Pros: Very good SQ overall, natural soundstage, excellent design and range of accessory
Cons: Fit, might require an Amp to drive at full potential, Expensive ( price matches however to the range of accesories)
Sennheiser released all new 980-series of earphones which all share some basic design elements (and might be the sound signature as well). The design of the new 980-series was taken care by BMW design department in USA. Since I live in Munich, Germany, I feel the familiar touch of BMW ideas everywhere over the whole package of this MX 980.
I personally own Sennheiser HD-800 and HD-650 and am quite familiar with its house-sound, also the built and finishing quality of the Sennheiser. Their implementation in each ear/headphone are quite unique. I am happy to see these important and renowned factors are transfered to MX 980 really well.
In this review, I test the MX 980 with all of my gears available and intentionally accross its category. I know it is not professional but I got my point doing this. Listening was done using Meier-Audio Symphony to drive all the headphones and Marantz CD5003 as source via coaxial.
Design and Fit
The MX 980 is quoted by Sennheiser as a "High-Fidelity Metal Crafted Headphone". In my opinion, the High-Fidelity should not applied to the sound quality alone but also the whole, overall feeling of headphone. I have been enjoying the MX 980 not just only the initial sonic perspective but also each individual accessory. There are evidences everywhere of their well-thought which conveyed to the whole package.
Like the quote, MX 980 is finished with brushed aluminium alloy which host a large black plastic speaker housing. On the left alloy part, serial-number is laser-engraved on it. The cables run from each side of earphones to the splitter. There is a collar here similar to the SHUREs which adjusts the cable length from the splitter to earphones for a better fit. In the middle of the cable there is a volume adjust. Ok, I believe some of you will stop reading here. I am not a fan of volume control too. I have heard that the use of such thing is fobidden in the Hi-Fi territory. But surprisingly, I feel it is just right for MX 980 ( I will come back to this later in listening part). The cable is terminated to an excellent 3.5mm plug. The plug is finished with the same alloy used on the earphones. MX 980 is one of the most beautiful earphones I have ever seen. The feeling of quality alone might worth the price tag of 110 EURO.
The accessories are generously included. You get an in-flight adapter, a cable clip, a leather carrying case with a hard plastic to properly keep your MX 980. All accessories are designed to match the MX 980 well. The packaging itself is also well done and attractive. For the look alone, it is hard to surpress the price of MX 980 below 100 EURO. It does look exclusive and special. It weight considerably more than the usual earphones but not too much for you to feel uncomfortable.
The lastest earphones I own is SONY MDR-E888. I like it a lot for its sound quality and the acceptable fit. I have less problem to keep it stable on my ears than MX 980. I feel the fit of MX 980 is not that right. Due to the round and large black speaker housing, it does not fit on my ears well. It drops often. As usual for an earphones (earpads) the right fit is extremly critical. This affects the sound quality specially in mid and low. I leave MX 980 at home since listening on the go is not at all practical. I rely on SHURE SE530 or SONY MDR-E888 on this matter. MX 980 due to improper fit, performs relatively disappointing to block the outside noise. But whenever, you have the right fit, you will be tremendously rewarded (like I do right now typing this review for you guys).
Sennheiser says (in the advertisment) this earphones is balanced and preicsely reproduces the sound. I might have to agree with them. MX 980 prefroms very well. After burn-in for a week, it shines and claim the place as one of the best earphones (non-IEM) I have ever owned or experienced.
Its mid is very smooth with a bit touch of warmer side. The high is extended well not exaggerately sparkling but neutral. If you get the rigth fit, you will have a extended bass. Powerful yet laid back but not that extended. MX 980 has wide soundstage mostly horizontal. The soundstage is considerably huge and fairly spartial for the earphone this size.
Kelly Sweet sings her latest hit "Raincoat" sweetly. Her voice matches the smoothness of MX 980. Arne Domnerus's "Limehouse Blues" from Jazz at the Pawnshop is lively. Saxophone is smooth and positioned well. The imaging of each individual instruments are placed quite clearly though not spartially. They group together in the middle with some impreceptible depth difference. The new album of Sol Gabetta, ELGAR Cello Concerto, "Track 1 - Concerto for cello and orchestra in E minor, op. 85" has the same lovely mid to high exhibited in those mentioned tracks. The positioning of instrument is though exceptable is not that precised.
Compare to SONY MDR-E888, the mid of MX 980 is a lot smoother but no extended high of E888. Together with that extended bass, where E888 fails considerably, the MX 980 outperforms E888 for its mid and low. I compared it to SHURE SE530 as well. Although SE530 is a lot better in every areas especially fit and comfort, MX 980 does not lack the inspiring sonic experience at all. In a quite listening environment, MX 980 is enjoyable and laid back yet fun to listen for its overall sound quality.
Something worth to mention is that MX 980 might require an Amp to drive it to its full potential. I amped it to Meier-Audio Symphony in low-gain mode. Though Sennheiser claims its 120 dB sensitivity, I find it lacks some of its smoothness and impack in the low region when used with my COWON A3.
Note: volume control
As mentioned earlier, MX 980 comes with non detachable volume control in the middle between cable spliter and 3.5mm plug. This is however not a conventional volume control which set turn the volume totally off and zero position. MX 980's implementation is a bit different since it does not completely turn the volume down but set it at low but audible level. This implementation might be very useful is you are on the go and use MX 980 with your phone or mp3-players. I am kind of like it.
Before I jump to conclusion, I was convinced to test MX 980 with HD-650. Because of its sound very Sennheiser to my ears. I came to conclusion that MX 980 reminds me a lot of HD-650. It is warm and smooth mid to high similarly to HD-650 with relatively extended low. Of course I don't mean MX 980 is comparable to HD-650. It is just a feeling that you can have a Sennheiser HD-650's house-sound in this little package. That alone might worth for anyone who likes HD-650 and would like to have it on the go.