There are $500 sets of earbuds on the market. I’m sure they’re fantastic and feel like small rubber teddy bears hugging each other in your ear canal, but I’m not prepared to spend the price of a new phone on a peripheral that will probably be lost, stolen, left in a car or a drawer before the year is out. Things that are important in a speaker or pro DJ headphones just don’t matter here. My earbuds are going to have the primary goal of drowning out the tubercular cough of the drunk passed out behind me on the L.
There’s a sweet spot between price, comfort and clarity that we’re trying to hit here. I’ll settle for a piece of crap snagged from the check out aisle at Costco, but if I can pay $20 more and get something that feels good and sounds pretty nice, of course I’ll get them.
And this, right here, is where Sennheiser has the market cornered.
I’ve used Sennheiser earbuds for three years now. The Sennheiser CX 310s were “Adidas branded,” though in reality all this meant were a few small logo stickers and carrying bag. I swore by these for years – already a huge fan of Sennheiser mics and headphones, these earbuds felt great, stayed in place and sounded spectacular for a product so cheap that I couldn’t get too upset about it if I never saw them again.
I hit the market, my heart set on replacing my 310s with the same model but determined to shop around. I tried a few products – even way down on the discount scale. There’s a certain point at which technology becomes ubiquitous enough that even cut-rate manufacturers can churn out an acceptable product (think in terms of touchscreens. Eight years ago they were fairly prestigious and unique, but you can pick up a phone with technology Apple blew past in 2012 for $50 now and find it an acceptable alternative.)
None were quite good enough, but to my frustration, finding a set of CX 310s was just about impossible. Sennheiser’s licensing deal with Adidas must have expired, and all I found were some dodgy knockoffs of questionable provenance. (Note: an attentive reader pointed out a set here in blue from Sennheiser, though only 2 are left in stock.)
Thankfully, Sennheiser has kept the product line, if not the product itself, alive and flowing through the supply chain. The Sennheiser CX 300-II Precision earbuds might not be a precise copy of the CX 310s, but they’re pretty damn close. And the solid black and grey finish actually looks better than the blue & white of the Adidas-branded model, not to mention more discrete in a city where walking while distracted can be an invitation to a punch in the mouth. (I later learned they come in a variety of colors, however, from Steel Blue to White, Silver to Gold, Chrome to Black and Red to Pink.)
Soundwise, these are everything I loved about the CX 310s. The earbuds which seem rubbery and flimsy actually make a solid seal in the ear and stay put. The asymmetrical length of each bud takes some getting used to if you’re unfamiliar with the set up, but after a couple of days I doubt you’ll notice. You’ll have to provide your own clip to use it jogging – Sennheiser has a “sports” line and apparently wants to keep them separated. And as far as the sound: it’s fantastic for such a cheap product. Noise cancellation is supreme: you can hear yourself breathe like you’re soaking in a hot tub with the music down low. And the price is unbeatable: $50 if you shop around and you won’t have to look very hard (even cheaper on Amazon right now.)