Throughout this review, I'll explain why I appreciate this headphone to the extent I do, and how it competes with more exquisite offerings from the same manufacturer. But I'll also be comparing to a few other models from different manufacturers as well. Not to mention, with me finally getting my hands on an original PX100, I can finally determine for myself whether or not the PX100-II is actually a worthy successor, or inferior as some suggest. But of course, that's based on preference.
So, I want to mention one thing real quick before I get started about the headphone itself. The HD598, HD600, and HD650 are some of my very favorite headphones. A few months ago, I was lucky enough to have all three on my desk at the same time. Comparisons raged back and forth, but ultimately, I came to choose the HD598 over both the HD600 and HD650, mostly based on value. Although I really liked the slightly fuller and refined sound of the HD600 and HD650, I still chose the HD598 mainly due to it sounding 90%+ exactly the same but for half the price; as well as having a more airy and spacious sound. So out went the HD600 and HD650. But, the HD598 wasn’t safe for long. I soon found even it started becoming uncomfortable after a few hours of use, so I decided to try the PX100-II due to how much lighter it was on paper. To my amazement, not only did the PX100-II surpass the 90%+ matched sound quality test with flying colors, but it's signature simply outclassed the HD598 in most cases. Don't ask me the technicalities of that conclusion, but the PX100-II just sounded more balanced and engaging to me. Truer to the ear, at least based on my preference. Simply said, it just sounded better. And that was the end of the HD598, as the PX100-II took permanent residency. As of now, it’s been about a year, and my opinions haven’t changed, even though many more headphones have come and gone. In fact, my positive impressions on the PX100-II continue to strengthen with each headphone they KO. Impossible, right?
Build & Ergonomics
And here we go with the actual PX100-II critique.
Starting off with build, I'll have to say that these are actually very durable. The headband is incredibly tough, yet flexible. I can basically stretch it to any extent I want, while not having any disasterous effects; all in the name of experimenting with clamping force which can alter the sound. Wouldn't be afraid to throw it, drop it, contort it, or whatever. But now let's say it really does break; well that's not so bad either, considering it's very inexpensive to replace. Cord wise, it's pretty thin and rubbery, but I'd say I can't expect too much from a portable. I honestly couldn't care less. I just don't want it to have bad memory retention or extreme microphonics, in which it has neither. In a general sense, these definitely have an above-average build, and I have no worries whatsoever. But that shouldn’t matter, as I don't even take them anywhere anyway. I use them as my main rig. Yes, I actually use a portable for my desktop listening. These are that good.
Okay, okay, so you caught the part where I said, "even the HD598 started becoming uncomfortable after a few hours of use". And yes, I really did mean exactly that. At that point, and even more so now, I've decided that full sized were not really an option anymore for long term use. Knowing and loving Sennheiser's stock sound, the PX100-II was my next best bet. Slightly off put by some of the negative reviews stating it was clearly inferior to it's predecessor, I gave it a spin. And just so happens, probably the best decision I've made regarding audio! Comfort is simply top notch. Full sized headphones simply cannot compete, no matter how many pillowed cushions are attached to it. They have a weight restriction, obviously because they are physically bigger than portables, which usually hampers comfort. That said, the PX100-II already has a huge advantage. Feeling very light on the head, I honestly forgot these were there sometimes. Yeah, you hear that a lot. With all the years I've spent on Head-Fi, I'm pretty sure I've seen that mentioned for nearly every headphone. But I'm extremely picky and have NEVER said that about any headband based headphone before. Even though I'm NOT a fan of supra-aural headphones, I find the PX100-II as one of the only exceptions. They are amazingly comfortable. They're my dedicated movie headphone for that very reason... and my dedicated music headphone... and my dedicated gaming headphone (when I can't use my speakers).
And now let's hit the sound. Let me rephrase, "get hit by the sound".
I'm baffled two ways. First, I'm not sure why these have such mixed reviews. I honestly cannot understand why. They are an incredible value and sound as good as their bigger brothers, with certain reserves, and better than most other headphones I've tried. And second, I still cannot even comprehend how good these sound especially for their size, price irrelevant. Did you catch that? Price irrelevant. Smooth, lively, balanced, fun, and inoffensive. It's got a dark undertone to it, and has a thick backbone (somewhat typical of Sennheiser's house sound). It's definitely got a nice weight across the spectrum and is fleshed-out, but also maintains an airiness as well. Surprisingly, it has a pretty nice soundstage and presents itself very nicely. No claustrophobic sound here. Bass, midrange, and treble all seem to intertwine pleasantly. Tonality and texture are both great as well. Bottom line, it simply sounds really, really good.
