Sony no longer has the audio magic that it had when it pioneered the Walkman because of the swarming competition nowadays but the Japanese-giant still has plenty of gas in the tank and knows how to pick its shots. The audiophile market is where the competition is a little bit thinner although it is even more important to make sure every little detail counts because high-end headphones will set people back more than $300 – well more than the price of a portable media player. The Sony XBAH3 takes on that premium crowd and it comes with a few innovative technologies to boot.
Design and Comfort
The design of the Sony XBAH3 highlights Sony’s drive to be futuristic and that is a good thing since you’ll be paying more than $300 for this set of earphones anyway. Sony even presents them in a proud manner as you can immediately see the earphones the moment you open the box. But for a pair of earphones that is described as a product that has been sound mastered by Sony Music artists, it might have been better if Sony took a more serious approach with the 1.2-meter cable. Those that are not a fan of red cables may feel a bit annoyed with Sony’s take. But on the upside, the cable is flat so you shouldn’t have to worry about tangles and is detachable. The main purpose of this is just in case you want to connect the more mobile-friendly tangle-free cord as it has a built-in microphone and set of buttons.
Wearing the Sony XBAH3 is a different story though but as long as you don’t mind other people looking at you because the not-so-ergonomic earphones are sticking out a bit from your ears, you should be fine. They are a tad heavier and bulkier than other earphones of this class so you may run into minor comfort issues after extra long periods of listening. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people but Sony has room for improvement. Getting them to fit won’t be a problem though as Sony included a few more earbuds than expected, you get 3 sizes of hybrid silicone earbuds and 4 sizes of noise isolation earbuds made of urethane foam. Just be sure to handle these earphones with care even though they should last longer than typical earphones. The only alarming thing here in respects to build quality is the fact that the modules are made of plastic. The package also comes with this nice leather carry case.
Sony is taking its own hybrid approach for the XBAH3 and it sounds cutting edge on paper – 16mm Liquid Crystal Polymer Film Diaphragms and Balanced Armature technology. This HD Hybrid 3-way driver unit is pretty much the reason why the modules themselves are a bit large but it is an impressive feat to cram a 16mm driver inside while still managing to pull off a double Balanced Armature design.
The buttons on the mobile cable can be used to change the volume level, play or pause the actively playing track or go back or forth to another track. When connected to a smartphone, you can also use those buttons to take or reject calls. The XBAH3 also gives special treatment to Android owners in the form of the SmartKey Android app. This app lets you personalize the buttons on the cable, which can be useful if you for instance, wish to launch the FM radio from the cable.
Thanks to all the hybrid tech Sony put into these earbuds, the audio performance is nothing short of fantastic. When coming from a generic set of earbuds, you can really hear all the crisp details coming out of tracks regardless of the genre. The soundstage can stay sublime while the beats are very distinct within highly precise bass. Vocals come out very nice and should give out a positive impression when listening to new music or just chilling back to enjoy some classics. What is even more amazing is how the Sony XBAH3 performs when watching movies or playing video games. On a price-to-performance ratio, the XBAH3 won’t hold a candle to gaming headsets but these earphones sound so good that fans of over-ear headphones can give the in-ear ones another chance. While there are some included foam tips, you won’t get the best noise isolation experience out of the XBAH3 as some ambient noise manages to leak out.
With the XBAH3, Sony didn’t exactly make the most comfortable or arguably attractive set of earphones. But even for its $349 asking price, the sound produced by the Sony XBAH3 is truly awesome to the point that hardcore audiophiles can be impressed. Even if the price is too high, Sony did the right thing to add some extra eartips and a cool carrying case to keep the package as premium as can be. When Sony said that Sony Music artists were involved in mastering these earphones, they really meant it.