The Sennheiser CX 95 headphones are made out of black and gray plastic that has a dull luster. The ear buds have an angled cord guard, which helps them contour to your ears a bit better.
Sennheiser claims this is 'ergonomic,' but we're not really sure it adds
much in terms of comfort.***
The nozzles are topped off with a metal mesh to stop debris from moving in. The cord extends downwards for a little less than two feet and then ends in a 1/8-inch plug. There is also an extension cord included if you want more slack.
When you crack open the box, you'll find the headphones, three sets of soft plastic sleeves (small, medium, large), an extension cord, a shirt clip, and a carrying case. The carrying case has a little spool inside to help manage your cord.
shirt clip in leiu of additional sleeves.***
Overall, we didn't see any glaring durability issues with the CX 95s. They seem to be well assembled from good-quality plastics, which is a good start. The cord guard on the ear bud is a bit overly stiff, but shouldn't contribute much to internal wire fraying. The neck split is pretty robust; we don't see any problems here. The cord guard near the plug seems great, offering a nicely flexible end that gradually stiffens out, which is ideal for keeping internal chafing to a minimum. The sleeves don't seem like they'd come off without a fight, but we managed to almost lose two of them during the course of the review when they popped off unexpectedly. One last issue (and one that most Sennheiser in-ears seem to share) is the ear bud has several slits cut into it. Although it's unlikely anything could fall into those cracks and cause serious damage, it is annoying to see debris that you can't easily get at (although maybe our office is full of borderline cleanfreaks).
As always, aesthetic appeal really can't manifest itself in in-ear headphones. They're small and a good portion of them hides inside your ears. As it is, these aren't bad looking for a pair of in-ears. You avoid the 'iPod user' look, if such a thing is important to you. If you're looking for the best aesthetics on a set of in-ears, you should check out V-MODA's lineup.
About our testing:
Our audio tests use a head and torso simulator, or HATS, and an electroacoustics analysis program called SoundCheck. With their powers combined they are like a potent combination of science and distilled awesome. That's why they're the same tools used by manufacturers for their own testing. For more information, read this article.
This test measures how much emphasis the headphones will assign to any given frequency. We begin the test by setting up the headphones in HATS's ears. We then play a frequency sweep from 100Hz to 20kHz at a set decibel level. HATS listens, then tells SoundCheck what it heard. Once it analyzes the data, SoundCheck spits out the graph below, which we post for you, our valued reader. The graph depicts how the left and right channels play different frequencies at different volume levels. The dotted black lines represent the upper and lower limits that this score is based on. Ideally the line would move around within these limits to add or subtract a little emphasis. Things that are bad are sudden spikes or when the line goes way outside of the limits. If you want to learn more, click the orange 'i' badge above (hint: 'i' stands for 'information').
What we found:
The Sennheiser CX 95 had a pretty good frequency response. It might over-emphasize the bass a bit, but we didn't notice any muddiness or booming. As you can see, the response diminishes as it reaches the middle frequencies, where it peeks below the bottom limit a bit. The line then jumps back up around 7kHz, which is the frequency partially responsible for making drums sound sharp (specifically it'll emphasize the attack, or initial hit). After the 7kHz spike the graph drops back down again, with a second, smaller peak around 10kHz, which should help accentuate the sizzle on cymbals.
How the Sennheiser CX 95 compares:
The CX 95 landed square in the middle of all our comparison units. It had a virtually identical response to the MM 50 iP, but it dipped a bit lower when it broke the lower limit, which is why it received a lower score. There really isn't a shining star on the below headphones, but that's typical for in-ear headphones. They can have some really low distortion, but they tend to to overly emphasize certain frequencies (or overly dampen some frequencies—we're looking at you, Apple iPod In-ear Headphones' bass response).
For our distortion test, we play a frequency sweep through the headphones and have HATS listen. SoundCheck plays the part of interpreter and graciously bestows upon us the below graph. What it depicts is the percentage the playback has been distorted. We again measure the left and right channels separately and we don't score the extreme left and right ends. The ideal response is, of course, 0% distortion.
What we found:
The CX 95 headphones have excellent distortion control. There's thankfully not much else to say. The line hovers around the 0% mark the entire time and really doesn't peak above it in any noticeable way. Bravo, Sennheiser.
How the Sennheiser CX 95 compares:
On a purely score-based comparison, the CX 95 came in second to the MM 50 iPs, also from Sennheiser. Realistically, anything that gets above an 8 on this test is golden. We do think it's interesting, however, that there's such a discrepency between the two Sennheiser headphones and the others below.
We test tracking by again pumping a frequency sweep through the headphones and into HATS's awaiting microphone ears. What we're checking for here is any differences in the relative volume levels between the two channels (left/right). The graph is set up so that when the left side is louder the line bounces up a bit and when the right side is louder the line droops below zero. Like our distortion test, the extreme left and right of the graph aren't scored.
