Sony XBA-Z5 Ultimate Hi-Res In Ear Headphone - Reviews
Pros: + Soundstage and presentation that matches open full-sized headphones
+ Superlative separation capabilities
+ Powerful, smooth, natural, and full-bodied sound
+ Realistic, life-like presentation
Cons: + Power hungry; requires a desktop amp to realise its potential
+ Fit might be awkward for some
+ Fiddly MMCX connectors
+ Not ideal for portable use due to power demands and open design
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Chain: Tidal > Topping D50s > Cavalli Liquid Spark > Z5 + Arete MKIV cable + Symbio Peel tips

For perspective, the ‘highest end’ gear I’ve owned include the TH900, ZMF Ori, HD650, EX1000, Fearless S8F, and iBasso IT04. I’ve auditioned the Andromedas thrice, twice out of an iFi Micro BL, and once out of a Chord Mojo.

Of the headphones listed above, I consider the Z5 driven by the Liquid Spark to be the most impressive and remarkable, in terms of its combination of technical competence and tonal representation.

Much has been said of the Z5’s bass and soundstage, but with the right chain, they’re also wonderfully cohesive, with the most natural tonality across the spectrum of the headphones I’ve heard. Combined with their remarkable openness, they also present a stark, life-like realism I have not heard before.

Bass is authoritative yet composed, with proper decay and texture. They’re not concussive like the TH900, but match their power with naturalness.

Midrange is my favourite of the headphones I’ve heard: wonderfully even and full-bodied, and a match for the Verum 1 in terms of timbre. This is the most natural and realistic midrange presentation I’ve encountered, and not the overdone, overly romantic midrange found in the HD650.

Treble. Perhaps a controversial opinion, but as with its midrange, I think the Z5 has the most natural treble I’ve heard. It’s airy, even, and well-extended, with no distracting emphases in any region. I have an above-average appetite for treble, and have been really, really into V-shaped signatures for the past 2 years. While the Z5 are not bright by any measure, they certainly do not suffer from any lack here.

Soundstage is unlike anything I’ve heard in an IEM (to be sure, I have not heard the Z1R), with a scale and presentation that matches full-sized headphones, coupled with a remarkable sense of openness and fantastic separation. The Andromeda, in comparison, still sounds decidedly like an IEM in this regard


These things scale dramatically. Moving from the iFi Nano BL (285mW @ 32 ohms) to the Cavalli Liquid Spark (2.4W @ 32 ohms) widened the soundstage tremendously.


The Z5 are the first IEM I’ve owned that revealed stark differences between cables, much more so than with any upper-mid fi IEM’s I’ve owned. In the past, I struggled with consistently hearing any immediate or distinct differences between cables. That’s not the case with the Z5 at all.

I was initially listening to the Z5 with the FiiO LC-3.5D, a silver cable, and found them surprisingly bright and lean. Then I swapped to a copper cable, the Null Arete MKIV, and the Z5 showcased a different signature altogether: smooth, natural, full-bodied, and expansive. Returning to the Fiio cable again, they are now eminently unlistenable.


Of the tips I’ve tried — including the Symbio W, Spiral Dot, Acoustune AET07, Final E, SpinFit CP100, KZ Starline, Azla Sedna — the Peels stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sound quality, and, for me, comfort.

Compared to the more popular Spiral Dots, the Peels present an even larger, more open soundstage, and superior separation, clarity, bass definition, and treble presence and extension.

