Sony XBA-3 in-ear headphones
Sony’s new headphones are a surprise
- Good bass response
- Clear treble
- Well built
- Slightly lacking detail
- Bulky design
- J-cord design
Sony's high-end in-ear headphones are a surprising package. These headphones sound impressively musical, but could be slightly more detailed in higher frequencies. They're well constructed apart from an annoying cord design.
Price$ 329.95 (AUD)
The Sony XBA-3 in-ear headphones are part of a renewed Sony foray into the high-end audio market — with the XBA-1, XBA-2, and XBA-4 (and -IP iPhone variants) the XBA-3 is aimed at music enthusiasts with deep pockets.
Sony XBA-3: Design and specifications
The Sony XBA-3 use an in-ear design, so you’ll need to be comfortable pushing a pair of headphones deep into your ear canal if you want to wear them properly.
Despite the headphones’ ‘micro-size’ balanced armature design, the XBA-3 headphones are quite large. Rather than nestling inwards like the Jays q-Jays, the body of the Sony XBA-3 sits in the outer part of the ear. We found them a little large for comfortable wearing over long periods, but we’re used to much smaller in-ears: if the XBA-3 is your first set we doubt you’ll notice them. The headphones’ cables come from the rear of the body, and runs 1.2 metres to a chunky L-shaped 3.5mm stereo plug.
There’s 1.1 metres of cord before the headphones split off into individual runs. The left headphone hangs straight down on a 16 centimetre cord, but the right earphone is designed to be looped around the back of the wearer’s neck — a ‘J-cord’ design — with a further 54 centimetres of cord. This is far too much; we think it should be around 15 centimetres shorter, which would still allow plenty of movement. As it stands, the extra cord length sits uncomfortably or tangles itself around the back of your neck.
A total of seven ear-tips are included in the packaging for the XBA-3. Super-small, small, medium and large standard silicon earplugs join small, medium and large ‘noise isolation’ plugs: silicon tips lined with light foam, adding a little extra cushioning and baffling between your ear and the outside world.
We didn’t hear a significant difference in isolation from ambient noise between the standard and isolating ear-tips. We would have liked to see some full foam ear-tips included in the package; we think a set of cushy Comply tips would be a worthwhile upgrade.
Sony XBA-3: Sound quality and performance
An old favourite, the M83 remix of the Bloc Party Track The Pioneers, showed off the XBA-3’s strong bass performance: plenty of low frequency extension, with only a small amount of muddiness. The headphones do a good job in mid-range frequencies as well, with the vocals and guitar of I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (from the excellent O Brother, Where Art Thou?) reproduced smoothly, if very slightly lacking in the nuance and detail we’ve heard in more expensive high-end full-size headphones.
Mid-range frequencies are slightly recessed compared to the strong bass, but this is typical of most consumer headphones. When we listened to some Alison Krauss, Katie Melua and Katie Noonan tracks to test out higher frequencies, we found the Sony XBA-3 headphones handled treble smoothly — the headphones aren’t what you’d call ‘crisp’, but there’s plenty of detail in female vocals and tinkling piano notes.
We’d characterise the sound of the Sony XBA-3 as rich: the headphones have a slight emphasis on bass and mid-range notes, and a smooth treble roll-off. They’re well suited to deep, layered music: jazz works equally as well as electronica with the XBA-3.
The ambient noise isolation of the Sony XBA-3 was good but not great. We didn’t notice much difference between the standard and ‘noise isolation’ silicon ear-tips, but generally the Sony XBA-3 headphones block out most low-volume ambient noise, purely by virtue of their sealing the wearer’s ear canal. We were still able to hear office conversations a few metres away if we listened carefully, but the low hum of air-conditioning and office PCs was almost entirely removed. If any music is playing, even at a low volume, the Sony XBA-3 headphones effectively drown out any traces of ambient noise.
There is some minor microphonic noise in the headphone cable, but the J-cord design does minimise this. Sony doesn’t include a lapel clip for the cable of the XBA-3.
Sony XBA-3: Conclusion
Sony’s new XBA-3 headphones, topped only by the XBA-4 in Sony’s in-ear range, have sound quality that competes well with the long-established Shures and Etymotics of the personal audio world. We don’t like some aspects of the design and the sound could be a little more detailed, but we think the XBA-3 is worth considering.
Join the newsletter!
Ballistix Sport AT
Ballistix Tactical Tracer RGB 3000
Cartier Calibre de Cartier Diver Watch
Bang and Olufsen Beoplay A9 Speaker
Samsung QLED 8K TV
Toys for Boys
Osmo Coding Awbie Game
ESET Internet Security
Nix Pro Colour Sensor
ESET Cyber Security Pro for Mac
Little Bits DROID Inventor Kit
Oregon Pro WMR500 Weather Station
ESET Smart Security Premium
Tivoli PAL BT
TimeFlip Magnet Simple Time Tracking Device
Ikea RIGGAD work lamp with wireless charging
SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3
Naztech Xtra Drive Mini + 256GB microSD Card
Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth Speaker
This Holiday Season, protect yourself and your loved ones with the best. Buy now for Holiday Savings!
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Oppo R17 Pro review: Oppo's thriftiest flagship yet drives a hard bargain
- 2 Tenda Nova MW6 review: A gateway drug for mesh Wi-Fi
- 3 Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Expensive, but probably the best phone you can buy right now
- 4 Apple iPhone XS review: Astonishment at a price
- 5 Huawei Nova 3i review: All Sell, No Soul
Latest News Articles
- PC World 2018 Editor's Choice Awards Nominees Announced
- HTC Vive and McLaren announce the release of limited edition headset
- Sony launches new wireless, noise cancelling WI-C600N headphones
- Jaybird announced Tarah Pro wireless sport headphones
- Turtle Beach’s Elite Pro 2 + SuperAmp is now available
PCW Evaluation Team
I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)
It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!
The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.
I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.
If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.
If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.
- PC World 2018 Editor's Choice Awards
- Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Full, in-depth, Australian review
- Razer Phone 2 review: One for the fans
- Everything you need to know about Smart TVs
- What's the difference between an Intel Core i3, i5 and i7?
- Laser vs. inkjet printers: which is better?