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Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fairly good but expensive, 10 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Sony XBA3iP Premium Quality In-Ear Headphones (discontinued by manufacturer) (Electronics)
This is rated by What Hi-Fi and over at head-fi.org which is why I gave this a shot.

I considered the other high end headphones £200-£300 but generally the life span of in ears don't seem to be that long, so spending £300 didn't appeal to me.
The Sony seemed to offer a quite good performance review Vs price ratio, with the added bonus of iPhone volume, mic and play controls. This also automatically dismissed quite a few of the other high end earphones.

Anyway I choose Sony because of it's mass production experience, economies of scale and minituration expertise. Other high end ear phones would inevitably be produced in lower batches and without Sony's extensive track record of making earphones.

I expected great things from the XBA 3 but when compared to the standard stock iPhone pod earphones that come with the iPhone 5, I really had to listen hard to hear the differences. I was expecting it to be night and day. It wasn't. Apple claim 'The audio quality is so superior, they rival high-end headphones that cost much more.' and I think I almost buy into that now.

At first listening Vs the stock Apple pod earphones the Sony sound less transparent, and congested - However this could be a trait of sound isolation buds in general as it is similar to having your fingers in your ears or underwater because the silicon seal in your ears is so much tighter and plugged. The Apple pods are just hard plastic, but the sound is more around you and open (and you get more of the environmental sounds).

Bass seems a bit deeper on the pods, but it is woolly and ill defined compared to the XBA3. Listening harder you'll find the instruments are better defined on XBA 3, the bass more controlled but with volume slightly quieter as they are harder to drive than the pods which are louder at the same volume level.

Bottom line they do sound better with more definition than the standard Pods if you listen carefully, as the difference is not night and day as I've mentioned. The bigger difference is the characteristic in sound, the XBA 3 can sound a little muddy / congested compared to the pods airyness.

If the XBA 3s were double the £25 of the pods I'd rate them 5 stars, but at £200 they are not 8 times better, more 2 times better. If the XBA 3's were £100 I'd rate them 4 stars, but at the current price I can only rate them 3 stars. If money is no object and your pockets are deep then 4 stars. They do come with a hard case and extra different sized ear plugs.

The wire is also not as silky smooth or crease resistant as the pods cables.

With extended listening the ear plugs start to feel uncomfortable (compared with Pod earphones) and the treble is 'recessed'. Treble is controlled and smooth, but perhaps it could do with a bit more 'edge' and crispness to liven up cymbals.

UPDATE

after more use and running in, they do appear to have loosened up a bit and sound better with more clarity. Though they still sounded 'congested'
I compared them instore with display headphones at John Lewis and PC World (as there are no inears on display) and the Philips L1 £230 and Beats MixR £230 had better separation and definition on my iPhone 5, but the Philips is so inefficient that the iPhone barely drives it and is only about 1/4 volume - so not very loud. The Beats MixR really does sound the best for iPhone 5 out of all the display models.

This 'congestion' was really bothering me, so I decided to splash out on a £140 Audioengine D1 DAC (digital to analogue convertor) http://www.amazon.com/Audioengine-D1-Premium-24-Bit-DAC/product-reviews/B006IPH5H2 and connect it to my Apple MacBook Pro Retina. (annoyingly the new iPhone 5's connector doesn't connect directly to any existing DACs)

Wow, the Audioengine D1 really makes the XBA3 shine. The soundstage opens up, the treble extends, the bass is deeper fuller and tighter.
I took my laptop and Audioengine D1 to the shops again, just to see how the display phones might sound. The Philips L1 is properly driven by the D1 and its headphone amplifier and sounds gorgeous - natural smooth but with slightly forward treble (XBA3 is more controlled). The Beats mixR now sound downright harsh. The cheaper Bose AE2 and Sennheiser HD449 sound pretty good now through the DAC, natural, smooth, treble reasonably controlled (Bose AE2 sound very aggressive directly from the iPhone 5). The HD449's (£70) sound great value compared to it's bigger brother the Momentums at £250 ish.

The XBA3s through the Audioengine D1 sounded better overall than all the display headphones I could get my hands on. The closest was the Philips L1 - but treble was slightly forward (bass was deeper and separation better though). If you want cheaper alternatives I can recommend the Sennheiser HD449 and Bose AE2, but both of these sound much thinner than the XBA3, which sounded more full bodied and substantial.

The D1 sounds better through my Mac USB port than it does from my Acer PC USB port

So there you go, unlock the potential of the XBA3 with a DAC! (and my DAC isn't run in yet)

If you have an iPhone 5, and can't afford a DAC, then the Beats mixR headphones will sound better than the XBA3 driven directly by the headphone socket
Also the standard iPhone pods do not improve in sound quality much when connected to the DAC, the XBA3 improves substantially.

In the light of these findings, I am re-rating the sonic qualities of the XBA3 from 3 stars to 5
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Mar 2013 12:33:29 GMT
will m says:
i got a pair of these and they do need to be run in , I thought they were awful when i first got them , I put them on for 24 hours and left them , when i listened the next day i was amazed ,Brilliant !!!!

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Mar 2013 23:43:31 GMT
uumode says:
yes, I've updated my review
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