Sony XBA-Z5 Ultimate Hi-Res In Ear Headphone

earfonia

Headphoneus Supremus
Warm and bassy
Pros: -
Cons: Shell size is a bit large, might not fit smaller ears very well.
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https://www.sony-asia.com/electronics/in-ear-headphones/xba-z5

A head-fier drop-shipped Sony XBA-Z5 to me for measurement. I took this opportunity to write a short review of the Sony XBA-Z5.
MSRP: $631

Launched in 2014, Sony categorized the Sony XBA-Z5 as Sony’s ‘High-Resolution’ audio product. One thing I always ask for this kind of advertisement is, how do they justify the ‘High-Resolution Audio’ label for Headphones and In-Ear Monitors? Is there any measurement to support that claim? I guess the proof of the pudding is only in the listening test.


Pros:​

-

Cons:​

Shell size is a bit large, might not fit smaller ears very well.

Suggestions:​

To provide objective proof and measurement results to support the ‘High-Resolution Audio’ claim.
To improve the overall perceived detail and clarity.


The following is my guideline for the sound & engineering quality rating criteria that will be used in this review:
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Sound Quality​

Sony XBA-Z5 measured frequency response compared to Earfonia IEM Target Curve (EITC-2021), normalized at the midrange dip:
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*More info about EITC-2021 here.

The following is frequency response analysis and rating based on the 4 observation points of EITC-2021:
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Overall Sound Signature:​

Moderately warm and bassy. Fat and laid-back midrange with silky smooth treble.

From the frequency response graph, we can observe the followings:
  • Sony XBA-Z5 frequency response is within ±6 dB from my EITC-2021 observations points.
  • Sony XBA-Z5 frequency response around the bass and midrange area is within ±6 dB from the Harman Target IE 2019.
  • Around +3dB bass to lower-mid emphasis.
  • Around -7dB upper-mid recession.
Warm, bassy, and laid back are the few words that I think are appropriate to describe the XBA-Z5 sound signature. It has pleasant and polite characters in the sound quality. Quite pleasing for a long session of listening without causing ear fatigue.

The sub-bass extension is good. Sub-bass to mid-bass balance tilted up towards the mid-bass area. To me, there is too much emphasis around the Mid-bass to the lower-midrange area that makes the midrange sounds a bit bloated to my ears. The mid-bass emphasis makes the bass sounds a bit boomy, lacking texture and tightness. Bass punch and attack are a bit too weak for my taste. Midrange balance has too much emphasis on the lower midrange and the upper midrange response is too soft. Midrange sounds laid back, lacking presence and clarity. Treble is nice, sounds silky smooth without any sign of harshness, but a bit soft, lacking a bit of treble energy, sharpness, and perceived upper treble extension. The treble doesn’t sound dull, but at the same time lacks transparency, airiness, and the perceived ‘High-Resolution’ treble extension.

The sound signature of the Sony XBA-Z5 is not exactly my cup of tea, and as we can see from the frequency response it deviates a bit far from my target curve. So XBA-Z5 sound signature doesn’t sound balanced or close to neutral to my ears. I cannot use XBA-Z5 to mix my recordings. It is moderately colored with emphasis on the bass to lower midrange area and recessed upper mid. Having said that, I think XBA-Z5 doesn’t sound bad, and it can be quite pleasing and enjoyable with certain recordings like modern pop, especially the brighter ones. There are many positive reviews of the Sony XBA-Z5 that indicate that it has a likable sound signature. Not natural but likable. It is moderately colored with (I think) the type of pleasing coloration that our brain can easily adapt. No offensive peaks across the audio band. The tonality coloration can be perceived as a nice coloration for those who prefer a warm sound signature. Overall, it is good enough for casual listening but not for critical listening and Pro Audio applications.

Perceived detail, resolution, and clarity are ok but not great. Instrument separation is sufficient but not as good as what I would like to hear. Spaciousness and airiness are lacking especially for orchestral works. Transient and attack are a bit slow and blunt. For an IEM with a ‘High-Resolution’ label at this price category, I expect a lot more. I would give the liveliness score 6/10, good enough but not great.

Since I’ve mentioned that XBA-Z5 sound quality is not my cup of tea, I don’t see the reason to do comparisons with my other favorite IEMs (obviously, they sound better).


Engineering Quality​

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Disclaimer: The measurement results of the engineering quality measurement in this review represent only the pair of IEMs that was measured for this review. It doesn’t represent the overall quality control of the factory.

Left-Right Mismatch​

Observation range: 20Hz – 7kHz
The unit has an overall under ±2dB matching from 20Hz-7kHz, with a 1.9dB maximum mismatch at around 6.7kHz.

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Harmonic Distortion​

Observation range: 55Hz – 7.1kHz

Sony XBA-Z5 performs well in distortion measurement. Overall THD level is quite low. Only at a high volume level, the distortion peak is a bit high, but in my opinion, it is not a concern. Left and Right channels show similar THD profiles. There is no abnormal distortion peak across the measurement range. Please take note that distortion measurement is not part of sound quality evaluation. It is only used to observe the engineering quality of the IEM.
Distortion measurement at 94 dB SPL at 500Hz:

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Distortion measurement at 104 dB SPL at 500Hz:

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Harmonic distortion analysis:
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Electrical Impedance​

Observation range: 20Hz – 20kHz
The impedance curve is relatively flat from 20Hz to 1kHz, followed by a rise and a steep downslope around 3-4kHz. Overall impedance linearity is still ok for a hybrid IEM.

