- Review Price: £39.99
Let’s face it; if you’ve just spent a fair wad of cash on a shiny new (article:Apple-iPhone-3G) the idea of spending another £100 for the likes of the (article:Etymotic-Research-hf2-iPhone-Stereo-Headset Etymotic Research hf2 iPhone Headset) is hardly ideal. But, if you have any audio quality standards and still want to answer calls your options are pretty limited. If you’ve already got a decent set of headphones then there are microphone adapters available for a relative pittance, but the potential dubious quality of microphones and cable management issues they create make them an imperfect solution – even the (article:Shure-Mobile-Phone-Adapter-For-iPhone Shure MPA) can be awkward to use.
Happily, as is often the case in the headphone market, Sennheiser has filled the middle ground with its new MM 50 iP Headset for iPhone. Based loosely on the company’s CX 300 in-ear set, they’re available for just under £40 online, though some retailers have them listed for closer to £50. At £40 they represent pretty good value for money, even if CX 300s alone cost only £18, since this is a fully integrated solution with a first generation iPhone compatible plug – we’d probably think twice at £50 mind.
Like the CX 300s, though, there’s no case included – something we always like to see. You do, however, get three different size tips ranging from small to large, with medium in the middle – fancy that! They provide a nice, tight and comfortable seal, too. Unlike some in-ear headphones the MM 50s aren’t too heavy and are quite small and discreet, so there’s no need to feel self conscious when walking the streets.
Moreover, though the sound isolation is still very good, this isn’t the most penetrating set so anyone who has been wary of going in-ear should find them a nice gentle introduction. This comfort is aided by a smart asymmetric design, with a shorter wire on the left and a longer one running behind the neck to your right ear. It helps alleviate the unseemly clutter of wires and ensure the extra weight of the microphone doesn’t upset your listening.
As for the microphone, it performs pretty well. Stand next to a jack-hammer and you will have problems, but stations, trains and the usual public locations proved no real barrier to intelligible conversations. As is required there’s a small button for call and playback control, with one press acting as Play/Pause and a double press skipping tracks – one press also answers calls. If one were being hyper-critical the button would be easier to locate were it proud, rather than flush, but it’s there and works just fine.
So, it has the features and the comfort, can the MM 50’s deliver a sonic performance to be proud of? Given these are a more entry-level offering you won’t benefit from clarity to match the likes of Etymotic, Shure or even Sennheiser’s own more expensive models, but it should go without saying that they’re still head and shoulders above the ear offending nastiness of the iPhone bundled set.
On first inspection it’s immediately apparent that the MM 50’s are deliberately bass heavy. This makes for quite a departure from the flatter and crisper sound of the Etymotic hf2s, to the point where the same track can sound radically different when listening on the MM 50s. Primal Scream’s ‘Uptown’, from the new album Beautiful Future, illustrates this well, with the bass line on the MM 50’s becoming rather over powering and all encompassing to the detriment of the vocal line and overall composition.
Of course, for the intended market this probably isn’t a bad thing, but the promotion of bass over everything else creates a boomy and muddy sound that comes across slightly un-natural and forced. It also means percussion driven tracks, like ‘Reckoner’ from Radiohead’s recent album In Raindows, sound rather flat and lifeless.
On the flip side, it does add a nice level of punch and drive to Hip-Hop, Dance and R’n’B. Take the driving bass drum from Daft Punk’s ‘Human After All’ – it’s so loud and dramatic it feels like you have a bass drum wedged between your ears. If this sounds good to you, you’ll probably like the MM 50’s a lot.
This doesn’t negate the fact that there isn’t a great deal of subtlety here, though. High frequency clarity is passable but nothing special and when confronted with complicated compositions, like ‘Reckoner’, or a classical piece like ‘Jupiter’ from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, the MM 50’s sound a little dull and uninteresting.
Our only other concern with the MM 50 iPs is that the build quality isn’t that astounding. Protection around the wire entries on each earphone isn’t exactly heavy duty and neither is the wire itself. Given the lack of a protective case, you’ll want to be careful how you treat them.
If you’re after a relatively inexpensive but generally good iPhone headset to replace the bundled offering, the MM 50 iPs make a good case for themselves; they’re well designed, comfortable and the headset functionality is well delivered. Moreover, if you like your music bass heavy, you’ll enjoy the sound they deliver, too. We do feel, however, that the bass bias is a tad excessive while the build quality isn’t up to the standards normally expected in this price range. Neither of these issues are deal breakers, but they’re factors definitely worth considering.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 6
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