The In-Ear Headphone Face-Off Page 3

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Sennheiser CX500 G4ME

Overall Rank : Tied 4th

John Sciacca Ranking: 6

These were the smallest and least expensive of the bunch and, like that crazy thing from Star Trek II, they completely disappear into your ears. I found it very difficult to change the ear tips, which was a problem for me since I had an impossible time finding a good fit for my left ear. I tried every tip and none of them fit me even close to comfortably. No matter what I tried, it always felt like the phone wasn't seated correctly and was about to fall out. Due to this, I felt sound isolation was poor, barely cutting out any outside sounds and making little improvement over having nothing.

On the plus side, I really liked the in-line volume control, which is a great way to adjust volume if your portable is in a pocket. But since I fought the poor fit for so long, the sound quality really didn't matter too much to me. It did have sizzling highs, giving some songs a harsh, scratchy edge. Bass was there, but in the background, again likely due to the poor fit. For me, these are the perfect example of why you MUST try phones on before you buy them, and these were the only phones in the group that would not have been an improvement over the $30 models I typically use.

Brent Butterworth Ranking: 4

Companies seem to design earphones mainly for customers in the Miley Cyrus demographic. They sure don't design them for people who wear glasses. That's a problem because when I'm wearing headphones, I'm often hiking or cycling-and I don't wear my glasses, so it's hard for me to see the nearly microscopic "L" and "R" on the two otherwise identical buds of Sennheiser's CX500 earphones. In fact, it was hard to see them even with my glasses on.

That complaint lodged, the CX500 is otherwise an ergonomic champ. It's extremely light, a trait that allows it to stay in place as you're moving around, but without fitting so tight that it feels like someone shoved a hot dog into your ear canal. It also has a low profile, so it slips unnoticed under a ski hat.

The CX500 has a rich, smooth sound I enjoyed quite a lot. Its soft-sounding treble tames edgy-sounding recordings, although it can make many recordings sound a bit lifeless. It's competent and pleasant, just not particularly engaging. However, the great ergonomics easily make the CX500 my earphone of choice for skiing.

Leslie Shapiro Ranking: 4

These have a very small body that's comfortable for long listening sessions. However, no matter what earcups I tried, the sound isolation was not very good. I also had to turn up my source much higher than any of the others. They still played plenty loud enough. The cables were slightly subjective to physical transduction of sound when moving them. I had very high hopes for the sound of these, but found the bass lacking impact. Duffy's "Mercy" just didn't have the deep impact it should. Even the midrange was pulled back, leaving a thin, empty sound.

Mike Gaughn Ranking: 2

The ear seal attached to the Sennheiser buds worked like a dream for me, supplying a tight enough fit that kept the outside world at bay, but I suspect it won't work well for everybody. Also, I've had experience with similar Sennheiser models, and can tell you that the seal wears out over time, making the buds at first difficult, and then impossible, to use. So, why wasn't that enough to knock these buds from their No. 2 perch? Because, with the exception of the Future Sonics, I haven't had enough experience over the same amount of time with the other buds in this roundup to judge how well their various seals hold up. The Sennheisers produced decent bass on "It Makes No Difference Now," while also displaying a more open sound than any of the other buds except the Ultimate Ears. On "Insensatez," they had good presence and a broad soundstage, but were a little sizzly with the highs. The sound on "Frank Sinatra" was nice and full-maybe too full, with the bass threatening to overwhelm the mix. The effect wasn't unpleasant, but the balance wasn't accurate. Some parts of the mix, like the organ under the opening vocal, actually sounded better with the Sennheisers than they did with the Ultimate Ears.

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