But that's not quite enough said about the sound. We both know that...
I want to try and shed some light about the complaints I read about these. Many say they have heavily bloated midbass, sound murky or muddy, and have lousy clarity. It's just not so. The bass is actually well proportioned to the rest of the sound, yet some people interpret it in such a different (negative) way. So obviously, in the IEM world, you cannot get good bass without a good seal, and the same goes for closed headphones as well. With the likes of the PX100-II (open headphones), you don't get any seal whatsoever, so bass is naturally going to need a boost in the first place to keep up with the rest of the sound. So yes, these do have a thick lower section, and a graph will most likely reveal that; but it doesn't hamper clarity or balance whatsoever, nor does it sound even a smidgen muddy. Maybe if you push both sides against your ears there will be too much bass, but otherwise (especially if you decrease clamping force) bass will not be a problem. And again, yes the sound has a darker flavor, but that's expected. I'll even admit, it does have a slight concentration in midbass, but it's nothing that restricts listening enjoyment in my opinion, and it definitely doesn’t blur the fine details. In fact, without the slightly bumped bass frequencies, I cannot help but think how bass anemic these would turn out. Every so often, I actually find them lacking a bit on the lower end! That said, I think the bass is at a level that would satisfy the widest range of users. Sorta like what they did with the HD650, but the HD650 easily has more bass than these. Occasionally, I find myself boosting the low end just a tad for certain types of music.
As mentioned before, the PX100-II beat my HD598 fair and square. I hate using that kind of terminology for something that is so preference oriented, and also against another favorite headphone of mine, but I can't deny that I don't like the PX100-II's presentation of music better. And while I slightly preferred the HD600 and HD650 to the HD598, it wasn't like the margin the PX100-II beat the HD598 by. Referring back to the title, I personally think these could use the nickname of "HD625", as I personally think it bridges the gap between the HD600's and HD650's in a way; two headphones I could never truly decide on which I preferred more. Luckily for me, now I don’t have to, as this “hybrid” gets the best of both. All the while, is much more comfortable and saves me lots of money. (I do find the HD598, and especially the HD600 and HD650 among the most comfortable headphones I've used).
A quick note on graphs and how similar the PX100-II sounds to its more reference siblings. If you go to headroom and compare the PX100-II to the HD650, you'll be shocked at how closely the frequencies match up until you hit lower treble. Yes, I realize you cannot base sound off something as simple as a graph, but that just goes to show how similarly tuned the PX100-II really are compared to its technical superior. The graph confirmed it, and most importantly, I've confirmed it with side-by-side comparisons, multiple times. Also, if you throw the HD600 and HD598 into the graph as well, you'll notice how all four headphones measure pretty closely. And under real world testing, I can confirm they do indeed all sound very similar. Indeed, Sennheiser doesn't stray too far from their house sound, and in my opinion, that's a very good thing! Anyway, back on track.
PX100 ~ Ah, so here's the real question. Is the original better than it's successor? Quite simply, no, it's not. The "only" thing I like better about the PX100 is the earpieces have more movement opposite the way they fold inward. In other words, the PX100 aligns absolutely perfectly on one's ear, distributing contact and pressure perfectly. The PX100-II doesn't quite have the range of motion, which is a shame. Luckily, the comfort between the two is still extremely close, with the slight advantage to the PX100 due to the range of earpieces and also being a tad lighter. But that also comes at a price. The PX100 feels like a toy in comparison. PX100-II's build is much superior. But leaving that aside and moving to sound reveals something interesting. Without having major clamp on the PX100, they're simply far too bass light. Like I mentioned above, I think portables deserve a bass bump to compensate for their design which minimizes it in the first place. The added bass makes the PX100-II sound more fleshed-out, more balanced, and fuller sounding. I believe I'm hearing a bit more detail with the PX100-II as well, not to mention it being more engaging. Everything else is pretty close; in a good way of course. So if I already owned a PX100, would I upgrade? Easily.
PX200-II ~ And of course, comparisons aren’t complete without the PX100’s closest ancestor, the PX200-II. I've read some good reviews regarding it and decided "why not?" But now I ask myself, "why?" Real quickly before the sound; I find the pads more comfortable on the PX100-II, but the donut pads on the PX200-II definitely aren't bad. I honestly can't stand the bulky volume control on the PX200-II, and find it quite ridiculous. But it's the sound, oh the sound. I'm afraid I may have to classify it as one of the worst sounding headphones I've ever heard, period. Very reminiscent of an earbud, these sound extremely hollow, distant, and underwhelming. Not to mention, the bass is so incredible recessed that sometimes I tend to miss a good chunk of the lower sound spectrum! Like I've seen other reviewers mention, they only sound half decent when pressed against your ear. But unfortunately, even after I've bent mine to the point that the left and right pads were touching, the sound still remained far too thin. Easily one of the biggest disappointment in my audio journey (other being: Zino, D600, W3, W4), but that's simply because the PX100-II set my expectation quite high.
