Once the unanimous titan of general consumer electronics, and a pioneer in personal music players with the introduction of the Walkman, Sony is a company that grew accustomed to being at the top. Since its glory days, Sony has endured great hardship in virtually every sector of the consumer electronic market including headphones. Completely flanked by competition from marketing giants like Beats Audio, Monster, and a slew of other game-changers, Sony has all but been forgotten. Yet, for a company that has not turned a profit since 2008, Sony is still kicking and unleashing what is of late their most impressive effort to recapture the ears of audiophiles.
With the release of the XBA series in-ear headphones, Sony reminds consumers of the innovation and quality that defined the brand not long ago.
XBA Micro Balanced Armature Technology:
Of course, Sony did not invent the balanced armature driver. In fact, it has been around for many years now and has been deployed by various reputable companies such as Westone. But what sets the XBA series apart from the rest of the balanced armature in-ear headphones is that Sony has developed its very own collection of drivers specifically tuned for music reproduction. Unlike others who get their drivers from nondescript balanced armature suppliers, Sony has employed the expertise of their own technology development core to create the XBA 1, XBA 2, XBA 3, and XBA 4.
The number attached to each of the XBA suffix signifies the number of specially crafted micro-balanced armatures built into the respective in-ear headphone, with the XBA featuring one balanced armature driver and the XBA 4 equipped with four. Now, if the XBA series were just packed with a bunch of drivers, this development would be quite unimpressive. But as mentioned earlier, these balanced armature drive units have been tuned to specific frequencies and, wherever there is more than one driver, a passive crossover system ensures that each driver reproduces the sounds it is best tuned to handle.
Borrowing the most detailed of the collection as an example, the XBA 4 features four balanced armature drive units: one full range driver, one tweeter, one woofer, and one super woofer. With virtually every audible frequency range separated and individually performed by a specialized unit, each frequency range sound separate and clear. Do not expect to find
any muddling of bass and mid frequencies with the XBA series. Moreover, because of the passive crossover, the XBA infuse true and perceptible depth to the soundstage for a reproduction that is simply astoundingly convincing.
XBA Noise Cancelling:
Yet another impressive technological design innovation in the Sony XBA series is the excellent integration of noise cancellation. As of September 15th, 2011 the XBA-NC85D became the smallest and lightest noise cancelling in-ear headphones in the world. Because of the incredibly small size of the micro-balanced armature design, Sony has been able to integrate the DNC noise cancelling components and rechargeable battery directly into the sound chamber. Unlike every other noise-cancelling in ear headphone on the market that generally have the DNC noise cancelling processors encased in a “wand” that is connected to the wires leading to the chambers, the XBA-NC85D are just as compact as any other in-ear headphone on the market.
Endowed with a single Sony micro-balanced armature, the XBA-NC85D performs with excellent clarity and fidelity. Offering similar sound characteristics to the standard XBA series, these do not skimp on sound quality in any way.
Will the Phoenix Rise?
Certainly, Sony’s woes as a once-mighty technology giant will not be solved by these remarkably well crafted in-ear monitors. Nonetheless, while they are still around, Sony has definitely flexed their muscle and challenged skeptical audiophiles to reexamine the viability of Sony products. For one, I am completely impressed by the quality of these in-ear monitors and are, beyond a doubt, on my list of most important headphone releases of 2012.