Sennheiser is the first “legit” headphone company most people hear of and are generally praised unabashedly by people that lack experience. Well at least that’s what I’ve gotten from in my years in the internet. I’d never been the biggest fan of Sennheiser, mostly because I’d never tried anything in their line above the HD25. Everything under the HD25, to me, performed a bit lackadaisical at retail price, so I thought these hardcore supporters were just uninformed. I was hoping the CX985 would cause a change of heart for my opinion of Sennheiser. Well to put to it simply, the HD600 is next on my ever-changing to-buy list.
The CX985’s packaging is quite nice, not only at its price range, but nice period. It’s reminiscent to Monster’s Turbine Pro packaging with the magnetic flip for the front of the box, but there’s a nice section that allows the buyer to see the CX985’s really pretty housings along with the overengineered volume control. Inside, there’s a nice case, a really cool clip, replacement filters, and two different types of tips, which I will elaborate on later.
Their design, in my opinion, is fantastic because they bend around my earlobe so I know which ear to put which IEM in. The cable admittedly isn’t the best I’ve come across; I’ve had much cheaper IEMs with nicer cables. The cable retains a bit of memory and is kind of thin. The volume control, which I mentioned earlier, almost looks out of place in the cable; it’s almost comically large.
However, it’s magnificent in its own right. It’s completely made of metal, fantastic to hold, and works quite well. I’ve actually repurposed it as a way to hear when someone wants to talk to me because at its lowest setting, music is basically silent at my normal levels. The plug, though, is probably Sennheiser’s most ingenious feat of engineering on the CX985’s cable. It has the ability to switch between a right angle and a straight plug because of the swivel mechanism on the plug. It’s probably not all that useful and probably puts some strain on the cable if swiveled too much, but it’s really cool to look at.
The CX985 sounds rather interesting. When I first used them, I passed them off as just another V-shaped sound sigged IEM—the type that has lotsa bass, lotsa treble, and really bad mids. The bass was a tiny bit bloated, the treble was almost harsh, and the mids were, well, pretty recessed. Then I started really listening to them.
True, the CX985 has a lot of bass with even the balanced-sound tips (again, more on that later), but it’s not as bloated as I initially thought. It lacks a little bit of control to my ears, bleeding a tiny bit into the midrange, but it has a good bit of separation. I usually use Hallucinogen’s Mi-Loony-Um as a bass test to test both relative lows (it goes down to around 40hz) and separation. There was a little bit of blurring, but it was actually catching up to my modded Fostex T50RP, which is a pretty high compliment. For a mid-range IEM, it’s pretty impressive.
The midrange is probably going to be where I slam the CX985 the most. Not to say it’s bad, it’s just not fantastic. It’s kind of like the Audio Technica ESW9’s midrange in a sense; it’s smooth and inviting (not nearly as smooth or tube-y though), warmed up by the bass, but for a lot of singers, there’s a very noticeable dip in the upper midrange that makes vocals sound very hollow and off. Ingrid Michaelson was the first singer with whom I noticed the recession. It’s almost infuriating, because other than that one flaw, they’re pretty good for a sound signature that inherently recesses the midrange. I’m usually quite against a V-shaped sound signature, but the CX985 seems to do it in a very pleasing way.
The treble can get a little bit harsh for my tastes. I’m really not sure why, because the Sony SA5000 is one of my favorite headphones and those are lambasted for their brightness. There are a few random peaks that can make me flinch a bit (that’s probably why; I can deal with a consistent bright sound signature, but the CX985 isn’t quite as linearly bright), but other than that, I’m quite pleased. It’s slightly grainy, but it also extends more than I thought it would. It dropped off at the extent of my hearing, which is…average for an 18 year old. Avoiding songs with too much treble would be ideal with the CX985 though.
One trait that I definitely didn’t expect the CX985 to excel in was in its general spatial abilities. Classical music was actually quite nice to listen to. While they certainly don’t live up to any of my full sized headphones, they definitely can hold their own against any other IEM I’ve ever tried, including the Hifiman RE272 (from memory anyway).
Now about those tips: Sennheiser was gracious enough to design two different types of tips for the CX985. There’s a balanced pair, which have white cores, and a bass enhanced pair, which have extended, purple/magenta cores. The bass enhanced tips are longer, which allows for extra bass because science (if anyone actually wants an explanation just ask). I found the magenta tips to be a little too bass heavy for my tastes to extensively test, but from the limited time I used them, the bass seemed to be much more prominent at the expense of some blurring and further recession of the midrange and harsher treble. I don’t really advise using them unless bass is more important than anything at that particular moment. I used Phutureprimitive’s Kinetik album to test the magenta tips and while there seemed to be a slightly airier sound, the bass was simply too much for me. Regardless, I think Sennheiser is especially nice for giving people the option.
Basically, the general sound signature of the CX985 is slightly prominent, but mostly controlled bass; warm, sometimes recessed midrange; and both smooth and strident treble. But despite the few flaws the CX985 has, for 95% of my music, it sounds really, really nice.
While I’ve been a bit mean to the CX985, I really do like it. It’s just that it gets so close to perfect for my tastes that I get a little upset, and I hope that my attempts prod Sennheiser to fix them. Compared to other IEMs in the CX985’s price range that I’ve heard, I’d certainly pick it over the B2 (too bright for me) and maybe even the Monster Turbine Pro Gold. If the treble was a little calmer and the midrange fixed, I’d tell everyone to buy a pair regardless of price. But even with their flaws, at $160, I can’t think of a better IEM for someone looking for a relaxing sound signature. Just use EQ if the treble is too harsh. And yes, if these little IEMs are any indicator of what Sennheiser can really do, I may find myself unboxing a pair of HD600s soon.