What we found:
This was another good score for the CX 95. At no point is either channel significantly louder than the other. Emphasis tends to meander towards the right channel, but barely strays further than a 2dB offset before wandering back towards neutral. It's nothing someone with sub-superhuman hearing would notice.
How the Sennheiser CX 95 compares:
Just about all the comparison headphones did about as well as the CX 95s, although the Vibe Duos and iPod headphones were notable for being closer to average. You might notice a bit of a difference comparing the Vibe Duos or iPod headphones to any of the other pairs, but the four below that scored above 8 points are pretty solidly good.
We test maximum usable volume by running a series of distortion tests. After each one we crank up the volume, which will increase the overall distortion. What we're looking for is the point at which the distortion creeps past 3%, which is very noticeable and distracting.
What we found:
The CX 95s were capable of 123.64dB, which is exactly 3.64dB louder than the max level we award points for. Even if you like it loud, the CX 95s are a great choice for you.
To test isolation, we blast HATS with pink noise while it's wearing the headphones. Pink noise is when each frequency has the same power, meaning lower frequencies will be played back at a higher decibel level than higher frequencies. The result sounds a lot like the inside of an airplane during a flight. We use HATS to measure how sound gets through the headphones, on a frequency-by-frequency basis. SoundCheck then plots us some graphs, which look a bit like the one below and to the right.
What we found:
The CX 95 was a bit disappointing here, although they scored about average. As in-ears, the CX 95s have a lot of expectation to live up to. They really don't block out much bass at all, which is unfortunate for commuters and others who are the prime in-ear demographic. They do block out quite a bit of higher-pitched sounds, but nothing impressive. Of course, if you're the sort of person who doesn't like total immersion, then the CX 95s offer you a rare service.
How the Sennheiser CX 95 compares:
In-ear headphones have a great capacity for blocking out sound. The CX 95s didn't do too well. Even the MM 50 iPs managed to outscore them, and we thought the MM 50 iPs were scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to in-ear isolation. The main problem with the CX 95s is they don't block out as much high-end noise as other headphones tend to (with the exception of the MM 50 iPs). Overall, this isn't bad, especially if you're walking or jogging somewhere and want to keep a wary ear out for cars, trains, or other dangers.
One interesting thing to note is that the two Sennheiser headphones have, so far, had very similar audio quality results. We'll need to do a few more reviews before we say anything for certain, but we're wondering if there's some correlation between having very low distortion and not isolating well.
Our leakage test pits headphones against microphone in a contest to see which headphones are the quietest. What we do is outfit HATS with our headphones, then play back our standard pink noise through the headphones at a known volume. The mic is there to pick up any sound that leaks out.
What we found:
This is another non-issue for CX 95 users. These things might let in a lot of external sound, but they really don't like giving up their own. These headphones would be appropriate for any quiet environment or with a room mate that needs to study. We had no complaints here.
These headphones were comfortable enough for in-ears. One advantage of soft sleeves is they don't really put a lot of pressure on the inside of your ears. The biggest problem for us was the buds didn't want to stay in when we were moving around. Since this is a major component of wearing in-ear headphones, it definitely lost the CX 95s some points here. We tried alll three sets of ear buds, but none of them would keep them comfortably in our ears for more than a few soft tugs. These are definitely a bad choice for joggers.
For extended use we had the same issues as with our short term comfort test. They didn't get any more uncomfortable to wear throughout our time wearing them, but if we needed to move around they would find something to pull against and, at the least, tug the ear bud out enough so we had to push them back in.
With the extension cord plugged in, the CX 95s measure out to 5.46 feet (1.66m) in length. This is longer than average for a pair of in-ears. If you have an arm band for your media player or a lapel pocket, you can leave the extension cord at home for optimal portability (which we'll get to in a second).
The CX 95s don't come with any fancy adapters, which is the norm for in-ear headphones. Most manufacturers figure you won't be hooking up to a 1/4-inch jack on the go.
The CX 95s are very portable. First of all, they have the in-ear headphone bonus of being really, really tiny. Secondly their cord is absurdly short and will only reach far enough to hook up to a media player in your pocket or arm band (although if you're using the extension cord you might get a bit of slack). Thirdly, the case they come with is really useful. It's a clamshell case that snaps shut, and inside is a spool for you to wind the headphones around, thus keeping your cord from tangling up on itself.
It does all fit in there, but only barely (click for larger image).***
There are just a few customizability options for the CX 95. First of all, the headphones come with three different sets of soft plastic sleeves: small, medium, and large. You can also customize your headphones further by adding or removing the extension cord. This split in the middle opens up a few options, such as inserting a microphone, control pendant, or other in-line accessory. None of these come in the box, however.
