Sennheiser’s New AirPods Rival Has the Best Sound You Can Buy for $170

Sennheiser’s New AirPods Rival Has the Best Sound You Can Buy for $170
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

If you’re in the market for a pair of wireless earbuds with excellent sound but don’t want to blow your entire budget on Master & Dynamic’s amazing MW08s or Sony’s impressive WF-1000XM4s, for $US130 ($167) Sennheiser’s new CX True Wireless buds will make your ears happy — although you’ll sacrifice features now found on even cheaper wireless headphones.

The CX True Wireless, available starting today, are Sennheiser’s entry-level wireless earbuds and a more affordable follow-up to the company’s CX 400BT True Wireless earbuds from last year. Aside from some aesthetic improvements (the Sennheiser logo on each bud is now subtler) and improved battery life, the most notable upgrade with the new CX True Wireless is a $US130 ($167) price tag which is $US70 ($90) cheaper than their predecessor. They’re not the cheapest wireless earbuds you can buy today, and while they come with compromises, Sennheiser hasn’t compromised on the one thing the brand is known for: excellent sounding headphones.

Sennheiser CX True Wireless Earbuds

WHAT IS IT?

Sennheiser's entry-level wireless earbuds and a more affordable upgrade to the company's CX 400BT True Wireless earbuds from last year.

PRICE

$US130 ($167)

LIKE

Some of the best sounding wireless earbuds available with an accompanying app that allows their sound profile to be further tweaked.

DISLIKE

No active noise cancelling, no ambient sound boosting, and they're not the smallest earbuds available.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.

Bigger Buds, but Worth the Added Bulk

As with any gadget, designing a pair of wireless earbuds is a balancing act between their size and weight and the technology stuffed inside them. Some companies, like Sony, prioritise functionality, resulting in earbuds like the WF-1000XM4s, which are big, bulky, and require special memory foam ear tips to stay securely snuggled in a user’s ears. Others prioritise size, resulting in tiny earbuds like the Beats Studio Buds that are incredibly comfortable and easy to wear, but don’t deliver sound as impressive as some users would like at a $190 price point.

The Sennheiser CX True Wireless (right) aren't the smallest wireless earbuds you can buy. The Beats Studio Buds (centre) are much smaller by comparison, but they're lightweight and with the right silicon eartips they will stay secure in your ears. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) The Sennheiser CX True Wireless (right) aren’t the smallest wireless earbuds you can buy. The Beats Studio Buds (centre) are much smaller by comparison, but they’re lightweight and with the right silicon eartips they will stay secure in your ears. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

With the CX True Wireless, Sennheiser has taken the middle ground and delivered buds that are a little larger than what I usually prefer to wear, with a design that sees the bulk of the device sticking out of the user’s ear. Aesthetically, it’s not the most pleasing look, and companies like Master & Dynamic have done a much better job at designing larger earbuds that still manage to comfortably nestle inside the wearer’s ear — but you’re paying a premium for that.

With four sets of included silicone eartips, however, I had no problem getting a secure fit for the CX True Wireless, and they’re light enough that despite sticking out a bit, the buds never felt like they were going to fall out under their own weight.

Solid Tap Controls

When I’m not an old man yelling at clouds, I’ve spent just as much time complaining about companies that use touch controls on earbuds. The tapping gesture often dislodges an already precariously perched earbud, and I tend to prefer the usability of physical buttons. That being said, Sennheiser’s implementation is incredibly sensitive, responding to the gentlest tap, and while there’s a delay between the tap and the requested function being performed, the earbuds do make a very quiet beep so you at least know your request has been noted, even if you have to wait a moment for it to happen.

The tap controls on the CX True Wireless are very sensitive and easy to trigger without dislodging the buds, but they can also be completely disabled using the accompanying app so you'll never accidentally trigger an unwanted function. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) The tap controls on the CX True Wireless are very sensitive and easy to trigger without dislodging the buds, but they can also be completely disabled using the accompanying app so you’ll never accidentally trigger an unwanted function. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

The shortcuts are also customisable through a free app available for iOS and Android devices, but more importantly, the tap functionality can also be completely disabled so there’s no risk of accidentally pausing your music or skipping a track when all you were trying to do was adjust the bud in your ear. I’ve always preferred to control my music playback through a smartwatch than constantly touching my wireless earbuds, and being able to disable those touch controls earns the CX True Wireless some bonus points in my book.

