Sony XBA-C10IP Headphones Review
Premium audio, flimsy form factor
Sony's XBA-C10IP in-ear headphones ($69.95) deserve praise for great sound quality. No audible distortion, great balance, proper emphasis across the audible spectrum—these little guys deliver all the good stuff.
Unfortunately, the build quality and price tag aren't as admirable.
When it comes to in-ears, the competition is pretty vicious: Terrific sound is an obvious must, but in order to truly stand out, you also need to be the toughest, the cheapest, or the prettiest—which means these Sonys (as great as they are) aren't a 100% win.
House made of straw
Sony didn't exactly shoot for the stars in terms of the XBA-C10IP's design. Although the scheme is fairly pleasing to the eye, many of the materials are basic and flimsy—which is a letdown, given the $69 asking price.
Buyers can choose from white or black—and that's it. The silver speaker backs are the only sleek design element you'll find. Users are sure to love some of the accessories that ship with the C10IP, though. The most unusual extra is a little bar that latches onto the cable; just pop it onto your cord and coil the slack to get the perfect length. There's also a shirt clip and three extra, different-sized silicone sleeves. The shirt clip is certainly a useful inclusion—just affix it gently to that flimsy cable to avoid damage—and the extra sleeves make it easier to find the right fit. On the whole, these simple headphones are really quite comfortable.
Maybe my biggest complaint is the lack of a carry pouch. These in-ears don't have any sort of special protection for vulnerable flex points, and the cord itself is very bottom rung. A case would have been an excellent way to preserve these headphones, but users are instead left to their own devices (likely a bedraggled sock).
Performs well beyond its price
Audio quality this good is something you'd expect on more expensive in-ears than the Sony XBS-C10IP. Common pitfalls like distortion and major imbalances in emphasis simply aren't an issue here.
In fact, the C10IP tested with truly excellent results in more ways than one. Unless you're listening very loudly, you won't hear any unwanted noise, distorted harmonics, and the like—just clean, clear music. Stuck next to a gaggle of yapping loudmouths at the office? Pop these things in your ears and enjoy some monster isolation. As in-ears, the C10IPs naturally block a bunch of outside noise from entering you ear canal. I used the XBA-C10IP on a cross country flight and even screaming children didn't stand a chance against the C10IP's dynamite isolation.
Of course, now that we know the devil isn't in the details, we can get into the real meat and potatoes: In terms of emphasis, these headphones balance sound expertly and tastefully from top to bottom. Instead of boosting bass, the C10IP handles this range flatly and evenly. Does that mean your music sounds "thin" and high pitched? No, because a moderate drop in volume occurs throughout middle and high-middle notes, making bass sound plenty prominent in comparison. Music therefore sounds detailed and full: Bass rumbles, but the pluck of a harp string or the rata-tat-tat of a snare is easy to make out, as well.
The Bottom Line
Top sound quality, bottom-rung body
Thanks to time in the lab, it's completely clear what a winner the Sony XBA-C10IP headphones are in terms of sheer audio quality. From distortion, to balance, to emphasis, to isolation, it was just one strong win after another.
But you'd better keep the XBA-C10IP in-ears wrapped up, safe and sound, if you want them to last. Scrounge up an old glasses case, maybe a stray sock, because these $69 headphones are very fragile—and they don't even come with a case. The cable isn't removable, and it's as flimsy as can be, so don't expect these things to hold up for long at the bottom of your gym bag.
As long as you keep them somewhere safe, you'll probably really enjoy these Sony in-ears. They look good and they sound great, after all. Still, brands like AKG and Panasonic offer compelling sound quality and cheaper prices, making these Sonys a tougher sell.
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