Review: Sony XBA-4 Ear Buds

By Branko Miletic

It would be an understatement to say that I am not a fan of ear bud style headphones –  I don’t like them at all. Over the years, I have owned, tested, tried and thrown away many different ear bud headphones styles and variants.

I have tried cheap models, expensive models and some that I am not sure what they were supposed to be other than wax collectors for the ear canal.

So when the nice folks over at Sony asked me to try out their XBA-4 range of ear bud headphones, you could say that I was a touch sceptical.

According to Sony, this new range is the company's first to have armature drivers combined with a tweeter, woofer, and a so-called ‘superwoofer’ driver in each earpiece specifically designed for ambient noise isolation. That is important as the issue of noise leaking in and/or out of ear bud headphones is greatly influenced how snugly they sit in your ears.

The range of XBA-4 ear bud headphones, according to the Sony tech sheet, come with quad balanced armature full range plus woofer plus tweeter plus super woofer bright and detailed high frequency sound, double-layered housing and noise Isolation. Other specifications include a 1.2 m cord and a gold-plated L-shaped stereo mini plug.

For the test, I used the XBA-4iP versions and my iPhone and iTunes music library as the sound source. This is perhaps a good cross-sectional example of what most people would use them for, but by no means an exhaustive list of music sources. However, I figured if they work well with the iPhone, they should work just as well with Android or Windows 7 devices.

Perhaps it is a bit of my prejudice coming out here, but in my way of thinking, ear bud headphones are made for the mobile music listener. If I am wrong, then feel free to ignore my findings, but in my world, ear bud = mobile device.

After playing as wide of a range of music genres that I could, which included the likes of Duffy, Guns ’n’ Roses, Leonard Cohen, Pat Benatar, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ninetka, Amy Winehouse and even Echo and the Bunnymen, I am starting to appreciate that perhaps not all ear bud headphones have been created equal.

Put another way, the headphone sound was clear- crystal clear in fact. The bass was what I would call ‘meaty’ and most important of all these little units provided very good noise-isolation.

At eight grams, the weight (and shape) of the units was also good (note: good does not mean perfect), so it didn’t feel like I had a couple of small bricks hanging from my ears and even the design was well thought out.

All in all, if I wanted headphones, I still would not go out and purposely buy the ear bud variety – however having said that, Sony’s XBA-4 range are also good enough for me not to complain about them too much – and if you knew how much I dislike ear bud style headphones, this is a huge pat on the back for the XBA-4 range.

So what was my one and only real gripe? The price. If you want a pair of Sony XBA-4iP which is the top of the range of these ear plug headphones, they will set you back $479.95 – or about $100 more than you would pay for them overseas.

Pros: good sound, nice range and almost no noise interference
Cons: the fact they are an ear bud style; price

3 Shacks Out Of 5

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