For my own tastes, I disliked the stock, Final E, and KZ Starline tips, all of which narrow the soundstage significantly and result in a much more dark and closed-in sound.
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Pros: Clarity, Power, Refinement, Epic and Open Soundstage, PERFECT sound reproduction that brings the ORIGINAL performance to LIFE.
Cons: None. Except that you must purchase the upgrade cable and/or use the balanced cables for the Z5's to FULLY display their PERFECTION which may be a bit of a hassle but this is a not really a criticism. Just buy the gear and go to music heaven.
The Z5's reproduce sound PERFECTLY because they have the skillful precision and power to deliver texture to each sound across the frequency spectrum whether it's treble, mids, bass etc. so that you can not only hear the music but also FEEL every sound, the same way you would in a live performance in real life from your favorite artists. You must understand that sound is a 3 dimensional force that you can FEEL as well as HEAR. There is a reason why you can FEEL the vibrations from a cello and FEEL the booming BASSLINE from the guitar. Sound is POWERFUL and it can be FELT as well as HEARD. The Z5 was designed with magnesium and metal which are strong materials so that they could displace air and reproduce sound PERFECTLY with AUTHORITY and with NO distortion. The Z5's drivers which include both balanced armatures and the dynamic driver were tuned to perfection so that they reproduce the SOUND from the source they are given PERFECTLY.
These are the gold standard of SOUND REPRODUCTION.
Use the upgrade cables and the balanced cable for an end game experience. In other words, the MUSIC is finally brought to LIFE and SET FREE. AMEN.
Pros: Build, Sound quality, detacheable cables, balanced-audio capable
Cons: None so far but expected a sturdier transport-case
A little about me
I'm an audiophile but not the Graphs and number ones, more of a music lover type of audiophile who seeks the best true sound quality. My Genre of choice is Classical music from renaissance to Classism and abit of nationalism like Grieg, Dvorak.
Unboxing & Accessories​
The IEMs come in the now-usual sony double "layered" box, a Huge white cardboard showing the product amplified photo, some specs in the back (marketing
). removing the cardboard revelas a Lux black box with the SONY logo in the middle, open that box and the Z5s greet you. kind like a jewel box, the z5 are placed in moulded plastic holder, covered in black soft silky cloth to give that BLING

BLING factor.
on the left pane of the box opening the flap revela user manuals and warranty card, no body reads those anyways 

Removing the IEM holder revelas at the bottom the Basic sony accessoies I know since XBA-H3: a carrying case, pairs of silicone hybrid Tips in L and S and SS sizes (medium installed in the Z5), pairs of foam filled buds (S,M and L), a cable winder and a shirt clip (I never use those) and a Balanced-Audio cable ending in Two 3.5mm jacks (intended for their PHA-3 amp).
The case is padded inside  with two bag-style compartments to store the IEMs and a set of cables (or other IEMs i think), the case is soft and flexible, I was expecting a Hard shell case instead due the asking price.
One thing that baffled me is the lack of mic cable, for me is not that big deal as i Use my own DAP and my cellphone for calls, but it becomes handy, esp when you work with a greedy company that won't provide you for the right accessories for job interviews for their projects.
Build Quality, Fit/Ergonomics​
The Build of these is superb, they are metal encased, as i left them in the cold IT-site and they felt cold to the touch and in my ears for a while, they seem to be very robust made, anyways i won't be dropping them just because they are metal.
The fit is so-so, i blame the tips, it is a bit shallower than other IEMs, despite the earhooks, i struggle to find a staying-seal, it breaks sometimes and have to readjust from time to time, the earhooks aren't that memory as they advertise them, annoying i cannot mold them perfectly to my earshape thus securing the z5 better.
Sound Quality​
In one word how i would describe these MARVELOUS, I love the big sound the output for an IEM. They are vented or semi-open IEMs that means you can hear most sounds from outside, even me typing this review but muffled, in the typical office environmet they shut the A/C noise but no the laughs and cought and chats of coworkers. I like the trade-off of open design and the BIG soundstage they give.
My gear used for them:  Sony Walkman ZX100 and sony Xperia M2 (non-aqua), this time tested with only 16/44.1K FLAC files
BASS: the bass on these is BIG has a presence but i am not saying Boomy or always present, it's the kind of warmth I like, well textured and controlled bass, kicks hard and very deep, I don't see any signs of mid-bass bloat like the XBA-H3, in fact i feel the bass of Z5 is slightly better than that of the XBA-A3.
Cellos sound very natural the charcteristic of the grunt and runble of the deep bass is represnet as if you lsitened to the real thing for real, Yo-yo Ma's rendition of Bach 6 cello suites (1983, colubia records CD remaster) is very wonderful expression of the instrument, goes very deep. With Organ works is just equally phantastic, as it rumbles very nice deep that sometimes i get this tickling sensation on my ears needing a scratch :). Same for Harpsichord, pianos, string or wind quintest/quartets/trios etc gives the authority to the bass instruments and tonal body of the works.
What impress me is that Z5, despite having this big bass, it renders the Kettle drums with a crsipy BANG, not the usualy BOOOM BOOOM you get with other IEM or headphones, Beethovens 9th, bach Brandenburgs, in these the kettles a nice crispy bang and does not smear on quick drum rolling, stays authoritative (beethovens 9th ath the famous 3rd and last movent of the ode to joy you can experience this, HV Karajan 1986 recording for DG).
MIDS. The mids on these are well presented perhaps slightly recessed but not that much, they give the sense of airiness that is charcteristic of this IEM, there is no signs of Mids-dstorting, there is no sharpness nor shouty. Violins, violas, female vocals are well represented, very organic and natural No signs of bass leaking, very coherent, yet detailed headphone but not to the extreme of super revealing. This contributes to the musical nature of these IEM.
HIGHS:  The highs in these are very sweet, non-fatiguing, recessed yes but at the same time they don't let details escape. Harpsichord and organs are troublesome with such a high extension in some triple driver IEM, it can get fatiguing and harsh, not in these, i can listen to harpsichord withouth having to take a rest to de-ring my ears 
. The smoothest highs i have er heard yet with this inner resolution of a quality IEM, They render the room vert #$%&!!!! well, so airy room acoustics be a cathedral, a concert hall,a small studio room the reverbs deccay with such a natural way no fake reverbs or internal resonances. It can even extract reverb fromm difficult albums (Heyday in Weimar, Hanssler classic BACH edition (organ works) a prime example of this tiny church, other iems rendered the organ Tocatta and fugue in G, BWV 541 so dry and dull like being outputted from a CASIO kbd, not these, i could ehard for the first time the faint reverb i was amazed).

