Sony Launches Balanced Armature-powered Earphones

Experiencing Balanced Armature

Experiencing Balanced Armature

The view from outside Sony headquarters, not too far from the Shinagawa JR line train station, which we also hear sports an advanced tsunami protection system that's basically a three-storey high barrier popping up out of the ground when needed.

At Sony's global headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, the company announced a new series of in-ear headphones powered by their new Balanced Armature driver technology. This lineup of in-ear personal audio solutions will fall under the XBA sub-brand, which also stands for Experience Balanced Armature, with 11 models in total to choose from. These models include both waterproof and wireless options, as well as those designed to work with the iPhone thanks to built-in in-line controls.

Mr Katsuya Nakagawa, Senior General Manager of Sony Corporation's Personal Entertainment Division within the Personal Imaging & Sound Business Group, giving a short presentation during the launch event.

Sony's got a pretty in-depth history behind their headphone innovations over the years, with the first Sony DR-1A tape recorder headphones making their first appearance all the way back in 1960. Since then, Sony's gone on to achieve numerous milestones, such as the world's first in-ear headphones (the MDR-E252) in 1982, as well as the world's wirft 5.1-channel digital surround headphones (the MDR-DS5000) in 1998. In 1999, the world's first canal-type in-ear headphones with 9mm drivers (also another world's first) - the MDR-EX70 - were launched. More recently, the MDR-XB1000 which were the world's first headphones with 70mm drivers were announced earlier this year. That's a lot of world's firsts right there, and all over a half-century timespan.

Balanced Armature technology enables drivers that are much smaller in size, yet sport sensitivity equivalent to a 13.5mm dynamic driver, with a total volume of about 1/4 the size. How's that for compact?

These new Balanced Armature-powered headphones are designed especially for music. Given the Japanese penchant for creating technologies that can fit in astonishingly smaller spaces, the Balanced Armature drivers are about a quarter the size of 13.5mm dynamic drivers, but sport equivalent sensitivity. What this brings to the table is high resolution and high-sensitivity audio along with high sound isolation, and not to mention the obvious size and weight benefits that come along with miniaturization. 

Given the tiny size of the BA drivers, Sony can pack up to four into one earbud, for a variety of characteristics and price points.

 The complete lineup of XBA models consist of five groups overall: Listening, Listening (for smartphones), Noise Canceling, Wireless and Sports. The Listening groups have four models each; the XBA-1, 2, 3 and 4, with the smartphones sub-group listing as XBA-1iP, 2iP, 3iP and 4iP. Sony executives we spoke to say the Listening group for smartphones are certified to work with Apple iPhones, while variants that work with other smartphone platforms i.e. Android are expected to be made available in a month or two. The remaining three groups have one single product each; XBA-NC85D for Noise Canceling, XBA-BT75 for Wireless, and finally, XBA-S65 for Sports.

The latter three groups all have just one BA driver each, while the XBA-1, 2, 3 and 4 have a number of drivers equivalent to the model number i.e. one driver for XBA-1, two for the XBA-2 and so on. While the drivers are basically identical, they are tuned differently depending on the combination used. The first driver is alway tuned as full-range, while the second, third and fourth are tuned as the woofer, tweeter and super woofer respectively. 

The XBA-NC85D is certainly a first in terms of digital noise-canceling headphones, as the combination of the tiny BA drivers and redesigned noise-canceling hardware let the engineers remove the oft-bulky control box altogether.

The XBA-NC85D are digital noise-canceling headphones, but minus the control box commonly seen on products of this nature and configuration. The XBA-BT75 on the other hand is a Bluetooth-powered set of headphones, which features a smart  storage case that doubles up as a portable battery storage pack which lets you recharge the headphones while on-the-go. last but not least, the XBA-S65 are waterproof and washable by design, aimed at athletes and fitness enthusiasts, with a sealed housing that keeps the internal hardware dry, but lets the sound out without sacrificing sound quality. 

Posing for a group shot with some models wearing the new XBA lineup; from left to right: Yosuke Aoki, General Manager, Deputy Head, Personal Imaging & Sound Asia Pacific, Sony Electronics Asia Pacific Lte Ltd, and Katsuya Nakagawa, Senior General Manager, Personal Entertainment Division, Personal Imaging & Sound Businsss Group, Sony Corporation.

The almost complete lineup of XBA headphones from Sony.

Availability and Pricing

Sony representatives say that the XBA lineup should reach Singapore and the rest of the region in time for the year-end holiday season, which means late November at the very earliest. Interestingly, Sony is also planning a Satisfaction Guaranteed campaign of sorts for Singapore (the other countries included in this campaign are Australia, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan), where from the launch period to January 2012, customers who purchase the XBA series products will be entitled to a full refund if they're not satisfied with the sound quality. 

As for pricing, while we weren't able to get hold of the complete price list, we did manage to find out that the XBA-1 and the XBA-S65 would be going for S$89 each, while the XBA-4 would retail for S$499, while the iPhone-certified XBA-4iP is priced at $539.

 

Sony XBA-1

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-1

  • Single Balanced Armature
  • Full Range
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Price: S$89
     

 

Sony XBA-2

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-2

  • Dual Balanced Armature
  • Full Range + Woofer
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Price: TBC
     

 

 

Sony XBA-3

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-3

  • Triple Balanced Armature
  • Full Range + Woofer + Tweeter
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Price: TBC
     

Sony XBA-4

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-4

  • Quad Balanced Armature
  • Full Range+Woofer+Tweeter+Super Woofer
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Price: S$499 (XBA-4iP - S$539)
     

Sony XBA-BT75

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-BT75

  • Single Balanced Armature
  • Full Range
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Wireless Bluetooth Headphones
  • Built-in Battery Carrying Case
  • Price: TBC
     

Sony XBA-NC85D

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-NC85D

  • Single Balanced Armature
  • Full Range
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Unique DNC Software Engine
  • Price: TBC
     

Sony XBA-S65

  Key highlights of the Sony XBA-S65

  • Single Balanced Armature
  • Full Range
  • Made in Japan Balanced Armature Driver
  • Waterproof Film
  • Washable and Tight Fit Designs
  • Price: S$89