Sony Releases Full Line of Balanced Armature Earphones

I was fairly impressed when I recently reviewed the Sony EX600 and EX1000 in-ear dynamic driver headphones. But I've always felt that for high-fidelity in-ear listening the balanced armature driver headphones bested the dynamic drivers. Well, Sony has taken a big step and just released a full line of balanced armature in-ear headphones.

I'm looking forward to getting my ears on them.

Sony's New XBA-1, XBA-2, XBA-3, and XBA-4
Sony's stunning corporate strength has allowed them to develop and release an entire line of balanced armature driver headphones. Were it any one else, I would be worried it's too big a bite to take, and would be quite skeptical. But Sony is another story entirely, they've certainly got the power to do it right in a big way, if they so choose.

And it's not like they've rushed to market here, balanced armature IEMs have been around for 20 years now, I'm certain Sony engineers are well aware of the technology. The real question is why they've waited so long.

The downside with balanced armature drivers is that they are quite reactive drivers. The impedance of BA drivers swings fairly strongly with frequency, and they are often fairly low impedance devices to make them useful with portable players. The problem is that the high output impedance of the player combined with the impedance swings of the IEM driver makes for some interesting interaction, at times significantly coloring the sound.

Multiple drivers and crossovers can make the interaction worse, and this new line has up to four drivers in each earpiece. (The number designation after the XBA- indicates the number of drivers.) I wonder if Sony has been thinking about this? I wonder if they have something good up their sleeve?

Waterproof? Bluetooth? Noise canceling, too?
Yes! The line not only includes traditional multi-driver SKUs, but has some cool additional special purpose models as well.

Color Me Curious!
Email has been sent, and Sony has been quite responsive to my requests. Suffice it to say I'll be reviewing these as soon as I can.

Read the full --- and nicely informative press release here!

wnmnkh's picture

...are fully saturated now? After some long break from Head-Fi, I visited portable headphones section, and I have no clue on 4 out of 5 IEM brands.

Total of 11 new IEMs into the market... can't help thinking if Sony could care about their full-size headphones a bit more.

Got my hands on Z1000, and it is rather stellar as full-size closed headphones. Hope you will review them someday, Tyll.

svyr's picture

didn't see this coming...
I'm guessing the pricing is $250x number of BAs :)

yea I don't know why we need another non-removable cable universal BA IEM to be honest...(with general sony quality of things flaking off and cables swelling up it seems like a really wise purchase)

nice graphs there, Sony (lol) errr I take it they're for illustrative purposes only?

curious if sony developed their own BAs, or just rebranded existing drivers from known manufacturers (lol)

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'm not sure anyone is making thier own BA drivers. Knowles et al have that ground pretty covered.

I've heard of the cable and flaky paint problems, but is that a one time/one product thing?

Lastly, I have to say I've been pretty impressed with what's come out of Sony lately for headphones. I'm gonna wait til I hear them before assuming the worst.

I have to agree though, I didn't see it coming either. I felt they were doing pretty well with their dynamic driver in-ear products. They're not as clean sounding as BAs though. I'm really curious how they'll do with these.

svyr's picture

>I've heard of the cable and flaky paint problems, but is that a one time/one product thing?

well, a lot of ex700 (probs all) had it. (It's well documented on head-fi afaik. I personally had two, and both had it... LP and SP). And I hear EX1000 has the same problem. One of the EX700 also fell apart (the backplate fell off somewhere and I just walked around with an exposed driver for a bit lol... I'm really not impressed. (considering XBA-4 looks to have a somewhat similar body construction and will probably use the same cable... also the strain reliefs don't look particularly inspiring)

EX700 also had the degrading cable issues... So um yea... (at least EX1000 had that covered with replaceable cables)

oh well, at least the pricing seems ok (xba-4 for approx $400 us ... well, in SG)

otoh, you could get 3-4 driver customs for $400(ish?)-600...with recessed sockets and a removable cable...So really...

wnmnkh's picture

Knowles ( pretty much has monopoly on BA market as you said.

