Together with more than 35 journalists and bloggers from around the region, I attended the launch of the new Sony XBA (Experience Balanced Armature) balanced armature headphones at their Tokyo HQ.
The entry level XBA-1 will come with a single full-range driver while the XBA-4 has the kitchen sink, with a full-range driver, a tweeter, a woofer and a super-woofer.
There are also other single-driver models: the noise-cancelling XBA-NC85D (a box-free model!), the waterproof Sports XBA-S65 model and the Bluetooth XBA-BT75.
There are also smartphone versions of XBA-1 to XBA-4, with the designation "iP" (probably stands for iPhone). These come with an inline remote and mic and cost slightly more.
The Bluetooth XBA-BT75 comes with a little carrying case with a battery inside, that acts as a charging unit too (you charge the carrying case, the case charges the headphones). You will need it as the Bluetooth model only lasts about 3.5 hours on one charge.
Estimated prices will range from S$89 (XBA-1) to S$499 (XBA-4).
The tiny balanced armatures inside the headphones are made in Japan, while the headphones are assembled in their Malaysia factory. The balanced armatures apparently have the sensitivity of 13.5mm Dynamic Drive driver, but at a quarter of the size.
I found myself liking the XBA-3 model most. It had the most balanced sound of the four main models. The XBA-4, with its super woofer inside, tended to overwhelm my music. Perhaps it also depends on the kind of music you like to listen to. If you like your bass, the XBA-4 should make you happier.
I also liked the fit of the Sports model, with the clever use of the wire to secure the cans so it doesn't move as much when you exercise.
Noise isolation is very good, especially if you use the Noise Isolation earbuds provided.
I am currently very fond of my Sony MDR-EX1000 which is designed more for studio monitoring (and hence the price tag) but the new range of consumer headphones do impress.
The only problem you might face is choosing from the 11(!) XBA models being offered. Talk about kitchen sink.