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Sensitivity​

At 98.1 dBA SPL at 100mV @ 1kHz (measured) Sony XBA-Z5’s sensitivity is around the average, slightly higher than the Etymotic ER2XR which can be considered a bit low. Most portable devices would be able to drive Sony XBA-Z5 sufficiently, but a good quality DAC+Amp will improve the perceived dynamic, liveliness, and overall sound quality.


Fit, Comfort, & Build Quality​

Subjectively the Sony XBA-Z5 is quite comfortable for me. No issue with comfort. I would give a comfort rating of 8/10 for XBA-Z5. But please take note that it is not a small IEM so comfort level could be greatly varying between individuals. I’m not a fan of cable with memory wire but it seems necessary for the XBA-Z5 design. The wearing style of XBA-Z5 makes the memory wire is recommended on the cable end that connected to the driver. This can be an aspect for consideration for those who prefer not to have memory wire in the cable.

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The build quality of the Sony XBA-Z5 is generally pretty good. All plastic The full-Magnesium housing feels strong and sturdy. I don’t see any issue with the build quality.

The 2x 3.5mm balanced cable that is included in the box is suitable only for Sony’s headphone amplifier with 2x 3.5mm balanced output.

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Recommendation:​

Although Sony XBA-Z5 is good enough for casual listening (not for critical listening and Pro Audio applications), at this price point I cannot recommend the Sony XBA-Z5.


More information about my IEM Measurement Setup & Methodology:
Earfonia IEM Measurement Setup & Methodology


Advertised Technical Specifications:​

Drivers: Hybrid 3-way – 16mm dynamic + 2 Balanced Armature
Frequency Response: 3-40,000Hz
Sensitivity: 107dB/mW
Socket: MMCX
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earfonia
earfonia
I edit the cons, I think the 'unique' 2x 3.5mm balanced cable shouldn't be considered a cons point. It is just their way to fit their own system.
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Well, the included cables, both of them, seemed to detract from the fit of the XBA-Z5. Where due to the unique Z5 (USB stick) shape and the way they seemed to sit in the ear, fit became an issue for most. The problem seemed to be movement. The provided cable would pull the XBA-Z5 out of place. Where in reality it needed a way to interface with the ear; as to not move. The rubber “mechanism” of the provided cables seemed to make matters worse, concerning fit, as the cables would flip from side to side. Also the XBA-Z5 seemed to wake-up to more power. So in many views it’s regular sounding with a phone and slightly muddy, but becomes something much more special when driven 4.4mm balanced from a 1Z or 1A. With the right source it’s really good.

Though the tuning may not be your personal choice, many found the sound (despite the fit) to be exemplary!
Wietjunk
Wietjunk
Thanks for the details.
This is one of the best EDM in-ears out there, just a beast, got them for 2 years now, technical facs my @ss i sold the Shure SE846 for the Z5.
The 16mm are the special trick sound like a big one.
On Balanced they get awake and go 3D!!!!
Need some power for brutal EDM bass stamp, loaded with details in full 3D, mids are fine, highs are very smooth, crisp and never i say never faulty just space away...
Timings are awsome for a hybride.
4.4mm balanced with @MrWalkman 1Z firmware on a 1A is just like a big EDM party with LÁcouistics thunder.

Wasaabi

Previously known as TweedLee
Sony XBA-Z5 may be the most "being real" one among portable iems.
Pros: Superb cost performance;
Sound: High resolution, nice bass transient response, large sound stage.
Cons: The shape is unique and difficult to wear.
Sony has two headsets that I am most impressed with. One is the MDR-EX1000, and the other is the XBA-Z5. The Z5 is a BA+DD hybrid headset released in 2014. It was Sony's flagship product at the time, but the price was only about 500 USD. Indeed, its price does not seem to be "flagship-ish" enough, but I think the Z5 is almost the most "conscientious" or "being real" iem of the flagship portable market.
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A few years ago, in our country, if we mentioned the flagship in-ear monitors, we would usually think of SE846, K3003, Xelento, etc. Indeed, the first thing most people notice when distinguishing flagship products from entry products is the price. The prices of the three aforementioned headsets were all above 1,000 USD in our country when they were released. In the eyes of a group of people who define performance by price, the Z5 is simply not worthy of the title of flagship at its price.
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In addition, the Z5 has a shape similar to a USB flash drive, which is easy to cause discomfort to wear, and it is really unsightly to wear. Maybe passers-by will cast strange eyes when you going out and wearing it. But such a design is because that the Z5 has adopted a large dynamic driver. The sound quality improvement brought by the large dynamic driver is absolute, which also shows that Sony at the time had a strong pursuit of sound quality and was willing to compromise other aspects for sound quality.
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Due to the adoption of large-diameter dynamic drivers, the sound of the Z5 is very characteristic. First of all, the uniqueness of the Z5 as a flagship is that it does not have the obvious "head effect" like most in-ear monitors. The longitudinal soundstage of the Z5 also makes me feel very comfortable. This feeling can be obtained from the EX1000 which also adopts large-diameter dynamic drivers.
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But it must not any manufacturer can make a sound as good as EX1000 and Z5 by the adoption of large dynamic drivers. Soon after Duna launched the DK3001, I purchased the DK3001 because of my missing the sound of the Z5. Although the sound quality of the DK3001 is not bad, it is not as good as the Z5 in terms of the connection between the dynamic driver and the balanced armature, or the size of the soundstage. The vocal is full of charm on the Z5 when listening pop songs, and the distance feeling of the vocal is very appropriate. The female vocal is sweet, while the male vocal is magnetic. One thing I like the most on the Z5 is its treatment of treble: it makes a roll off at 6~7kHz, which reduces the chance of harsh or discordant sound, while keeping it rich in treble details.
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The Z5's bass is like a benchmark for me. Even with a 3.5mm single-ended plug, the Z5's sound is very balanced and has a high degree of stereo separation. The bass volume is moderate for me, the sub bass is excellent, and has a very fast response.
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The Z5 is an excellent headset with Sony's characteristics. The Z5's performance is by no means inferior to those more expensive than it, and claims to flageship or high-end in-ear monitors, for example, the three aforementioned headsets which I have listened all of them before. Except for the K3003 which may be able to compete with the Z5 (although the sound of the K3003 is not balanced at all), I don't think the overall sound of other headsets is better than the Z5.
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Pushing the time to 2019, Sony released its new generation of flagship in-ear BA+DD hybrid headset: IER-Z1R. Perhaps the high pricing of the IER series is Sony's compromise on the phenomenon that "defining performance by price" and the current high-priced portable earphones.
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Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Loved reading this! Cheers!
Wasaabi
Wasaabi
Thanx for reading!

lllandline

New Head-Fier
Quick recommendations.
Pros: 1) Treble extension. Treble texture.
2) Imaging, separation.
3) Stereo/binaurial soundstage.
4) Bass power. Everything is wrapped in mid-bass, and naturally so.
I, however, always disliked mid-bass.
But this time I can't.
5) Overall sound signature is mature, powerful, and, judging by the name (Xtra Bass) - correct.
6) That is some kind of a joke in russian hi-fi community - hi-hats.
I've never heard hi-hats that sound that great and real.
7) They are absolutely power-hungry.
Not that you won't hear them sing at lower volume-levels, they just eat lots of electricity, that's the first time I've used 2/3+ of my E1DA volume level without being deafened.
Cons: 1) Mid-bass. That's not bleed, there is none. Everything works correctly when wrapped in mid-bass, mid-bass works as a foundation.
Everything is audible, mids are correct, timbre is correct, treble is realistic and has lots of details.
But make no mistake - they hit hard, without holding any punches.
And those punches are sometimes kinda meh, lol.
2) They benefit a bit from balanced output, any balanced cable (mine is ISN S8 balanced) will do the job.
3) Big, heavy, cold - massive metallic body does its job.
4) They might sound congested at first.
That is before you clearly hear your familiar instruments playing outside of your head.
5) Muddy.
They will sound muddy.
Mid-bass always sounds muddy.
EQ will show you who's the boss without any questions.
But before EQ you will wonder how can you disconnect their dynamic driver.
Make no mistake - they are faulty.
Oh hell, are they faulty.
I would've never bought them for even 500$.
Sources used:
E1DA 9038D, Ibasso DC01, simple phone dongle.
I didn't really hear much of a difference between them.
DAC's role is to transmutate digital signal into an analog one without any changes.
I even question highly all the difference between balanced and unbalanced output.

Tips:
1) Use cables that do not alter sound - preferably cheap and thin ones, or silver-laced thick ones.
2) Balanced output makes bass less mid-centric, however, you can live without balanced connection - just be ready to use EQ, otherwise they can't dig deep enough to achieve sub-bass articulation.
3) I've listened to all my audio collection through them, quick notes:
a) Stage is endless, but there is no artificial phase trickery - they will sound like open-back headphones when the song is mixed that way.
Techno Animal - We Can Build You - 4:04 - ending: sound transfers to your left ear, but then magically escapes your head and ends up in your room, then back to your right shoulder.
b) Cremation Lily - that's the first time I've actually felt glass been scraped on concrete. Texture of glass, texture of concrete, everything felt real.
4) Use small wide-boar small tips.

Quick notes about my IEM collection:
1) Sony MDR EX800ST - completely inferior in every way possible to Z5.
Actually, I've never understood all the hype around them - they sound bad and peaky, there is no treble extension, bass is of low quality, soundstage is bad, just bad, there is an illusion of an open soundstage, but that's just them not being actually sealed - there are almost open-backed because of that giant vent in the back.
Their only strength is separation: even on VERY busy tracks they dissect sounds with ease.

2) KZ ZS7 - my previous champions. Nice V-shaped signature, terrific (for an IEM) soundstage, they even try to dig into sub-bass!
But ultimately, they fail in every department, other than imaging, treble articulation and separation.

3) TRN V80 - unnatural timbre, better bass, incredible articulation in bass, extended, but unnatural and sharp treble.

