Sony's Balanced Armature: Tiny, Tiny Headphones

In Tokyo, Sony's launched eleven headphone models with the company's new balanced armature drivers. They're tiny, and the range of headphones encompass models with super woofers, waterproofing up to one metre and noise cancellation. The first and most obvious thing to say about Sony's new balanced armature headphones is that they're small, or more particularly, that the drivers that pump out the sound are small. Really small; the comparison breakdown against standard drivers shows them to be one quarter the size of a comparable 13.5mm driver with the same claimed sensitivity.

Sony will launch eleven models of XBA headphones. The XBA stands for Experience Balanced Armature -- shouldn't that be EBA?

There are eleven new models in total, which means a dizzying number of product codes to remember. Specifically, (deep breath) they are the XBA-1, XBA-2, XBA-3 and XBA-4 in the entry level 'listening' series, XBA-1iP, XBA-2iP, XBA-3iP, XBA-4iP in the Listening For Smart Phones range (they're for smart phones, in case you weren't keeping up), the noise cancelling capable XBA-NC85D, which don't use an external control or battery pack, keeping the power usage inside buds that fit in your ears, the wireless bluetooth XBA-BT75 that use a clamshell case that also doubles as a battery pack, similar to Jabra's Stone range and the sports-centric XBA-S65 with water resistance. The wireless bluetooth sports model is rated for waterproofing up to one metre. I asked Sony representatives if this meant you could swim with them; their considered response after a while was that technically you could, but you'd probably drown your smartphone in the process. Anyone up to that challenge?

For the listening models, as you go up the numbers, you go from the straight full range driver (XBA-1/XBA-1iP) to driver plus woofer (XBA-2/XBA-2iP) to driver plus woofer plus tweeter (XBA-3/XBA-3iP) and finally to driver plus woofer, tweeter and super woofer (XBA-4/XBA-4ip). The iP models are the same but with inline controls for smartphones. The noise cancelling model features a microphone for noise cancellation but it and the wireless and sports models all simply feature the single full range balanced armature driver; you don't get additional woofers or tweeters.

I had a brief chance to test out each of the models today, and while it wasn't in enough of a pure environment to give them a really thorough test (beyond trying to drown some of the XBA-S65s in a goldfish bowl), they are some pretty darned good sounding earphones on first appraisal. They're expected for release in Australia in November, with prices ranging from an estimated $100 up to $549 depending on model.

Alex Kidman travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Sony.</small.