Sennheiser MX500 Lightweight In-Ear Headphones (Blue)


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Still Competitive Today
Cons: Volume Slider, Hard To Find NIB
Earbud Archaeology -The Sennheiser MX 500


Curiosity could be the number one underlying audiophile trait? Why would we drive or fly to shows, or spend extra money on equipment unknown? I always had heard about the Sennheiser MX500, and wondered what it was. What did it sound like? It must have been good because the exact case is now in use for millions of 2017 earbuds sold today.

Finding what the original production-run sounded like to people in 2001 would really require a futuristic style time machine. People never wrote much ink about silly cheap plastic speakers that attempted to be headphones then. It seems 16 years is an epic span of time in reference to portable audio changes. Now we live in the information-age where there are on-line descriptions of everything.

The Era Of The Original Sennheiser MX500 IS Gone.
The past IS forever gone! Still today a pertinent curiosity questions how granddaddy MX can go up against his offspring which have somehow proliferated everywhere! Could this old earbud have potential greater than what is commonly understood or described here at Head-Fi? Let's find out.

I started to get into earbuds in 2016, and discovered earbuds had a faint history. Still even today earbuds are just starting to be well regarded in the audiophile community. It seems that somehow the earbud has gained a slight air of respect in recent years for having a unique level of audiophile quality. Being the proverbial underdog and hard tryer, the earbud has a long way to go before being widely accepted as audiophile art among certain circles. So far true snob-appeal has escaped our qwerky earbud invention here. Enjoy that concept while it lasts kids, because it's a rare thing in the world of audio.

Still the aforementioned is "OK" .......better to keep the prices low and grounded for earbuds as long as possible. Just this year the earbud has arrived in many ways, now being slowly coaxed into the limelight of audiophile-billfolds with the edition of Monk/VE mystery white and black models which can even garner Cardas cables and special balanced plug-do-dads. Then of course there are the fan-clubs in recent years; those few who find that earbuds really do offer a slightly different way to listen. The difference they hold-up also offers some magical unicorn-uniquely-special unattainable pixie-dust-quality apparently only viewed and understood by a small growing inner-circle. Still the question remains to be determined if that magic-unicorn-sound was roaming the worlds of audio 16 years ago, yet mysteriously going about it's magical path simply unnoticed and secret?

I mean yes, The MX500s were popular and great selling in 2001 but no-one dared to name the MX500 audiophile. Could we have something of value here? Obviously the Chinese know (of the value) because they have regulated the MX500 case as the basic blueprint for millions and millions of future earbud "children". The only other manufacturing parallel would be using four wheels to make an automobile. This is the "case" ...........if you pardon my at hand. And while some MX500 case-copied-modern-models are better sounding some copycats are not, though I have not heard all the earbuds.

Still how or why does this 16 year-old earbud sound good even today? Aren't things in audio supposed to be getting better and improving all the time with technology and all?

The probable answer though is that these older somewhat special transducers of yesterday now can get matched up with flagship DAPs of today causing an increase in basic fidelity unheard of in 2001. To believe this you have to subscribe to the idea that your $300 to $3000 audiophile DAP of today is simply better than 2001's Apple iPod, which most agree is fact. Still there are people switching out the old wires on the MX500s and liking what they hear even compared to current popular earbuds.

That......or it's all just audiophile nonsense? There is a lot of nonsense in audio, besides thinking a $19 earbud from 16 years ago could actually sound good.

Is It Just A Question Of Taste:
The question is always offered as to popular sound signatures being in and out of fashion; that this color is either IN or Out just like the colors worn by the worlds top fashion-models across the walkways. Is orange the new black and does it all really, really matter in the end if the color is nice? By the way, yellow and black are some of the hot colors for fall 2017 if you really wanted to join in.

A Classic:

But, are we not (in-a-way) all looking for things classic? You know......the sound of a vintage Les Paul Guitar, a Fisher tube amp. The stuff of audio that can't be improved upon. You know..............the timeless stuff of legend. There has to be an enduring quality maybe or this stuff wouldn't get widespread appeal resulting in financial success.

Imagine A Re-Cable Bringing The MX500 Up To Date:
All this basically has you really wonder how a re-cable would sound. The volume slider on my pair doesn't have any right or left volume inconsistency, though it can't be good for the final sound. There are aftermarket cables today for earbuds that were not available years ago. Still I will probably be looking for another pair to re-cable. It would be a sad thing if these didn't go back together right after surgery.

The Original Sound:

So let's just say right now the stock MX500s do really sound "nice" .........they do! They actually sound better than nice, they sound great! They offer a surprisingly smooth and well rounded signature offering both a full detailed soundstage and extended response both in upper-bass-mids.......and treble areas. They have their own sound which is both somehow wildly unique but utilitarian at the same time. I can safely say they would sell very well today and could remain as competitive as ever. The MX500s are the best sound old Sennheiser earbud I have found. Now I have not heard them all but garnered a quick listen to maybe 7 or 8, with many more expensive models to come later looking better but sounding inferior, at least that's my take on this. But upon first listening after burn-in my greatest find was that they scale up with better equipment to a point. Now for many listeners that scaleability means potentially unlocked audiophile quality as sources could potentially be better. These old earbuds can simply join in as long as the mini-jack stays as an option for connecting up.

