Details: One of several Sennheiser earphones developed in collaboration with BMW Designworks
MSRP: $259.95 (manufacturer’s page), $299.95 for CX980i with mic & 3-button remote (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $260 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 115 dB | Freq: 16-24k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ rotating plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Rock-It R-20/MEElec A151 single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (5/5) – Single-flange “balanced sound” silicone tips (3 sizes), single-flange “enhanced bass” silicone tips (3 sizes), foam tips, cleaning tool, replacement nozzle filters (2 pairs), shirt clip, airplane adapter, soft carrying pouch, and carrying case with integrated cable winder
Build Quality (4/5) – Engineered in collaboration with BMW Designworks, the CX980 is a striking combination of metal and plastic. The housings have a solid, hefty feel due to the metal stems but are otherwise plastic like those of the other, much cheaper CX-series earphones. The nozzle filters are just cylinders of foam and the cables are thinner compared to Sennheiser’s IE-series models. An in-line analog volume control is mounted at the y-split and the metal 3.5mm plug rotates between 90- and 180-degree configurations
Isolation (3.5/5) – Good due to compact, well-sealing housings and angled nozzles
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Cable noise is tolerable but the CX980 housings are difficult to wear over-the-ear due to the long stems
Comfort (4.5/5) – Despite the heft of the metal housings and volume control, the CX980 is quite comfortable to wear with its thin, angled nozzles, smooth housings, and angled cable entry. My only real gripe is that it is difficult to wear over the ear
Sound (8.1/10) – The CX980 follows the usual Sennheiser CX-series formula, delivering warm sound with generous bass but missing out on some of the clarity and refinement of more fidelity-oriented earphones. The bass of the CX980 is rather heavy – slightly greater in quantity than that of Sennheiser’s IE6 model and more in line with the Brainwavz M5. Bass control is rather good considering the sheer weight of it – the CX980 doesn’t sound overly flabby for such a bassy earphone. It is more controlled, for example, than the Audio-Technica CKM500, which has a more pronounced mid-bass hump. Bass depth is also good – the earphones produce a nice rumble down at the lowest frequencies.
The midrange of the CX980 is not as forward as that of the IE6 and the bass clouds over the mids slightly. The result is mild midrange veiling and a slight clarity deficiency even in comparison to cheaper sets such as the VSonic GR06. Tonally, the CX980 is on the warm side. Treble extension and quality are good but there’s not enough top end presence to counteract the heavy bass. On the upside, the top end is very smooth, with no discernible grain, and sounds quite natural compared to many lower-end sets.
The presentation of the CX980 is again typical of a Sennheiser CX-series in-ear – not overly congested but far from spacious as a result of the somewhat laid-back treble. The overall sound is rather in-the-head, especially when compared to sets such as the VSonic GR06 and Sennheiser’s own IE-series earphones. Interestingly, the CX980 doesn’t seem to be as sensitive as indicated in the specifications – through all my listening it required more power than the competition.
When all is said and done, the CX980 is highly reminiscent of the $40 Brainwavz M5, boasting all similar shortcomings, albeit to a less severe degree. The CX980 is not quite as bassy as the M5, but otherwise shares a similar signature. Treble quality and extension are better on the CX980, but treble energy is still not as great as I would like. Clarity and detail, likewise, are slightly better on the CX980, and soundstage is a little more spacious. The difference between the two sets is clearly audible, and yet not as great as it should be considering the price gap.
Value (6.5/10) – The BMW-designed Sennheiser CX980 accomplishes a rare feat for an in-ear monitor – its metal accents look stylish, but not ostentatious. Sadly, the low-grade plastics don’t have quite give it the same refinement up close and the long stems prevent over-the-ear wear. It is still very comfortable when worn cord-down, however, and has the sound of a good consumer-class earphone, with plentiful bass and smooth treble. Unfortunately, though the bass is rather well-controlled, the overall sound is too slanted towards the low end and lacks the clarity of many other similarly-priced monitors, making the CX980 a difficult recommendation.
Pros: Comfortable form factor; striking design
Cons: Difficult to wear over-the-ear; bass emphasis takes away from overall sound