- Balanced tonality
- Mid-bass bleed
- Technical chops
- Stock cable
- Fit will be wonky for some
Driver Setup: 1DD + 1BA
Price: $300 (discontinued)
Purchase link and info: Sony
Included in the box:
- Sony XBA-N3
- Standard MMCX cable with a 3.5mm termination. (The stock cable is designed to be able to be used down, meaning no ear hooks applied. It has a microphone included);
- 4 Pair of Sony silicone tips (EP-EX11);
- A leather carrying pouch;
- A cleaning tool.
Comfort, fit and isolation: Bullet style fit which is not the most secure, but despite that, isolation and comfort are very good. Hands down the best bullet style fit I have tried so far.
Sources used: Topping E30 + L30 stack, Singxer SA-1, Qudelix 5k.
Tips used: AZLA Xelastic.
Test playlist with some of the songs used: Tidal
After just several minutes of listening to the XBA-N3 (N3) there was no doubt in my mind where Sony got the inspiration for the legendary IER-Z1R. The unmistakable house sound runs in the veins of the N3, which won’t appeal to everyone, but so is everything in life.
Depending on your definition of neutral, the N3 can be considered as a bass boosted neutral or a mild V-Shape but one sure thing, despite it matching your preferences or not, is that the tonal balance of the N3 is terrific on the fields they play on.
The bass is boosted and that is the reason to provide anyone’s first impression once they hear these: they are very warm. Just by looking at the graph, it’s pretty clear that the bass was carefully raised in all its spectrum to achieve this sense of warmth and not to be just sub-bass boosted. Speaking of sub-bass, while doing a sine sweep to test these out the extension was sublime, reaching as low as 15 hertz and partly explaining its great performance on “Why So Serious?”, representing very well the sense of claustrophobia you can get once the 3:26 min drops.
The mid-bass was made to be gliding and very authoritative, and has an above average sense of taticality to it on its replay of Radiohead’s “Pckt Like Sardines in Crshd Tin Box” or “Shrill Notes” by Ghost-Note.
The amount of added warmth and the late bass flattening has the obvious impacts in the mid-range, making it fuller and heavier (Hania Rani – Glass). Being a mid-range fan myself, I would love to see a little less warmth presence in this region, but since it is so tastefully done, I can let it slide without moaning much – and also attenuated by the (very) well done pinna gain compensation where nothing what-so-ever gets in the range of shoutiness when replaying vocals – which isn’t the best suit for N3, but in my books the female portion (Nina Simone) sounds very involving and better than the male’s (Michael Bublé), as heard in the musical classic Feeling Good.
If I commended the upper-mids, I can’t get past how tastefully done the treble region is. Despite its warmth, the N3 still pours out details, air and extension by a brilliantly done custom balanced armature, counting as the cherry on top for how balanced the overall tuning is. The most impressive thing is doing all this without ever crossing any line, sounding sibilant or fatiding you (David Carroll – Hell’s Bells).
N3 technicalities is where it falls short compared to its stellar performance in the frequency response. Other than the bass impact, the dynamics of the monitor are average at best, leaving no sense of volume spikes on most transitions.
The imaging chops on the N3 are nothing to write home about given its lack of stage width and average instrumental position, combined into a sense of blunted transients and lack of detail, which overall makes the technical performance probably below average for the current price bracket.
I left the best for the end and, following suit its younger brother Z1R, N3 puts out a masterclass on coherency and timbre that will completely mesmerize you, to a point I had to recall myself this isn’t a single dynamic driver but a hybrid.
I have mentioned IER-Z1R a couple of times by now so it would be not fair to not give the perspective on these siblings compared to each other. It is very fair to assume that the Z1R is a terrific upgrade to the N3 on pretty much all aspects, especially the technical ones.
On tonality, I prefer Z1R due to its more tamed bass shelf, freeing up the other frequencies and paired with a more prominent treble response. This treble is a toss for me and I might tilt towards preferring the N3 one on paper, but it’s very hard to pick one as the Z1R has the technical performance to back it up better. Still in the tonality note, I prefer the pinna gain of the N3 as well, turning the mids closer to the listener and closer to my preferences, even though this effect is slightly canceled by its bass elevation.
To end on an objective note, both sets share the same DNA and don’t let the price tag fool you, as you will get the same pedigree, not the same performance but not by the price multiplier as some would expect. And don’t forget the cursed fit – as an IEM is only as good as if you can use it.
Now that we have seen the direct upgrade from the N3, it is time to mention who are these fit for and Blon BL-03 comes to mind. If you really love everything about the BL-03, look no further, as it maintains the coherency and timbre of the former, but elevates itself everywhere else, coming out as more refined.
Released in 2016 but still holding its place in the food chain, the Sony XBA-N3 leaves me no other option but to recommend it, despite my preferences. Despite its weaknesses, Sony shows once more that the sound delivery matters more than the sum of its parts and frequency response graphs. It truly does something special to my library and after listening to it and Z1R, guess I am now also a sony cult member.
Again, this set ain’t your average analytical sounding one, but there’s enough offers for those out there and this is about giving credit where it is due.
Value ranking: 5/5. Personal rank: B+.
Thanks for reading!
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