Sony XBA-NC85D review: Sony XBA-NC85D

If you don't wind the XBA-NC85D's extra-long (74-inch) cable around the supplied "cord adjuster" (a flat, black plastic spool), the cable will be prone to tangle. The tiny box with the headphones' power button is on the cable, just 4 inches away from the left earbud, which you can't see when the 'phones are in your ears. You have to feel around, searching for the power button. The cable terminates with an L-shaped 3.5mm gold-plated plug.

On a more positive note: the large "L" and "R" markings on the earpieces are easy to see, and in low light situations you can feel a small dot on the left earpiece. One significant feature missing from the XBA-NC85D, however, is an inline mic with controls for Apple or Android devices.

You also get a wire clip to secure the cable to your shirt, an airline adapter, and a zippered faux-leather carrying case.

I was unimpressed with Sony's Artificial Intelligence Noise-Canceling abilities on the NYC subways and buses; it produced little noise-reduction effect. The passive (non-electronic) noise reduction of the silicone eartips rendered average results, and turning on the XBA-NC85D made only a small difference. I wasn't aware of the noise reduction system switching between MC Modes as I moved about the city. When I listened to the XBA-NC85D at home, I heard a small amount of background noise generated by the Artificial Intelligence Noise-Canceling processing, which always has to be turned on to use the headphones. The owner's manual acknowledges the presence of the XBA-NC85D's "operational noise," which they consider normal but I could even hear the distracting sound on the subway in heavy foot traffic. I've heard that noise with other noise-canceling headphones, so I should note that Sony isn't the only brand with the same issue.

The XBA-NC85D has just a single balanced armature driver in each earpiece, which I found odd because Sony's less expensive XBA-2, XBA-3, and XBA-4 headphones have two, three, and four balanced armature drivers per earpiece, respectively.

The XBA-NC85D's sound was far behind what I heard from Sony's XBA-4 in-ear headphones. The XBA-NC85D's single balanced armature couldn't generate anything like the XBA-4's bass punch or power. Its problems aren't limited to bass effort, either -- the XBA-NC85D's treble had a gritty harshness, and the sound would severely distort if I played the headphones really loud with bass-heavy music; it certainly didn't sound like an expensive headphone. The XBA-NC85D sounded a little more natural than Sony's $99 XBA-1iP in-ear headphone!

Sadly, the XBA-NC85D falls short on every count: noise canceling, features, and sound quality. Compounded by its high cost, the XBA-NC85D remove themselves from any serious audiophile's buying considerations. Try the $230 Sennheiser CXC 700 for a classier, more affordable in-ear noise-canceling alternative.

Editors' Top PicksSee All


Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 0.2 oz
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Additional Features noise canceling circuit
  • Type headphones
  • Headphones Form Factor in-ear
  • Connector Type mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm