Sony is getting into the balanced-armature in-ear headphone market in a big way this year, with, count 'em, 11 new models ranging in price from $79.99 to $499.99.
Sony brought the new XBA line by our offices in advance of CES and I, along with editor Justin Yu and CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg, were impressed with what we heard, even from the entry-level $79.99 XBA-1. The models with an "iP" at the end of their names are designed for use with the iPhone (and iPod Touch) and feature three-button controls, adding a microphone, track, and volume control functionality.
Some of the higher-end models have multiple drivers, and the lineup is punctuated by the $499.99 "boxless" XBA-NC85D noise-canceling model, which features no "external" battery box/dongle on the headphone cord. All the noise canceling is done from within the earphones themselves (yes, there's a battery in there), and Sony's calling them "the smallest and lightest in-ear digital noise-cancelling headphones in the market today."
The lineup also includes a wireless Bluetooth model, the XBA-BT75, which charges in a special dock (see photo below) and retails for a lofty $299.99.
Sony is also serving up a new sports model, the $89.99 XBA-S65, which is waterproof and has an intriguing new loop design that's supposed to keep the earphones securely in your ear. I tried them out and they seemed to work well, though I can't say I was able to do any serious jogging in the conference room we were in.
The new XBA models start rolling out in February, and we'll hopefully have reviews of many, if not most, of them as we get review samples.