The Good: Very good sound, ample cord length, fair isolation and decent look.
The Bad: Mini ear cups don’t fit larger ears well, sound quality not demonstrably better than the cheaper PMX60s, look may be awkward for some users.
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.
Of the three sets of Sennheisers we tested, the PX200s were the most unusual, despite the fact that they’re also the most expensive, and presumably intended to be the “high-class” headphone of the bunch. Twice as expensive as the PMX60s at $59.95, the odd-fitting PX200s sounded a bit less crisp and more heavily weighted towards the low-end of the sound spectrum, leaving two iLounge editors with the impression that they weren’t as good a sound and comfort value as their cheaper brother.
Like the MX500s, the PX200s aren’t just a pair of headphones: they include a carrying case and something extra on the cord. Designed to fold into three sections and slide into a clear and black plastic carrying case the size of an old pair of aviator sunglasses, the compact PX200s do look pretty cool in their packaging: the gunmetal and black plastic combine with four black foam pads intended to protect your skull and ears. Once unfolded, both sides of the PX200s can be adjusted millimeter by millimeter with precision metal stems, and a gray plastic slider moves up the top quarter of the cord to pull the left and right headphone cables closer together. They also include a somewhat longer cord overall – 1.4 meters rather than 1 on the PMX60s.
The problem: the PX200s didn’t feel great on our heads. Their miniature ear cups were clearly not intended to fully cover adult ears, and instead achieve an odd compromise of partially isolating only each ear’s center. Adjustment takes a bit of playing around, and while the feeling isn’t uncomfortable when you’re finished, it’s ultimately neither as unobtrusive nor as satisfying as the cheaper PMX60s. It didn’t help matters that we – and third parties – felt that the PX200s looked a little odd, especially by comparison with the less conspicuous PMX60s and MX500s. We wanted to cover them with our hands, as much to create better isolation as to disguise them.
Regardless of appearances, sound was the most important issue for us, and for their price, the PX200s were acceptable – roughly the equal of the PMX60s – but not extraordinary. Sennheiser’s packaging suggests that the PX200s are portable headphones designed to approximate “home audio quality sound reproduction,” but neither the sound nor the specifications strongly make the case that they’re a better purchase than the PMX60s – unless you like their desire. The PX200s are ambiguously specified to feature lower total harmonic distortion than the company’s cheaper headphones – 0.1% versus the PMX60s’ “less than 0.5%,” but even at clear 256kbps and 320kbps sample rates, we couldn’t discern a difference between the two headphones’ distortion levels.
And despite a specified frequency response that supposedly adds further bass capability to the impressive spectrum of the PMX60s, we noted that the additional bass response was actually outside of the typical ear’s perceptive capability – perhaps it was just intended as a engineering amplification of the marketing claim that these headphones were designed for maximum bass. Unfortunately, unlike many of the truly exemplary head-shaking headphones we’ve heard, the PX200s offered only a gentle shift of bass that we found less heart-pounding than muddling. We tried a variety of bass favorites, from the Chemical Brothers’ drum and bass classic Loops of Fury to a few soul and funk tracks from Aretha Franklin, Beck, and James Brown, in each case finding the sound of the PX200s to sound less lively and condensed than the PMX60s.
With all of that said, we have a hard time saying that the PX200s are only “okay” headphones overall, and feel that they suffered only by comparison to an excellent sibling. They do sound quite good – better than what you might get from other companies for the same price – and though we found them a bit awkward, there are some people who will like the mini ear cups and find them to fit well on their (smaller) ears. We would pick the PMX60s over the PX200s overall, but there’s no doubt that they sound better than the cheaper MX500s. If only they weren’t three times the price.
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
Price: $19.95, $29.95, $59.95
Compatible: All iPods