Sony XBA-NC85D review:

Sony XBA-NC85D

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.

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