Review: Sony XBA-S65, XBA-1 and XBA-2

I would like to thank Sony for lending me these samples for review, i will try and write as honest a review as possible.

All opinions expressed are my own, some may not agree with me.

Gear used:
IPod 7G 160 GB (rockboxed) > Sony IEM's

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Specs:

XBA-S65:
Transducer: Balanced Armature
Power handling capacity: 100mw
Sensitivity: 105db
Frequency response: 6 Hz-24 kHz (???)
Price: $89.99

XBA-1:
Transducer: Balanced Armature
Power handling capacity: 100mw
Impedance: 24ohms at 1 kHz
Sensitivity: 108db
Frequency response: 5 Hz-25 kHz (???)
Price: $79.99

XBA-2:
Transducer: Dual balanced armature (full range + woofer)
Power handling capacity: 100mw
Sensitivity: 108db
Frequency response: 4 Hz-25 kHz (???)
Price: $199.99

I don’t believe in Sony's frequency response measurements, especially for BA drivers.

Packaging, Accessories and Build quality:

The packaging of all 3 is a simple plastic box, showing the IEM's inside, nothing special, but good enough, now comes the bad part, i hated opening these, they made it so difficult to open, with flaps everywhere, they need to redesign the packaging i think.
Accessories are listed on the back, along with specifications.

Accessories included:

S65: A fabric mesh carry pouch, clip with a cord adjuster + 4 sizes of hybrid tips, SS, S, M + L. Not bad, but a hard carry case would have been better, and also the same tip selection of the XBA-1 and XBA-2 would have been nice.

XBA-1: A velvet carry pouch, cord adjuster, 4 pairs of normal hybrids, SS, S, M + L, and 3 pairs of Sony isolating hybrids (they have a ring of foam inside the silicone tip, so it stays in shape better) S, M + L. Again a hard case would have been better.

XBA-2: A hard carry case, cord adjuster, 4 pairs of normal hybrids, SS, S, M + L, and 3 pairs of Sony isolating hybrids (they have a ring of foam inside the silicone tip, so it stays in shape better) S, M + L. Nothing missing here.

Build quality:

S65: I like the design with the adjustable ear loops, the housing is rubber coated plastic and is waterproof, so good if you sweat a lot. The cable is a little thin and the strain relief on the L shaped jack could be better. I think the cable is the weak part on these, other than that the build quality is quite good.

XBA-1: Plastic 2 part housing feels strong, L jack feels sturdy with good strain relief, flat cables are fine, but a little thin again, but stronger than those of the S65. The cable is typical Sony, the right side with a longer cable to go behind your neck, so they are more like 1 sided cable.

XBA-2: Same plastic 2 part housing like the XBA-1 but a little bigger, the flat cable is the same thickness too, but the L plug feels much stronger.

Overall not a bad job by Sony, but some smaller companies (DUNU) do a much better job.

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left to right - S65, XBA-1, XBA-2

Comfort, Fit and Isolation

The S65 is very comfy and easy to get a fit, you can get a pretty deep fit if you like, or shallow, depending on your preference. I found the preinstalled M hybrid fit fine, the over the ear design is great, and the cable that adjusts the ear guides works very well. The isolation isn’t bad, but not great, a bit above average, good for working out, but you can still hear some of your surroundings.

XBA-1 I found best with a deep fit with the S isolating hybrids, and found them to be very comfy when inserted, but they are sensitive to fit as they create a very strong suction, which can ruin the sound. Isolation is above average and perfect for walking around and most public transport.

XBA-2 I also found best with the S isolating hybrids with a deep fit, these also have the suction problem, you just have to be careful inserting them. Isolation is the same as XBA-1.

Both XBA-1 and 2 are worn cable down.

The flat cable does eliminate most microphonics, but there are still some on the left side which is where the cable hangs down, but not so bad that it will distract you from your music.

Sound:

Lows:

S65: Good impact but lacking in body and extension. They have real trouble producing sub-bass, which you really can't hear. Bass drums kick with impact but lack body, bass guitars fair better, but double bass just sounds wrong. The bass is detailed, fast and tight.

XBA-1: Similar to the S65 but with a bit more body and extension. Still not great, and they still sound a bit off in the bass region. Fast and tight like most BA drivers.

XBA-2: Finally they have done it right, but had to add a woofer for that. Much better body and extension but in a balanced amount, not drowning anything out. Perfectly controlled with excellent detail and are fairly articulate.