The Verdict:

So let me so humbly submit that, my ears it's a classic. It's not the total all-killer best ever-best ever, but the MX500s (straight in semi-vintage stock form) are easy to like, easy to drive and hold a well built quality you could hold up against much made today. In a way it's strange Sennheiser doesn't make them anymore as I figure they would still sell. They sound "nice" and of course they don't go all the way down to the lowest bass frequency, but no earbuds do. They sound really good with modern well mixed EDM, where many of today's earbuds fail. They somehow sound great with modern rock vocals and instrumentation. Heck.......they sound really good with just about every genre you send their way! They just have that basic "Oh" know, when your listening and you think "wow" these do that or these actually also do that. In the end I guess it's surprising, as they really do sound better than I thought they would sound. They still sound like an earbud which is a statement that folks around here can take two ways. Take that last statement for what it's worth.

The Rest Is History:

The Sennheiser MX500 is known as the grandfather of all earbuds. Fair to say the VE Monk earbud would not exist today if the VE transducer was not placed in a copy of the MX500 case. After studying the MX500 case design I arrived at the conclusion that 100s of earbud brands today are descendants, effectively carrying the Sennheiser DNA off into the future of earbuds. There is a pretty good chance the case design could be around for another 16 or so years..............or more? All this makes you ask questions like who invented the MX500 case? Does Sennheiser get a profit today from China manufacturers replicating the exact case? Funny too, there are not any earbuds that even seem to be close in design to the MX500 case. Every Monk earbud is an exact one to one copy. All the other Chinese MX500 earbuds are also exact copies except for very small variations like the ever so slightly different width of the oval plate on the back. Still these differences are so small that you wouldn't even notice till it was pointed out.

Do You Want A Pair Yet?

Let's Find A Real Pair Of Originals:

But, with the first generation of original Sennheiser MX500s produced in 2001, the original product has been long since discontinued and lost in time. Still my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to hear an original production unit set from 16 years ago! I didn't want used and found out it was one of the most counterfeited earbuds in history. So after a small education on exactly what the real ones looked like, plus a list of the small but revealing tell-tale signs of the counterfeit examples, I started my journey.

Instead of buying online I walked the streets wondering into an old camera store. "Do you have any headphones for sale?"............I enthusiastically asked? Sitting in the back-room untouched for 16 years was a couple of original early 2000 Sennheiser earbuds. After studying the packaging and transducers I made my purchases, packages still unopened and sealed. The owner thought I was crazy, and I truly am!

This earbud archeological find still needed to be somehow audio-carbon-dated and tested further. Upon closer inspection there is always that element of risk as even the best educated buyer can fall victim to a fake product. Fakes can still fool you based on how good the product and packaging look. Luckily the shop owner only wanted $8 a piece as he thought they were simply old stock....................and they were! If they were fake, it wasn't a big loss.

One of the best tests for fakes is to simply take a listen!
Upon first listen it's safe to say, it's the bass response and sonic image placement that created such a fuss so many years ago. Even in comparison to today's earbuds the Sennheiser MX500 holds it's own. What's fun is finding that the original MX500 had an easy to like sound. After about 60 hours of burn in the treble became a little more smooth and expanded out into the sound-stage. Maybe fun is simply finding an $8 dollar earbud that's a keeper?

Early MX500 iterations had the black shells with no volume control, so those are maybe still out there. Another early model (The one this review is about) had metallic blue cases and a small volume control slider. The volume control option was notorious for channel imbalances at low volumes. Originally priced at $19.95 they came as a popular replacement for the first Apple iPod earbuds as in 2001 phones were not even imagined as audiophile DAPs. The Sennheiser MX500s were also popular for listening to the very first wave of MP3 players, the grandparents of the DAP market today. Later Sennheiser made a big marketing swing creating white MX500s to go along with the early 1st generation iPods. One way to notice the newer white MX500 2001 IPod Model is the chrome accent across the back of the wand.

Ok! So what do we have here?

The Real McCoy:

Opening the bubble wrap and cardboard back the blue MX500s sit snuggly in the clamshell carrying case and cable winder. The included foamies located on the bottom had long since turned to dust. Luckily the plastic cables, and driver housing all aged really-really well, with the plug, chrome finished, all looking brand new. Even the lower Sennheiser earbud models received the upgraded gold plugs like the MX460 from days gone by. Other Sennheiser models would even have fancy branding in places on the cable. Still our early original MX500 included a "Plain-Jane" nondescript generic cable and plug with a simple chrome finish as noted in the included photos. If you find a pair don't worry about how plain they look, the real ones simply look that way.

In many ways it's the generic style of the early MX500 edition which could lead many into thinking it was a fake. Though each transducer housing faithfully displays the Sennheiser logo and MX500 branding, but apart from that........nothing. Each earbud is marked with a distinct R and L symbol at the base of each wand. Even at the introduction price of $19.95, the original MX500 had a funny "dollar-store" vibe about it until you get them plugged into something and your jaw drops!


Sennheiser even raised the retail price as the MX500 started to gain popularity and market share, becoming one of the best loved earbuds in the early mobile HI/FI era. You could guess that the special case design separated the earbud from the pack in it's day. Much of the success was due to the lovely bass response from an earbud in 2001.

Original MX500 came in a small plastic clam-shell protective case with the word Sennheiser is spelled across the top. Mine came with the case, but I could not locate it during the morning of the photo shoot and only remembered a shot of the case would be a good idea. Still there is enough detail in my photographs to help spot an original MX in the wild.

Sound Quality Disclaimer:

Earbuds are lacking bass for many. The sound depends on if you use foam covers or not. The sound also depends on how exactly the transducers match up to your own ear shape. Your end results may vary.