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The Sennheiser CX 980s, as modeled by our Head and Torso Simulator (HATS).

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The Sennheiser CX 980s are a set of nice-looking in-ears. The ear buds feature a little bend in their neck, at the bottom of which is a hard rubber cord guard.

Further down the cord is an in-line volume control.

And the headphones culminate in a somewhat thick plug. The thickness is to allow the tip of the plug to swivel.

In the box you'll find a few sleeves, some foam nozzle guards, a cleaning tool, a pouch, a cord wrap, an airplane adapter, and a shirt clip.

The CX 980s seem to be decently durable for a set of in-ears.

In-ears don't really have enough surface area to do something aesthetically pleasing. This being said, the CX 980s look good for the small bits of plastic they are. We like their overall design. You won't be embarrassed with these things dangling between your tragi.

The Sennheiser CX 980s had a decent frequency response, but it wasn't perfect. First of all, this obviously isn't the curve of a pair of reference headphones, so don't expect your frequencies to come out of the CX 980s pristine and untouched. The bass gets a fair amount of boost, which is common for in-ears. There's also a boost at around the 7kHz mark. This is also a commonly amped-up area, since the attack on drums falls around 7kHz. After that point, though, the curve dips down before shooting way up again at the 10kHz range. Spoken sibilance and sizzling cymbals call the 10kHz range their home. We could definitely hear the boost while listening to certain tracks, and it wasn't a good thing. We noticed a few tracks that relied heavily on high-end sizzle simply sounded shrill.

Frequency Response Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The CX 980s are yet another pair of Sennheiser headphones with next to no distortion. You shouldn't have any issues with the CX 980s.

Distortion Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The CX 980 barely had any trouble with tracking. The most significant jump we found was at the 1kHz mark, and it was for a meager 2dB. These are some very evenly balanced headphones.

Tracking Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

Since the CX 980s sit outside the ear canal, they don't offer the sort of isolation you'd find in a set of canal headphones. Like most in-ears, the CX 980s don't block out much bass, but do stop a lot of mid-to-high-end noise from finding your ears.

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Isolation Graph

Click here for more information on our isolation test.

In-ears typically don't leak a lot of sound, and the Sennheiser CX 980s do nothing to fight this stereotype. The CX 980s are good headphones for private listening: unless you're blasting your music, no one around you will hear a whisper of it.

Click here for more information on our leakage test.

We measured the Sennheiser CX 980's maximum usable volume at 112.41dB, which is a healthy volume, especially for headphones so close to your ear canal. This isn't the most volume your headphones can put out, but anything higher will have an annoyingly noticeable amount of distortion. Additionally, volumes over 120dB can cause permanent hearing damage over a period of time, so 112dB is like having a safety rail around your sensitive ear bits.

Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test

For us, most of the Sennheiser CX 980s' sleeves skirted the boundary of uncomfortable. The majority of the sleeves are designed to fit somewhat inside your ear, but not enough to keep them in there securely. Fortunately, the headphones also come with a set of foam sleeves that allow the headphones to fit further into the ear canal. If you're like us, skip the rest of the sleeves and just use the foam ones.

Our standard subjectivity clause applies here: this is wholly our own educated opinion. As far as you know, we could all be horrible mutants with grossly misshapen ear canals, rendering this entire section utterly useless for humanity at large. The best way to tell if you'll find a set of headphones comfortable is by trying them out yourself.

The problem with foam sleeves is they can feel a bit irritating over time. Since the CX 980s only come with two different types of sleeves (foam and soft plastic), after six or so hours of wear, they'll start to get a bit uncomfortable regardless. This isn't so much a problem with the CX 980s specifically as it is with all in-ears: your ear canals don't want foreign objects crammed into them for long periods of time.

The CX 980s come with a few customization options. First of all, there are multiple included sleeves, though most are just different sizes of the soft plastic type; as mentioned above, there's also a set of foam sleeves. Also included is a shirt clip, which is useful for those people who don't like threading the cord through their shirts. By tethering the cord in place, you cut down on line noise from the cable bouncing around as you step.

The plug can swivel to attain a 90° angle. We suppose that kind of counts as a customization option.

Additionally, the headphones have an in-line volume control for when the iPhone in your pocket just isn't convenient enough.

The Sennheiser CX 980s are just shy of four feet long, which is a decent length for a set of in-ears. Unless you're eight feet tall and carry the bulk of that in your torso, four feet is more than enough to reach that iPhone in your front pocket.

The cable's plug is super fancy and can twist to a 90° angle. This seems like it could be a useful feature, but we're not sure how it might affect the headphones' overall durability.

The CX 980s also come with an airplane adapter. Like the headphones' plug, the airplane adapter also has a swivel point.

For starters, in-ear headphones are supremely portable. They're just a small bit of cord with some plastic bits on either end. Maybe if you're lucky there's some metal involved, but even then it's only a tiny bit. In addition to a small form factor, the CX 980s also come with two pouches. The first holds all your sleeves and keeps them from rolling around everywhere. The second lets you wrap up the cord to prevent it from tangling up.

Unlike many other in-ears, the CX 980s actually come with a cleaning tool. In-ears are the only headphones that are intended to brave the disgusting human ear, but very few manufacturers seem to have hygiene in mind.

The CX 980s answer to the ear wax problem is the same as Shure's: a small bit of plastic with a thin metal loop on one end. Additionally, the CX 980s come with small, removable, foam plugs fit into their nozzles. We're definitely a fan of these little foam plugs. As we've mentioned in myriad Shure reviews, that little included scraper can't reach stuff at the bottom of the nozzle: any gunk that finds its way that deep is a permanent resident, at least until you personally revolutionize the miniature scraping device industry.

