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REVIEW: Sennheiser CX280 - CX Series Redefined

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 

INTRODUCTION

Greetings Head-Fi!  The following is a review of the Sennheiser CX280, one of the German company's newest entries in their Street Line of earbuds and canalphones.  The following is my attempt at dissecting Sennheiser's latest entry-level canalphone.

 

As always, the sound of a canalphone or IEM is highly dependent on fit, so mileage may vary.

 

CX280 Package.jpg

The CX280 package and its contents

 

ACCESSORIES, BUILD QUALITY, AND FIT

The CX280 package, which thankfully isn't a finger-shredding blister pack like previous Sennheiser CXs, includes pretty much the bare essentials: three sets of silicon tips, a simple but nicely oversized soft pouch similar to the one included with the Sennheiser's MX580 earbud, and, of course, the earphones themselves.  Certainly it would have been nice if a better tip selection was included, but I feel that the CX280 package really could use a nice clip, especially one similar to that included with the MX580.

 

The CX280's build quality is good, with decent strain reliefs on the housings and a solid gold-plated L-plug connector.  The raised dot on the strain relief on the left side is a nice touch, making it easier to discern the left housing from the right.  However, there are a couple of elements to the design that could be improved.  Firstly, the cable, which appears to be identical to the one used in the MX580, has a very rubbery texture that's prone to tangling.  It doesn't help that the cable is also quite microphonic, though to be fair the addition of the cable slider certainly reduces the movement-induced noise significantly.  If a clip were included and placed between the Y-split and the volume controller, it would further reduce cable movement and thus almost eliminate microphonics.  Alternatively, Sennheiser could also consider using the excellent translucent cable found on the MX471 and CX281 (which I do not own) on all of its entry-level models, though I can't say if the cable will solve all of the microphonic problems.  Secondly, I'm not fond of the plastics used in the housings.  As pictured below, the housings are made of two materials: a glossy black plastic, and a matte finish gray/silver plastic.  While the design looks distinctive (and I find its appearance quite agreeable), the glossy plastic, like any of its kind, is quite prone to scratching.  This same plastic is also on the volume controller, mine of which has amassed a handful of hairline scuff marks.  The second plastic, in its primer-like finish, tends to attract any sort of debris, making cleaning more difficult than it should be.  However, its rough texture does have the benefit of making it easy to grasp the housings when inserting the phones into the ears.

 

Fit is quite comfortable despite the housings, which are larger than previous Sennheisers such as the CX300 and CX150/200/250.  At first, I had some trouble with getting a sufficient seal with the included tips, which led to non-existent isolation and a harsh and hollow sound.  With the CX280, a good seal is necessary to get the best sound, which is somewhat opposite to that of certain other Sennheiser models.  Even with a good seal, isolation is below average, as the ported housings let a noticeable amount of outside sound in.  Leakage isn't too bad, similar to the Head-Direct RE2, JBL Reference 220, or similar canalphones, but those who are conscientious may want to check their volume.

 

CX280-01.jpg

Close up view of the CX280 housing

 

CX280-02.jpg

The CX280 and its volume controller

 

SOUND

The ports/slits of the CX280's housings seem to have quite an affect on the earphone's sound presentation.  The most noticeable, and what I feel sets it apart from previous CX entries, is its soundstage, which is quite large and very airy.  Honestly, I've never heard anything quite like it, though admittedly my experience with IEMs is still too limited.  It's somewhat hard to describe in the context of width, height, and depth, but never does it feel confined or claustrophobic.  Indeed, it sounds closer to an earbud than a canalphone, and combined with good imaging and a very layered sound, the CX280 is quite enjoyable in this aspect.

 

The rear port also lends well to the bass response, which is tight, fast, and never bloated.  With a good seal, the quantity of the bass seems to be slightly more than neutral, just enough to add a good amount of warmth but not enough to overwhelm other frequencies.  The impact is good, though it seems to emphasize the initial attack more than the proceeding reverberations.  This leads to what I hear as a very taut, deep, and controlled bass response which some bassheads may feel to be a bit lacking.  There is also little mid-bass, and the infamous "veil" of the CX300 and even the CX95/550 is nowhere to be heard.

