Is it a sign of madness to release a set of premium earphones in 2021 with a headphone jack and no onboard controls? Truthfully, not everyone prefers a Bluetooth audio source. Sennheiser is stepping up with the IE 300, a portable set of premium earbuds with a good selection of accessories and features aimed at music enjoyment.
Who is the Sennheiser IE 300 for?
- Audiophiles trying to keep costs down will appreciate that you get everything you need in the box.
- Anyone who needs an unobtrusive set of wired earbuds with few compromises will be happy with the IE 300.
- People with hard-to-fit ears are sure to find the IE 300 has an ear tip and angle that will work for them.
What’s it like to use the Sennheiser IE 300?
Delivered in a sizeable box, the Sennheiser IE 300 feels sturdy and premium. In a move to make the IE 300 appealing to both serious audiophiles and more casual listeners, the buds come in a matte charcoal color with white-ish flecks. It’s a bit ’90s flavored, but not obviously retro.
To get the best and most comfortable fit, take the time to adjust the IE 300. Try swiveling the buds to different angles and test the other ear tips, because the IE 300 rewards you for the effort. The pre-installed medium silicone ear tips are the most comfortable for me, however, I use the medium memory foam tips in order to better hear bass notes. Creating a seal over the ear canal is essential if you want to hear lower frequencies. The memory foam is better for establishing a seal, but it places fatiguing pressure on my ears after an hour—with the silicone ear tips, I can listen for hours.
The cable is usually a weak spot in most wired earbuds. Sennheiser remedied this by constructing the IE 300 out of para-aramid, which you might recognize better by the brand name Kevlar. The material’s very high strength ensures you won’t rip these cables any time soon.
The cable is substantial and has a memory wire near the buds that wraps unobtrusively over your ears. Folks with glasses will find it comfortable during long listening sessions. This is also a detachable cable, so you can replace it if the internal wire quits on you. Plus, Sennheiser throws in a two-year warranty should anything happen.
How does the Sennheiser IE 300 connect?
Connecting the Sennheiser IE 300 is great, you just plug the 3.5mm right angle jack into your audio source. You don’t get Bluetooth or app support, but the upshot of this is those old devices that only have headphone jacks become plug-in-and-go situations, like my Korg Volca Keys portable synthesizer. The earbuds are lightweight and come with a pretty pocketable zip case, which is functional and utilitarian.
How is the isolation?
For a small set of earbuds with zero noise cancelling, the passive isolation on the Sennheiser IE 300 is quite good. This is especially true if you’ve fitted it with the memory foam ear tips to really seal and dampen external sounds.
Isolation performance like this might not supplant noise cancellation, but it can attenuate bass frequencies by up to 10dB, cutting the loudness of some sounds in half. Generally, lower frequencies are the ones that active noise cancelling (ANC) aggressively targets. Meanwhile, the IE 300 suitably dulls incidental clangs in the high frequencies. All in all, short of just buying something with ANC, you’ll quiet the world a fair amount with the IE 300.
How does the Sennheiser IE 300 sound?
A premium set of in-ears like the IE 300 takes some getting used to with its unusually under-emphasized treble response and gently amplified bass response. You might find some of your favorite tracks are in fact full of warts, though these IEMs aren’t impervious to producing auditory masking. If you’re coming from standard corner store earbuds, you might also find new music parts that you were missing in old songs.
If there is one weakness on the IE 300, it’s that lower notes tend to mask some female and falsetto vocalists, due to the under-emphasized 2-6kHz range. The vocal-heavy track Nawlins by Emma Kupa sounds unpleasant on the IE 300, and Kupa’s voice is hard to hear clearly. The earphones struggle to reproduce Diana Ross and The Supremes’ usual vocal detail in Stormy, particularly when the song ramps up at 1:40. When Diana Ross sings in a higher register, it’s hard to hear her voice through the horn section with the IE 300.