A Basic Charging Case, but at Least It’s Tiny

For $US130 ($167) it’s no surprise that Sennheiser isn’t packing the new CX True Wireless in a charging case bedazzled with diamonds and rubies, but despite being an all plastic affair, it’s thankfully very compact (one of the smallest I’ve tested, but still larger than the AirPods and AirPods Pro cases) and charges through a USB-C cable.

The CX True Wireless charging case isn't the fanciest option out there, but it's quite small and boosts the earbuds' total battery life to 27 hours when away from a power source. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) The CX True Wireless charging case isn’t the fanciest option out there, but it’s quite small and boosts the earbuds’ total battery life to 27 hours when away from a power source. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

There’s no wireless charging (for just $US10 ($13) more the Amazon Echo Buds at least offer that as an option), but the case can be used to fully recharge the earbuds twice over, boosting their nine hours of playback time to a total of 27 hours when you’re away from a power source.

Wireless charging? Nope, it's USB-C only here. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) Wireless charging? Nope, it’s USB-C only here. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

By comparison, the original Apple AirPods, long overdue for an upgrade, offer a total of 24 hours of listening, and are still $US30 ($38) more expensive than Sennheiser’s new entry-level option.

The Best-Sounding Wireless Earbuds You Can Get For $170

I wasn’t expecting my ears to cringe when I first stuck Sennheiser’s most affordable wireless buds in my ears; I’ve tested enough of the company’s higher-end headphones to know it has an expertise in such things. But I was pleasantly surprised with how good they actually sounded given their price point. The earbuds feature Sennheiser’s “TrueResponse transducer,” a name the company likes to throw around, and while their 7mm drivers are a lot smaller than the 11mm drivers Master & Dynamic uses in its MW08s, the CX True Wireless are some of the best sounding wireless earbuds I’ve ever tested — across the board.

My go-to track for testing the bass performance of wireless earbuds — something that’s most often lacking as companies opt for smaller drivers that don’t drain rechargeable batteries as quickly — is the Tropic Remix of Surf Mesa’s “ily,” specifically when the beat drops at around the 30-second mark. On wireless earbuds like the Beats Studio Buds, the bass performance is a little flat for my preferences, and tends to be overshadowed by otherwise crisp and clear highs. With the CX True Wireless, the entire sound spectrum comes through clear and well-pronounced, while still delivering lower frequencies with a satisfying thump.

That aforementioned “TrueResponse transducer” might sound like marketing speak, but it’s clear that Sennheiser hasn’t cheapened out on the important hardware with the CX True Wireless earbuds just to hit a cheaper price point. These aren’t low-quality earbuds capitalising on the Sennheiser brand, they’re Sennheisers through and through that prioritise sound quality while sacrificing active noise cancellation and other premium features.

It's not only rare to see an accompanying app with wireless earbuds this affordable, but an app as robust as Sennheiser's Smart Control that even offers basic sound profile tweaking. (Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo) It’s not only rare to see an accompanying app with wireless earbuds this affordable, but an app as robust as Sennheiser’s Smart Control that even offers basic sound profile tweaking. (Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

That being said, being able to customise the functionality and sound profile of your wireless earbuds is usually a feature you don’t expect to find on more affordable options, but the Sennheiser Smart Control app offers a surprising level of customisability. Yes, the adjustable EQ is limited with just three sliders, but it’s far more than what most wireless earbuds at this price point offer.

Worth Buying?

If you can live without active noise cancellation — a feature that I feel isn’t quite as effective as the marketing hype makes it seem — and don’t mind the trade-off of slightly larger earbuds for a lower price point, it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with how the new CX True Wireless sound and the solid functionality that Sennheiser has included. Robust customisability through an app is unheard of at $US130 ($167), and while many will consider these “no frills” wireless earbuds given the lack of ANC or ambient sound boosting, Sennheiser has obviously made those compromises to focus on creating an affordable set of wireless buds that that sound fantastic for those who prioritise audio over everything else.