The Sony XBA-C10 takes the cake in the sub $100 category in ear headphone, or so some says. Or not. The thing is, it seems that this little headphone has been discontinued, making it somewhat difficult to really recommend.

Something like this:

The Sonys are still our favorite in this category but they are (sadly) no longer being manufactured. If you can find them, we’d recommend you snap them up.

And snap them I did.

The XBA-C10 uses what Sony calls ‘Balanced Armature’ drivers, which is what I believe the BA part of the name stands for. The response curve of these drivers are flat (hence ‘balanced’), with slight tapering on both the lowest and highest end. Basically, it means that you hear what you hear; no muddling up has been done to artificially increase/decrease the bass/trebles, nor are there any music enhancing audio baloneys applied to the output. Just one proper full-range driver on each ear.

So, how was it?

Think of the XBA-C10 as a clear sheet of glass, and you’ll pretty much be spot on. No tints, no amplifications, nothing. It stays out of the way, allowing the user a full, unadulterated view of what’s beyond. In that regard I think the earphone is excellent.

It’s worth mentioning again that the bass response may not cater to the taste of those looking for powerful lows. Some reviews in Amazon cite the ‘lack of power’ in the lower ranges as one of the disappointing thing about the headphone. The way I see it, that simply isn’t the case; rather, people are now so accustomed to enhanced basses that reverting to a normal, flat response curve feels like a step down in terms of quality. Worth keeping in mind. On the other hand though, since no tweaks are applied to either the low and high end, the mid really shines here. Even Sony says so themselves, claiming the “smooth and clear vocal sound” of the Balanced Armature micro-sized driver unit.

So that’s it in terms of sound quality. Not much can be said of the physical qualities of the product. It feels quite good in the hands, although a bit flimsy at times. Durability may be an issue for more rigorous use. Fit and finish is average, nothing special. Using the thing itself is comfortable enough not to cause any aching of the ears, and the noise isolation is great (provided the tips used are of the proper size).

Overall, I am satisfied with the Sony XBA-C10. Those who prefer a more exciting sound profile may think this pair is boring. And there is no getting around the average build; this is not a high-end, premium audiophile product. But as someone looking to dive a bit deeper into his music, discovering things as they are meant to be heard (relatively speaking), all at a palatable cost, this is close to perfect.