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Sennheiser CX 980i Review

Pros

  • Stylish design
  • Smooth, easy on the ear sound

Cons

  • Bass not entirely under control
  • Expensive

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £199.99
  • Metal stem design
  • Dual "bass enhanced" and "balanced" tips
  • Remote and handsfree unit
  • 16 - 24,000 Hz frequency response
  • Dynamic drivers

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Think BMW is all about cars and nothing more? Think again. The BMW Group’s DesignworksUSA has been a force behind the design of several of BMW’s classic cars, but it has also teamed-up with Sennheiser to produce the CX 980, MX 980 and OMX 980 earphones. The Sennheiser CX 980i are the standard In-Ear Monitor (IEM) models of the trio, and sell for around £199. We’re not in pocket money territory any more. Sennheiser CX980i 5

The easiest way to make an earphone seem high-class, without necessarily making it sound like a million dollars, is to make it out of metal. Although they have an eye on this kind of strategy, with a more style-driven design than Sennheiser’s top-end IE8 earphones, the CX980i are not made entirely out of the shiny stuff.

The arms are lightly textured metal, but the upper speaker housing is more traditional black plastic. Meeting the other end of the metal stem is a similarly traditional flexible rubber sheath.

It’s an understated design that matches a familiar look with elements of elegance and beauty. The metal stems have a hint of the dangly earring to them – but in a wholeheartedly positive way that needn’t cause any male buyers to resort to chest thumping or telling sexist jokes in order to reaffirm their masculinity. The Sennheiser CX 980i are not flamboyant as such, they just have the air of having been carefully considered – sophisticated, if you will.

Sennheiser CX980i 3

The jack gets more than a sip of this creative juice too. It’s is made of metal too but uses a sliding mechanism so that it can be switched from a straight jack to a 90-degree angled one with a quick twist. Not having had the opportunity to use the CX 980i as our day-to-day earphones for six months, we can’t comment conclusively on the durability of this mechanism, but it certainly feels sturdy enough. We imagine most of you will settle into using one configuration or the other anyway, rather than switching between them regularly.

It’s only the mid-cable remote control and handsfree housing that arguably doesn’t quite keep up the same standard. It bears the team colour, metallic silver, but as it’s variously made of metal and plastic in order to keep the weight down, there are a few seams running across it to clutter – if not quite spoil – the look. And yes, we’re being extra picky here because of the set’s style pretensions.
Sennheiser CX980i 2

A little silver cable snug detaches from this control block, letting you keep any slack cable between it and the buds in check. Both the cables leading to the left and right sides are the same length.

Sennheiser is generally viewed as a safe pair of hands as a headphone maker, but could this new leaning towards more conspicuously styled sets mark a dip in sound quality?  

Rubber tips are traditionally used just to supply isolation and a comfortable fit but on the Sennheiser CX 980i they give you some control over the sound of these earphones. Each rubber tip size comes also comes in two colours – pink and white. Don’t worry, the coloured bit is the inner part of the tip, which you won’t see in normal usage.

Sennheiser CX980i 1

With a longer and slightly thicker column, the pink version supplies a bit more bass, while the white tip is what Sennheiser claims as the “balanced” alternative. In truth, both are pretty bass heavy.

After experimenting with both the pink and white tips, we discarded the pinkies, as the last thing the CX 980i bass needs is a boost. Like the lower-end CX-series models, the low-end here is a little inflated, and isn’t particularly well-controlled when matched with the pink tips. The white tips offer a noticeable improvement, but they still have a booty much wider than the vast majority of £100 earphones.

A big old sonic backside can be great, but the CX 980i could do with a little tightening-up in this area. Swapping between these and the equally-voluptuous Sennheiser IE8 shows quite what an anomaly the top-end IE8 are, as a bass-heavy earphone whose sound is almost beyond reproach. However, they are more disciplined and tauter than the CX 980i. These earphones carry the sonic DNA of the CX series, and as such have inherited a bottom end that wouldn’t get through finishing school without some additional deportment and elocution lessons.

What they have also inherited though is a warm, smooth sound that is immensely easy to get on with and, almost always, a joy to listen to. There’s not a hint of sharpness or sibilance to be heard, and while the bass tends to dominate over the treble a little, the top-end isn’t veiled or murky. This sound signature feels out of place at this price though, much as it’s a similar balance to the quite wonderful Sennheiser IE8i. At £199, bass bloat shouldn’t really be here – suggesting that we’re paying a definite premium for the snazzy design.

Sennheiser CX980i

If design matters a lot to you then fair enough, but for our money earphones like the Phonak PFE 112 offer higher fidelity for less money while still giving you control over your sound – using custom filters rather than custom tips this time. If you want to stay within the Sennheiser stable, the top-end IE series also offers better sound quality. The IE8i are available at a similar price, but if your wallet won’t stretch that far the IE7 are available for less if you shop around enough. If you don’t absolutely need a handsfree kit, the remote-free non-“i” model of the CX 980 earphones is available for £50 or more less. A better buy in our mind.

Verdict

Far more stylish than the vast majority of Sennheiser’s earphones, the CX 980i are sleek and exceptionally well-made. They sound good too, with that Sennheiser smoothness we know and love, but we don’t think they quite sound £199 good. A less than perfectly-controlled low end stop these buds from coming close to matching the best at the price if you only care about sound and not looks.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 5
  • Design & Features 9
  • Sound Quality 7

Features

Type Ear Buds
Wireless No
Noise Cancelling No
Microphone Yes
Inline Volume Yes
Number of Drivers (Times) 1x
Modular Cabling No
Remote Control Yes
Frequency Range 16Hz - 24,000 Hz

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