LAS VEGAS, CES 2012 – Amazing to think Sony has never offered an armature-driven earphone before; now that they are, they’re diving in huge time with eleven models. Aussie new kid on the block Audiofly just have one in their new lineup, but it’s a doozy, and it sounded absolutely stunning; we fully expect these to be a huge hit.
Those of you who spend any time reading our reviews know that we really, really like balanced armature-driven inner-ear monitors. They’ve got a clean, neutral tone sought after by audiophiles; high-end and super high-end IEMs are almost always armature-driven.
Sony’s whopping new eleven-model lineup has been available in Asia (where it actually consists of eleven models), but this is the first time they’ll be available here. Interestingly, Sony says they’ve created their own drivers for these pieces, not sourced them from outside as is the case with some other IEM makers.
The lineup includes a mainstay of four basic models: single ($79), double ($199) and triple ($249) armature models (XBA-1 through 3), with each consecutive model adding a driver (eg, the XBA-3 has a one high, one mid and one bass driver in each ear). The XBA-4 ($349) doubles up on the bass driver. Then to that add sister models of each with ControlTalk for volume, track and call control, and we’re up to eight. The three remaining models include Bluetooth, washable and active noise-canceling sets — the latter particularly interesting, because it’s the first of its kind to do without an auxiliary dongle for the battery and electronics.
We flirted with the main four, and developed the opinion that the XBA-3 were every bit as good as they should have been, and extremely well-balanced; the remaining three models were a bit of a disappointment.
Of the four models fresh young Audiofly is beginning its life with, only one, the AF78, incorporates balanced armatures. But it’s actually a hybrid, with a balanced armature and a more conventional moving coil driver in each ear. It’s remarkably similar to Scosche’s IEM856 in that respect, and exhibits many of the same qualities: deep bass and clear, smooth highs.
The $200 AF78 sounded extremely good; I mean, really really lusciously good. Heck, even the $60 AF45, second from the bottom of the lineup, sounded great. We were able to spend a considerable amount of time with the AF45 — which is equipped with ControlTalk (just a mic and single button for track control and calls) — and decided the set might in fact be a top contender for best earphone in their price range. The sets also incorporate cool little details like Braille L/R identifiers and Cordura cable sheaths (which sadly Audiofly head honcho Dave Thompson says will change).