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HATS-Front Image
HATS-Side Image

The speaker element of the is guarded by a porous foam that may or may not add a tiny bit of distortion to your music, as foam is wont to do.

Speaker Image

Despite durability concerns, Sennheiser elected to give the s a very thin 3.93 foot cable with an inordinately heavy and bulky remote that may end up causing you cable breakage in the future.

The cable of the ends in a rather plain-looking 1/8th inch plug

Cable Connectivity Image

The cord guards are about as robust as you could expect with in-ears, which while disappointing, isn't terribly unexpected. In-ears typically sacrifice robustness for a smaller size, and the s are no different.

A good ways down the thin cable of the is the inordinately heavy and bulky remote, which is a huge durability concern. Located on the remote is the battery housing, a volume slider, and the active noise cancellation switch. We pity the fool who doesn't clip this monstrosity to their clothes before listening.

Additional Features 1 Image

Inside the shiny packaging for the s are 2 additional sleeve sizes, a AAA battery, a cleaning tool, diaphragm guards, carrying case, airplane adapter, 1/4 inch adapter, in-ear headphones, and assorted documentation.

In the Box Image

In-ear headphones are typically less durable than their on or over-ear brethren, but these are exceptionally fragile because of the super-heavy remote of dubious functionality.

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As far as in-ears go, these look pretty slick, despite looking a little on the plastic side. The comedically oversized remote does stick out like a sore thumb, however some may be able to hide it in a pocket.

For the most part, the s manage to stay relatively within our ideal limits, but there are a few anomalies that are worth mentioning. For instance, the 0-350Hz range (the bassiest sounds, synths, and kick drum attack) is dramatically overemphasized, as well as the 7-9kHz range (where you'd find most of your sibilants and cymbal sounds) will sound a lot louder than the rest of your music. Not ideal for audiophiles, but some people like emphasis in these ranges.

Frequency Response Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

There was a 1% general distortion level, culminating in a low total sound pressure level. This should be inaudible to all of our readers, unless you are a Head and Torso Simulator robot.

Distortion Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The tracking response for the s was mostly even, save for two semi-audible shifts at the lowest and highest ranges. Most users will not hear it.

Tracking Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The s are interesting in that they have three separate modes of active noise cancellation that you can choose from. Using the one that blocked out the most noise (in our labs), you can see something bizarre happen. For whatever reason, and against all logic, turning the active cancellation unit on actually makes the attenuation worse than the passive attenuation in some ways. We struggled to explain this phenomenon away, but the only conclusion we could come to is that because of the selected destructive interference pattern, additional noise must have been pumped into the ear canal by the headphones.

Overall, though, the s do attenuate noise fairly well, dropping total sound pressure levels (SPL) down by an average of just over 19dB, which is a substantial reduction.

Isolation Graph

Click here for more information on our isolation test.

There are no issues of leakage with the , so you should be safe blasting your favorite tunes without disturbing others in public.

Click here for more information on our leakage test.

While it is theoretically possible for you to listen to your s at a level exceeding 125dB without reaching a 3% level of distortion, we strongly advise you not to even come close to approaching that volume. Nobody wants to lose their hearing over a pair of headphones, especially not audiophiles.

Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test

In the short term, several around the office reported that the initial fit of the s is about as comfortable as in-ears tend to get. Overall, though, the fit depends on how well the included tips go into the ear canal. Because there are only 3 sizes, some may find that they can't get an ideal fit, but at least it's better than just having one size.

Over time, the fit doesn't really change, and the only thing that will change that is tugging from the massive remote, which we recommend you clip to your shirt. Barring any tugging on your in-ears, the fit shouldn't change.

Aside from choosing which size tip you use, there really isn't much you can do to customize your s. It's not necessarily a bad thing, however, as these things are little: you probably won't have any other need to mess around with them.

At first glance, the s present with some very standard options that are common for headphones that are geared towards the traveler. With the s, you get a standard 3.93 ft cable, 1/4th inch adapter, an airplane adapter, and a standard 1/8th inch plug. As previously mentioned, there is an in-line remote that is more Sisyphean boulder than boon, but it is necessary for the amount of additional electronics added to the unit itself.