HD25-1 II ~ Recently, I decided to try my luck with the well established, highly rated, HD25-1 II. I was curious to how well these stacked up to the PX100-II. In short, the PX100-II takes it. Easily. Not sure how one could wear the HD25 for longer than half an hour, but the PX100-II is infinitely more comfortable. Personally, I found the HD25's to have an unpleasant treble spike, and I still liked the PX100-II's tonality more, not to mention it had a better, friendlier presentation of the entire spectrum. Definitely more pleasant to listen to, and obviously, to wear. Not to mention, it’s about a 1/4th the price, and much more portable. While I did indeed like the HD25-1 II, it didn't have the realness the PX100-II did. I recall having one of the moments where I listened to the PX100-II, followed by the HD25-1 II and immediately asked myself, "something sounds off, perhaps I have an EQ enabled". HD25-1 II has great isolation though!
HD598 (round 2) ~ I keep coming back to this review to throw in updates, and this is the most recent out of all the others. Unfortunately, the lure of purchasing the HD598 once more was too strong, and I bought one for the 3rd time. Mainly, I wanted to see if I honestly still held the PX100-II to the high remarks I had given it over a year ago. I was determined that surely the PX100-II wouldn't be as good as I once thought, but I was actually wrong. PX100-II came out on top... again. This time around, I found the HD598 much more uncomfortable than I had last remembered it. Perhaps partially due to how much I've gotten used to the impossibly light clamp of my slightly stretched PX100-II. Aside that, the sound is what really caught my interest. The PX100-II did indeed have the more captivating signature. The HD598 sounded pretty darn close though, as far as tonality. The PX100-II was not quite as bright, and more pleasant to listen to, while maintaining (and in some cases, building upon) the HD598's strengths. Literally the only thing the HD598 had going for it was the ever-so-slightly increased spaciousness. Other than that, well, nothing.
HD600 (round 2) ~ Still think I’m over exaggerating the title of HD625? Well, I started to think so too for a while, so I bought the HD600 once more. But this time, I paired the HD600 with the Asgard and the HRT Music Streamer II. What did the PX100-II get? My iAudio 9. That’s it. Fast forward a bit when the comparisons were complete. The outcome? They sound shockingly similar folks. The most prominent difference is in the treble region, but even in that regard, it's still quite apparent they're from the same blood. But these minor sound differences are discovered when analyzing the frequency. Unfortunately, for the PX100-II, the biggest difference between the two is the "authority" or "size" in sound. Not talking about soundstage either. While the signatures between these two are strikingly similar, the presentation is where the bigger drivers come in handy in the HD600's favor, giving a more wholesome sound. PX100-II is perhaps more reminiscent of an IEM presentation in comparison, but nowhere near as closed in or direct sounding as an actual IEM. That said, I still really love the PX100-II's sound, and find "HD625" as an appropriate moniker, as it combines what I like best about the HD600 and HD650, yet on a slightly smaller scale. It's the perfect budget alternative to the more expensive models, or simply for someone wanting to hear what the "HD6**" signature sounds like. But as far as sound signature goes, I liked the PX100-II better at the time, yet appreciate some of the minor improvements the HD600 brought to the table. If I were to pour money into my rig, the HD600 or HD650 would definitely be my weapon of choice.
Q701 ~ While the PX100-II and the HD600 were duking it out, poor Quincy was sitting alone in the corner. But of course, no comparison can be left alone, and I salvaged every headphone I had to compare to the PX100-II. Most weren't even worth mentioning, but something struck me when I listened to the Q701. I really couldn't believe how similar the PX100-II sounded to the Q701 when I applied just a bit more treble via EQ. The frequency presentation was nearly spot on between the two, but the Q701 sounded thinner and less engaging, yet a little "bigger" in soundstage. The Q701 was on my Asgard at the time, and also used it with my P650, but my impressions didn't sway too much when switching sources. Hmm, this gets me thinking. Perhaps the PX100-II is a HD600 and Q701 mixed? Wow, I really don't know. Guess I could rename this review to the "QX100", but I think I'll stick with the Sennheiser reference so I don't confuse the daylights out of people...
