Pros: Lightweight suspension sport headphones that are physically similar to Sony’s top MDR-EX81s, but with water- and sweat-resistance, greater durability, and bright, sporty green coloration. Additional adjustability thanks to internal metal pipes. Very good audio quality, with strong extended bass. Great carrying case is included, along with shirt clip and replacement earbud covers in foam and rubber.
Cons: Foam covers are easy to accidentally tear; earbuds sit outside of your canals – a benefit for many but not all athletes – making their full audio power more difficult to channel into your ears than the EX81s.
Another in Sennheiser’s new Sport series of earphones is OMX70, billed as “clip on” in the sense that the earpieces go over your ears, using soft external rubber to hold their earbuds inside your ear canals, similar to Sony’s MDR-EX81s. The OMX70, however, is green, gray and silver, moisture-resistant and ruggedized, thus designed to be used by active iPod owners. In addition to extendable piping that adjusts the earbuds to the size of your ears, it includes ear adapters to make the earbuds fit snugly and/or comfortably in your ears; two types of silicone rubber caps are included, and one set of foam covers can be placed over them. One of the foams ripped on our first attempt at installation, but the headphones remained comfortable to wear. Sennheiser packs-in a cool white rubber carrying case with a magnetic clasp at the top, plus a detachable shirt clip.
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 (iLounge rating: B), which connects its earbuds with an inflexible headband that goes behind your neck and stays in place; and finally, the OMX70 ($45), reviewed here, 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, we strongly preferred the OMX70’s design, which we called semi-clip-on for a reason: Sennheiser calls them clip-ons, but we’ve hated virtually all of the traditional clip-ons we’ve tested, save the Sony MDR-EX81s and these. Using soft gray rubber, these headphones wrap gently around your ears, properly suspending the earbuds outside your canals without using a headband for reinforcement. Unlike the EX81s, Sennheiser has designed the OMX70s with vertical up/down positioning pipes that allow you to move the earbuds to a proper “center” position in your ears, a touch that makes these plenty comfortable for what they are. They’re also substantially lighter in apparent weight than the PMX70s, not just because they lack the heavy plastic headband, but also because they put no pressure on your head.
Additionally, Sennheiser includes three extra items with the OMX70s: a novel white and silver rubber carrying case, which we’d have to say is one of our favorites yet released for headphones, a pair of replacement rubber caps for the earbuds, and a pair of gray foam earbud caps, as well. The replacement rubber caps make the earbuds a little bigger and deflect more sweat, while the foam ones make them softer and gentler, but absorb moisture, perhaps a bit less beneficial if you’re planning on using these while you sweat. Our one and only physical complaint about the OMX70s is that one of our foam covers ripped the very first time we went to use it, and though it was still usable on the earbuds, the rip was big and obvious. Superior caps would be of great benefit here.
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 – which some people will admittedly prefer – 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. 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.
Company and Price
Compatible: All iPods