The CX300 marks Sennheiser’s first attempt at the in-ear, canalphone-type headphone that has made Shure and Etymotic famous. While most canalphones are touted as being noise-reducing, the CX300 takes a different angle, creating a hybrid ear bud-canalphone product. Sound strange? Read on…
Features and Design
While the headphone world is awash in canalphones from companies like Etymotic, Shure, Ultimate Ears, and a number of other companies new to this market like Creative, Sennheiser has always had to enter the scene with a little pizzazz. The CX300 is no exception, and their unique approach to the ear bud may appeal to a wider audience. Sennheiser rarely disappoints, and the CX300 continues this tradition.
The CX300 is designed to be the canalphone for people that don’t like canalphones. What do we mean by that? Unlike most in-ear headphones, the CX300 remains mostly outside the inner ear. Most canalphones fit like earplugs, wedging themselves deep into the ear canal, scaring off many people due to the difficulty in fitting properly and feeling uncomfortable with the overall design. Improperly seated canalphones that fit deep in the ear can cause them to sound extremely poor often times producing a muffled sound. The CX300 uses large, soft rubber plugs that barely fit past the ear canal opening. Rather than placing the driver in the ear canal, the entire unit remains outside, piping sound through the sleeve.
In the simple plastic bubble packaging housing the CX300, you get the headphones and three sizes of ear sleeves. There are three models of the CX300, S, W, and B, corresponding to silver, white, and black casing. The three foot cord uses the asymmetrical design, with the left ear piece having a shorter cord. This is convenient for determining which ear piece is the left and which is the right. The rubber cord and ear bud casing feels light, but slightly fragile and thin. We did use and abuse these headphones for two months straight and they look as good as the day we received them, though, so we aren’t too worried about them holding up over time.
Image Courtesy of Sennheiser
Setup and Testing
The first thing we noticed about the CX300 when putting them in our ears was the unusually high level of comfort for a canalphone. Unfortunately, the second thing we noticed is poor sound isolation compared to other true canalphones. This “give and take” is likely to appeal to people that might want to use this style of headphone on the go, where ambient sound only needs to be reduced, not eliminated. Still, we expected better sound isolation. We did ask a few people without canalphone experience to try them, and they were much more accepting of the Sennheiser model than the Etymotic ER-6i. The CX300 were also considerably easier to fit correctly, another benefit for on-the-go use.
We used the following testing setup, with an emphasis on portable audio.
– Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Elite (CD and MP3)
– Apple iPod photo (MP3)
– Creative Nano Plus (MP3)
– Sony Playstation portable (MP3)
– The Cure’s “Disintegration” (Audio CD + MP3)
– Gary Numan’s “Exile” (CD and MP3)
– Delerium’s “Karma” (CD and MP3)
– Assemblage 23 – “Storm” (Audio CD and MP3)
– VNV Nation – “Matter and Form” (Audio CD and MP3)
– Louis Armstrong – “All Time Greatest Hits” (Audio CD and MP3)
– Spider-Man 2 (UMD)
– Lumines (PSP)
– Wipeout: Pure (PSP)
– Death Jr. (PSP)
As mentioned earlier, we also used these headphones for a couple months, and will include observation on general categories of music.
Atmospheric music felt lacking, as the spaciousness and sound stage felt very limited. Sounds are walled within a set distance, so that vocals are raised forward from the instruments, but instruments and background atmospheric hints sound flattened. This impacted The Cure, Delerium, and Gary Numan. The strong, but slightly imprecise bass made up for the sound stage peculiarities. Stereo separation and direction cues came across more clearly than with traditional canalphones, but we never felt the music converged in front of us. Highs are a little shrill at the very top end, and mids are acceptably clear.
Overall, the sound was good but lacking in some basic respects. But for a first generation attempt at the category, Sennheiser did an admirable job. We should stress that most true canalphones will outperform the CX300 on sound quality, but at this price point, there are few options with this blend of quality and comfort. They also make a great gateway canalphone for those that just need to get used to the idea of an in ear monitor.
Though the CX300 can’t compete with other canalphones we have reviewed, clocking in at half the price, and with unmatched comfort, the CX300 comes out on top for value. The unique hybrid design of being part canalphone, part ear bud will appeal to those who find traditional canalphones uncomfortable.
• Custom sleeves for proper fitting
• Good sound quality
• Reasonably priced
• Poor sound isolation
• Feel fragile