Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless Earbuds Review
Matthew Jens digs deep into this new high value true wireless earbud design…
CX Plus True Wireless Earbuds
US$180 | S$259 RRP
You know, I don't mind being “the headphone guy” to my family and friends. I love making a recommendation to someone, only to have them come back and tell me, “thanks for the tip mate, these are great”. But when it comes to true wireless earbuds, I find myself having trouble. There are fantastic products out there, but it's often a case of spending big to get to the good stuff. Even the pricing of the incumbent Sony XM3 and AirPods Pro usually takes people by surprise.
The CX series from Sennheiser has always been a tasty offering; an economical price, TrueResponse drivers, decent battery life, an IP rating and a solid warranty period. But now there's a new addition to this lineup – for only the tiniest bit of extra cash, you can also get noise cancelling. This immediately undercuts the competition in pricing by a considerable margin. And yes, that includes the aforementioned Sony and Apple products by quite a bit.
Hell, at this low price, it's competing with the nasty Skullcandy and Jabra offerings at your local electronics store! So it's bargain basement pricing then, with a vast feature list. We've all seen this movie before, and it's going to be a classic over-promise, under-deliver moment. Right?
Sharing the same form factor as the rest of the CX series, Sennheiser has somehow kept the weight within a stone's throw of the predecessor, despite packing in more tech. The case is a very pocketable clamshell-style enclosure with a robust hinge and USB-C charging. The main departure from the usual CX model is the subtle silver embossing on the Sennheiser logo on the Plus. Both are relatively scratch-prone, but make up for this by being straight up sleek, black and sexy.
The buds themselves are 6 grams apiece and mirror the “boxy on the outside, curvy on the inside” physical approach of the rest of the CX line. It's a shape that works well enough, being okay for sitting down or walking. But having the (albeit low) weight on the bulky outer edge of the bud means running, and other strenuous activities may require some extra pokes and prods for them to stay properly in place.
Both CX and CX plus share the same TrueResponse Transducer 7mm dynamic driver. The main differences start coming into play when we look at codecs; both support SBS, AAC and AptX, but the CX plus goes one step further by including AptX Adaptive. This is a celebrated inclusion, as it scales the playback bitrate to either deliver a high-quality experience (for hi-res music) or scales it back for lower latency (which is handy for gaming).
The included app is what starts to make these buds ridiculous. Not only is there a three-band equaliser, but it also allows for complete customisation of the touch controls. Not just the single tap – I'm talking the entire suite of taps, holds, double touches, of both sides. This functionality has been grandfathered in from the flagship Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, and I couldn't be happier to see it here.
The touch panels are generously sized and easy to press, too. I didn't have any problems with accidental track skipping or pausing. It's no secret that I much prefer hardware buttons, but the fact that these can be customised to within an inch of their life is outstanding.
Pairing the CX Plus with my trusty Google Pixel 4 Pro, I got down to business. Thankfully, due to the 7mm drivers, reaching down low to hit the deep-reaching bass hits of Be Healthy by Dead Prez was no difficult task for the CX Plus. Even when pushing the EQ to its limits, the software will adjust to maintain maximum air pressure without distorting the drivers. Heavy bass and EQ made easy – bassheads, it's time to rejoice! But when the EQ is flat, there is still a healthy mid/bass hump that rolls off gently as the frequency response dips below the 70Hz mark. Bass-light these are not, but they don't have the same thunderous rumble of the (considerably more expensive) Bowers & Wilkins Pi7.
The 7mm drivers aren't just bassy, but also hold their own when it comes to refinement and tonality, demonstrated wonderfully by James Blake and Slowthai in Funeral. Hearing multiple instances of James's voice overlaid onto itself is an excellent experience with a detailed headphone, and the CX Plus does an adequate job of reproducing this here. While I find myself missing the soundstage and intricate details of, say, the Klipsch T5 ANC ii while listening to this track with the CX Plus, I also have to slap reality back into myself – I am comparing earbuds that cost twice as much.
The truth is, these have a fun frequency response rather than a neutral one. It's a voicing that you would easily enjoy when listening to music on the train travelling to work, or watching a film on a flight. It's not something that would accompany you into the studio or for critical listening sessions at home, and it's priced accordingly.
When cranking up the volume and listening to Endorphins by Sub Focus, the classic Sennheiser lightning-fast decay is quick to say hello. The drivers have no trouble keeping up with the rapid heavy bassline, which takes centre stage alongside the snare drums, which have plenty of midrange bite.
Listening to this song got me thinking, if I were asked to give a one-sentence summary of my feelings about the sound, I'd say: “Hand on heart, this is great fun”. The EQ does a great job of taming down some of the sharper points of the mix, but it can only do so much when it's only three bands of adjustment. By no means is this fun sound a negative, however. This price point and form factor are aimed at buyers who don't want to spend a bucketload on their portable audio – someone who wants to throw some buds into their ears, drown out the world and go on their way. And these are ideally suited for this use case. Well, almost.
That's because noise cancelling has never been Sennheiser's strong suit, sadly. It has got better over the years but doesn't hold a candle to the market leaders. The CX Plus is no different; while it does an adequate job of drowning out engine drones and is acceptable as a travel companion for eliminating background noise on a flight, it's a far cry from the isolation the Sony XM3 provides for example.
Thankfully, the transparency mode makes up for these shortcomings. Ambient noise sails through the earbuds almost seamlessly and sounds close to natural, but not quite. The quality is perfectly suitable for listening to a flight change announcement or hearing someone call your name across the street.
Also, while I am at it – dear Sennheiser, I don't think it's fair to advertise “passive noise cancelling” as a headline feature of the base model CX. I would be curious to see the percentage of your target demographic that know the difference between passive noise cancelling and active noise cancelling. I can't help but feel that this is a little opportunistic.
Phone call quality is ample; callers on the other end of the line said my clarity was acceptable. The CX Plus struggled to overcome intense wind noise, but its healthy battery life helped it become a friendly office companion for indoor phone calls and music playback all the same.
Sennheiser's new CX Plus gets a bargain-basement price, comes with a vast feature list, and better still, it sounds the part too. If anything, it's too good for the price point. Why on earth would you spend double for the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 when these hit so many of the checkboxes that the others strive to hit? It doesn't have a neutral, clinical sound, and nor does it have the best noise-cancelling, but at this price, it doesn't have to. This is my pick of this market sector bracket, and I challenge you to find a competitor that will best it.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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