4) ReEcho SG03
ReEcho's have the biggest sub-bass, earthquake-like, but sacrifice everything else in comparison.
However, in their price bracket, I've never heard anything better.
Soundstage is solid, treble is solid, I actually enjoy them A LOT on higher volume levels, but they are shouty and suck at reproducing electric guitars.

5) KZ DQ6 - have you ever heard perfect and deep sub-bass without any sacrifices?
I didn't and hope to find that IEM someday.
They sacrify note weight, but their bass is harder slamming and deeper.
I listen to them sometimes.
Because of low note weight they sound plasticky.
I mean, they are mostly made out of plastic.

6) BGVP DM6 - complete failure, I'm glad I've got rid of them.
Tip rolling, source rolling, everything including EQ - still complete failure.
Those are the ones that could make mid-specific sounds appear in front of me, though.
Like, in front of my eyes.

7) Sony MH-755 - solid earphones, but a league lower than Z5. For 8$ - hell, they might be your TOTL iems.

What I've listened in audio shop:
1) Andromeda's - yeah, they do not really sound all that expensive.
Nice treble, though.
Great, even.
But notes hold barely any weight.
I call them full-version ZS7's.

2) 64 Audio Forte - lol'd, I mean, there are REALLY good, but... why would you ever pay that much for a kinda meh soundstage?
Everything else is solid.
Might consider buying them in the distant future.
But for that price they have to sound like open-backs, otherwise, these are just highly-detailed in-ears.

3) All other BGVP iem's - holy hell do they sound bad.



Afterthought:
This hobby is a big part of my life.
I always search for wonders, not only in our field, but only there have I found so much of them.
Keep searching.
And one day, maybe 5 years later, we will all laugh at all our current TOTL earphones while listening to some KZ ZBQD19.
Who knows?
Good luck.
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L
lllandline
One last note: I've bought them for 215$.
Russian aftermarket is a miracle :^)

Redcarmoose

Headphoneus Supremus
Amazing
Pros: Handmade in Tokyo by Sony
Worldclass bass texture
Integral soundstage and presence
Ahead of its time then and still ahead of its time now
Visceral texture and pace
Integrated detail and balance
Speed and ability
Imaging to remember
Still knocks my socks off
Cons: Requires additional aftermarket cable to work well
Better indoors due to isolation and fit
Hard to find
The Sony XBA-Z5

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Many moons ago, before the popularity of hybrid IEMs there was a release. Really a lifetime ago in headphone years, the year was 2014, a single product was given a chance to change the way we view what’s possible. They took two balanced armatures and joined them with a sideways 16mm woofer.

  1. High-Resolution Audio HD Hybrid 3-way driver system deliver spacious, wide-band audio from 3 - 40,000Hz
  2. Linear drive Balanced Armature driver
  3. Magnesium HD super tweeter
  4. 16mm Aluminum-coated Liquid Crystal Polymer diaphragm dynamic driver.

We could go over how it’s different than what came before. How does it differ than the MDR 7550/EX800st and EX1000? Unfortunately I have no experience with those models; so it would be speculation. I can go head and explain the retail price upon release; it was roughly $650. That sounds like a little for a flagship; but back in 2014 that was almost the most anyone ever saw for an IEM. There was also an XBA-A3; but it didn’t have the Aluminum Coated Liquid Polymer Driver. The super crazy part is the XBA-Z5 actually cost the same as the full-size MDR-Z7 flagship! Actually there was many an instance of people finding the MDR-Z7 for less money than the XBA-Z5! Imagine that!

Also this was the times before 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connection! So crazy as it seems............Sony was beginning to offer a new style of balanced connection. The PHA-3 and later released, TAZH1ES DAC/amp had 2 X 3.5mm balanced connections. So at this time both XBA-Z5 and MDR-Z7 came with these 3.5mm X 2 special balanced plugs. (photos to follow) Later of course we found 4.4mm Pentaconn to really be the ultimate solution. So most simply changed cables to 4.4mm Pentaconn to utilize the balanced connection in the TAZH1ES as well as the Sony 1A and Sony 1Z. The Sony DAPs as well as the Sony TAZH1ES was the first of their kind to offer 4.4mm Pentaconn connects!

So all that’s fine and dandy..........but what does it mean for listeners today you may ask? Well, I’m writing this review of the XBA-Z5 because they are still very much a special IEM. There is really nothing that sounds like the Z5, even today! There is a list of ergonomic factors that make the IER-Z1R and improvement. Also Sony has created a great IEM, releasing the XBA-N3........and some members actually like the XBA-N3 better! Still I’m very much involved with the XBA-Z5. In direct comparison to the N3 the bass is just better with the XBA-Z5. Yes, the N3 offers better ergonomics, with just how it fits............but in my humble opinion that is the only single benefit.

Often I get contacted by members who are wondering still how the XBA-Z5 stacks up against the N3. First off let’s talk about cables. There is a very good chance that the funky cable that comes with the XBA-Z5 will not work out. Why? There are two major drawbacks about the XBA-Z5 design.

The provided cables causes the IEM to become dislodged.

The general form factor of the XBA-Z5 causes it to be dislodged.



