disclaimer: I was approached by a Sennheiser representative about doing a review of the new IE300 and also helping to create a playlist of songs that showcase the IE300’s strong points. I have no financial interest in Sennheiser or any of its resellers, nor have I been compensated (other than the earphone being provided) for the content of this review. If you have an interest in the IE300, please visit Sennheiser’s site, or they are available now from most better resellers.
Because of the playlist request, this review is a bit longer than some. I have tried to keep the format the same as my standard with the exception of the playlist section that details the tracks I recommended be added to it and the reasoning for each.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Sennheiser ie300 comes in a lift-top box with a large graphic of the earpieces on front and some of the marketing points on reverse. Lifting the lid reveals the earpieces with cable attached in a foam surround at top and the bulk of the cable and case in a cutout in the lower portion. The rest of the kit is hiding in the case with 6 pairs of tips (3 each SML silicones and foams), a cleaning tool, cable tie, warranty card, and manual. Overall, its a fairly complete kit and the case is nice and solid so should provide good protection. The inside of the case also has a mesh pocket for keeping spare tips and the cleaning tool handy without having them fall out every time you open it.
The earpieces are small-mid sized and made of a thermo-plastic resin with an outer shell, an inner plate that covers the rear portion of the shell and a round nozzle/driver housing that fits into the front section of the outer shell. The outer shell has a raised plate with the Sennheiser logo and a single vent to the rear of the logo. The right earpiece has a red ring around the mmcx to identify it and the left has IE300 cast into the inner plate. Nozzles have both a forward and upward rake which helps with insertion depth but isolation is only average with silicones and foams offer a bit of improvement in isolation but change the signature enough that I preferred the silicone tips. I did have a tough time finding a tip that fit well. Luckily the nozzles are standard sized with a pronounced lip so choices abound. I ultimately settled on the Azla Sedna M/L which gave a more consistent seal than the tips provided. Once the seal issue was worked out, these are a comfortable iem for long wear with the caveat that the cable transmits a lot of vibration directly to the earpieces and I can’t recommend these for gym use without at least a cable swap. I have seen no information on waterproofing on this model so it may be best that gym use is avoided anyway.
True to their roots, Sennheiser uses an updated version of its 7mm extra wide band dynamic driver they have made famous in previous in-ears. The current version is rated at 16Ω but remember that Sennheiser rates their sensitivity at 1kHz/1Vrms so the 124dB rating is not the equal of the dB/mW rating used by a lot of other measurements. In my own testing I found the IE300 sensitivity to be roughly 103 dB/mW. (Remember the margin of error on my calculation is ±4 dB as my system is pretty rudimentary compared to some). Still the important thing regardless of how its measured is that the IE300 is easy enough to drive that it does well when paired to things like Hiby R3 pro Saber or the 1st generation Cayin N3, and should be usable with a smartphone or tablet although a dongle may help here to give a bit more potency. The driver also sports a rear resonance chamber designed specifically for it to help prevent unwanted reflections. A helmholtz resonator in the nozzle assembly is also used to tame unwanted resonance according to Sennheiser documentation.
The cable starts with a 90º jack of the type I prefer with a good strain relief and a heavy para-aramid (generic name for Kevlar) coating on the single strand that exits. The splitter is brushed aluminum with a plastic V relief on the lead in and matching black plastic chin slider above the splitter. Perhaps oddly, wires above the split retain the same size and weight of the single wire below rather than going to a smaller lighter design. Cables terminate with heavy earhooks with memory wire and mmcx connectors in black plastic housings with R and L marked on the side of the housing. I’ll say it right up front. I’m not a fan of this cable. It is very durable for sure, but trades pliability for durability and the resultant product has a bad habit of transmitting every bit of movement directly to the earpieces despite the over-ear design. Part of this is also due to the memory wire ear-hooks that are always loosening up over time and fail to hold their shape. I wore the earpieces for 2 hours and had my wife help me measure from rear of the earpiece to the front of the base on the earhook and over that 2 hour period it had loosened up by 6mm. This was tested during a period where I was seated, and walking inside the house, not strenuous exercise so I have to think this is going to be accentuated by higher activity levels.
Let’s set the stage appropriately before we go into sound details. This is the replacement for the ie80s with its tunable bass and is not a pure reference in-ear. Those looking for this to be the ruler flat frequency response of a true reference can quit reading now. This is a shallow V with emphasis in the sub-bass and lower treble ranges much like its predecessor when set to its most bass heavy setting. The good news is it distorts less than the ie80s on its most bass heavy setting and has more detail comparatively.