 

Midrange response is typical Sennheiser in its laid-back nature.  There is much air separating the listener from vocals, so those who prefer up-front mids may not be satisfied.  Vocals are however quite clear and slightly sweet, and strings are well represented in speed and articulation.  All of this is presented in a very smooth manner, up until the upper mids, where a slight bit of sibilance can be detected.  Still, the CX280 displays believable timbral and tonal characteristics when compared to the overly thick sound of certain Sennheisers past.

 

It's the treble response that's probably the most surprising coming off of previous Sennheiser entries.  The treble here is well-extended, with excellent articulation while remaining controlled and detailed.  Though bright sources and higher volumes can introduce a slight bit of harshness to the CX280's higher frequency response, its treble is quite an improvement from the CX300 and CX95/550.

 

There is one aspect of the CX280's sound characteristics that I find a bit odd: there are times where I feel that, particularly in a recording with a larger soundstage, some voices and instruments can sound slightly distant.  That, combined with a tendency to sound a bit too airy at times, can create the sense of lacking cohesion as individual sounds seem a bit too separated.

 

CONCLUSION

While the CX280 doesn't represent a complete deviation from Sennheiser's standard formula, it does refine the aspects of previous CX series phones that worked well while correcting some of their shortcomings.  In particular, the excellent soundstage, airy presentation, and improved frequency extension and tonality go a long way toward making the CX280 more relevant as far as performance is concerned.  However, the improved sonics come at the price of decreased isolation, which ultimately hurts the utility of the product.  Still, the CX280 is a solid canalphone in an increasingly crowded and competitive market.  And if the CX280 shows a glimpse of future Sennheiser products, I feel that the next generation of CX (and IE?) series IEMs could be very interesting indeed.

post #2 of 39

great review!  thanks for sharing! 

post #3 of 39

their entry level earphones come with gold plated plugs, while the IE8 doesn't?

Is gold the best material for earphone plugs?

post #4 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheWuss View Post

great review!  thanks for sharing! 



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by yliu View Post

their entry level earphones come with gold plated plugs, while the IE8 doesn't?

 

In the past virtually everything they made had a nickel-plated plug.  I don't think it really makes a whole lot of difference outside of the occasional (but slightly annoying) noise produced when the plug is rotated.

post #5 of 39

Very nice review. Any chance of a comparison between these and the Hippo Shroom EB or Hippo VB?

 

Thanks.

post #6 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenightman View Post

Very nice review. Any chance of a comparison between these and the Hippo Shroom EB or Hippo VB?

 

Thanks.


Unfortunately I don't own either of the Hippos, though I too would be interested in a comparison.  The price would probably be closer to the Shroom EB but I'm a bit more curious to see how the CX280 stacks up against the VB.

post #7 of 39

Nice review there. These look almost identical (just a color variation) to one of Senn's entry-level CX offerings, the CX271. I reckon this CX280 just has the volume controller attached to it while the CX271 does not.

 

Good to know that they've moved away from overbearing bass, the CX300 had quite an issue with bloat.

post #8 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Azathoth View Post

Nice review there. These look almost identical (just a color variation) to one of Senn's entry-level CX offerings, the CX271. I reckon this CX280 just has the volume controller attached to it while the CX271 does not.

 

I've been wondering about this myself since that seemed to be the case with the CX250 versus the CX200 (and CX150).  However, the one comparison I've found at a Japanese review site seems to say something different.  According to the reviewer, the CX270 has a thicker sound and more bass, while the CX280 is more spacious and airy.  I'd like to see if other reviewers come up with the same conclusion.

 

The main reason I went with the CX280 is because the CX270 isn't available here in the US, and that its made-for-smaller-ears twin, the CX281, kind of threw me off a bit with its lack of visible venting.  Not sure if that had an affect on what one Kakaku.com reviewer said about his CX281, who described the Sennheiser as lacking in spacial presentation and resolution, which quite honestly are two characteristics that I believe do not accurately represent what I'm hearing with my CX280.

