CNET Australia travelled to Tokyo to check out Sony's latest headphone range, featuring balanced armature drivers.
Sony held the launch in its office building in Shinagawa, Tokyo. There's no shortage of other buildings across Tokyo with Sony branding, although Shinagawa used to be where Sony was based; it moved the main office to Minato (still in Tokyo) in 2006.
Sony's Katsuya Nakagawa (head of the Personal Entertainment Division) presents Sony's newest range of headphones. The new balanced armature drivers are manufactured in Japan, but the rest of the assembly takes place in Thailand and China, as with Sony's other headphone lines.
Sony's got a long history in the headphone market. It's a little bizarre to think that in-ear headphones are nearly 30 years old.
If it's "Experience Balanced Armature", shouldn't they be EBA headphones?
One of the key advantages of the Balanced Armature design is that they allow Sony to (so it claims) deliver the same sensitivity characteristics that you'd see in a 13.5mm, 340mm³ driver in a driver that's only 80mm³.
Some of the new models simply feature the single full range driver, but as you move up the ranges (and up the price scales), you get integrated tweeters, woofers and super woofers.
The new XBA range comprises of 11 models, although there's some duplication; for each of the basic XBA-1 to XBA-4 models, there's a corresponding "iP" model that features in-line controls for smartphone use.
Sony's Yosuke Aoki, deputy head of Personal Imaging & Sound (Asia Pacific) covers off the differences between the models. XBA-1 just has a driver; XBA-2 has driver+woofer, XBA-3 has driver+woofer+tweeter and finally XBA-4 gets the combo with the lot: driver+woofer+tweeter+super woofer.
The model to the left of Yosuke Aoki is clearly very happy with his new Sony headphones. He gets to wear them now, but they won't be on Australian store shelves until November.
The full range of headphones in the flesh (but not yet in the earlobe).
The XBA-S65 are Sony's "sports" model in the range. There's no additional tweeters or woofers, but you do get a slide down loop to fit around your ear, and they're waterproof for up to 1 metre. With a claim like that and a fish-bowl of water nearby, our next step was obvious... (and yes, they survived and played music afterwards.)
The XBA-4ip model will be the top of the range in pure audio quality terms, but they probably won't be cheap. Sony Australia representatives told CNET Australia to expect pricing across the range to come in starting from AU$100 up to AU$549. They wouldn't say what the most costly pair would be (we're betting on the XBA-NC85D being the AU$549 pair), but the XBA-4ip model is likely to be nipping at its heels, price-wise.
This is the case for the XBA-BT75 set. They're Bluetooth headphones, and again like the sports pair it's just a dynamic driver; no tweeter or woofer to be seen ... erm ... heard. The case also doubles as a battery pack, making them conceptual cousins to Jabra's Stone range.
The XBA-NC85D headphones feature noise cancellation, but don't use an in-line battery pack. Instead, Sony's managed to pack in batteries just in the buds you see here. It'd be tempting to dismiss them as a gimmick, but in a room crowded full of noisy journalists arguing in at least three languages, we were able to make out actual music with surprising clarity. Like the sports and Bluetooth models, there's no additional tweeter or woofer in this set.
Alex Kidman travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Sony.