Sony XBA-N3 Impressions

This is a quick set of impressions of the Sony XBA-N3 IEMs that came out years ago and was the prelude to the IER series that Sony created, including the IER-Z1R flagship, IER-M9 and IER-M7. The N3 came out in 2016 for approximately $300 and was loaned to me for a few days from a colleague at work. 

The N3 is a hybrid in-ear that includes a Sony 9mm dynamic driver and a balanced armature. The design was unique at the time with its large cylindrical chamber that housed the dynamic driver and the BA driver was located below it, with both pushing sound through tubes at the nozzle. In previous Sony models to the N3, such as the MDR-EX1000 and MDR-EX800ST, the dynamic driver was perpendicular to the nozzle, and it's large cylinder was kind of an awkward looking design. This was changed in this specific model, and then re-designed further in the IER series that we see today.

The N3 includes a 3.5mm microphone cable with mmcx connectors and a small zipper pouch. The cable that it comes in also has a 90 degree angled connector for the 3.5mm jack, and its well-made and easy to use. A later, special edition, Japanese-only version of the N3 also included a pentaconn 4.4mm cable as well.

The XBA-N3 is meant to be worn with the cables down. This is different than most in-ears I test and review here, as the majority are worn with the cables over and behind your ears, with few exceptions. The N3 is worn more like a traditional ear bud, and many will find this more comfortable to put on and use. Of course, you could use these over-ears too, but its not necessary.

Sound Impressions

I've listened to the N3 a few times over the years and my impressions each time haven't wavered too much. It's a bassy in-ear with slightly over-extended bass that becomes a tad muddy into the mid-range, but has a really nice, smooth and natural timbre through its mid-range and a sweet and extended treble. It does a lot well, but the bass elevation can be hit or miss depending on the music.

I know some owners EQ down the mid-bass to keep it under control, and it does make it sound quite a bit better, but for my impressions, I am going to leave it stock, and not discuss EQing too much besides that it works well to improve the overall sound of the IEM. In later models like the IER-M9, this has been resolved, but it comes with a much higher price tag as well, and on dynamic driver.

When it comes to the bass range, the N3 hits pretty hard when it needs to. Bass quality is so-so for today's standard, but it has great natural decay, and tonally sounds accurate. Where it falters is the occasional bleed into the mids, which is very present in many rock and hip hop songs I listen to, but less so on the instrumental jazz where its not as apparent. The bass response is also a little rounded, and does not showcase a lot of detail and resolution making some texture and depth lacking.

The midrange and treble are very smooth. I love this part of the N3 a lot. It's well tuned for all genres and I never found it harsh and also never found it lacking excitement either. It's smooth, but enjoyable. It's not a detail monster, but its good enough.

Soundstage is closer in, but it does not come across as claustrophobic or too forward. It's a natural intimacy, and instrument separation in acoustic tracks is fairly solid enough that I don't feel like I am missing anything. 

Final Thoughts

In 2016, this was a decent to good IEM at its price point. In 2023, at $300, this is a tough sell. Sony's quality accessories and name isn't enough for it to match the sound quality of the Moondrops, the Dunus, and even things from Samsung and Sennheiser these days. This is a good example of how much the IEM industry has revolutionized itself over the past 7 years. (And the reason I have this on loan is to compare it to a similar sounding 7Hz Legato, that is 1/3rd the price) That said, it is still hard to find an IEM with as good of natural timbre as this one does, at this price point, even today.

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