The XBA-1iP and XBA-2iP earphones are the two base iDevice models from Sony newly developed Balanced Armature series. Given a chance to review any of the headphones in the range, we decided to find out exactly what the differences were between these two base models and report back to you.
Both earphones housings are colored chrome and black with a red ring around the right earpiece. The oval shaped and tangle-free cable feels thick and steady. It would probably take some real effort to damage the cable. The interior housing is made of a liquid crystal polymer that holds the Balanced Armature driver securely in place. I can attest to the strength of the design. These earphones have held up to my constant abuse. Over the several month review period, neither earphone has shown signs of wear, nor have any of the drivers loosened up and started to distort or rattled in the housing.
The XBA-1iP uses a single balanced armature driver, has a frequency response from 50-25,000Hz, has 108 dB/mW sensitivity, 24 Ohm impedance and is priced at $99.99. The XBA-2iP uses dual balanced armature drivers, has a 40-25,000Hz frequency response, again a 108 dB/mW sensitivity, and a 12 Ohm impedance, priced at $219.99.
The in-line mic is also robust. The same mic unit is used in both the XBA-1iP and XBA-2iP, and it has been through several rain storms and the same overall abuse as the earphone units themselves. Dropped, tossed on desktops, hours after hours in pockets, and nothing is worse for the wear.
The XBA-1iP and XBA-2iP have very similar voicing characteristics. Actually, these XBA earphones remind me of Sony’s SS-AR1 ($22,700) that I heard at the 2011 California Audio Show. Obviously there were some significant differences, but overall characteristics of sound were surprisingly similar. These characteristics are best described as; balanced, clear, detailed, and rich. The XBA-2iP, with an added balanced armature woofer, has significantly more bass than the single full range woofer of the XBA-1iP. But the XBA-1iP does have satisfactory bass strength and extension if one is in a quiet environment. While at my desk or library, I never had the feeling I was missing any of the low end. But while on the bus/BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit our subway), the base of the XBA-1iP wasn’t enough against the low noise interference of the outside world. Since both earphones use the same full range driver for their mid and high frequencies, no matter which earphone we were using we are treated to the same smooth high end that is detailed but never fatiguing or over extended. The mid-range, while not as open as some other earphones we have heard, is detailed and perfect for studio-produced albums. Though classical and jazz fans might not find enough of the recording space is represented by either of these models. Overall though, no matter what we listened to, AC/DC streaming on the iPhone, or using the Trends Audio tube headphone amplifier and 24bit digital files of Mile Davis Kind of Blue, both the XBA earphones sounded good. Though, they showed their strengths most with modern recordings of pop, rock, hip hop and electronic music.
One interesting find was that we often had the iPhone or headphone amplifier turned up more than normal when using the XBA earphones. On the iPhone/iPad we normally found ourselves two or three clicks from the max volume. While with some other earphones we’d be four to five clicks. Though this volume seemed to be best suited for the XBA earphones. The XBA’s present lively music at a fun volume that wasnâ€™t edgy or fatiguing. Another tip we found for getting better bass response from the single balanced armature driver of the XBA-1iP earphone was to wear a size down from what we used with the XBA-2iP and push the earphones slightly more into the ear canal. This wasn’t uncomfortable and it helped the bass tremendously.
The mic on the XBA earphones is also impressive. It did a great job of shielding wind noise and capturing my voice. Obviously, the louder I spoke the easer it was for the person on the other end to hear me. But compared to several other mic’s we have used of late, the mic on the XBA earphones did a great job of blocking background noise and picking up voice.
The mic also houses the iDevice controls. There is a pause, volume up, and volume down button. These are easy to use and if you hold down either the volume up or down, the tracks will skip forward or back.
If you have used Sony headphones before, then the XBA’s with Balanced Armature drivers will certainly continue to please you. The smooth sound, detail and non-fatiguing listening impresses. Though, if Sony were to take some suggestions for the next iteration of the Balanced Armature series, we’d like to suggest a bit more extension in the high end and a hair more openness with the mid-range.
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