My Sony XBA-1’s had just broken. I loved my XBA-1s for what they were. A reasonably priced, solid performing pair of IEMs). Desperate to get something to replace them for my daily 1.5 hour commute, I picked up the MDR-XB70AP one day after work while doing a bit of “window” shopping. I was quite tired that day, and it hadn’t occurred to me that something marketed as “extra bass” might not have accounted for a particularly good hi-fi purchase. However, my previous experience with the XBA-1’s and the rigid aesthetics helped to swing my decision. In retrospect, this was perhaps one of my odder audio purchases. I have no inclination for extra bass, and a bass-boosted earphone was probably the last thing I needed.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was purchased for the purposes of the review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Sony. All media rights are reserved.
The packaging of the MDR-XB70AP doesn’t do it too many favors (in retrospect). A plastic shell holds together a matte white box, which contains yet another clear plastic holder in which the earphones are stored. The large font proclaiming “Extra Bass” and the dichotomously small font announcing the model-number are tell-tale signs of its mass-market focus. That said, the 80 dollar price tag does put it at the higher end of very basic, entry-level models. This is a price point dominated by high-end fashion and entry-level audio products.
Included are 4 sets of tips, and a little carrying pouch. The pouch has the same “elastic” quality as a rollable metal ruler. Pushing the opposite ends together causes the metal band to “pop”, thus opening the pouch. Overall a very neat mechanism, but definitely not one designed with very long-term durability in mind. In addition, the pouch is too small, and is better suited for storing coins than the fairly large MDR-XB70AP.
Overall, the MDR XB-70AP continues the Sony tradition for strong build quality. Half of the earphone is aluminum, and the rest is plastic. While the plastic is strong and firmly attached, the concern here is how the MDR-XB70AP claims to have an aluminum “housing”. I am not a sound engineer, so I cannot elaborate on the possible performance-based benefits of having the driver encased in plastic and the rest or the earphone in aluminum. However, from a purely consumer-based standpoint, the claim to have an aluminum housing is questionable, considering that two vital components (bass duct and driver) are actually housed in plastic. Having said that, the quality is still very good. A soft plastic stress relief indicates Sony’s clear attention to detail.
The fit of the earphones is surprisingly good for something that measures over an inch long from bottom to top. With some tinkering, a good seal can be achieved. However, because Sony has made no attempt at making this negative profile, this pair of earphones are definitely not suited for active use. In fact, walking might be a concern. In addition wind noise can become a problem, not only because of the large profile of the MDR-XB70AP, but because there are huge ports on this earphone! In total, there are 4 ports (2 small on driver housing, 2 big on the bass duct).
Overall sound quality is exactly as promised…which is not exactly a good thing. The bass quantity is good for a pair of earbuds. There’s simply a lot of it. In Animals by Martin Garrix, the XB70AP demonstrates its impressive ability to produce sub-bass. The long decay times can actually be felt, and the effect is quite enveloping. However, moving into mid and upper bass, the XB70AP demonstrates an obvious lack of control. It doesn’t move fast enough to ensure that good clarity is kept throughout the general bass line. The weakness is especially evident when various types of bass come together. The mid-bass generally overwhelms the rest of the sound registers and the XB70AP sometimes plows through songs with the stereotypical bass emphasized sound sig. While this can be fun at times, it is very annoying at others. Treble is mediocre. There’s some sparkle, but this observation is biased in the sense that most anything will sparkle in light of XB70AP’s bass. The clarity at the higher-end is decent, and opens up what would otherwise be a claustrophobically small soundstage.
However, the headphone’s weakness comes to light with the mids. A deep V-parabola means that the mids are heavily recessed. Vocals sound like they are coming from another room in fact. In songs like Everytime You Go Away by Paul Young, the XB-70AP constantly tries to retreat into the lower notes. Increasing the volume only reveals a strong level of sibilance in the mids, and makes for a less-than-ideal balanced listening experience. It goes without saying that these earphones are not examples of sonic clarity. In The Mission by Ennio Morricone, there was so little clarity that the cellos, oboes, and violins sounded like one massive, muddled instrument producing rather disjointed sounds.
The MDR-XB70AP is not a high clarity, high-fi earphone. In comparison to its predecessor, the XB70AP has apparently sacrificed too much to achieve the “extra bass” (this is from impressions by other users). The tuning by Sony, which recesses mids and trebles in order to emphasize the base, was heavy-handed. The soundstage is nearly nonexistent. The bass instruments feel like they are right next to you, the triangles a little further back, and the mids a mile away. Genres like classical, pop, and rock are definitely not good on these earphones. In addition, several physical design choices really accentuate the XB70AP’s recessed mids and limit functionality. However, if you are looking for a pair of very fun earphones, this would be a good choice. Dedicated bassheads will also revel in the sumptuous quantities of bass available. However, for regular users looking for a balanced sound, the 70 dollar price tag and deep-v signature may make the MDR-XB70AP off-putting.
TYPE: 12mm Dome Type (Dynamic)
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 4 – 26,000 Hz (unrealistic)
MAXIMUM INPUT POWER: Not provided
SENSITIVITY: 112 db/mW
IMPEDANCE: 16 ohms
WEIGHT: 9 grams
PRICE: ~80 USD