Imagine that! Those two points are huge! As you know fit is everything. Fit affects sound quality, and the continuation of sound quality! Meaning once you finally get a good fit then there is nothing else to worry about. Except amplification!

Yep, you really need a powerful source for the XBA-Z5, with a good signal the Z5 will wake-up and come alive! After I first made my purchase of the Z5, I spent a while just using it with the regular cable and Apple IPod. I was really interested in hearing the Z5, my wife and friends went to a movie and I was left outside the Movie Theater with the Z5.

What I found was that out of a simple IPod the sound was complete and exciting. Still the cables would flop and dislodge the IEMs every once in a while, also the bass could really improve with more power. There are many ways to get more power to the Z5. You can try a desktop, or even a DAP will do the trick. What happens is the soundstage is expanded out, also the lower midrange becomes clear.

When powered right and with a different cable the party is on, you truly don’t need anything else. Add to that the fact that the XBA-Z5 does Electronic Music like no other! I'm not sure I can recommend IEM for electronic music under $1000 that can come close to how well it’s presented here. And the great part is you can still find NIB models for $400, or a used Z5 for as little as $300. When you take all that into account, truly there is nothing like it offered......even today!

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Why?

Cohesiveness! Even though this is a hybrid of three drivers per side, somehow the Z5 replays all? There is an incredible bass presence that is connected with the reverberations that seem to show soundstage and room dimensions? So it’s this cohesive replay that makes it all one. Interesting too I have tried to boost the midrange with the use of different tips. To a point it works, but to a point it fails. You would think putting wide-bore tips would open-up the soundstage and get the IEM more midrange focused. Well, yes, and no.

What happens with super-wide tips is it loses bass and the midrange that is left is actually grainy. I found a perfect tip to be the Sony Silicone Hybrids. As opposed to the regular (black) Hybrids, the Sony Silicone actually have more midrange! Really it’s the perfect balance of midrange, bass, soundstage, dynamics and treble. Everything!

So now that we have the tips worked out you’re probably wondering about cables?

MUC-M12SB1
Or
MUC-M12NB1


Really either cable is great. The 1st one is the Kimber and primarily the one in the photos. You can wear it either over ear or straight down. Both ways works fine, though somehow I think that the XBA-Z5 works best when the cable goes over-ear. There seems to be a slightly better fit and sound with over-ear? Also it’s important to note, even though with aftermarket cables they can we worn with cable up, or cable down, cable up (over-ear) is how they were originally designed.

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Sound Review:

Artist: Hans Zimmer
Album: Inception OST
Song: Old Souls
FLAC 44.1 kHz/16 bit
Walkman 1Z/Midnight Plus/Japan Region


This we find as the filth song in the OST. We are greeted with reverberated piano notes. Both the piano and background synth washes display a reverb. At the 54 second mark the bass drops. What an event, not really loud but that style of bass which is round and has authority. Actually from this point forward we are met with numerous variations of a reoccurring theme. A swirling style of progression until 3.54 mark where the cello and violin are starting to appear and show more structure. The bass is still there like the start only now not only is it rhythmic but shows a counterpoint. The last part (1/8th) shows the strings in full effect. This process is held to light in all its nuances and grandeur. There is a quality here that is hard to describe. Of course the recurring theme, the basic mood of the piece, yet there is more? The bass has a tactile presence which cannot be found with any other IEM. It’s not heavy or overbearing yet nuanced to perfection. Perfection.

Let’s play it again:
We feel the cello, we feel the violin, every element has a purpose and job. Each note is of a similar yet different tone? Much has to do with right to left staging. A chorus of effect is music but it is also a conversation between instruments, a reply to a question, so to speak.


Artist: E-Mantra
Album: Echoes from the Void
Song: Moon Drifter
FLAC 44.1 kHz/16 bit
Walkman 1Z/Midnight Plus/Japan Region


Here we are met with a barrage of sounds, each sorting themselves out before 54 seconds. At about the minute mark we are greeted with the reoccurring theme. At 1:26 we get the full bass presence. The song is made up of elements which at 2:43 are met with a sequenced area. The drums and synth embellishments are all given their place in the mix. Nothing is too much and the replay is balanced, yet shows impact. Really this style of music is what the Z5 is about.

Artist: Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
Album: Blade Runner 2029
Song: 2049
FLAC 44.1 kHz/16 bit
Walkman 1Z/Midnight Plus/Japan R
egion

This is the 3:37 song album opening. Yes, it’s short, but big on detail. The first thing is a blast of thunder with maybe five different elements, not only that but at 25 seconds even more is added on. The synth washes are way out to the side! Maybe it’s just the progression of hitting the drum harder? The impact of this is what the Z5 was made for. At 59 seconds we are met with the melody of the song.............this is such a piece as it really is a remake of the original soundtrack. At 3:17 the final impact of the drum takes place. I feel like I’m in a movie theater.

Let’s play it again.
The melody is both reverberating right to left. We know the bass hits at 2:00 sharp. And…….it does……how glorious is that? The XBA-Z5 does it, it does it exactly right. Even the high pitched embellishments which counter the sub-bass effects………………I’m at a loss for words here! How was that? World-Class that’s what it is.

