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May 19, 2010

Sennheiser PX100

If you don't care about blocking out noise or about the embarrassment of sound leakage--or if you just like the unconfined feel of open-backed headphones, the Sennheiser PX100s are the best lightweight headphones I've yet found. And at $49, they won't break the bank.

The two-inch foam pads sit lightly on your ears, and the phones weigh a mere 3 ounces--easy to carry and easy to wear. They also fold to a convenient size and have a rugged, if complicated, case. But the real story is the audio performance.

The PX100s go almost as deep in the bass as the Sennheiser HD280 Pros, which are my idea of what studio/critical listening headphones should sound like. In my tests, both are flat down to 50Hz, below which the PX100s begin to lose steam. But they're only off the pace by 3dB at 40Hz and 6-7dB at 30Hz.

More importantly, they're dead flat through the rest of the audio spectrum, and they roll off at 13KHz and beyond, following the same gentle curve as the HD280s and the Shure E4c in-canal phones. Since they're open-back, they feel more open and spacious than the closed-back or in-canal phones. They do everything remarkably well for something so small and light.

As you can see from the above chart, they do very little to block out external noise. The blue trace is 85dB white noise in my test room and the red trace is what the ear behind the headphone hears. So don't take the PX100s on your next plane flight expecting to be wrapped in a cocoon of silence. You will, however, hear your material and the plane's audio programming with unaccustomed clarity.

Here you can see the two small cushions on the top band. The taper helps to keep the PX100s centered on your head. They stay in place well enough to jog or work out, without the distracting movement noises that you often encounter with earbuds. If you run outdoors, they're a safer alternative to in-canal phones because you can hear traffic, approaching bears, and the like. Plus, they'll keep your ears warm in winter! My test head has small rubber pinnae (that stick out endearingly), and you can see how the swivel mechanism adapts to keep the earpieces flat against the ear. They work just as well on larger ears.

The swivels turn a full 90 degrees and the sidepieces are notched, so the phones can fold to a very compact profile, as you can see here.

The hinged plastic case is kind of complicated, but strong. After you slide the folded phones into the case, you wrap the cord on a molded channel that keeps it in place. Then you snap the case closed. It's all very Teutonic; the underlying mindset will be immediately familiar to BMW and Mercedes owners.

The PX100s are great little headphones; I can hardly say enough good about them.

Posted by machrone at May 19, 2010 10:52 PM