SOUNDSTAGE & SEPARATION: WOW jus WOW a SPEAKER-LIKE EXPERENCE and soem times LIVE EXPERIENCE, a sound I never heard from any IEM, not even the XBA-A3, soundstage is BIG and airy (depends on setting not the same stage from a concert hall and a small studio room). Separatio is also very precise, i can distinguish many instrumensta dn pinpoint them, can distinguish a cello from a Viola, a cor-anglis from an oboe and  the inaudible instrumnets (Harpsichors, Bassoon) come to life in the satge. Symphonic works, large choral wokrs (think thomas tallis Spem in alium) rendered with greatness and nothing gest blurred smeary all sections of an orchestra well rendered, strings and flutes & brass
The staging is so damn 3D that i get this enveloping effect in both ears very well, te most 3D-sounding IEM i have ever heard that it has removed my itch of getting a custom multi-driver IEM
For the price range i got them THEY ARE A  BARGAIN they compete easy with $1K or more IEMs, in summary, very controlled bass that adds musicality, airy mids and highs that contribute to the HUGE Soundstage and great separation that gives these Z5 that speaker-like experience.
A Comparisons with other IEMs & devices i have owned​
XBA-Z5 VS XBA-H3: Clearly an improvement over the messy-sounding H3s, the mid-bass bloat and hollow tube, or bathroom sound has been eliminated on the Z5, The mid and high distortion and warble was also eliminated. Z5 sounds more closer to neutral (with classical music) than the H3 which sometimes also added fake reverb from the housing resonances. The good of H3 was the sturdier MMCX connection. I havent had any troubles yet with the Z5 but the connections IMO feels a bit flimsy (on the cables side).
XBA-Z5 VS XBA-A3: These two siblings resemble each other very close, they share the same signature, yet Z5 has more staging and speaker-like experience than the A3, Highs on Z5 are superb smooth vs in the A3 which were boosted and tended to sound shrill, sparkly, fatiguing and super revealing to the point of annoyance. Z5 are more musical and enganing than A3 for sure, both A3 and Z5 share similar bass signature but the mids dept the Z5 slightly rcessed but also non fatiguing unlike A3 which could get a bit hot mids too.
Driven By M2: utter garbage (the smartphone) they sounded like a pair of XBA-A3, soundstage made smaller and separation tightned, less 3D, boomier bass
Driven by sony VAIO flip PC (2014 14'' inch): GARBAGE WORSE THAN IN THE M2, super hollow Boombastic, like a pair of beats, worse than the H3.
Driven by ZX100: very airy, clean presentation, damn 3D soundatging, yet i find the zx100 struggles to drive them properly to its best.
Onny Izwan
Onny Izwan
Amazing achievement is the Z5. It kills all custom IEM priced four times more
The closest another iem pushed the Z5 for me was the SE846 but still it lacked that soundstage and deep bass. 
With the WM1A walkman they do improve in sonics, more smooth sounding and bigger soundstage, not yet in Balanced. I wonder then, what's to come when i plug these in the balanced out put of my WM1A
Pros: The best earphones I have ever heard from Sony. Wide large and in charge sound stage. Engaging lush full bodied sound to die for.
Cons: MMCX connectors that kinda sucks, Not really suitable for outdoor use, have to buy a $100 separate cord for upgraded sonics.
I provided these Sony Z5 for myself just for the sheer sound of it. These were not given to me for any type of review. I am writing these impressions of these works of art due to the sheer wickedness of it. And the fact it is a damn shame how there is not ONE single review of these masterworks by Sony here on Headfi.
This being said let me get into some history of why I think these are the bomb diggity earphones you kinda over looked.  Sony has had a long run with in house designs that were for the most part successful around world made possible by enthusiasts who are fans of that Sony sound. Sony has always had a part in my audio fan fare be it various cassette walkmans discmans daps and their sound design in headphones and earphones. Being of fan of previous efforts by Sony be it my XBA-3 to the XB90EX and more recently the XBA-H3.  I had a chance to hear these earphones in a used form. From first listen I knew right there these had to be in my life.
Hybrid 3 Way closed back design
16mm Liquid crystal Dynamic Driver
Magnesium Super Tweeter
Freq response 3-40,000 Hz
Three size Sony Foam Hybrid  tips
Four size Silicon Hybrid tip
Two detachable cables. Single and balanced
Clip and Carry case
Package for the price is kinda skimpy to be honest. Add this to the fact that only standard ofc copper cables are included in this package. For the price Sony should have included their MUC-M12SM1 upgraded cable. I will most definitely get an upgraded cable for my pair but for now this review is solely based on what I got in the box.

