Sennheiser IE 300 In-ear Monitors Review
Chester Tan tries an affordable new pair of in-ear 'phones from this respected German brand…
IE 300 In-Ear Monitors
USD $299.95 | SGD $449
It might be hard for some people to understand, but there's still a big market for wired, in-ear 'phones. Although not especially fashionable right now, for many people these products make perfect sense; there's no recharging or syncing, and the sound can be noticeably better for far less money than wireless types. It all depends on your priorities…
Currently, all the razzmatazz centres around wireless designs, so it's understandable that Sennheiser has been following this market closely, at least on its consumer side. As a result, perhaps, it's been rather muted regarding wired in-ear monitors for audiophile enthusiasts. Even during the company's illustrious seventy-fifth anniversary in 2020, Sennheiser did not release any noteworthy new products.
Wired headphones were catered for; the new HD 560S was announced in September 2020 (stay tuned for our upcoming review) and attained instant success, in part due to the wallet-friendly price point. There were also several seventy-fifth-anniversary limited editions of existing models, like the HD25, HD 800 S and Momentum True Wireless 2. I could not resist getting the HD 800 S in a gold colourway with a limited run of 750 units; something that represents an amazing milestone for Sennheiser. These unprecedented times have caused many brands to go out of business, but on the other hand, the lockdown measures enforced in many countries have caused people to spend more time at home. Buying goodies like premium headphones is great retail therapy, and listening to them isn't too bad either!
At the start of this year, Sennheiser finally announced its new IE-series earphones – on the first day of (virtual) CES 2021. The IE 300 you see here is touted as a next-gen high-fidelity design. Asia is privileged to be one of the first few markets globally to receive ample retail sale units, while the US should have them by March 2021.
It promises plenty of fine detail, impressive stereo imaging, outstanding treble clarity and responsive bass. To achieve this, a refined version of the company's Extra Wide Band (XWB) 7mm driver – made in Germany – is used. Sennheiser says that more than a dozen components in the chamber also create the sound signature.
The IE 300 body resembles the IE 400 Pro, distinguished by a shimmering coat of silver and blue sparkling dust. It uses the Fidelity+ MMCX cable connectors that are more recessed, so not all standard MMCX cables can clip on. When purchasing cables, make sure the male connectors protrude a little more. The Shure latest AONIC series (3/4/5) MMCX cables snap nicely with the IE 300, while the Shure TW1 true-wireless adapter could not attach.
The para-aramid reinforced cable feels a little sticky and generates noises when ruffled, travelling towards the earbuds. It means that you have to keep very still to enjoy minute musical details, which is such an inconvenience since the ear tips actually keep out quite a fair amount of ambient noise, only to be disrupted but an internal noise. There are no in-line microphones or playback controls, which the AONIC series offers. Given all this, it would be wise to get third-party cables so that you can enjoy the IE 300 on the go.
Other accessories in the package include a sturdy carrying case, three pairs of silicone ear tips and three pairs of memory foam tips, and a cleaning tool that lets you reach into the crevices of the earbuds. The ear tips are purposefully designed with grille pattern and a layer of foam pad inside, making it the final element that controls the way sound travels from the transducer to the ear.
Indeed, while Sennheiser re-uses some of the existing design elements from earlier models, there are tweaks to shape the IE 300 sound. The 7mm Extra Wide Band (XWB) transducer, known for its detail, speed and accuracy, is housed in a newly-designed miniature chamber-within-a-chamber that helps manage the flow of air. The direction and overall volume of air is controlled with precision as it travels through and exits the acoustical system. A frequency absorbing resonator chamber is applied to overcome masking effects that often occur in the ear canal and buries some nuanced audio details. The IE 300 has a low profile and sits within the ear concha.
To my ears, the new IE 300 brings an impressive listening experience that stands out among consumer-grade earphones. Sennheiser has correctly categorised it as a “high-fidelity” IEM, because it delivers outstanding treble detail and responsive bass that reaches down low. What struck me when I heard it for the first time during the launch event was the soundstaging. Although not completely out-of-the-head like the Audeze Mobius, it places the instrumental sources towards the front at an arm's length and achieves adequate separation and layering.
My second immediate impression is how clear the treble is. Many earphones attempt to give the impression of clarity by boosting the treble levels, but more often than not, they lack refinement. The IE 300 presents the upper-frequency region without unwanted harshness and fatigue. Although tonally forward, it's like polishing the music into a brilliant shine without blinding the listener. For example, percussion is so precise that you can even discern the differing tonal patinas of various percussive instruments.
The bass plays a balanced role countering this glistening treble, filling the aural space to attain a fuller sound. The low frequency does not bleed into the midrange but instead achieves a clean transition. It's defined enough to hear minute differences of bass resonance from different musical notes. This made it fun to run the gamut of my music collection, in order to experience my favourite tracks in a new and interesting way.
The natural sonic balance of the IE 300 means that it's lots of fun, regardless of the type of music being played. For example, this IEM was neutral enough to tell me that Dire Straits Money For Nothing is mixed and mastered in a typically dry rock way. That means the bass is taut and controlled, which stands in dramatic contrast to Billie Eilish's Bad Guy, which has a more modern, in-your-face production. On The Eagles' Hotel California, the bass guitar resonated politely while the kick drums delivered more oomph.
Midband is really smooth too; percussion sounded clear, yet vocals didn't scream at me. On hearing Hiromi's Alive album, those drum lines had never been so prominent, while bass lines were carried with grip and bounce. I was surprised to hear the piano relegated towards the rear of the mix though, which isn't what I'd expected. In this respect, I think the Shure AONIC 5 sounds more musical, with a more enclosed stage that sets the instruments around the listener. Although the drum sparkled less, the piano took its rightful place of prominence. The overall mix seemed a little warmer and more – dare I say it – analogue.
Overall, I really enjoyed listening to the IE 300 – both critically and for fun when 'off duty'. But whilst its lively sonic balance sure perks you up, it's a little forward in the treble, which detracts from the natural sense of balance that I look for in an in-ear phone. In this respect, it rather reminds me of the high-end stablemate IE 800, albeit at a fraction of the price, which is not a bad thing.
Sennheiser's new IE 300 in-ear phones made me listen to my music collection from a different perspective. This design brings out many musical details that are often obscured by instruments that are more forward in the mix. It may be tonally forward but offers up much for you to take in. Instrumental timbre is resolved very well and often with uncanny clarity. As such, I'd suggest you give it serious consideration, especially if you're a fan of the famously crisp and clean Sennheiser sound.
Chester Tan is an award-winning music composer with a healthy appetite for technology and social media. When not composing, he’s likely to be tinkering with headphones, mobile devices or other electronic gadgets. His passion for technology shines through.
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