Review: Sennheiser PMX70 Sport Stereo Headphones with Neckband
Pros: Suspension sport headphones with a strong plastic neckband that loops over your ears, using pressure to stay tight on your head during virtually any physical activity. Offers water- and sweat-resistance, great durability, and bright, sporty green coloration. Very good audio quality, with strong extended bass. An alligator-style shirt clip is included.
Cons: Pressure-imposing design makes you feel earbuds and headband while they’re on your head; comfort level isn’t nearly as high as with Sennheiser’s top-rated, less expensive sport headphones. Price isn’t trivial for earbud-style headphones.
For years, sports accessories have been amongst the biggest areas of iLounge reader interest, and for good reason: from mini to shuffle, nano, and 5G, each year’s smaller-than-competing model iPods simply make better exercise companions than their bulkier alternatives, and many users enjoy the iPods at gyms, out on runs, and even in pools. Yet sport headphones have not made significant evolutions until recently - we’ve only seen one company make decent pairs of submersible waterproof headphone accessories (H2O Audio), which don’t sound great above water, and though Nike and others have made sports headphones, we’ve heard many complaints about individual models’ durability and/or suitability in sweaty or rainy conditions.
So when Sennheiser announced a new series of headphones designed specifically for sports, we were naturally very excited to put them through their paces, and now, we have. Though a number of other models were introduced, we focused on three different options - the LX70 (iLounge rating: B), which connects two standard-sized earbuds with a flexible center cable that becomes a loop for easy storage when not in use; the PMX70 ($50), reviewed here, which connects its earbuds with an inflexible headband that goes behind your neck and stays in place; and finally, the OMX70 (iLounge rating: A-), which uses a semi “clip-on” design that is highly similar to one of our favorite pairs of Sony earbuds, the MDR-EX81s (iLounge rating: A). However, unlike the EX81s and most of our other favorite earpieces, all three Sennheiser earbuds have two things in common - they all use buds that sit on the edges of your ears rather than inserting into your ear canals, and they all use bright green and gray plastics that are designed to stand out rather than blend in with your clothes or iPod.
They’ve also been designed as water- and sweat-resistant - key word: resistant - headphones, and made especially durable to withstand the stresses of extended athletic use. As promised, they do resist water, but shouldn’t be submerged, which leaves H2O Audio’s Waterproof Headphones as a superior underwater athletic option, but makes these a much better general-purpose headphone for those who are concerned about sweat and rain. Though we can’t subject each of them to the months of abusive testing that our readers will no doubt put them through subsequent to this review, we can say that we were impressed across the board with their solidity and build quality; these are not the delicate Sony sports headphones of years past, likely to snap apart or see their glue wear out with repeated exposure to water. Sennheiser has done a good job of making headphones that would accompany the rugged Otterbox cases we’ve tested on strength, if not looks.
All of these decisions turn out to be good ones for athletic purposes. We love the in-canal phones we’ve tested, but their silicone rubber bodies and tight fits aren’t necessarily ideal for use when you’re sweating or running in the rain: they can slip out, and feel less than comfortable inside already hot ears. Sennheiser’s approach instead uses external mounts to suspend the earbuds just outside your canals - as close as Apple’s pack-ins, but with pressure as reinforcement.
Of the three pairs, the PMX70 uses the most physical pressure: its mostly gray headband wraps around the top of your ears with green top accents and silver-capped earbuds, which are physically larger than those in the OMX70 or LX70, and not as user-adjustable: they’re metal grilled, but ringed with non-removable green rubber caps that prevent the metal from making contact with your ears. The buds are large enough to feel noticeable even in large ears, and the headband puts just enough pressure behind both of your ears to keep them in place no matter what you’re doing. PMX70’s slight discomfort is accentuated by their lack of user customization: unlike the others, this pair doesn’t include either rubber or foam alternative earbud covers, which might soften their impact on your ears. You’ll get a detachable alligator-style gray plastic clip to hold the cord to your shirt, but nothing else.
All three headphones have something else in common: audio quality. Though this factor isn’t as hugely important for sports gear as it is with headphones intended to be used while you’re sitting quietly, Sennheiser has delivered a listening experience that few users will complain about. As with earlier Sennheiser headphones we tested, the audio quality of each of these headphones was affirmatively good for the price, delivering pretty much exactly what buyers of inexpensive headphones want for the dollar. When compared against Apple’s iPod pack-ins, they deliver similar clarity and noticeably extended bass response, with much lower thump in every bassline we tested, yet no incidence of distortion.
That said, these are still earbud-style designs, and so it wasn’t any surprise that isolation was inferior across the board to all of the in-canal earphones we’ve tested. These sit on the outsides of your ear, so you’ll hear more outside noise while you’re using them - a benefit for those who need some situational awareness while outdoors, perhaps less so for those in the middle of an indoor workout. For that reason, while we wouldn’t rate these as superstars in an absolute sense, they’re certainly better than Apple’s earbuds for athletic users in both sound and comfort, and you’d need to spend more money to get a decidedly better-sounding pair of earbuds.
Overall, we think that the OMX70s are the best of the bunch - lightweight suspension earbuds that are physically similar to Sony’s terrific MDR-EX81s, but with added comfort and adjustability, and generally better durability for athletic purposes. Only their lack of in-canal design and easily torn foam covers detract from an otherwise dynamite offering, and the latter will be modulated if you’re careful. The PMX70s would be our second choice for most users - at least those with large ears - and only superior to the OMX70s if you’re in need of rock-solid earbud support on your head. Priced at $50, they’re not a bargain, but given their build quality and resilience, they’re worthy of our standard recommendation. The LX70s are the least special of the group, with a design that is only a little more supportive than using a standard pair of earbuds, albeit surely more water-resilient; the only reason they rate the same as the PMX70s is that they are so similar in audio quality and yet provide different extremes of reinforcement, the PMX70 on the high side, the LX70 on the passive side. Which is better for you will depend mostly on how much pressure your head can tolerate in the name of keeping your headphones on.