends. In this hobby, the law of diminishing returns is too real. To those who can’t spend over $100, I think the 03 is a phenomenally good sounding set with little trade-offs compared to its competition (especially in its price range).



Moondrop Blessing2

What do these have in common? Price, that’s pretty much it in my opinion. I would argue these are polar opposites. The N3 is the fun bassy, yet neutral set. Details aren’t its strong suite, but they’re present. On the other hand, the Blessing2 are much more neutral with an emphasis on the midrange. Bass is anemic in comparison, despite it's quality. These are different sets for different people in my opinion. The Blessing2 is the more well-rounded set, while the N3 is more enjoyable, especially for longer listening sessions. If you listen to a lot of rock, metal, rap, and edm, the N3 is what you’re looking for .If you like to hear details, listen to more instrumental music, or any type of music where bass isn’t prominent, the Blessing2 would suite your tastes.





Conclusion

Do I recommend the Sony XBA N3’s? Of course! Depending on what you listen to, they’re extremely fun and easy to listen to. Since this was my first detailed review, I'm sure there's bound to be some mistakes and weird phrasings. If you're curious how these compare to an iem you have, please feel free to ask and I'll see if I have them to compare!.

Thanks for your time!
FelixTheFylax
FelixTheFylax
@F700 Thanks so much bro! Hopefully my vocabulary improves as well haha
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F700
F700
The vocabulary is not really that important if you are writing with your heart and if you remain true to yourself. Enjoy the ride and the exercise of sharing your impressions with us :pray:
FelixTheFylax
FelixTheFylax
Damn thanks for that! That's super good to hear and helps with my confidence :innocent:

asanjuan2003

New Head-Fier
Pros: Fun and clear sounding. Great Isolation. Sounds great with smartphone!
Cons: Micro details are barely audible.
Set-up:
Iphone SE > Sony XBA N-3
Playing AAC. No EQ
Using Triple Comfort Tips (Smallest)

Looks:
Shell: low profile.
Cable: It has a faded bronze color and it has a nice feel to it, not the cheap rubbery kind. Subtle.

Sound:
Initial Impression: Enjoyable & Clear. I don’t usually bob my head when listening to iems but this N3…..
Detail: In very rARE occasions, some details are barely audible.
Soundstage: It’s good. The speed & impact of the bass & the clarity in the mids help with making it not sound boxed in.
Separation: Instruments can be heard with high clarity except for micro details which I can barely hear.
Bass: Quality and impact are great even on an iphone. I think it is the best part of the sound.
Mids: Very clear. But not as extended as the Very Best. It’s also not endearing or sweet sounding like the Senn HD600 but not cold either (its far from being cold sounding).
Treble: Weakest point in the sound but on par with other iems & headphone in its price range. It’s just not gonna wow you.

Music: Led Zeppelin, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson -- the beat will make your head bob. I prefer to listen to rock & fast upbeat music w/ the N3.

Compared to my Sony MDR-ex800st: these iems are at the same price range & level of clarity.
N3 is not flat like the 800st.
N3 is slightly less detailed.
N3 is more enjoyable (I never bob my head with the 800st).
N3 is more usable --the 800st has a super long cable, N3 has better isolation, N3 plays better w/ my iphone, i actually prefer to use the 800st w/ a desktop amp.
My mind tells me that the 800st is technically better but I'm using the N3 more..a lot more. FYI, I hold the 800st in high regard.