Mids:

S65: A little forward in presentation, and also slightly dry. No sibilance or harshness could be detected though. The mids are the best part of these, very detailed but lack body and smoothness.

XBA-1: Forward in presentation as well, but sounding a bit more natural, not as dry, a bit more lush but with as much detail as the S65. Vocals sound very good, but acoustic guitars still don’t have the right timbre.

XBA-2: Much more balanced sounding, but not warmed up by the lows. Great detail again, but in a smoother presentation, with better body, in perfect harmony with the lows and highs. They got it right here again.

Highs:

S65: Very good presence, but could be a bit more refined. You can hear every tap and brush of cymbals but they can become a bit splashy sometimes. Extension on the other hand is very good for a BA driver, and details are easily retrieved.

XBA-1: Similar to the S65 but better controlled, being less splashy. A touch more sparkle wouldn’t hurt, but extension is excellent again.

XBA-2: Similar to the XBA-1 in terms of control and detail, but could still be even more defined, as they can still become a little splashy.

I find the highs on all 3 models sound a little metallic, and not quite natural.

Soundstage, Imaging and Instrument separation:

Soundstage is similar on all 3 models, being fairly narrow, with the XBA-2 having a slight advantage in depth.

Imaging is done well on all 3 models, with a very good center image.

Instrument separation is also very good, but a bit more air between everything would be better, the XBA-2 has the advantage in the bass here (goes without saying really).

Amping:
Not necessary on any of the models, as they are all very sensitive and easy to drive, amping does not give a worthwhile improvement.

Conclusion:

S65: Well i think the housing design is spot on for sports, but the driver needs tuning differently, as they lack bass, and sound a little thin. I think for sports you want a slightly more fun sound signature otherwise it is easy to get bored. I wouldn’t say they have done a really bad job, but they could improve it a lot.

XBA-1: A step up from the S65 in all areas, but still not having the right bass response. These also sound very flat and boring, and i really couldn’t find myself being satisfied with the sound of these.

XBA-2: It took Sony another driver to achieve a good sounding IEM, if only they had tuned the other 2 models a little different then they would have been killers as the design is very good. The XBA-2 sounds balanced, but not boring or analytical. It has great detail across the spectrum, and are very easy to listen to and do well with all genres.

I don’t want this to sound like a really negative review, but i think that Sony need to up their performance to really compete with the other models on the market. They have done a reasonable job entering the market with their first balanced armature IEM's, but many smaller companies are doing a better job for cheaper.

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VS Dunu I 3C-S:
Only the XBA-2 is comparable, and with it being more expensive i would pick the Dunu. The Dunu has a much smoother presentation with great extension on both ends, with a slightly mid forward sound signature. The XBA-2 is a great IEM but for the price it really doesn’t fare too well, it sounds a bit boring in comparison. Both have similar detail retrieval, and the Dunu has better soundstage, and just sounds more full bodied and natural. Listening to Diana Krall on the Dunu's is pure bliss, whereas it sounds a bit flat and boring on the Sony's
The Dunu have great build quality, and is more comfy with the over the ear cabling, but is more tricky to get a good fit.

I hope you enjoyed this review, any comments are appreciated.

Tracks Used:
Skrillex – First Of The Year (Equinox) (320kbps MP3)
Paramore – Franklin (320kbps MP3)
Diana Krall – The Girl In The Other Room (FLAC)
Deolinda – Passou Por Mim E Sorriu (live) (ALAC)
Suicide Silence – Unanswered (FLAC)
Massive Attack – Angel (ALAC)
Eat Static – Dzhopa Dream (ALAC)
The XX – Crystalised (FLAC)
Funeral For A Friend – Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings (ALAC)
Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man (FLAC)
The Scene Aesthetic – Humans (259kbps MP3)
A Hero A Fake – Swallowed By The Sea (254kbps MP3)
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, Spring Allegro (ALAC)
Johnny Craig – Children Of Divorce (161kbps MP3)
Deadmau5 + Kaskade – I Remember (Caspa Remix) (320kbps MP3)
Black Uhuru – Utterance (ALAC)
We Are The In Crowd – Never Be What You Want (226kbps MP3)
Silverstein – Discovering The Waterfront (320kbps MP3)
Concept Of Thought – Our Thought (FLAC)
Nirvana – Something In The Way (Unplugged) (ALAC)

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