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Sony TAZH1ES Desktop/Firmware 1.03
Artist: Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
Album: Blade Runner 2029
Song: Blade Runner
FLAC 44.1 kHz/16 bit


More open than the Walkman, more headroom, better imaging and control. Bigger.........................better really, the fullest extent to which these will go. Things are farther away and deeper in perspective. The synth has a wild cutting action? Also big reverb, the piano now comes around 2:10, the theme again. Then bass from below hearing level............up into realization of perspective. Such control over everything? So natural. The soundstage is visceral and impactful yet not as big as the IER-ZIR, but maybe wider-out? More perspective than IER-ZIR? More flat, yet not flat at all? 7:50 now the washes come in, this is the final, final. The part that is amazing is the separation and layering, all you could ask for. I feel like I’m wearing full size headphones? It’s over…………………..

Conclusion:
Really I could go on all day with the description of these fireworks! How many examples do you want? How many do we need? I only chose a few. Really for OSTs and Trance Music the XBA-Z5 is in its element. We are witness to a phenomena which has no parallel. Yes, the IER-Z1R does it great, but really the bass is slightly more with the XBA-Z5. What we found were songs which worked. How many songs would workout in this style? It’s endless really! The phone or iPod doesn’t really do much for the XBA-Z5. At best we are in the realm of regular IEMs, nothing particularly wrong except for loss of bass definition and resolution. The next step up is the Walkmans and the final playback is the TAZH1ES. The TA made everything more natural and relaxed but at the same time more 3D.

Is there an equal out there?
The XBA-N3 is not really up to it, less mature and evolved, even though it came later. It does fit better. The IER-Z1R is more detailed and bigger sounding. It’s almost like the XBA-Z5 is the MDR-Z7 and the IER-Z1R is the MDR-Z1R. Really that is almost how I look at it.


Final:
It’s a recommendation here yet again two major issues with the cable and fitment. Sure a new cable fixes the cable issue but you are left with fit. And you know what they say about fit? Fit is everything, and it almost is everything. Still I wonder how many are going to do all the other footwork to get the sound from the XBA-Z5? Even now you could find many great IEMs………still they just don’t have that soundstage and low end, and cohesiveness.



Disclamer:
The Sony XBA-Z5 was a gift (new in box) to me from Sony with combined purchases. Yes, I’m sure I paid for it somehow? I probably would not have purchased it otherwise. But I’m glad I found it after all. Your results may vary.

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RikudouGoku

Member of the Trade: Earbud Maker
Pros: Huge soundstage
2.1 speaker setup in iem form
Bass quantity/quality
Non-fatiguing and relaxing treble
Passed the test of time with flying colors
Timbre
Cons: Below average technicalities in this price range (details, instrument separation and imaging)
Weird fit
Stock cable
Discontinued
Price
20201107_141610.jpg

Disclaimer: I bought this second hand from amazon japan, in “used: good” condition at my own expense.

Price: 380 usd (including shipping + VAT)

Specifications:

Driver unit: Hybrid 3-way – 16mm dynamic + 2 Balanced Armature

Frequency response: 3-40,000Hz

Sensitivity (DB/MW): 107dB/mW

Impedance: 32ohm

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Accessories:

Carry case

3.5mm unbalanced cable

3.5mm balanced cable (with 2, 3.5mm jacks)

S/M/L silicone tips

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Faaeal litz copper cable on the Z5


Build: Very lightweight but made out of metal and feels very well made. L/R are marked with white/red text respectively.

Fit: It can be a bit awkward but it fits me no problems. Definitely sticks out like a USB stick in your ears though and since the body of the Z5 isn’t supporting/coming into contact with your ears as much I wouldn’t recommend to use it for physical activities. If you have tried the EX800ST, this is a similar fit but better since it is a bigger shell and therefore the body supports the fit more than it does on the EX800ST.

Comfort: Good comfort and very little heat generation since the shell doesn’t touch your ears that much.

Isolation: Below average isolation due to the bullet like fit but also much better than something like the EX800ST since it doesn’t have a huge vent like it. Although if you are planning on using this while biking, forget about it. The way it fits is literally coming into contact with every wind that comes your way.

Setup: Ibasso DX160 (low gain, volume around 35), Faaeal litz copper cable 4.4mm, Final Audio Type E LL tips

Lows: Very impressive bass in both quality and quantity. It is more mid-bass focused over sub-bass, but sub-bass can still sound like a beast that still has control. Bassheads should be satisfied as well and especially since it doesn’t have that much treble quantity, that means you can raise the volume for even more ear drum shattering bass.

Mid-bass: Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), Clean and individual bass strikes are very distinct, due to it being quite fast and tight. Very impressive when you consider the bass quantity. The (02:55-03:01) section with the chopper could be better though, as it wasn’t very clean and hard to hear the chopper.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), Very fun because of the quantity, and it stays clean because of the tightness/speed while texture is also very good.

Sub-bass: Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extremely good extension and is able to rumble while staying clean. Punch quantity is pretty good but would like some more quantity along with a bit tighter/faster punch (texture is pretty good).

Will Sparks – Sick like that (03:08-03:22), Very impressive texture and quantity is quite massive and yet it stays clean due to its tightness/speed.