Here in lies my biggest beef with these earphones. The MMCX connectors here are sketchy. Maybe Sony purposefully designed these earphones with the most weakest form of connectors there can be. To make you baby your earphones.  Basically due to the MMCX connectors on these you have to treat these earphones as careful as it gets. I have absolute zero confidence that someone who wraps some earphones around their hands and throws said earphones in their pockets to carry out with them on a walk will make these last more than a few months of use before said connectors give out. It is a damn shame that one of the most important aspects of connected cables got an oversight in design by Sony. If these didn't sound like they do I would have not gotten these simply due to this particular connection on the Z5s.
A stern warning. Gotta treat these right. Never ever let your kids or cousin borrow your Z5s. There is a very good chance you will get them back with a loose connection.
The package is standard fair by Sony if not kinda boring for the high MSRP of $700? For this price and the fact that these are Sonys current flagship earphones,  I know Sony can do better with the package and that connector.
On a side note the Z5 now has been around for over a year so street prices on these hover around $500 or less. Some can be bought for $350-$450 for a used pair. My own experience has shown me these are one set of earphones you want to buy completely new if you can.

But then there was the sound. To me these have something that so many earphones just can't produce. Actual large wide sound stage.
Sony has always impressed me with how they can capture some sound magic in their sounds. Music flows on a large and in charge sound canvas that spreads across your hearing senses and you will hear instruments and micro details from what seems to be across the room. The stage is one of the widest I have ever heard for any earphone. Feel the air is one way to describe it.
.It will put you in the music as much as possible.


To take full advantage of these earphones they sound splendid enough in single mode but it is in balanced mode using their balanced cable that brings the sound of these to a level that is unsurpassed in what it achieves. It is as close to the full room audio set up as it gets in this mode and I will touch more upon balanced sound a bit more later.
Sony has been fine tuning and honing their skills at the hybrid earphone game since the introduction of the XBA H series.  Integrating proprietary BA tech and their liquid crystal dynamic driver in newer form of housing made of sturdy but light magnesium. The housing is more compact over the H3 which allows for more firmer secure insertion in the ears. Not to mention better comfort..The  luxurious magnesium housing encompasses one full range BA, a magnesium super tweeter, and a liquid crystal dynamic driver.
A bit gimmicky? Nope sound resonance is cut down to nothing. As a result this full bore sound has some of the best dimensional imagery I have ever heard on speakers put in the ears. Or any speakers for that matter. Then the sound was tuned and tweaked to perfection which means one of the purest reproduction of your music based on what you feed the Sony Z5. Sound resolution and refinements abound. It is the type of non fatiguing large and in charge sound that is so good, so refined. You will hate me for getting you interested in these as now your gonna have to go spend that hard earned cash to hear what these are about. Is it neutral? Nope.
Neutrality to me is kinda on the boring  to be completely honest.  I like me some skinny sound on occasions however if neutral dry sound reproduction is what your looking for from Sony's flagship hybrids. These are not it. Now if you like your sound with a 15inch sub bass box in the room with some of the best smooth 3 dimensional butt shaking groundbreaking liquid sound for your ears then continue to read on.
Magnesium Super Tweeter? 
Sony be using some interesting material here. Don't know the science that went into what they created for the tweeter BA but let me just say I have never heard treble refinement quite like the Z5s. Silky fully controlled treble I have not heard in too many phones the Z5 is the example of how to do treble that comes with detail that exposes all that is in a recording without assaulting your ear drums with sharpness. Some might hear the treble as being a bit reserved. Na I don't think so.