With the added carrying case, your s should be able to go comfortably wherever you do. Because in-ears by deign are typically very light, the s won't weigh you down (assuming you've clipped your remote on something). If you don't have a pocket to clip your remote on, however, you will find that your headphones will feel a lot heavier on your ear canals than they should be.

Included in the packaging for the s is a cleaning tool, and two little foam gate replacements. These in-ears should be easy to maintain, but should the cables break, you're out of luck. Because the cables are usually the first thing to go (especially when they're as thin as the ones on the ), be extremely careful about how you store these, and also how much pressure you put on the solder points of the remote. Because the remote is so heavy, it will be that much easier to destroy your cables.

Battery

Because the s use a system of active noise cancellation, they require a single AAA battery, which is placed underneath the sliding silver battery door. Listeners who have never used headphones with this feature before should know that this is a gigantic pain because even if by some miracle you are able to listen to your music with the noise canceling on for the manufacturer-claimed 16 hours, you will be steadily bleeding money to your battery manufacturer of choice. In addition, the hassle of carrying around batteries with you only to have to stop everything and replace them when you hit that magic mark when the noise canceling doesn't work anymore can get a little absurd if you're an avid listener.

Remote & Mic

We've been railing pretty hard on the remote for the throughout this entire review, and it's for good reason. While a remote is all but necessary for active noise cancelers, the one used by the is simply poorly-implemented. Not only does it pose a huge durability concern (high weight to cord thickness), but it also negatively impacts comfort in a big way should the clip ever come loose. By putting all of that extra weight on the frail cord, most of the force of the downward pull will go to your ear canals, which is a big problem.

Volume Control

Also located on the brobdingnagian remote is a volume slider, which is fairly straightforward. You probably won't mess with this one too much.

Active Noise Cancellation

By pushing the plastic slider around the volume on the remote, you can turn on the active noise cancellation feature on the s. Possibly the most interesting variation provided by this unit is the fact that you can change the mode of cancellation to best fit the type of noise you are around. For example, if you're on an airplane or subway, the most effective mode could be used to cancel out a bit less of the high end frequencies, and more of the low end sounds created by engines and rails.

While both in-ears are not exactly going to beat you over the head with slick aesthetics, we're going to posit that you'll probably like the overall design of the V-Modas a little bit better, due to the insane lengths the company goes to in order to ensure that their in-ears will not break. For example, the thicker cord is wrapped in a kevlar weave, and there is only a tiny, extremely lightweight remote.

Aside from the degree to which the overemphasizes some of its frequencies, these two in-ears are geared towards the same audience, as they have a a very similar responses.

Both in-ears have a small amount of distortion, but the V-Modas have less.

Both headphones lack a huge shift in channel preference that can be noticed.

Both sets of in-ears isolate well, but the system used on the is a lot more cumbersome and annoying. We'd stick with the passive attenuators here.

Because both sets of headphones are in-ears, comfort is going to depend greatly on how your inner ear is shaped. Also, the s have a heavy remote attached to the cable, so if it becomes unclipped for any reason, it will tug at your earbuds and become painful very quickly. The V-Modas do not have this problem.

Considering the cost of both units, we'll go out on a limb and say that the more affordable Vibrato Remotes will not only be potentially more comfortable, but a better value overall. Not only do they passively attenuate a lot of noise, but they also do not have the drawback of a terrible remote weighing them down. On top of that, they have a very similar frequency response, and a level of distortion that is not notably different from the more expensive Sennheisers.

Despite the inherent differences in design between on-ears and in-ears, the first impression we have is that not only are the Bose cans more durable, but they seem to have a slightly higher focus on aesthetics. That being said, the QuietComfort 15s are not some shining example of durability either, so take that as you will.

Hands-down, the has a less erratic frequency response, staying within our ideal limits for a greater range of frequencies.

The s also have a far lower total SPL of distortion too, which will be important to those who are sticklers for audio quality.

The QuietComfort 15s have a more erratic tracking response as well, giving us some rather bizarre shifts in channel preference in the mid to high end.

Both headphones are outstanding isolators, but the Bose cans seem to be able to attenuate more of the low end with their active cancelling circuit.

