While the Sony Experience Balanced Armature (XBA) headphones were released in Japan some time back, unforeseen circumstances have delayed their arrival in Singapore. On 7th February 2012, the XBA lineup finally made its debut on our shores at a launch held at TCC cafe in Suntec City Mall. Sony projects that the in-ear headphones market is set to hit 30 million users in 2012 and has focused to expand their already formidable range with the addition of 11 new models featuring balanced armature technology.
Balanced armature technology is not one that is widely implemented. In fact, even after the introduction of Sony’s contenders, the split in Japan in terms of units sold is 93.9 percent dynamic driver based headphones (which are the traditional designs) while balanced armature headphones garner a measly 6.1 percent of the total share. With just a handful of companies (Sony, Westone and Knowles Electronics to name a few) possessing the resources, know-how and expertise to produce balanced armature driver units, it is no wonder that the numbers are so low.
As is the case with competing technologies, Balanced Armature has its own strength and weaknesses when compared with Dynamic drivers. The fundamental differences lies in how the voice coil behaves with respect to the diaphragm. In a dynamic driver, the voice coil moves itself. In a balanced armature system, a metallic armature suspended between magnets moves instead, with the voice coil being stationary. Not only does this switch give balanced armature drivers greater sensitivity and resolution, but also allows for the driver size to be greatly reduced. This also means that earphones based on these are generally lighter as well. On the flip side, balanced armature drivers traditionally struggle with low frequency performance.
Sony has taken all the advantages that Balanced Armature technology offers and launched the new products as part of a comprehensive XBA lineup centered on the XBA-1, XBA-2, XBA-3 and the XBA-4. The same products are also sold with smartphone compatibility after being fitted with a control pod and in-line microphone. Wireless, Noise Cancelling and Sport headphones complete the new lineup.
Armed with our usual test tracks loaded onto our trusty iPod Classic, a pair of medium ear-tips and wet wipes (hygiene is important), we gave the XBA headphones a shot. Head on to the next page for our full hands-on experience.