Sennheiser is a name that is synonymous with audio gear. These guys make everything from high grade headphones, to studio quality microphones. So it should come as no surprise that they want to extend their reach into the athletic arena. They have had a couple of models out over the years. Personally, I (my wife as well) owned the neon green MX 75 Sport’s for several years, and have had nothing but high praise for them. About a year ago, they launched the MX 85′s that switched up from bright green, to a more subtle orange. Usually we try to keep our reviews current for our ABI’ers, but the new Sennheiser/Adidas line actually takes a step back. So let’s dive into these headphones and see what they’re all about.
Study after study shows how much music can improve your workouts. A lot of this depends on the type of music you listen to. The beats per minute is a big determinant of effort exerted during a workout. These studies show that when listening to music with a slower tempo, you will see a decrease in effort exerted. On the flip side, when listening to a more intense, and higher tempo song, these same test subjects will increase their performance. Clearly music is a big part of training, and more and more audio companies are upping their game to take advantage of the active consumers out there looking to improve their gym sessions.
Recently, Sennheiser has partnered with Adidas to bring a line of sweat resistant, training headphones to the masses. There are many different variations available from IEM’s, to over the ears. They use a friendlier color combination of black and yellow (yes, these were designed before Wiz Khalifa made a name for himself) which should bode well for sales. They also stayed with their patented twist to fit system as an option, which I think is the best of the bunch. The big problem with the new headphones from Adidas lies in the volume control switch. Why they included this is beyond me. The last thing I want is a volume dongle the size of a couple AA batteries bouncing around from a cord dangling from my ears. If I want to change the volume, my Clip+ isn’t far away.
So with the new version taking itself out of the running, let’s talk about the 85′s.
Headphones Type Headphones: Binaural
- Headphones Form Factor: Ear-bud
- Headphones Technology: Dynamic
- Connectivity Technology: Wired
- Sound Output Mode: Stereo
- Response Bandwidth: 18 – 21000 Hz
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): 0.1 %
- Sensitivity: 117 dB
- Impedance: 64 Ohm
- Magnet Material: Neodymium
- Warranty: 2 year warranty
- Weight: 0.3 oz
- Other: water & sweat resistnant
- Headphones Type Headphones: Binaural
In the Box
The 85′s come in your standard plastic retail packaging. Unlike the Yurbuds which try their best to scream you into a workout, the design is minimal and tasteful. The packaging tells you what they are, and what they are used for. The packaging also wasn’t a pain to open. Once you pop up a corner, the rest seems to snap off.
Inside, you will find the buds, a gel carrying case, different size fittings for ear bud, and extension as well as a cable clip for your shirt. The gel carrying casevis a nice little touch. Being gym phones, we tend to abuse them a little more than normal, so more than likely these would be wound up for travel purposes. The case will fit the headphones and a Sansa Clip with no problems, but anything much bigger won’t fit inside the case.
The MX 85′s use the J style loop with the cord. The headphone basically extends up to the left ear, and then breaks near the top to the other ear. This provides more options in the way these can be worn, and I feel these “tug” less during strenuous activity. I will run the cord up my shirt to my left ear, and then loop the right bud around the back of my neck to my right ear. The cord itself is very durable, and won’t have a problem holding up in the long run. I still have some 75′s that are about 3 years old (for a backup set) that work great. The cord does have a tendency to tangle though, which can be a pain if you leave them in your gym bag. Sennheiser was also smart to implement a 90 degree headphone plug to connect to your mp3 player. This is the way it should be done when designing gym friendly headphones.
The magic of these bud style phones lies in the twist to fit system. The buds have an extension running up their spine that acts as a stabilizer bridge with your ear. Using one of the supplied ear pieces (S,M,L), you simply place the bud in your ear, provide a little twist to find a comfort spot, and they stay in place. The ear bud also has 2 different size covers to cater to anyones ear opening to ensure a proper fit.