 

Quote:

Good to know that they've moved away from overbearing bass, the CX300 had quite an issue with bloat.

 

Indeed, though the CX280 still has plenty of bass.  Of course, if the reviews are to be believed, the CX270/271 should still provide hardcore bassheads with the low frequency response they desire.


Edited by kjk1281 - 7/26/10 at 10:08am
post #9 of 39

Sennheiser confuses me sometimes with their pricing of headphones. These headphones are supposedly a step up from the CX95 (aka CX550), and yet they are a lot cheaper.


http://www.amazon.com/Sennheiser-CX-550-II-Earphones/dp/B001EZYLUK/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1280255027&sr=1-1

 

http://www.amazon.com/Sennheiser-CX-280-Headphones-Control/dp/B0034L72G2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1280255054&sr=8-1

post #10 of 39

The bad thing about Senn is that they keep the older specs on the CX380/400/550 and charge more essentially pulling the wool over peoples eyes. They are worse sounding and more expensive. The key is even though the Freq. Resp. is wider the older drivers are less sensitive and have worse transient speed, resolving power, and the bass is less tight.

 

On Head-fi we know which is better. Those not in the know will continue to pay more thinking they are getting better/higher models.  

 

 

 


 

post #11 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenightman View Post

Sennheiser confuses me sometimes with their pricing of headphones. These headphones are supposedly a step up from the CX95 (aka CX550), and yet they are a lot cheaper.

 

Who said these were better (besides me )?

To be fair to the CX550, it still does have much better build quality than the CX280, but it really isn't nearly enough to justify the higher price due to its lesser sonic performance.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jant71 View Post

The bad thing about Senn is that they keep the older specs on the CX380/400/550 and charge more essentially pulling the wool over peoples eyes. They are worse sounding and more expensive. The key is even though the Freq. Resp. is wider the older drivers are less sensitive and have worse transient speed, resolving power, and the bass is less tight.

 

On Head-fi we know which is better. Those not in the know will continue to pay more thinking they are getting better/higher models.


I really do think the root of the problem lies in their peculiar model naming.  The CX550 should be better than the CX280 since 550>280, but that's not the case, at least in what I hear, and that includes frequency response.  So in an attempt to keep the hierarchy in place, they release specs for the CX280 that are slightly better than the CX150/200/250, which the CX280 replaces.  It would actually make sense if their specs were consistent across the range, but obviously they are not, and I have a hard time believing the CX880 has better high frequency extension than the IE8, for example.  I think they should just redo all of the frequency response specs and combine them with some graphs, or at specify the tolerance.  It's the CX250 > CX300 all over again.

 

But then again, I don't care too much about the specs since the sound is what really matters.  I'd just like to see these inconsistencies removed.

post #12 of 39

Thanks for sharing, really appreciate the effort.

That's a quite accurate title though i felt the 'redefined' is applied to all senn's newest lines with new form of signature, a more upfront midrange which lead to a more natural sound. The funny thing, your comment of CX280's is still typically laidback just returning me to my confusion of senn's models pattern. Well I must startup my theory again.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kjk1281 View Post

I really do think the root of the problem lies in their peculiar model naming.  The CX550 should be better than the CX280 since 550>280, but that's not the case, at least in what I hear, and that includes frequency response.  So in an attempt to keep the hierarchy in place, they release specs for the CX280 that are slightly better than the CX150/200/250, which the CX280 replaces.  It would actually make sense if their specs were consistent across the range, but obviously they are not, and I have a hard time believing the CX880 has better high frequency extension than the IE8, for example.  I think they should just redo all of the frequency response specs and combine them with some graphs, or at specify the tolerance.  It's the CX250 > CX300 all over again.

 

But then again, I don't care too much about the specs since the sound is what really matters.  I'd just like to see these inconsistencies removed.


Agree, my understanding so far is that the key is the both freq.range and the quality of the driver a.k.a series i.e mx4xx, mx5xx. The freq.range stands for top speed, the lowest, highest limit/capability of audio respon, while the driver determines the quality of audio reproduction.