Battery

The CX980s don't require any batteries, which is great because batteries are annoying. The CX 980s pick up some easy points here.

Volume Control

The Sennheiser CX 980s have an in-line volume control slider. It functions as you'd suspect. Since most media devices also have volume controls, we don't find this a particularly compelling feature.

The SE530s aren't as pretty as the CX 980s, but they are more durable. The SE 530s also have a jack split about a foot and a half away from the ear buds, letting you replace the main bulk of the cord, should it get damaged.

Both sets of headphones had similar curves. The CX 980 had more bass and a few peaks along the way. The SE530s had a much more level response, but fell off towards the high end.

Neither set of headphones had any distortion worth mentioning.

Neither set of headphones had any real issues with tracking, either.

The SE 530s were able to isolate better than the CX 980s, thanks in part to their larger foam sleeves.

We thought both sets of headphones were roughly the same comfort level. The Shure SE530s come with more sleeve options, though, so they're a better bet for ensuring a good fit.

These two headphones are pretty much on par with each other. They have similar performances and price points. The main, non-aural difference between the two is the CX 980s have an in-line volume control and the SE530s have a jack split so you can insert any accessory, like a remote and mic. Other than this and a few other minor differences, in the end, this decision is going to have to come down to your ear and what sort of sound you prefer.

As you can see, the two headphones have slightly different designs. The QC15s are over-ear headphones with an active noise cancellation feature that requires a single AAA battery. The CX 980s are a set of in-ears with no fancy-pants cancellation, and, as in-ears, are significantly more fragile than the QC15s.

The CX 980s have a much more even keel to their frequency response.

The QC15s have a bit more distortion than the CX 980s; when the QC15s' active cancellation feature is enabled, the headphones suffer from a great deal of distortion.

The QC15s have a bit of volume wobble between the left and right channels towards the high end of the frequency spectrum.

The CX 980s don't block out as much noise as the QC15s, especially when the latter has its active cancellation feature switched on.

The Bose QC15s are significantly more comfortable than the CX 980s in that they don't seek to cram their entirety into your head.

The CX 980s are definitely the better set of headphones if you're looking for audio quality or portability, but if you're looking to take your headphones anywhere noisy, the choice is less clear. Audio quality doesn't count for much when there's external noise competing with your playback. If you find yourself mainly listening to music in obnoxiously loud locations, or you simply don't like shoving stuff in your ears, you should consider the QC15s.

The CX 980s don't have the sleek, clean look that the Apple headphones do, but they're also not utterly ubiquitous like the Apple headphones. Further, although Apple has improved their design considerably, their headphones still aren't the most durable. We think the CX 980s would last a bit longer.

The two headphones have similar shapes to their curve. Both have a bit of a lull before 10kHz before picking up again, although the Apple In-ears seem to miss the 10kHz hot spot by a bit, boosting an adjacent frequency band. The Apple In-ears also don't have a bump at 7kHz to give drums more punch. Both headphones took a dive just before the 10kHz spot, but the Apple In-ears didn't even stay within the ballpark.

The Apple In-ears had a tiny little plateau of distortion towards the high-mids, but it shouldn't be anything you'd notice.

Both headphones had very even tracking.

The Apple In-ears actually isolated better than the CX 980s, if a bit less consistently.

We thought both headphones suffered from the same problem: they don't stick inside the ear as well as they should. The CX 980s come with more sleeve options, however, which means you're more likely to find a good fit.

The Apple In-ears aren't bad headphones, but they aren't great. We didn't like the fit nearly as much as the CX 980s: the ear buds would pop out if the cord was gently tugged. While the CX 980s have better audio quality, if you're on a budget and don't mind the fit, the Apple In-ears might be a better choice.

We thought the CX 300-IIs were a bit plain looking. If you want slightly more aesthetic value than a splash of color, the CX 980s are the better choice. We felt the CX 980s also had a slightly more durable construction.

The two headphones had nearly identical frequency response. The minor differences here would be barely audible.

No distortion in either set of headphones.

The CX 980s had a slightly more even tracking than the CX 300-IIs

The CX 300-IIs were able to block out slightly more noise, but not by any great stretch.

We thought both sets of headphones offered about the same level of comfort. Since they're both Sennheiser in-ears, their designs are very similar. We didn't think the little bend in the CX 980s did much for comfort.

The two headphones are actually quite similar. The CX 980s look like they feature better construction and they had a slight edge in the audio tests, but not by enough to merit the price difference. We'd probably recommend sticking with the CX 300-IIs and saving the money, providing the CX 980s' sound doesn't totally blow you away.

CX 980The CX 980s are a great set of in-ears. They have very low distortion, good audio quality, solid construction, and come with a decent array of packed-in extras. We have no complaints with the audio quality, but we would've liked a few more sleeves to ensure a better fit.

We thought the CX 980s were roughly on par with the Shure SE530s. The two headphones have similar price points and performances, but what the SE530s offer in extra durability, the CX 980s have in aesthetics. If you're considering the SE530s, the CX 980s should definitely be on your list as well.

If you're a bit skittish about investing so much in a set of in-ears, the CX 300-IIs offer similar audio quality at a much cheaper price point. The construction won't be as sturdy, but for the majority of budget users out there, the CX 300-IIs will be a better match.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer

@markbrezinski

Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

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