SR225i ~ Kind of a random throw in, but I figured why not? While I really enjoy the SR225i's midrange, I find overall it's a pretty thin sounding headphone with a jagged edge to the sound. Surprisingly, while the bass is light, it has great texture. Midrange, like I mentioned, is quite nice. Vocals are very upfront an clear. But the treble has a bit too much sharpness to it. Quite dry sounding. The richness of the PX100-II is not apparent in the SR225i, nor is the weight of the sound. Detail retrieval is good on both, and while it's a tad more effortless on the Grado, I don't have hard time hearing the same thing with the PX100-II. While I don't mind the 2D presentation of the SR225i, I like the PX100-II's added spaciousness. Overall I'm finding the PX100-II to posses more weight and feel to the sound, while smoothing out the somewhat harsh treble of the SR225i. Comfort, obviously no match.
HE-300 ~ Now we're just playing the temperature game. Warm vs warm. But how does the HE-300 do? Well, for one thing, the HE-300 has gobs more bass than the PX100-II. Sometimes that can be good, but for most cases, I beg to differ. PX100-II easily has it beat in midrange, but the HE-300 is absolutely no slouch in that regard, but it can't equal what the PX100-II can do for vocals specifically. In fact, I find the HE-300 one of the only bassier headphones to have a decent midrange. That aside, treble is more rolled off on the HE-300, more so than something like the HD650. The HE-300 is a bit too dark and bassy for my liking and can sound a bit clouded at times. Listening to the SR225i, HE-300, and PX100-II all side by side, I think it's safe to say the PX100-II sorta sounds like crazy mixture of the two, taking strengths from both. Between all three, no doubt I'd take the PX100-II first.
HE-400 ~ I will admit, my perceptions of this hobby ar changing once again after my experience with the HE-400 and PX100-II. I'm finding the PX100-II "better" no question, no second thought. The PX100-II really hits the sweet spot for me, while the HE-400, not so much. Mids are better on the PX100-II (HE-400 sounds a bit scooped out), as is the treble. HE-400 is significantly brighter and is harsh in comparison. Bass can be debated, but I'm finding the HE-400's pretty overrated. It's headphone bass, it's no subwoofer, and it's nothing really special. I keep on questioning myself over and over, wondering if I'm hearing correctly. But alas, each and every time I switch back and forth, same results. PX100-II every time. Perhaps the HE-400 misses the mark when it comes to matching my sound signature, and I'll account that to the reasoning behind this experience. But that absolutely goes to show you, once you have "your" signature nailed (even if it's done in an inexpensive way) upper tiered superiors that don't match that same preferred signature won't stand a chance.
SRH1840 ~ Didn't expect this one, did you? Am I out of my mind? Well, after my HD600 and the rest of my major full sized headphones were sold, I decided to try the SRH1840. To make a short story even shorter, the SRH1840 has found a new home and another Head-Fi'er is probably enjoying them more than I did. In ways, I found it a "slightly more enhanced" HD600. Throw the feeble PX100-II into the mix, and the SRH1840 went back into it's box quite quick, but not without a few weeks of comparisons first. Again, the tonality and presentation of the PX100-II captured me better than what was offered by the SRH1840. I did appreciate the great balance offered by the SRH1840, extremely reminiscent of the HD600, but a slightly cleaner presentation and not quite as smooth. Perhaps I didn't have the right amp? Maybe. I tried the Headstreamer, E10, E17, P650, and iAudio 9. Nothing serious, but it's what I had. PX100-II got the iAudio 9.
So, it's been nearly two years since I purchased these. New toy syndrome is an obsolete factor. I've tried and tried to dethrone these, with any remaining bias I had *against* the PX100-II. At this point, I've completely stopped buying headphones. I don't *need* or *want* anything more than what I have now. I'm totally and completely satisfied with what the PX100-II has to offer. It sounds dang close to the HD598, HD600, and HD650; while being literally dirt cheap (as far as headphones go). With absolute everything taken into account, I find the PX100-II is without a doubt, the best value in headphones, bar-none. As to this day, it's still one of the best headphone I've encountered out of the hundreds I've owned, hitting somewhere in my top 10. In reality though, realistically it's my #1 favorite, and as of this moment, it's the *only* headphone I'm currently using... and I plan to keep it that way. Sennheiser absolutely nailed it with the PX100-II, and I'm extremely happy I took the chance to buy it despite its somewhat shady reputation especially when referenced to it's predecessor. If mine ever broke or got lost, I'd buy another in a heartbeat, regardless of whether it defaulted back to its MSRP or not. Simply an unbelievable headphone if you ask me. Absolutely unbelievable.
Edited by Katun - 9/19/13 at 10:14am