Although a well-established player in the audio market, Sennheiser has a fight on its hands with the surge in popularity of the Beats brand. Its latest earphones – or in-ear headphones, if you prefer – the CX 3.00 are aimed squarely at hitting back at Beats. They're an update to its entry-level CX 300 range, sporting a new angled earpiece design and more bassy sound.
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Costing under £45, it’s no surprise that the CX 3.00 aren’t exactly awash with premium materials or a snazzy finish, but you still get a reasonable amount for your money. In the box you get a little carry case which includes space for a spare set of earpiece tips, and there are four different sizes of tip to choose from.
The headphones themselves are smart looking, too. We tested the black version, which has a suitably understated style, although versions with white or red cables and earpiece accents are available, too.
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Being such a small set of earphones, there’s only so much of a design statement you can make with them, and the main visual feature is a silver Sennheiser logo on the outer face, which adds a touch of shine. Otherwise, at least in their black form, they’re subtle rather than standout, and a far cry from the instantly recognisable look of Beats earphones.
The chassis of the earpiece is glossy plastic, while the back edge uses a more matt finish, with a matching section of rubber cable protection hanging down from its back edge.
The cable itself is slightly flattened to reduce tangles, which it seems to do quite well, and although it’s far from kink-free out of the box, it does hang reasonably straight.
The cable lengths for each ear are identical and there’s a little sliding woggle for tightening the cables up under your chin – like all the cool kids do nowadays.
The 1.2m cable terminates in an angled 3.5mm jack plug that’s gold plated. The plug is a particularly slimline one that sits only 7mm proud of the device it's plugged into. Of course, the debate over whether a straight or angled plug is better rages on, and we aren't going to get involved.
Overall it’s not a bad selection, although we would’ve preferred to see a more practical cloth carry bag for the money. We fully expect the price of these ‘phones to drop to more like £30-35 quite quickly, but at their list price of £44.99 it feels like you’re getting a bit more with the iBeats for the same money.
The most obvious thing about the CX 3.00 design is that Sennheiser has moved from a straight earpiece to one with a slight angle to it, and this makes all the difference to how well they fit, as well as the resulting comfort and sound quality.
All too often these sort of in-canal earphones, where the rubber earpiece tips sit in and seal against the outer edge of your ear canal, are scuppered by not reaching far enough into the ear to get a good seal – at least, not without being pushed uncomfortably far in. This can be avoided by having a longer earpiece that gives more room for the tip to reach into your ear without the cable fouling against your earlobe, but a much easier solution is to angle the earpiece to more accurately match the angle of the canal itself, as done here.
These Sennheisers, then, fit in totally effortlessly, providing an instant and utterly comfortable seal with the default medium-size eartips. If your ears are particularly deep, you may still find the cable fouls against your ear before you can get a good seal, but you can get round this by looping the cable over your ear and inverting the earpiece.
Due to the perfect fit and lightweight nature of these earphones, we found we could wear them almost indefinitely. The sealed nature of them means you sometimes want to let your ear breathe every now and again, but otherwise they’re just a joy to wear. We even found we could sleep with them in, with them not pressing on our ears when resting on a pillow.
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That great fit has another consequence, which is impressive noise isolation. You’re not going to block out as much external noise as you can with true in-ear or custom moulded earphones, but the CX 3.00 take the edge off quite nicely.
A good seal also means you can get a good bass response, and with Sennheiser having upped the bass level on the CX 3.00 compared to the CX 300 II, bass is definitely something you get plenty of here. The deepest bass lines reverberate around your head in a way that few earphones can match.
We’re definitely fans of having a little extra bass in earphones, rather than have them sound weedy – especially for these sort of cheap everyday models that could never hope to drag out every nuance of detail anyway. However, we think Sennheiser may have gone a little far on this occasion. The level of thump really can overpower the rest of the mix, muddying everything else when those kick drums and bass lines are rolling.
As is so often the case with headphones that have a forced bass-heaviness, the problem is often that the bass can kick in too suddenly. A bassline will be rolling down the scale and then just suddenly drop below the ‘boost the hell out of it’ range and become really loud, which can become a bit distracting.
Of course, it’s just that sort of limited level of sophistication one would expect for a sub-£45 set of earphones, as is the limited mid-range and treble detail. There’s enough here to get a basic level of listening enjoyment from your music, but most subtle details are lost. All those little overtones that allow you to pick out which cymbal is being hit, whether a guitarist is playing a passage legato or picking every note, or whether that’s the oboes or clarinets, is somewhat lost.
Unsurprisingly this also makes for a fairly flat soundstage with limited dynamic range – other than those massive bass hits kicking in.
But let's be clear, these are a huge upgrade over most in-the-box earphones and they're specifically aimed at those who like their bass – in that regard they live up to their billing.
The Sennheiser CX 3.00 are great low-cost earphones. They’re lightweight, easy to handle and incredibly comfortable. Their angled design also makes for a top-notch seal, resulting in great bass response and noise isolation. There’s even a choice of four tips and a case.
However, they're for bass-heads only. Sennheiser has cranked up the bottom end from its CX 300 II to compete with the low-cost Beats models, but in doing so it's lost a bit of finesse. Kick drums and deep basslines blast through the mix in a way that, although it’s quite good fun, is also obviously false.
We’re all for a bit of a bass boost on these sort of everyday earphones, but wonder if Sennheiser's taken it a touch too far. Also, at list price they’re just a bit expensive. We feel they need to drop to more the £30-35 mark for their sound quality to match their price, especially as the carry case isn't of practical use.
The Sennheiser CX 3.00 are almost the perfect entry-level earphones. They’re incredibly light and comfortable, and just easy to get on with. However, they're very bass-heavy, so only really for casual listening unless you're seriously into low frequencies. Their price needs to drop a little, too.
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