Transparency in the treble has a refinement that stays away from annoying peaks and ear piercing grain of any type. Detail is effortless in the treble that extends beyond ones hearing but is so much in charge it truly sounds and is tuned like a high end tweeter in the ears.  One of the best if not the best refined treble I have ever heard.
Full Range BA
The seemless sound integration of BAs in earphones to me the one common is how good the mid range is on most BA earphones.  The real sound tweeks seem to come with how the treble and bass is integrated with the mids to give the overall picture of the sound in hybrids. The SonyZ5 brings to the sound the absolute best of what a well integrated BA should sound like.
Forward mid ranges give up a bit of stage for intimacy in the mids. Neutral mids come flat with a bit wider stage but end up sounding more flat in the imagery.  The mid range of the Z5 can be described as a step back from the bass but is in no way overshadowed by the bass in any way or form.  Is there is bass hump? Sure but is so refined it sounds just like a full on 2.1 speaker set up in a large acoustically positioned room. In single mode the mid range seems a bit more reserved and is more forward in the mix when using balanced cables.
The reason why I mention that in balanced mode it truly sounds end game is due to the fact that this does not simulate surround sound but actually pulls it off. You get the full meal deal in sound.  Out of my Pono balanced out.  I am surrounded by music in every direction. It has to be heard to be believed. Every sound and part of the tune lives in a 3D space that is all around me and not just heard with your standard speakers.  No artificial coloring or flavors here. Just the pure surround. A bit mind blowing on first? You bet.
Back to the mids of the Z5.  To me it sounds complete deep and dimensional for the large sound these have. Much like the treble and the bass the mids have refinement for days. Sound projection is out of this planet good on these. The mids encompass a truly lush warm sound that is layered in a way that you can " Feel the air." The lack of any extra resonance in the sound throws the sound into a pureness that portray the tune to its full degree. Black space is off the chain good on these. If you want sound separation and a dimensional feel to your music. Give the Z5 a try especially in balanced mode.
Crystal Liquid Dynamic?
Sounds high tech. All I can say is these produce some of the best bass I have ever heard. Forget just for earphones. We are talking about the bring it bass. That nasty low lo bass. That low end rumble seldom heard or reached in any earphone.  The bass here is much more refined over the previous XBA H3 or most earphones for that matter.  This bad mamma bass has no room for weak hearted. "Its too bassy." guys.  Again go take a good listen to a full room set up. Get that image in your hearing senses how the bass is integrated into that sound.
Then take a good listen to the Z5. Now your understanding what Sony has done with these earphones. Bass notes give weight to your tunes and if done well seamlessly it gives a level of music enjoyment that will make every other earphone you own sound like weak sauce.
Accept that my bass is better than yours. The Z5 has that layered texture rumble you want that is surprisingly quick for how full the low end is.  It is that room filling bass that reminds you what is sounds like in a live venue. It is one of Sony's true trump cards for Sony dynamic technology. 
And if you think just because these have that nasty bass these aren't audiophile enough for you. What is the chance that these will reproduce your orchestral and symphonic tracks like you have never heard before?  Yes my friends these actually are more capable than you would imagine. Don't hate just because it has bass. Love it because it sounds better than yours.
Balanced cable
So these have them snazzy balanced cables that hook directly to my Pono player I recently purchased. The Pono is an excellent dap by the way. It was actually out of need just to hear what the fuss was about regarding these earphones in balanced mode.
On first listen it was kinda mind blowing. The sound aspects I was talking about here previously I am talking mostly about single ended mode. So all you have to do is multiply that by 2X and you can kinda understand how it would sound in balanced mode. So my balanced cables are pretty much permanently on the Z5s from that point on.
So in the end these earphones have been kinda occupying my hearing time since I got them. Are they the bees knees when it comes to sound? Not particularly but heck I have yet to hear this encompassing sound done this well in anything. Is it worth your hard earned cash to give these a go? Absolutely. 
Onny Izwan
Onny Izwan
When I read your review, it was like I'm hearing me talking the moment I listened to the Z5 for the first time. Guys, if the world end now, there's no missing any new CIEM or UIEM. The Z5 is the last word. It is that good. Think of analogue sound and you're there. 
How does the Z5 compare to the newer XBA N3 anyone have both ??
Don't have the N3. I would ask on the Sony N3 thread. I am sure some of the guys will chime in with an answer for you.