Mids: The Z5 is a very warm sounding iem and that affects the tonality of the mids as well. Vocals are certainly very musical sounding, but with female vocals it lacks a bit of brightness. And balancing between male/female vocals is pretty good, but leans a bit more towards female vocals. Since male vocals are a bit recessed. Some slight hints of the overall profile having a bit V-shaped with the vocals needing to be a bit more forward. (although the overall profile Is an L-shaped sound.)

Female-vocals: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), Clean vocals but needs to be a bit more forward and tonality needs to be brighter as it has a bit too much warmth.

Yuki Hayashi – MightU (01:58-02:55), Tonality and timbre with the instruments are very good, but again the vocals needs to be a bit more forward and brighter.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), Not a trace of it being shouty, let alone sharp.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Crescent (02:07-02:26), Extremely impressive, it’s not shouty at all. Seems the Z5 is impossible to sound shouty or sharp at all.

Male-vocals: Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (00:57-01:17), Tonality is excellent but is a bit recessed with the male vocals here.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), Same as above, excellent tonality but a bit recessed vocal.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), Electric guitars aren’t sharp at all. Very clean and detailed.

Deuce – America (03:03-03:16), Excellent tonality and very clean and detailed without being shouty.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cellos have lots of texture and very good tonality. Violins also have a lot of texture, but needs to be brighter to be more natural sounding.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), Very clean sounding but tonality needs to be a bit brighter.

Soundstage: Huge soundstage and imaging is also very good.

Tonality: A warm and L-shaped sound profile with some slight hints of V-shaped (slightly recessed mids). Very musical sounding and is definitely on the warm side, but not dark. Versatility when it comes to more vocal focused tracks do suffer a bit from being overly warm. Timbre is so good that you will forget it is a hybrid. But naturality is bottlenecked by the overly warm tonality (on vocal/acoustic tracks).

Details: Impressive amounts of detail if you consider how much bass quantity it is. But otherwise it is below average and nothing special.

Instrument Separation: Same as the details, impressive with its sound profile. But below average for something at this price range.

Music: Linkin Park, I grew up listening to LP on 2.1 speakers and the Z5 is the most similar iem to a real 2.1 speaker setup. The Z5 sounds amazing and perfect for LP and with the bass quantity/quality it is a very fun experience too. (nostalgia power here, can’t help it.)

Yasuharu Takanashi, the instruments that are in his tracks sounds extremely natural and with that huge soundstage it makes it sound very natural. Even on his more rock/metal-ish tracks, the bass is perfect for it and doesn’t get bloated.

Hiroyuki Sawano, same as with Yasuharu Takanashi tracks. Everything from the bass, mids, treble to the technicalities are so very suited for his tracks.

Songs that highlight the IEM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwoTOmYh-zg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5JyDGg2HKo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F42qhxxz5_4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCXhD9cwXZA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IH8tNQAzSs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq6Q_uaJF4k https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PBbP4YjO20

Good genres:
Hip-hop, Trance, EDM, R&B, Pop, K-pop, Hiroyuki Sawano, Yasuharu Takanashi, Linkin Park

Bad genres: Classic, Vocal focused tracks



Comparisons:

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

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Lower extension on the A7, but rumbles more on the Z5. Punch is stronger on the A7 and is faster, tighter and more textured so it´s cleaner too.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), Z5 has a bit more mid-bass quantity, but A7 is much cleaner, faster, tighter and more textured.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), Much cleaner on the A7 to the point where the Z5 is bordering on muddy. Z5 has a bit more quantity, but speed, tightness and texture are better on the A7.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), Tonality is better on the A7 because it is brighter and female vocals are also cleaner and more detailed. Timbre is also more natural on the A7.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), Much cleaner on the A7 but can be a bit sharp, while vocals are recessed on the Z5 in comparison.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), recessed vocals on the Z5, tonality is pretty close but is better on the A7 along with better detail and is cleaner.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), Much cleaner on the A7 but is a bit sharp.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Tonality and timbre on both the violins/cellos are better on the A7 and is much more detailed and cleaner.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), Tonality and timbre are better on the A7 and sounds cleaner and more detailed.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Details, imaging and instrument separation are much better on the A7. Timbre is also better on the A7 (yes, even for violins). Soundstage is a bit bigger in width and much bigger in depth on the A7.

Overall: The A7 is superior in both SQ and technicalities over the Z5, where the Z5 is only barely contending with the A7 in soundstage and bass quality/quantity. But I would still recommend the Z5 over the A7 IF you listen to a lot of Hip-hop, R&B and Linkin Park music because the Z5 shines on those and because the Z5 sounds very similar to a real 2.1 speaker setup. But the A7 wins in everything else.

IEM: Sony XBA-A2, stock cable (3.5mm), stock L tips

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extends a bit lower on the Z5 but rumbles quite a bit more on the A2, to the point where it sounds muddy. Punch quantity is similar, but much better textured, faster and tighter on the Z5, sounds muddy on the A2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), Quantity is higher on the A2, but is tighter, faster and more textured so it sounds cleaner on the Z5.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), Individual bass strikes are quite muddy on the A2. Tighter, faster and more textured on the Z5 and sounds much cleaner.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), Tonality is much better on the Z5 and vocals are quite muddy on the A2.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), Cleaner and more detailed on the Z5, while there is a tiny bit of sharpness on the A2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), Much cleaner and more detailed on the Z5 while sounding more natural due to the tonality (too thick and warm on the A2).