***Small, medium, and large sleeves are the
standard set of options for a set of in-ears.***
There's really only one way to help maintain your headphones: removing the sleeves to clean them separately. That way if you wish to use rubbing alcohol or good old-fashioned soap and water, you won't run the risk of getting your fancy Neodymium super transducer audio card chips wet. You can't take them apart at all, which is normal for in-ear headphones. Some in-ear headphones also come with a cleaning tool or two, but the CX 95s expects you to provide your own sanitary hardware.
The CX 95s don't require a battery in order to work. Since there are quite a few headphones out there that can't say the same, we think the CX 95 deserves a few points.**Value***(7.50)* The Sennheiser CX 95s are a pretty good deal. They offer good audio quality and a pretty good wear experience for the better-than-average price of $120. They would have been a slightly better deal if they fit a bit better. Of course, however, the fit issue could be one that our ears and our ears alone suffer from. In terms of their audio quality and superior portability, we think they could have been sold for slightly more money.
Shure SE420 - The Shure SE420 is the current isolation champion. The Sennheiser CX 95 has better overall audio quality, with a particularly low distortion. Both have a split after a very short length of cord, which makes them both very portable (though the CX 95 has a much better case). The Shure SE420s also come with a bunch of different sleeves, but they also cost a lot more. Both are about as cost-efficient. really this one comes down to you and what you're personally looking for. If you want isolation, then the SE420s are better. If you're looking for better overall audio quality, then the CX 95s are a good choice. If it were up to us, we'd probably side with the Shure SE420s more often than not, but only because in-ears are typically for people on the go and people on the go benefit more from isolation than superb audio quality.
Sennheiser MM 50 iP - Sennheiser vs. Sennheiser, brother against brother, a match to truly match all matches. Actually this one is a bit anti-climactic: the MM 50 iPs win pretty handily. They do better and cost less. The only benefit the CX 95s have that the MM 50 iPs don't is the really short cord. This feature really works best for joggers and people on the move, but the ear buds just didn't stay in as well. The MM 50 iPs are also cheaper and have a mic and control button.
Etymotic Research 6isolator - The 6isolators are strong competitors. True to their name, they isolate very well. They also have great audio quality and are relatively cheap. The CX 95s, however, are a bit cheaper and offer slightly better overall audio quality. In this case we're really torn, because we value isolation over audio quality on in-ears. Try both, but we'd probably recommend the 6isolators over the CX 95s.
V-MODA Vibe Duo - The V-MODA Vibe Duos are slightly cheaper than the CX 95s, but we don't think they offer quite as much. The CX 95s trump them on audio quality, but the Vibe Duos look better overall and come with a handy mic and control button. This makes them great for use with cell phones or (select) media players. We think we're going to lean towards the CX 95s on this one, because the extra cash gets you a better value.
Apple iPod In-ear Headphones - The CX 95s one weak point is they dont' stay in your ears particularly well. The Apple iPod headphones take this flaw and magnify it by a factor of at least six (this hyperbole has not been verified with scientific testing). Really, although the iPod headphones are cheap, which wins over the budget buyers, the CX 95s offer a better deal if you can afford them, which will provide you with a much better quality set of headphones.
The Sennheiser CX 95s are good headphones, but we had some problems with them. First of all, we didn't particularly like the way they fit. We're not sure if it was weird sleeves, the unique ear bud shape, or some other factor, but they just didn't sit as well as, say, the Sennheiser MM 50 iPs, which we adored. In terms of dollars, the CX 95s are a good enough choice. They have the short cord for those who can use it, and a slightly longer than average cord for those that can't.
Their audio quality is good overall, but they fell off a bit on isolation, which is typically an in-ear strong suit. Although isolation isn't the most important of aspects we test for, in-ears need good isolation; more often than not they need to help your music contend with street noise.
We think the CX 95s are a solid option, but wer're not all that sold on the idea that they're better than the MM 50 iPs. The CX 95s cost a little more, offer less audio quality and comfort, and have a short cord. The MM 50 iPs are better overall, but suffer from some severe durability issues. While we think the MM 50 iPs are still a better choice, that in no way means the CX 95s are anything but solid.
Audiophiles that don't mind the frequency response will be very happy with the low distortion and great tracking. We'd ask that they make they listen first, but we'd recommend these to our audiophile friends.
We would recommend these to portable users, but with a bit of a warning: if you're looking for ear plugs, buy the Shure SE420s. The CX 95s dont' block out very much noise, but they are more portable than average. While we're a bit torn on the recommendation, we still think the CX 95s would be good for portable users. Just try not to tug the cord much.
These things are comfortable and, since you won't be moving around that much on an airplane, the issue about the headphones coming loose is moot. The main concern in this case that left us with a 'maybe' answer is with their isolation capabilities.
No. You can use them in a pinch, but don't use in-ears for your home theater setup. There are much better options out there, such as headphones with surround sound, the Sennheiser HD 555s, or the Pioneer SE-A1000s.
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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email