My Final thoughts: Not cheap @ $300 but competitively priced. Not endgame in terms of technical capabilities. N3 has a low profile look, great isolation, and a fun and clear sound signature out of a smartphone.
F700
F700
Stay away from the Sony stock tips. I have the N3 since almost 3 years now and it really shines with Final Audio E-Tips or JVC Spiral dots, which open the treble, improve details and enlarge the soundstage. Believe me, switching tips bring the N3 to the next level.

yukitq

Blogger: Audio Rambles
Pros: Smooth, natural tonality.
Exceptional Timbre.
Clean and clear midrange.
Well implemented upper treble peak which rarely gets harsh, allows for an airier presentation.
Comfortable to wear.
All round fantastic sound.
Cons: Slightly rolled-off highs.
Mid-bass and Lower mids could have more emphasis.
Cable is a little thin.
Full Review on AudioRambles: https://audiorambles.com/xba-n3/

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Overall, the XBA-N3 possess a relatively neutral sound signature with a slight sub-bass and lower treble boost. It retains a good amount of warmth, allowing it to never sound muddy but still maintain its smoothness across the board. Where it really excels, however, is in its natural tone and timbre, providing an enjoyable and relaxing listening experience .

Bass (7.5/10): The XBA-N3 showcases thumping sub-bass which goes down low, though it still remains a controlled affair. It may sound very slightly boomy on certain tracks, but it's a tradeoff I'd take any day of the week for that little bit more "oomph". Keep in mind it's not an extravagant hump of any sort, but just the perfect amount to keep your toes tapping.

Mid-bass, however, was tuned to be more neutral in the grand scheme of things, with a very very slight hump to provide it more warmth, but that's about it. Impact and slam is sacrificed to allow for a smooth transition from upper bass to midrange, and an almost complete lack of mid-bass bleed. Bass, however, still maintains good, natural decay, texture and detail, especially evident in Daft Punk's "Instant Crush".

Mids (7.5/10): The XBA-N3 produces such smooth, silky and clear mids. Both male and female vocals are very well presented. Male singers ike Andrea Bocelli have sufficient weight and body, with a velvety texture in its delivery. My personal preference, however, lies in having greater emphasis in this region, as the relative lack of mid-bass causes a slight perceived dip compared to female vocals. Female vocals as a result are slightly more prominent, also in part due to the upper mid/treble peak which adds a good amount of air to the overall soundscape. Diamond Zhang's unique, breathy voice in particular is presented beautifully.

Detail retrieval, while above average and good, is really nothing to write home about due to its smooth tone and signature. There are IEMs out there with better detailing in this price range, but few which will ever compete with the N3's relaxing and non-fatiguing qualities midrange.

Highs (7/10): There's a peak as mentioned previously in the lower treble region, though it at times can be bordering on sibilance. Keep in mind however, that I am sibilance sensitive, so for you normal folks out there this is more than tolerable for you, given I did still enjoy the highs and rarely found them fatiguing/harsh. The treble is smooth throughout with a slight roll-off at the very top end, while still presenting details convincingly.

Soundstage, Imaging, Seperation and Timbre (8.5/10): The XBA-N3 produces a wide sounding soundstage, accompanied by realistic perceived depth. There is good air between instruments, and the XBA-N3 held up well on complicated tracks such as "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men and Supercell's "Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari". Staging is fantastic as well with backup singers and instruments in Amy Winehouse's live rendition of "Valerie" highlighting the precision the N3 is capable of. Above all, the N3 has such a realistic and natural timbre to its presentation of instruments, that it is hard to find faults in that regard.

mer

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Amazing sound quality
Bass
Comfort
Highs
Likes all kinds of digital/analog sources (+not bad with lower quality productions )
Good product quality
Detachable cable
Very decent soundstage
Cons: Upper mids/low highs are good but a bit in your face, I've heard better from open designs so better soundstage ( Soundstage could be bigger when mids are only present. )

A bit expensive
I've owned many headphones but now I have : Fidelio S2, Yamaha PRO 500, Sennheiser HD598. Speakers : Wharfdale Diamond 10.1/Cambridge Audio stereo amp, Cerwin-Wega active subwoofer. Many dac/headphone opamps. I don't agree with flat earphones, I want to hear music as if I play them, I play the piano drums and guitar and I know how my instruments sound and how they are supposed to sound. Flat earphones sound dull and don't reproduce what I hear when I play my instruments.