This twist to fit system is the best scenario I have tired this far with athletic phones. They keep a low profile earbud in place, and don’t interfere with anything else. You can have an over the ear system, but when you run with sunglasses, this can lead to the glasses bouncing a little on your head because they don’t rest on your soft ears. You can have some cans, but those just soak up the sweat. The research Sennheiser put in the MX series really shines through. It really doesn’t matter what you do, they stay in place. Running, jumping, plyometrics or any other interval & weight training workouts pose no threat to the phones. The ear buds also provide a tight seal by using the included fittings for the buds, which increases comfort as well. Users might get some soreness initially from the extension putting pressure on the ear, but that goes away after a day or two of use, if that is even an issue at all.
As stated before, I owned the MX 75′s, which are the earlier version of these headphones. Sennheiser improved some of the aspects on the build, but not much was needing improvement there. I thought the 75′s had a pretty decent sound, but could definitely stand to be improved in certain departments. I was really looking forward t the 85′s to see what they had in store for the update.
I have used the 85′s for about 2 month now. Compared to the 75′s, the new(er) models have tightened up. The bass is cleaner and more accurate than the previous model. One of the motivating factors when training with music is to have the bass thumping, bringing life into your music and in effect your workout. These aren’t overly bassy by any means, and I wouldn’t categorize them specifically for bassheads. With that said, the lower end of the spectrum is well represented. It’s punchy and boomy when they need to be (hip-hop), and clean and well balanced at other times. The bass pounds while listening to Mims’ “This is why I’m hot,” which can give anyone some swagger, and at the same time lends a smooth ear to Jamey Johnson and the more mellow sounding bass guitar. It should satisfy most needs.
As we move up the sound spectrum, we see the mids being a little overly present when the EQ is set to flat. Martin has always talked about how the human listening experience perceives (for most people) the V spectrum as the most natural way to listen to music. This is where I really see the need to EQ these headphones. When running on a strictly flat setting, it reminds me of a pancake. The mids seem to be a little too forward, and the upper end gets a little muddy and inefficient. I did a lot of adjusting, and found it best to give a little boost to the low end (not much though) to match the boost necessary to clean out the high end (V shaped) so I could bring the vocals and other areas forward a little bit.
With the Clip+ now tweaked to sound better, the spectrum fills out much nicer. The mids now are a little recessed, giving the cleaner sound to the ears. Hip-hop and pop users will enjoy the sound that’s poured out from the 85′s. Generally, the lesser detailed styles of music will sound great here. Don’t expect to be blown away if you want some highly detailed rythm coming though though. The sound is there and alive, but it just isn’t refined. The guitars pour out with a roar, but the clarity and precision is lost. Not enough to notice at the gym or on the move at all, but more if you would throw these on at your desk or sitting on your couch where the focus is on the music.
One of the low points on the originals was the recessed vocals, which would often be a little muddied. I find the same issues with the 85′s, and I think it’s safe to say that Sennheiser didn’t change the sound signature much between the models. They don’t really come in with vibrance, leading to some tracks feeling like the artist is in the other room. In fact, the V Moda Bass frequency buds have a little clearer high end. However, this can drastically be tweaked with the EQ (just as with the 75′s). By using that V curve on my Clip+, the high’s immediately perk up, but still not to superior levels. They can’t touch the cleanliness of the Panasonic HJE900′s, nor my traveling Sony MDR NC60′s. However, the environment these were intended to be used for will give you no problems.
To sum up the sound quality I would say they bring excitement to your training program. The bass is prevalent, while the rest of the sound (when tweaked to necessary levels) provides plenty of life and energy. I’ve been through many headphones over the years that I’ve beat up in the gym, and I keep coming back to this Sennheiser line. Sure, you could use some normal IEM’s that aren’t meant for the gym which provide a little cleaner sound, but you won’t find it in this price range, or with their focus on active lifestyles.
The design is the best I have used to date. They sit securely in your ears, without being a direct in ear headphone. The extension really provides a lot of stability during use, and unlike the Yurbuds, you really forget you are wearing them. That might be one of the best compliments to give active headphones, considering you don’t always need to adjust them during use. They just work, and work like they’re supposed to.
The MX 85′s have a solid, fun sound that brings plenty to the gym. For the price, build quality, and generally good sound, it’ll be hard to beat. These aren’t for detailed listening when you want to get lost in Led Zeppelin. They are simply geared to bring that motivation and enjoyment to your workouts, or even when you’re out and about.
For more information on the benefits of music in training environments: NY Times
Amazon: Sennheiser MX 85 Sport $36