Details: Budget in-ear from Sennheiser’s “designed for women” line
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $69.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 120 dB | Freq: 19-20.5k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down
Accessories (2.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), 3.5mm splitter, and leather carrying pouch
Build Quality (4/5) – The asymmetrical housings are made of solid plastics and feel fairly sturdy. Strain reliefs are short but the silver cable is identical to that used on the MX/OMX471 earbuds – thick, soft, and very flexible. A fairly large volume pot hangs not far below the y-split and the 3.5mm L-plug has a long and soft strain relief
Isolation (3/5) – Good enough for daily use though the fit of the CX281 is rather shallow
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Merely alright when worn cord-down, good when worn over-the-ear
Comfort (4/5) – The housings are curved in an attempt at ergonomic design but really just aren’t small enough for the target market. The front edges are squared off and facilitate shallower insertion unlike the rounded housings of the older CX200/250 earphones. Comfortable, but not game-changing
Sound (5.6/10) – Following hot on the heels of the new CX280, the designed-for-women CX281 follows pretty much the same formula. Like the CX280, the CX281 is advertised as having ‘bass-driven sound’ and like the CX280 it is rather controlled and delicate in nature. The CX281 is just a touch warmer and bassier than the CX280 but still falls squarely between the older CX300 and CX250 models in bass quantity. Mid-bass is expectedly emphasized but the extension of earphones such as the Meelec M9 is lacking in the CX281.
The midrange is probably the most agreeable aspect of the CX281, being almost identical to that of the CX280. Clarity and detail are quite good though the CX281 does sound just a touch more grainy than the CX280. The treble is prominent and can be fatiguing at high volumes but rolls off later than that of the CX300 and carries more detail throughout. In presentation the CX281 once again follows in the footsteps of the CX280 but lacks the soundstage width, opting instead for a slightly more intimate sound to match the slightly warmer tone of the earphones. Personally I find the presentation of the CX280 to be slightly more realistic despite the tone and timbre of the two earphones being nearly identical.
Value (7/10) – Though not quite as impressive as the ‘mainline’ CX280, the CX281 is a competent budget IEM with an agreeable signature and great all-around usability. Sennheiser did source the excellent silver cable, including the notched-wheel volume control, for the CX281 from the MX471, giving it a leg up over the CX280 in microphonics and overall feel. Comfort and isolation are also quite reasonable for a budget-minded set. The sound signature is a bit less realistic than that of the CX280 but arguably more enjoyable, especially for the average listener. Like most of the CX-series earphones, the CX281 fluctuates wildly in street price but anything under $30 would make them a pretty good deal in my book.
Pros: Well-built and comfortable, low microphonics, all-around competent sound
Cons: No ‘wow’ factor, overpriced at MSRP