Bass : Super solid bass, coming from xb90ex or yamaha pro 500 or my cerwin-wega subwoofer, the n3 goes deep,it's solid, clear and fast. Compared to xb90ex, the xb90ex feels like a big used(loose) acoustic kick drum while the n3 feels like new(tighter) smaller kick drum If you EQ and amp you go to eardrum rupture basshead levels and the bass remains clear quick and textured. When I a/b with 50mm dynamic ( yamaha pro 500 ) the bass is there, the low end is there but the yamaha pro 500 delivers head rumbling and the 80-125hz is more "kicky", the phone literally moves. The Sony n3 doesn't rumble the same as in it seems the housing doesn't even want to move, sony has done something right here, it remains solid and very clear. Just the opposite of the cheap JVC FX series. We are talking about extreme levels here. If you are not a basshead, this earphone, I don't believe will be too bassy for you... I know the bass is pronounced but not unrealistic, for me this level of bass is more real and better than flat earphones ( I don't agree with their frequency targets of what is a flat earphone anyway), sony feels more real, thats how I perceive music in a live environment with real instruments , not like flat earphones.
Bass 9/10

Mids : the mids come from the 9mm LCP dynamic driver. The mids are very good but probably the weakest point, I would love some more texture maybe but they are very solid dynamic mids, I can't really fault them, it's just I have heard higher quality mids before. Maybe in a soundstage way if you can understand me. They lose to something like a sennhesier hd598 for example, but they do sound at least and more textured as fidelio s2 but the fidelio is more airy and doesn't sound as closed to n3, s2 is similar to the hd598..mids sound better with open designs. I would like them a bit more airy but I do like the body of the dynamic driver mids, maybe a good tradeoff ? I think the smooth mids are also responsible for this phone not being picky with sources/recordings.
Mids 8/10

Highs : the super tweeter HD, whatever sony wants to call it, it's super good. When I was young I loved to go to high quality speakers and place my ear near the tweeter and be amazed with all that crystaly sounds. If you know have heard high quality speaker tweeters, you know sony has done something right :) Best highs I've ever hear in IEM and approaches the quality of speakers and 50mm dynamic headphones and good speaker tweeters.... no "sssss" siibiliance. Extremely textured crystal clear highs. For me it's almost a dream come true to marry the sony dynamic bass body with super highs. The highs coming from the BA driver, makes the sound seem effortless and you can only tell the highs are really coming from a different driver because it's so effortless, the sound marriage is perfect, it creates soundstage. The marriage is as good as a speaker with mid and tweeter if that makes sense. The XBA-N3 creates and simulates speaker sound because it is designed like it.
Highs 9.5/10

I am a basshead and I love this IEM, I amp it properly and push 30-60hz +3db , I feel amazing :)

Metal/Rock sound amazing, clear textured electric guitars, acoustic guitars approach the unmatched level of yamaha pro 500 ( my standard for strings and acoustic drums ), EDM sounds deep and club like with medium "good car audio" soundstage, orchestral/classical sounds very wide soundstage amazing details and instrument separation.

The comfort is ridiculously good and the noise leak is just absolute brilliant. If you are like me you will appreciate driving basshead levels in quiet office environment :)

Warm, dark sounding signature, extremely musical, deep bass, easier to drive than other headphones, not picky with dac/amp or files, comfortable. I love it.

The N3 is my favourite IEM and stands on it's own compared to anything that costs up to $500 , I paid 245euro ( May 2017 ). The N1 has grainer mids , a bit less deep bass and same highs. I a/b'ed for an hour at the shop.
mredmond
mredmond
When I EQ for bass, I don't have enough power without an amp to bring the highs and mids back into the picture using my Pixel 2XL. I need to find a good amp to bring up the power and really bring out the sub-bass impact.
mredmond
mredmond
But you are right, there is certainly mega bass. I can almost get to the eye-watering level.
F
FunkeXMix
Give the android Neutron app a try for raising low shelf in EQ, it's really good.
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