On-ears are almost universally more comfortable to wear than in-ears, but it is totally possible for users to prefer in-ears to on-ears. Give each a try before plunking down $200+ for either.

If you're looking for something to take on an airplane with you, we'd suggest the Bose cans over the . Not only are they a bit more durable, but they also block out a lot of that low-end noise that can become a huge bother. If you can find as good deal on the QuietComfort 15s, you might want to pick them up over the s.

Over-ears provide several advantages over in-ears by design, and the Sennheiser PXC 450s bring a lot to the table. Not only can their cords be replaced should something happen to them, but they also are more durable on the whole.

Neither frequency response is ideal, each with their drawbacks. The PXC 450s seem to be fairly erratic, while the s seem to boost the bass an inordinately high amount.

Neither set of headphones has much trouble with distortion.

Both headphones have issues with tracking, but the s have less swings in channel preference.

The PXC 450s seem to do a better job at attenuating sound than the s do, so we'll stick with them here.

Hands-down the PXC 450s are far more comfortable across a greater range of heads than are the s. Really, the only problems you could possibly run into is if your head was too small. In-ears typically cause some discomfort in the ear canal, especially when you have huge, heavy remotes tugging at them.

If you can find a good deal on the PXC 450s, go for them. The s aren't bad, but they do fall short in several key categories like durability that should give any consumer pause.

By design, both of these headphones are somewhat similar, though they are geared towards two different consumers in mind. The s are geared towards the frequent flyer, and the mc5s are geared towards the flat-frequency response lover who is on a tighter budget. Both are not very durable, but the mc5s do not have that huge remote posing a similarly large breakage concern.

At a certain point, frequency response can become a question of preference, and bass lovers typically recoil in horror at the flat frequency response of the mc5s, while audiophiles will probably freak out at the overemphasized frequencies of the . This one's up to you, but keep in mind a flat frequency response allows you to equalize your music more accurately, so there's that.

Neither set of headphones have a problem with distortion, but the active noise cancellation unit will give you more noise than no circuit at all.

Neither set of headphones have too many issues with tracking, but the mc5s are near perfect in this regard.

Here's the important comparison. Though the s use an active noise cancellation circuit to cancel out noise, there are a few drawbacks inherent to their design. The mc5s, on the other hand, just physically block the sound from entering the inner ear. Both do well at isolating noise, but the mc5s do a better job overall without extra resources used, or giving headaches to younger users who can hear frequencies above the 15kHz mark. By the numbers, though, the mc5s trounce the s, so users looking for the best attenuation should look no further than the mc5s.

Though both in-ears are not very comfortable, users will have to decide for themselves which fits better, as ear canals come in all different shapes and sizes. As an added wrinkle, though, the s do have that huge remote on the cable to tug at the earbuds, so that is a mild discomfort to pain concern.

If you're looking for the best attenuation on a budget, the mc5s can't be beat. However, if you're not a fan of the neutral-sounding headphones on the market, the s will probably sound a lot more appealing to you, especially if you like bass. In the end, it's up to you, but with a pricetag up 50% lower than the s, the mc5s offer great value at the cost of not having a remote.

All in all, the s perform about as well as they should for headphones a little cheaper than they are. Normally a slightly inflated pricetag wouldn't be such a horrible thing, but the user experience is downright awful because of the remote. It's big, heavy, causes durability concerns, and in some instances can cause pain while listening.

All that aside, the distortion isn't too bad for an active canceler, and the tracking response could be worse. What we're looking at here is a set of very average headphones, geared to the frequent air traveler. Because airplane engines tend to output a lot of noise that can damage your hearing on long trips, it's a very good idea to attenuate some of that droning noise, so this is a feature worth the money. Still, there are better attenuators for less.

As we previously mentioned, the remote is so ludicrously big and heavy for the thickness of wires used, so durability is a major concern. On top of the risk that at after a short while you could tear your cable in half is the potential for putting too much strain on your ear canals causing pain. If you do decide to get these, absolutely make sure that you can clip the remote on your clothes in a way that it won't fall off easily. Definitely not for exercising.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging

@cthomas8888

A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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