Sennheiser's IE range is a sound-isolating family of earphones for the high-end market, outperforming and out-costing the casual CX lines. The IE 7s are sandwiched between the entry-level IE 6s and the flagship IE 8s, and have an SRP of £179.
Like each model in the IE range, the 7s fit best over-the-ear, but can be comfortably worn in a more conventional way should your ears ask you to.
As sound-isolating earphones we found them immediately comfortable, and they provide a decent level of sound-isolation. You'll get more noise-blocking from Shure's meaty foam tips, but the pack of silicone and stiff foam tips provided allow you to choose fits and styles that may offer extra isolation in addition to increased comfort. So go ahead and experiment.
Cabling is good, though the lack of an extension cable in the box gave us a feeling of distinct sadness for a few seconds. At one end is a 3.5mm plug, but at the other end -- unlike the flagship IE 8s -- the cable is not detachable from the earphone enclosures for easy future upgrade action.
But those are only very small issues to most people, and indeed to us. What's important is what's on the inside, and how those insides perform. The IE 7s use a single dynamic driver, which Sennheiser chose in order to eliminate distortion it claims occurs in multi-driver models.
Each driver is backed by a neodymium magnet, as seen in many high-end headphones. Together, both diaphragm and magnet co-operate to respond to frequencies between 10Hz-19kHz, with a sensitivity of 120dB/mW and a rated impedance of 16 Ohms, making them ideal, of course, for low power devices like iPods.
Also included in the box is a tool for peeling off the wax that can build up on sound-isolating tips, and a pair of ear hooks for a more secure fit to the ear. As for sonic features, Sennheiser promotes -- in large silver lettering, no less -- that the IE 7s focus on 'lifelike sound'. Let's see.
Well, there are three characteristics that stood out during the week we tested these earphones. The first: warmth. Brought on by a strong mid-range and bass, the IE 7s deliver vocals and acoustic instruments with impressive power and finesse.
An old, live Shakira recording, back in the day when she focused on more traditionally Latin-American and Spanish-influenced rock, rather than mainstream pop, was full of Spanish guitars, pianos, bongos and maracas. This terrific recording of acoustic instrumentation and powerful female vocals was deep, rich and balanced.
And that's the second characteristic: balance. Unlike the extremely bass-heavy IE 8s, the IE 7s deliver a low-end that's far less skull-shattering in its power. And similarly, it's not a bright earphone that rings with more treble than a natural-sounding live performance requires.
Which brings us to the third main characteristic: the subtle treble. The high-end is clear and well-defined, but shies away from the shimmering, sparkling airiness offered by some other earphones.
This produces an impressive and well-priced set of earphones, particularly suitable for non-electronic music, as electronics benefit from a richer, more crystalline treble. They're good performers for rock, pop and metal, too, though we would have liked cymbals to glisten and sparkle a little more.
For this and many of the above reasons, they're extremely similar to the Klipsch Custom-3s -- perhaps the two most similar pairs of earphones on the market. The Sennheisers have a slightly more powerful bass, however, but it is only slight. They even look similar!
At this price point they're a strong alternative to the Klipsch Custom-3s, with an ever-so-slightly deeper bass, but equally impressive abilities with vocals and acoustic music -- they're generally attractive all-rounders.
As they can be picked up for around £120, they're also an attractive deal, best suited to vocals, acoustic/folk/country, most rock and metal. Fans of pounding electronic music should consider the Denon AH-C751s as a more suitable alternative.