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), None of them are sharp but sounds much cleaner and detailed on the Z5.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Tonality, timbre, detail is much better on the Z5 along with more details.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), Same as above.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Soundstage, details, instrument separation, imaging and timbre on the Z5 are all outclassing the A2.

Overall: “You get what you pay for”, applies here. The Z5 is in a whole different league than the A2. Both of them are somewhat similar in sound profile, except the A2 is quite a bit bassier and also has much worse bass quality so it also makes it much muddier.

IEM: Sony MDR-EX800ST (EQ simulating the Z5), stock cable (3.5mm), Final Audio Type E LL tips

FIY: My EQ preset on the EX800ST is meant to simulate the Z5, so this comparison is more on how close the EX800ST gets to the Z5 with EQ. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE EX800ST WITHOUT EQ.

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extends and rumbles more on the Z5. punch quantity is similar, but is a bit tighter, faster and more textured on the Z5.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), Quantity, speed and tightness are similar but is more textured on the Z5.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), Speed is similar, but is actually cleaner on the Z5 despite having more quantity due to it being tighter (and also more textured).

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), Tonality and timbre are better on the EX800ST and have more forward vocals instead of being recessed on the Z5 and is also a bit cleaner on the EX800ST. But sounds a bit more detailed on the Z5.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), Tonality (brighter) and timbre are better on the EX800ST, while both of them aren’t shouty or sharp at all.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), More forward vocals on the EX800ST, but is a bit cleaner and more detailed on the Z5.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), Better tonality and timbre on the EX800ST, while being cleaner. Similarly detailed.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Tonality and timbre of the violins are better along with more texture, but is more detailed on the Z5. Cellos are better on the Z5 in everything.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), Tonality, timbre, details and cleaner on the EX800ST.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Soundstage is a bit wider on the EX800ST but deeper on the Z5 but has a lot more air (it literally has a huge vent) in the EX800ST. Imaging, instrument separation and details are better on the Z5. Timbre is better on the EX800ST.

Overall: While the EX800ST with this EQ preset sounds very similar to the Z5, it is still different and still has some of its own characteristics. The EX800ST is definitely a much better value for your money and the better iem for vocal focused music but is a double-edged sword since it needs EQ but is also much more versatile since it responds extremely well to EQ. The Z5 does beat it in terms of SQ and technicalities though and has a similar but a bit better fit.



Conclusion: The Z5 is undeniably a very good iem and even more so when you consider how old it is (6 years old!!!) but Chi-fi (LZ A7) has surpassed it in both sound and price. The Z5 is still a very good competitor though and especially if you want to listen to a 2.1 speaker setup in iem form. Thanks for reading.

Graph:
XBA-Z5.png


Sony MDR-EX800ST EQ simulating the XBA-Z5:

Low-shelf
: 150hz, Q: 1.0, gain: 4.0db

peak eq: 200hz, Q: 2.6, gain: 2.0db

peak eq: 2000hz, Q: 2.0, gain: -3.0db

peak eq: 3800hz, Q: 1.5, gain: 2.0db

peak eq: 5440hz, Q: 3.0, gain: -4.0db

peak eq: 8150hz, Q: 3.0, gain: -5.0db

high-shelf: 10 000hz, Q: 1.0, gain: 10.0db

Preamp: -6.0db

Reference/test songs:
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ChrisOc
ChrisOc
Great review, sounds like fun and reminds me of the Kennerton Ikiz, but for the price, I would want it in my collection based on your review!
RikudouGoku
RikudouGoku
@ChrisOc Yeah, it is a very enjoyable iem for sure. You do see the weakness of it once you analyze it more, but still very fun. Sony XBA-N3 next? :joy:

Hahah, really turning into a sony fanboy lol.

shampoosuicide

500+ Head-Fier
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: + Demands power
+ Fit might be awkward for some
+ Fiddly MMCX connectors
+ Below average isolation
IMG_2535 5.jpg


Sound

Chain: Tidal on Mac > Topping D50s > Cavalli Liquid Spark > Z5 + Null Arete MKIV cable + Symbio Peel tips

For perspective, the ‘highest end’ gear I’ve owned include the Fostex TH900, ZMF Ori, Sennheiser HD650, Sony 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

Amping

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.

Cables

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.

Tips

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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Stealth94

New Head-Fier
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.

gerelmx1986

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

 
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.
 
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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 
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. 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.
 
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A Comparisons with other IEMs & devices i have owned​
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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
daniel_hokkaido
daniel_hokkaido
The closest another iem pushed the Z5 for me was the SE846 but still it lacked that soundstage and deep bass. 
gerelmx1986
gerelmx1986
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

Dsnuts

Headphoneus Supremus
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.
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Disclamer.
 
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.
 
​SPECS
 
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
 
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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.
 
 
Build

 
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.
 
 
Sound

 
But then there was the sound. To me these have something that so many earphones just can't produce. Actual large wide sound stage.
 
 
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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.
 

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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. 
oscarp
oscarp
How does the Z5 compare to the newer XBA N3 anyone have both ??
Dsnuts
Dsnuts
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.
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