CES 2012: Sony

Two types of drivers are used for in-ear monitors: dynamic drivers, and balanced armature speakers (sometimes called balanced armature receivers). Dynamic drivers are significantly larger than balanced armature speakers, and as a result the final dynamic in-ear monitor will be slightly larger to contain it. This results in an earphone that can be a little more difficult to insert into the ear, and a larger chamber the sound has to go through to get to the ear canal, which can lead to more coloration of the music heard. Because balanced armature speakers are so much smaller, in-ear monitors can be designed more compactly, and with better ergonomics and fit. Also, multiple drivers can be put into the enclosure and used like woofers and tweeters in the headphones. There are downsides to balanced armatures however, as the wide impedance swing of these devices and typically low impedance, they are more likely to interact with the output impedance of the driving amplifier and color the sound.

Currently there are only a small handful of BA manufacturers in the world, the largest of which is Knowles. (Here's their BA speaker product page.) If you have a balanced armature earphone, it almost certainly contains a Knowles BA speaker. Sony has decided to begin to manufacture their own balanced armature speakers. It seems to me, Sony wishes to have complete control of the BA speakers used in their headphones. This will allow them to optimise the size and shape of the drivers and produce smaller and more comfortable earphones, and to optimise the acoustics of the drivers for use in single and multiple driver earphones. It's a bit of a risky move, but Sony is certainly a company with the resources to pull it off.

In September, Sony announced the new line of 11 balanced armature products, which includes: earphones; head-sets wired and Bluetooth; a noise-cancelling model; and a sports version. Here's Sony's press release and product page for these new in-ear cans. I listened to the basic line-up of the four earphones and felt they sounded a above average on quick listen, I certainly look forward to a real listening session for a proper evaluation of this exciting new development.

I'll let Claude Schmidt fill you in on the line.

Sony Electronics Inc.
(201) 930-1000

charvat8's picture

I love that guys bow tie xD

RPGWiZaRD's picture

I hope Sony would release a more refined XB series for all the bassheads out there like me and so so without overcharging like certain other manufacturers I won't mention does. :P

13mh13's picture

The more-BA-drivers-the better design theory has inherent limitations ... including use of xovers, and smaller self-contained drivers in an already small chassis (the Russian Dolls-design approach!).

I own some top BAs, including ES SM3v2, Shure SE530 and Ety ER-4S. By far, the Ety is my fave BA ... and the 4S came out in late 1990 (!!) -- it's the only BA I /really/ like. And it has only one BA driver. I haven't heard Westone's or any of the custom/high-enders like JH, UE, etc.

Dynamic IEMs, even cheap ones, are my IEMs of choice ... IE8, Shure E2C, even cheap packaged cans you get with certain Chinese DAPs.

Sony has deep pockets, but even then investing their $/time/RD into new BA's -- instead of further refinement of their pre-existing & respectable large dyn drivers of IEMs like EX1000 -- might be a marketing decision, and not necessarily what's best for IEM science/engineering.

Limp's picture

There is a third type of drivers used in IEMs, aren't there?
Single-pole armature I think they're usually called. Manufactured by Yashima Electronics and found in the Ortofon IEMs, and some of the Grado ones as well, I believe.


13mh13's picture

Ortofon calls it "Moving armature"
Correct on Yashima being the OEM for Grado and Ortofon. Many fans group the GR8/10 and Orto e-Q5/7 in a similar-sonic-signature category.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Cool! Thanks for that tid-bit.
gorboman's picture

I've auditioned the XBA-1 to XBA-4 at a local meet yesterday. IMHO the XBA-3 is the best of the bunch. If only the mid can be a bit more forward. Instrument separation is great though.