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3.9 out of 5 stars10
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 7 December 2012
It's been some time since I've reviewed something, but since nobody has yet commented on these remarkable earphones I feel I should.

Firstly, if you've made it this far down the page it's fair to assume you haven't balked at spending a substantial (some would say horrific) amount of cash on a pair of earbuds, and therefore it's probably also fair to assume that you're mainly interested in sound quality. Certainly these top-line Sonys don't subjectively appear to be great value for money at first glance. Earphones aside, you get a small leatherette carry case (which you'll rarely make the effort to use), four sets of Sony's usual silicone rubber inserts (super small, small, medium and large), a further three sets of "noise isolation" silicone inserts (much the same, but with a urethane foam ring packing out the insert to cut down noise), and a cable tidy (little more than a miniature version of the cable tidy found on lawnmowers). The earphones themselves don't impress either, being chunky and somewhat ungainly - though that doesn't make them any less secure in your ear - and made of bog-standard ABS plastic rather than the metal which you might expect for the money. A surprisingly thin wire and chrome effect L-plug complete the "Hmm, is that it?" reaction. They're very much like the Grado SR325i headphones I use at home on my seperates stack, which are equally underwhelming to look at. Perhaps, like the Grados, all the money's been spent inside. I certainly hoped so myself, having bought them on a whim based on their frequency response etc.

So you find the correct size insert (the biggest that will fit in your ear really) and then you plug them in...and it gets worse. These use Sony's new Balanced Armature drivers, which come in single, twin, triple or quadruple versions. These earphones are the full-fat quadruple driver versions, with seperate treble and bass drivers, backed up with a midrange driver and a subwoofer driver. So that's four in each ear, and when you first plug them in you figure they'll be bloomin' powerful and punchy. Nope. Volume is weak - poor, frankly - and there is a very brittle, sharp tone to them, no warmth at all, very little bass, no sign really of one woofer, let alone two woofers in each ear. It's actually quite unpleasant.

HOWEVER - before you panic, think "What have I done?!" and desperately see if you can return them, be patient. Those who have proper hifi will know about "running in" new equipment, and surprisingly these little earphones from a mainstream manufacturer benefit more from being run-in than pretty much anything I've bought in 20 years of small-scale audiophile equipment. A hundred hours does it for these Sony's - yes, one hundred, just leave your Walkman/Ipod on repeat, charging, in a drawer for at least four days - and try again. You'll be astonished. I use my XBA4's with a Sony A-series Walkman and albums transferred from CD at 320kbps, and they need to be heard to be believed, even more so with FLAC etc. Detail is really good, the most subtle instrument beautifully clear, vocals are brilliantly realistic, and the bass that was conspicuous by its absence when you unboxed these XBA4's now slams through you. They are very close to my big Grado headphones in many respects, which would be seriously impressive for any portable over-ear headphones...for a pair of in-ear buds they are nothing short of astonishing. A perfect private performance in your head from little earphones that can be wrapped around your player and stuffed in a jeans pocket? Oh yes, and then some.

Are they the most fashionable option? Probably not. Who cares. If you want in-ears for their portability and sound performance is your priority, it HAS to be these, and who's bothered that they're plasticky and basic looking. I've used around a dozen pairs of earbuds (mine and mate's) over the last few years, and these are so far ahead of anything else it's almost embarrassing. Four people I know have bought the XBA4's in recent weeks on the back of listening to mine, and given the price, that is quite significant. Run them in first, enjoy them and look after them as they'll be unbeaten for some time I think. Get past the initial "reservations", shall we say, and these are fabulous earphones, worth - oh yes - every penny to those who value good sound...
77 comments31 of 31 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 23 October 2013
I brought these after my sennheiser Ie80s stopped working after very little use so I thought I would try the sony option. boy was I happy they sound a lot better the bass is the best I have heard all round they are great very clear. In the past I've had sennheiser ie7 & the ie80 plus Beats Tours and the sony's win hands down
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on 15 November 2013
Will keep this short, decided to road test them properly before reviewing, had these for 9 months now.

Build:

Very high standard, has taken a lot of abuse. However, an internal break in the cable at end of plugs strain relief is the reason for only 4 stars. Don't think the strain relief is up to much, replaced with a Neutrik 3.5mm jack - much better! Just be aware this and be careful not to strain the cable - dropping player with plug in, taking out of pocket etc...

Sound Quality:

You should be pairing these with a good quality player to really hear the difference: Cowon, Sony, Fiio etc... I am using a Cowon C2.

The extra bass from the sub driver is amazing, especially with drum n bass, hip hop dubstep etc... Also brings the bass drums to life. However it will not overpower the mids/highs and overall very balanced. You do get some sibilance, but not noticeable with music playing. Once they are bedded in (leave it playing for 1 week solid!) it feels like you're at a concert, incredible sound stage. Vocals are exceptionally good, thought they would get lost but all OK :) I suspect the XBA 3's are better for rock but as a metalhead no complaints from me!

I've tried Westones 4's, UE 10's, Final Audio Heven SS, Klipsch S10 but these are my faves so far.

Only bad point is their size, some may not like it as benie hats tend to squash them in to your ears and they look a bit silly sticking out so far - not bothered myself.

Isolation with the isolating buds is amazing - these buds will make your ears ache for the first few times but stick with it.

Word of warning: these are sensitive IEM's, and don't need much power to make a lot of noise. When using on planes, it will hurt when an announcement starts as they turn the volume almost to max because of crappy plane headphones - ouch!
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on 6 November 2014
It happened exactly the same as the above comments from James Neal , after 6 months the sound quality none exists; is like listening to monaural instead of stereo

Overall the quality construction is very good; only let down by the faulty QC. I am looking back for my refund as there were bought in the US.
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on 1 September 2014
Excellent sound. Really good. Volume faded in right ear. Then corrected itself. Then faded again-again correcting itself. Then gave up altogether-a tinny sound like the artists were in the next room. Refunded.
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on 29 March 2015
Sound good but v expensive for what they are. Build quality is a little light for me. Have some Sure ones (no idea on model but $100 in us) that are equally as going, if not better.
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on 8 May 2014
Extremely good sound, the better the quality of music the more these preform, if you like distorted bass an rubbish quality don't buy, great sound from heavy metal to classical
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on 30 August 2013
Bought these without trying them first as it's so damn difficult to try for upto 100 hours burn in and return them if not liked. I bought these to use with a Sony NWZ-Z1070 ( Japan import ) using flac files
I left the pair playing in a drawer for 4 days only charging when needed and not listening
I don' t believe that when over £500 of equipment should need any form of sound enhancement, so I don't
The first thing that struck me about the xba4 is how forward vocals are almost to the point of being painful
Treble is fairly sweet and Sony have almost managed to tame the sibilance in vocals. Bass is full and well extended and it's a pleasure to hear bass notes actually change note and timbre instead of the scull crushing deep thud that feels that your eyes are about to explode.The bass doesn't bleed into the midrange either The overall effect is that the sound is fast and fluid and makes one want to dance.
It's a good effort by Sony, but I've heard much better The Sennheiser I.e 800 puts the Xba4 to shame. At £600, though, I'd be disappointed if they didn't
It's ashame that the Xba 4 has such a forward sounding ( to my ears) because it spoils a fine attempt by Sony
The NWZ-1070 is a Japanese import with 64 gig and no EU volume cap so worth the extra money if you intend keeping it for some time
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on 15 December 2014
As described.. fantastic ..and worth every penny...you wouldn't regret
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on 12 June 2015
Great sound
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