IE8 is limited by standard audible 20khz but perhaps with a very good quality of driver/sound reproduction and the CX880/CX980 is given a luxury beyond standard 22-23khz top speed high frequency but perhaps limited by lower quality driver. The harsh treble, bloated/less tight bass is some of listenable driver's top speed, limited by quality.

To my knowledge the standard audible for music mastering is 20-20khz, most of beyond limit is actually not musically audible but it strengthen the audibles and add non musical details such human breath, cymbal contacts, guitar fingers noises, which at end add points to musicality, lifelike sound.

 

Back to senn's inconsistencies, IMHO, The first number (CX-2xx )stands for series/driver class, the next number (CX-x80) would be the generation, where correction & improvement of the series are utilized

.

Older senn's typically laidback, a common images of V-curve eq that allow us to listen more the instrument (bass/cymbal) without very much limited by up front vocals reaching peak volume, a 2-way speaker system simulation with woofer+tweeter, a bit nasal/congestic.

 

The newest senn's typically less space, more midrage/vocals, 3-way speaker system simulation with woofer+mid+tweeter, or 2-way with full range driver+tweeter, no more nasal/congestic, more natural sound and more balanced graphically.

 

Again this is only my opinion, CMIW, i'm actually still the same in lost here.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jant71 View Post

The bad thing about Senn is that they keep the older specs on the CX380/400/550 and charge more essentially pulling the wool over peoples eyes. They are worse sounding and more expensive. The key is even though the Freq. Resp. is wider the older drivers are less sensitive and have worse transient speed, resolving power, and the bass is less tight.

 

On Head-fi we know which is better. Those not in the know will continue to pay more thinking they are getting better/higher models.  

 

 

Agree, let's stop spending more $ for trying mysteriously each senn's models, read more senns on headfi before buy. 

post #13 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mayer View Post

Thanks for sharing, really appreciate the effort.

That's a quite accurate title though i felt the 'redefined' is applied to all senn's newest lines with new form of signature, a more upfront midrange which lead to a more natural sound. The funny thing, your comment of CX280's is still typically laidback just returning me to my confusion of senn's models pattern. Well I must startup my theory again.


I definitely agree that many (but not all) of the newer Sennheisers share many common traits: improved clarity and transparency, better tonality, faster transient response, just to name a few.  The CX280 though, unlike the new MX series, does have more recessed mids, especially when compared to the slightly mid-forward MX580.  It's probably a bit more difficult to tune a dynamic driver to be more mid-forward, but I really don't mind since I have the balanced-armature-driven Altec Lansing UHP606 (cheaper non-identical twin to the UE SuperFi 4) for that.  Also, I tend be a bit more sensitive to midrange peaks, so the laid-back-ness / recession doesn't bother me too much.  Another difference is the soundstage size: the CX280 is much larger in that respect when compared to previous CXs, while the MX580 is quite a bit smaller when compared to the ridiculously large stage of MX760.

 

The reason for the title is partially because the CX280 is quite a departure from other CXs, particularly the CX300.  The CX has always had the image (correctly, I might add) of being bass-heavy, but the CX280 doesn't sound that way.  I felt the review was needed to make people aware of that change.  The other part is a horrible pun that I'll let others figure out for themselves.

 

As for the product naming: all I've figured out is that the x80s all have a volume control while the x70s don't.


Edited by kjk1281 - 8/3/10 at 3:57pm
post #14 of 39

lately i find myself enjoying bass from my (and yours) mx760/mx471/mx580 with their 18hz extension.

just in comparison, how is the bass amount vs those buds?

 

i'm planning to take cx270 but wondering the 19hz extension would be enough for me.

 

thanks kjk1281.

post #15 of 39
Thread Starter 

I would say that the CX280 has less bass than the MX760 and MX471 and more bass than the MX580.  However, the bass on the CX280 is very controlled and tight, and perhaps on the lean side, so it gives the impression that there is less bass than there really is.

 

I haven't tried the CX270, but it's supposedly more bassy.

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