If you've decided to upgrade the bog-standard earphones that came with your MP3 player, you've made the right decision. You would be forgiven for thinking that a decent and expensive player would come with decent and expensive earphones, but they don't. In fact, they're probably worth under a tenner.
Sennheiser's CX 500s are sound-isolating earphones that retail for under £50 and, as such, should be seen as a very attractive purchase -- some earphones can cost up to £400. But for about £45, are these really worth more than the free gear you got with an iPod?
Sound isolation passively blocks out external noise, meaning you can keep volume a little lower and save some ear strain. Like most isolating earphones, the CX 500s use silicon tips. They're extremely comfortable and Sennheiser provides various sizes to ensure you get the snuggest fit. With the correct tip, these 'phones seal sound in nicely and go practically unnoticed with their light weight.
Also, thanks to their small enclosures, the 500s are unintrusive and as the top model in their range, the cable has an in-line volume control -- a big plus for joggers and gym-goers. It's part of a generally very good bit of cabling; wires are reinforced at every pressure point to avoid damage to the internal wiring.
Sennheiser's CX 300s are popular upgrade choices for MP3 player owners, and with a good design, decent sound quality and an excellent price, it's not hard to see why. But the CX 500s build on that and do so with gusto. Design and fit aside, the big advantage here is significantly better sound quality.
The most prominent element of the 500s' sound is their bass performance -- bass lines and overly-compressed drums on Paramore's poptastic track 'Decoy' rumbled and chugged along with strength and without ever really interfering with the mids, although -- as we'll come to shortly -- they didn't compliment the high end.
The mid-range is good, too -- as they should be, mids are hard-hitting and punchy. Snare drums cracked into our temples and guitars were driven with power, all the time backed up by strong bass.
Finally, it should be noted that these 'phones are loud. While they're not necessarily the loudest in history, their decent sensitivity helps them hit high volumes. If you're looking for earphones for young ears, be sure to pair these with a music player that lets you set a volume limit.
As we've noted with certain Sennheiser models in the sub-£50 range, the high-end is the distinct weakness their performance. True, these 'phones are significantly better than anything you'll get free with an MP3 player but if you're expecting perfect performance across the board, you'll need to cough up a little more cash.
We've mentioned that the in-line volume control is great if you're into the whole fitness thing, but the lack of a detachable cable -- such as that featured on Sennheiser's excellent CX 95s -- means you may end up with your cable flapping around.
The CX 500s are a very good pair of earphones, and possibly one of the best pairs of sound isolators to upgrade to from the basic models delivered with most music players.
If you don't mind a slightly meatier 'phone enclosure, however, do consider the CX 95s -- for almost no extra cost you'll get even better sound quality and a detachable audio extension cable, although you will lose the in-line volume control.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday