Brief: New entry-level ultralight sitting below the PX100-II in Sennheiser’s PX line.
MSRP: $39.95 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: N/A (discontinued)
Build Quality (6.5/10): The construction of the PX90 is very straightforward – the entry-level PX-series model gives up the collapsing structure of the PX100 and PX200 in favor of a simple flat-folding design. The lack of moving parts means that the PX90 is lighter even than my old PX100. It also means that there is very little to go wrong – the ultra-thin headband can be bent but it’s just as easy to bend back into shape. There is no headband padding per se but Sennheiser includes a small, removable bit of rubber meant to be placed around the top of the headband for extra friction. The cups take on the appearance of brushed metal but are actually plastic. The foam pads have a very slight bowl shape and on average are a bit thicker than PX100 pads. The cabling is similar to the previous-gen PX100, in that it is dual-entry and fairly thin, but the PX90 is equipped with an L-plug in place of the usual I-plug.
Comfort (9.5/10): The featherweight PX90 is equipped with the thinnest and most flexible headband of the PX range – an inherent advantage when it comes to wearing comfort. However, the cups don’t quite have the same range of motion with the PX90 as they do with the PX100 and PX200. The headband lacks padding but the light weight of the PX90 makes this a non-issue. Overall comfort is on-par with the PX100-II – not at all offensive for those accustomed to supraaural headphones
Isolation (3.5/10): The open design lets in tons of outside noise but the PX90 does seem to leak just a tad less than the PX100-II.
Sound (6.5/10): The MSRP of the PX90 slots it neatly below the PX100-II in Sennheiser’s portable lineup; figuring out where it belongs in terms of sound quality is far less straightforward. At first listen, the sound of the PX90 is slightly nondescript – it lacks the emphasized, aggressive mid-bass of the PX100-II and the detail of the PX200-II. The inefficiency of the headphone is immediately noticeable – it requires around 30% more volume than the PX100-II and is one of the very few portable headphones that allow me to max out my Cowon J3 without damaging my hearing. I do, however, anticipate many complaints of insufficient volume from the average consumer. Interestingly, I don’t think the PX90 gains a whole lot more speed or resolution when amped than the PX100-II so pushing it with a dedicated amp, while beneficial, won’t be worth the investment.
Inefficiency aside, the sound of the PX90 is quite pleasant and likable. The low end takes the middle ground between the heavy midbass of the PX100-II and the tight, punchy, and somewhat rolled-off bass of the PX200-II. There is a slight but noticeable boost in impact over the PX200-II – not enough for the PX90 to be called ‘bassy’ but sufficient for most listeners. The PX90 still retains a certain softness of note, making its bass sound ‘rounder’ than the tight and fast punch of the PX200-II, but isn’t lacking notably in speed or resolution. The midrange is smooth and clear. The diminished bass emphasis (compared to the PX100-II) results in a slight reduction in midrange coloration but the difference isn’t great – the PX200-II is still significantly more neutral in tone than the PX90. The mids of the PX90 are more laid-back than those of the PX100-II. Indeed, the overall presentation of the PX90 puts the music a few feet farther from the listener than with the PX100-II (and much farther than with the in-your-face Meelec HT-21). Detail and clarity lag slightly behind the higher-end PX-series headphones but compete well with the HT-21 once the aggressiveness of the Meelecs in bringing detail forward is discounted.
The treble is smooth and inoffensive. Like the midrange it is not quite as clear or detailed as with the other PX-series phones, but not too far off, either. It is also a bit less prominent than that of the PX100-II and a lot less prominent than that of the HT-21. The presentation is a bit distancing and separation lags behind the pricier PX models. There’s also not much air to the sound and the layering could be better but for the asking price it’s nothing I can’t live with. On the whole, I think that the presentation – like the sound signature – aims to be all things to all people, and I can see where Sennheiser is coming from with that – those who know exactly what they are looking for will probably end up buying one of the higher-end PX models anyway.
Value (8/10) The PX90 is a slightly enigmatic addition to Sennheiser’s portable line, slotting in below the PX100 and PX200 models and yet requiring more juice than either. Far less complicated in construction than the higher-end sets, the PX90 is lightweight and sturdy enough for portable use. The sound of the baby PX is balanced and competent, allowing it to keep up with the pricier PX100-II at its best. The only listeners I would caution away from the PX90 are those who tend to listen at high volumes – chances are good the PX90 simply won’t fit the bill for SPL.
Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 108 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 3.9ft (1.2m), single-sided; Angled Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: Flat-folding