But, from interviews and information from Sony on some of Korean IEM/headphones forums, it is true that Sony even built a *new* factory just to manufacture these tiny BAs in Japan, and they are rather serious about this BA business (with the quad one may be priced at 1k USD.)

But it is.... rather not-so-great responses, with the biggest problem is that you cannot replace the cable.

Given the fact I had much more frequent needs of replacing cables of a handful of IEMs compared to tons of headphones I own, this issue will be deal breaker for many.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Wow! That is interesting. Sony sinking a big wad of dough on manufacturing BAs is quite a corporate commitment. Looks like they'll be in this for the long haul. I agree whole-heartedly that replaceable cables would be a good step. They have them on the new EXx series, why wouldn't they use the concept on the new BA? My blind guess is that the BA earphones out there, for the most part, don't have replaceable cables and they want a product the looks directly competative in the field. Using replaceable cables may set them apart in a way that most consumers don't understand, and in that case, product differentiation is not an advantage. I'll stand by my statement in the article, I'm really curious if Sony will produce something world class out of the shoot, or if the burden of developing a BA earphone from the ground up causes them to miss the mark.
13mh13's picture

Knowles is a biggie, but Denmark's Sonion makes BA drivers, too. Not sure how good they are or who uses their OEMs.

Not sure Sony distributing its IEM resources (time, R&D, talent pool) between dynamic and (now) armature is a good thing. Mefeels they should've stuck to JUST perfecting dynamic (they have been doing well with EX---). Armature is old (antiquated) hearing-aid technology that's been "merely" adapted for hi-fi.
I think Sennheiser is on the correct path ... they came out with REVOLUTIONARY transducer technology with their dynamic IEx series. And it was landmark start wrt to sonics.
Shure, Westone, Ety, JH, UE -- as decent as some of their models sound -- are simply evolutionary takes on hearing aids.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

That's pretty funny, thanks for that view.

However, dynamic speakers have been around just as long and I don't see anyone complaining that they're antiquated technology. You even make the point the Sony could continue to focus on their dynamic IEMs ... which is similarly antiquaited, if you choose to look at it that way.

And my read on Sennheiser's IEx series is that it may be their weakest product type. I don't hear them as revolutionary, and I don't see a groundswell of enthusiasm for them amongst headphone hobbyists.

In some ways, I would say that evolving successful technologies is the surest way to success, as developing new technologies has risks at the beginning of not hitting the mark reliably.

13mh13's picture

To be clear I was not referring to full-sized transducers (for loudspeakers or full-sized cans): rather, dynamic micro-acoustic transducers. I.e., the type used in earbuds and some IEMs. The dynamic micro-acoustic transducer became "serious" after Nd magnets became sufficiently powerful and cost effective. Tho' still fledgling, I think this technology has evolved much quicker than BA ... at that RATE, who knows where the IEM industry will stand in a few years (e.g., since the Senn came out with the IEx in 2008, we have seen a burst in use of dynamics: Sony EX, Radius, VSonic ,etc….all have well-above-average ratings on the forums and review sites)
New article on Nd that may be of interest:
(what I take away from this article is that the latest Nd magnets -- those developed as a result of the iPod, mini HDs, etc.. -- make (can allow) micro-acoustic dynamic transducers to finally come into their own. Not sure how much more can be squeezed out of the old, but still-used, hearing-aid armature boxes)
The note about Senn's IEx being "their weakest product type" is something an exhaustive head-fi follower like me finds incredulous. It is also not my personal opinion of them: While I haven't heard the 800s I, e.g., sonically prefer the IE8s (with bass tuner at min. and custom or Comply or Sony Hybrid plugs) to even the 650s.

Sam Justin's picture

These earphones look great, I heard that Sony will release the XBA-4 earphones on the market the next month. It would be great if I could try them, I am sure they won`t disappoint me, Sony makes the best earphones and the new models they plan to release will crush the competition.

lara_09's picture

What about AXUM? finally, someone is making wireless headphones for RUNNERS!!!! and not just another gaming/Netflix earbuds... to be honest, I really doubt that there's a better pair of this completely wireless earbuds - can't wait to get mine