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Sony re-invents in-ear headphones

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Sony unveiled its latest range of in-ear headphones which can recreate a 4-way speaker system in your ear.

This is achieved with a tiny “balanced armature” driver which can create full range, tweeter, subwoofer and even a super subwoofer in your ear.

During the event at Sony’s Shinagawa headquarters an earthquake shook the building. The quake turned out to be a 6.2 magnitude with its epicentre about 150km north of Tokyo.

Journalists from all parts of the Asia Pacific region felt the tremor during a Q and A session about the Sony XBA in-ear headphones.

But that still couldn’t take our attention off the new Sony audio products.

The new Sony XBA (experience balanced armature) uses tiny balanced armature drivers to create better audio output

Also unveiled was a noise cancelling pair of XBA (experience balanced armature) in-ear headphones – the first of its kind in the world to do away with the external control box which instead is now housed inside the earphones.

Sales of headphones are on the rise with the explosion of smartphone and tablet usage across the world with Sony claiming a 20 per cent worldwide market share in this growing audio market.

Sony invented the in-ear headphone back in 1982 with the MDR-E252 so these new XBA product are the latest result of nearly 30 years of development.

There will be 5 types of XBA in-ear headphones with a range of 11 models which when they are released in November.

Starting with the 1-way models all the way up to the 4-way noise cancelling models, the new Sony XBA range is designed to appeal to a wide range of users whether you’re a casual listener or an audiophile.

The balanced armature drivers are designed to deliver on the four pillars of good earphones – high resolution sound, high sensitivity, comfort and sound isolation.

The micro-sized balanced armature drivers are only quarter of the size of the size of the 13.5mm dynamic driver and are sealed to reduce ambient noise and sound leakage from within and outside the ear.

The number of balanced armature drivers in Sony's ear-in headphones can be seen by the number of gold squares on the casing

Common Listening

Sony’s XBA in-ear headphone range encompass either one (XBA -1; full range), two (XBA-2; full range + woofer), three (XBA3; full range + woofer + tweeter) or four (XBA-4; full range + woofer + tweeter + super woofer) balanced armature drivers respectively.

We had a chance to listen to all of these models and found the audio quality was impressive at every level. The XBA-4 was outstanding with excellent clarity and bass response.

Each particular model can be identified with gold squares on the back of the earphone.

Each of these models are also available in iP series which adds an inline remote and microphone for those listening to the music aboard their smartphone.

The Sony XBA models will also be available with an inline remote and microphone for use with a smartphone

The woofer drivers add the bass response while the tweeter comes into play for the treble frequencies so they can be reproduced in even higher fidelity.

They are contained in a double-layered housing with magnesium on the inner layer to hold the drives in place for a smoother sound response.

Each pair of in-ear headphone also come with hybrid rubber ear buds in four sizes so they can fit all types of ear and still provide a noise-isolating seal.

Active Waterproof headphones

Many people use their training sessions as an opportunity to listen to music and Sony’s XBA-S65 will suit these users.

The sturdy model has an ear loop that fits over the ear to hold it in place while you’re exercising. The over ear loop is adjustable and can be tightened like a neck tie so the XBA-S65 can fit anyone.

These in-ear headphones are also waterproof but with no compromise when it comes to sound quality and audio performance.

The XBA-S65 are designed for sports wear with adjustable ear loops and waterproof construction

Wireless Bluetooth headphones

Getting tangled in the cord is a thing of the past with Sony’s wireless Bluetooth headphones – the XBA-BT75.

The in-ear headphones will link wireless with Bluetooth compatible devices like smartphones.

Thanks to the smaller balanced armature drivers, there was room to fit the control box, usually found on one of the cords, inside the headphone housing along the rechargeable battery and control IC chip.

The result is a discreet pair of earphones which sit just behind each ear and are connected by a single cable.

Sony’s XBA-BT75 headphones also come with a handy carry case which also doubles as a charging stand.

Sony's XBA-BT75 incorporate balanced armature drivers in a wireless model which connects to compatible devices via Bluetooth

Digital Noise Cancelling headphones

Sony has produced the world’s first in-ear digital noise cancelling headphones with a box free design called the XBA-NC85D.

The external box is now gone and that technology now housed inside the headphone’s casing which was made possible by the smaller balanced armature driver.

The XBA-NC85D has a rechargeable battery which is charged through a USB dongle adaptor when connected to a computer.

The Sony XBA-NC85D are the world's first box-free in-ear noise cancelling headphones

They take four hours to achieve full charge which will run for 20 hours and easily cover the time spent on an international flight.

The earphones use an on-board Artificial Intelligence (AI) noise-cancelling feature which can knock back ambient noise by up to 97.5 per cent.

All of these new Sony Balanced Armature in-ear headphones will be available in Australia in November. Pricing will be announced soon.

* Stephen Fenech travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Sony.

A model wears the Sony XBA-NC85D noise-cancelling in-ear headphones