However, the flipside to this is that I never feel any of the ear-piercing fatigue that amplified high frequencies can cause. The hi-hats in Stormy, chk-chk with clarity because they’re low pitched for hi-hat cymbals, but higher frequency cymbals can be difficult to hear well. The under-emphasis that occurs beyond 10kHz results in a sense of diminished clarity, hence Emma Kupa sounding inaccurate, and crash cymbals lacking that high-frequency loudness and detail.
The mids stick reasonably close to our target curve, reproducing lower strings and Karen Dalton’s vocals in Something on your Mind accurately. The IE 300 under-emphasizes the treble response which makes the earphones sound slightly more studio-oriented than most consumer-friendly headsets. The sound profile leans towards neutral in the mids.
If you’re a bass head, you might want more, but the IE 300 is reasonable with its bass, closely mimicking our chart. Bass is present but rarely masks other frequencies. Patience by Tame Impala has a low-end pulse throughout the track, which sounds exaggerated on most earphones. With the IE 300, I hear the rest of the song, and the bass pulse is still audible.
What is Sennheiser’s extra wide band transducer?
The extra wide band transducer (XWB) is just a 7mm dynamic driver that purportedly reduces rub and buzz distortion, a type of total harmonic distortion (THD) that only includes harmonics 10 and above—it’s meant to help the IE 300 clearly reproduce notes higher than 10kHz.
Our tests confirm that the IE 300 is low distortion at < 0.08 % (1 kHz, 94dB). This means that with a 1kHz tone played at a 94dB output, the maximum amount of distortion that may occur is a measly 0.08%—hardly perceptible. You’re unlikely to hear this anyway given how 94dB is quite loud, and not a volume level you want to expose your eardrums to often.
Learn more: How speakers work
Where is the Sennheiser IE 300 made?
Sennheiser touts the IE 300 with its German-made 7mm XWB driver will provide a “natural, balanced sound,” though the box also says in small print “Made in China.” To be clear, Chinese manufacturing is completely fine, and most headphones are made in China these days, many of which are on our best lists. German manufacturers also design and make great audio equipment.
However, some might be caught off guard after realizing that the earphones are made in China. It appears that Sennheiser is playing both sides by using mainly Chinese labor, but advertising German manufacturing. Suggesting that Sennheiser is not alone in these practices does not make it right either.
Should you get the Sennheiser IE 300?
The Sennheiser IE 300 is not cheap. Sitting coolly at a hair under $300, it does not come with an in-line remote or a microphone. You don’t get any access to virtual assistants. The sound profile is not exactly flawless, but it has impressively low distortion for such a small 7mm driver. The IE 300 provides an audio-only experience and Sennheiser isn’t pretending to offer anything else. It’s not going to appeal to all listeners, and folks motivated mainly by convenience ought to skip it and try something else.
Related: Best Sennheiser headphones
Asking for perfection might be the problem with the IE 300. Sennheiser’s copy dresses up the IE 300 as if it’s the best set of in-ear monitors around; this can lead to initial disappointment. However, The IE 300 sits in a sweet spot for the price. At a certain point as a listener, you encounter diminishing returns through spending more and more, and this is miles better than cheap earphones.
With the IE 300, you get really great construction, though no IP rating, which might be nice in rainfall on a walk. It fits comfortably, and the great isolation and discreet size mean you can take it on the bus. Having to use your device to control playback may be a bit old school, but it’s hardly a sacrifice for excellent sound quality. So yes, buy these earphones if you intend to listen to music without distraction.
What should you get instead of the IE 300?
Somehow the market for wired in-ears is both crowded and empty. Drop has a constant and dizzying stream of collabs, while your local store has a ton of cheaply made earbuds. The Shure SE425 offers many of the same features as the IE 300, with a different flavor. At about half the price of the Sennheisers, the Final Audio A4000 presents as a kind of underdog with a lot of potential, similar accessories, and strong backing of fans.