Pros: Tremendous frequency response and balance of sound, wonderfully crisp audio that feels comfortable to wear, not embarrassing as with some over-ear phones.
Cons: Sound leakage and lack of isolation; short cord.
Makers of premium consumer electronics face a difficult choice when they opt to sell lower-grade accessories: release unimpressive products and tarnish a good brand name, or release impressive products and risk cannibalizing sales of their expensive ones.
Before we say anything else about the three pairs of lower-end Sennheiser headphones we’ve tested, we have to give Sennheiser credit for choosing wisely. Regardless of price, each of these products is worthy of the Hanover, Germany-based company’s reputation for excellent audio quality.
We tested one pair of in-ear bud-style headphones, the MX500s, a behind-the-neck pair called the PMX60s, and a foldable mini-earcup headphone called the PX200s. Two of these three models deliver very good audio quality at consumer-friendly price points, and easily fall into our top recommendation category. And while we liked the third model, we thought that its price and performance tradeoffs make it more of a niche product for users with a particular set of needs.
The biggest surprise of the Sennheiser pack was the PMX60, a $29.95 pair of behind-the-neck headphones that delivered impressive audio quality and a nice fit. Like ear buds, behind-the-neck headphones have their fans and detractors: they’re clearly less conspicuous than large ear cups, but more visible than the average pair of ear buds. Rather than isolating the ear with foam or other padding, they generally direct audio from one flat speaker into each ear, hopefully providing enough volume to prevent outside sound from coming in.
Many headphones use some combination of small speakers, chintzy-looking external casings, and odd cords to make the user feel uncomfortable, look weird, or both. The PMX60s avoid all three traps: their large, foam-covered headphones are enough to cover 90% of a large ear; their black and chrome casings look professional, and their cord designs are elegant, with one hard cord from ear to ear around the neck, and one soft cord from left headphone to stereo jack. Three minutes after putting them on, all you’ll feel is the hard cord wrapping cleanly around the top of each ear to gently keep the headphones in place, and the slight tap of the back of that cord at the top of your neck. There are no tangles, no inconveniences, and no discomfort.
Only one small problem in the cord may limit its appeal to some users: a short cord. At a little over three feet long (1 meter), the cord worked fine for our purposes, and shouldn’t be an issue for anyone with an iPod remote control, but those who need additional cord length may find the PMX60s slightly stifling in that regard.
Most important on our list was the fact that we really liked the sound of the PMX60s. They delivered crisper sounding audio and a larger-sounding audio field than the MX500s and Apple pack-ins, adding a sharper edge to the guitars of James Brown’s The Payback while bringing the Godfather of Soul onto a separate piece of the stage from his instrumentalists. The PMX60s therefore delivered a closer approximation of what we hear when using higher-end headphones, only without delivering that sound directly into the ear canal.
While users will appreciate the sound of the PMX60s in quiet rooms, their internal and external isolation leave a bit to be desired if there are other people or audio sources nearby. Unless you turn up the volume – not good for your ears – you’ll hear some of the outside world around you, and the outside world will be able to hear some of whatever you’re listening to, as well. If you can live with that – yes, we could understand why, given the quality of the PMX60s’ audio – and don’t strongly prefer smaller ear buds, we’d strongly recommend the PMX60s over even the value-priced MX500s.
Two of Sennheiser’s three offerings for portable players are definite winners: while the PMX60s were our favorite-sounding headphones of the bunch we’ve tested, and a good value for the dollar overall, the MX500s are the easiest replacement iPod headphones we can recommend if low price and iPod pack-in matching style are your key issues, and in-canal comfort and a more bass-heavy sound are not desired.
The PX200s will appeal to a different crowd: people who like ear cup-style headphones but don’t want to travel around with the bulk, and don’t mind spending a little extra cash for some isolation. They’re a good compromise product, though not the compromise we ourselves would pick.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, iPod mini, iPod photo, iPod shuffle