Sub-bass is emphasized with a center point at roughly 45Hz and roll-off only evident below about 25Hz. Sub-bass textures are good, but not great as some minor detail is lost in its delivery in favor of quantity. From that peak, mid-bass drops back fairly quickly and loses all emphasis as it crosses into the lower mids. Mid-bass textures again are good but not class leading and driver speed shows a slower decay than attack which contributes to warmth but does make the bass bloom on pieces where the bass is a little loose anyway. I found the bass tuning good for pleasure listening but a bit too warm and a little boomy for critical listening. One of the criticisms of Sennheiser has been the lack of bass on many of their models. That was clearly something the IE300 was designed to address as if anything, it has a bit more than absolutely necessary and is certainly a departure from what many have grown to expect from the “Sennheiser House tuning”.
Lower-mids flow well from the mid-bass without any obstruction and only minor mid-bass bleed and even with the lack of emphasis, the lower-mids don’t sound recessed and deeper vocals have good note weight and timbre without the classic Sennheiser veil. Guitar growl is good with enough ragged edge to be believable as well. True mids follow the same pattern, good detail and clarity with enough energy to be well voiced if not emphasized. For an in-ear tuned more toward popular genres, the IE300 does well with string quartet pieces and piano concertos where mids are dramatically emphasized. The IE300 isn’t mid-centric, but does a good job of handling pieces that are with good energy and speed. Female vocals are on the same plane with lower voices and both cut through the instrumentation without the feel of an artificial lift that so often comes with that.
Unlike a lot of the Vs in this price range, the lower treble shares the same lack of emphasis with the mids and we only see the climb back foward begin as we leave the lower treble and move into the 4-5kHz range. Lower treble has enough energy to provide good detail but is non-fatiguing and fairly polite. While true treble is emphasized, there is a drop off before we reach the 9kHz range that keeps the IE300 from getting really fatiguing. Snare rattle is good with crisp edges but cymbals need a bit more energy than provided some of the time to be completely realistic. This is a tough balance as with sparkle comes fatigue most of the time. The move of the boost from lower treble to true treble does create a little brittleness in higher vocals at times so tracks that are a little on the hot side anyway may show this and mild sibilance as a result. Final roll-off is above the limit of my hearing (roughly 14kHz) and does give the IE300 an open top-end with no feeling of being closed in or limited.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is wider than deep with some sense of height and is on the intimate side which shouldn’t be a shock for a closed back in-ear model, but what will surprise is how good the instrument separation and imaging is. Seating the orchestra is very straight forward with clear positions and no overlaps or missteps. Movements around the stage are easily identified and positions are tightly defined so this might even be an in-ear gamers would find usable. I found no big donut hole in the center stage like most iems and even sounds directly from the rear are represented well. Layering is quite good as well with compression only evident on extremely complex passages and then only in the lower mid-bass range and sub-bass.
This was a neat idea to put together a playlist that accentuated the good points of the ie300. You’ll find a lot of strings and vocals in my contributions to the list as those are the things I find the ie300 does with great aplomb.
First up on my list was tracks that feature the dynamics of the ie300 as well as its string tonality. For this I chose two pieces (3 movements) that I think really exemplify what the ie300 is capable of.
The Peer Gynt recording of Edvard Grieg’s “In the hall of the mountain King”. This piece has more dynamic range than most and gives the ie300 a chance to really show off the distance between the quiet passages while retaining detail and the elevated passages without loss of control of the low end.
The Pentatone recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an exhibition” (Carlo Ponti and the Russian National Orchestra) movements 14 (The Hot on Fowl’s legs) and 15 (The Great Gate of Kiev). Here again, soaring highs and nearly dead quiet lows in the passages give this work a lot of range and a lot of complexity of strings to show off the timbre and texture of the sound as well as the black background the ie300 can deliver.
Next up was timbre and tonality with the previous Mussorgsky piece lending itself well to show off strings.
The Telarc recording of Rufolf Serkin, Beethoven Piano Concerto #1. Serkin is among the world greatest pianists and a joy to listen to on a good system as he can coax every last bit of power out of the stronger passages and still make the quiet moments nearly inaudible. If the piano doesn’t speak to you in this piece, it likely never will on that device.
For male vocals, I moved to more popular genres and settled on Lindsey Buckingham’s “Go insane” from Fleetwood Mac’s The Very best of collection. This song was originally on Lindsey’s album of the same name, but I much prefer the stripped down acoustic version found on “The Dance” DVD and later released on “The very best of Fleetwood Mac” collection. This version lets the vocal really shine and the acoustic guitar tonality is on full display was well. For female vocals, I picked another powerful vocal from Beth Hart. I could have used any number of her recordings but ultimately settled on “Damn your Eyes from the “Black Coffee” recording with Joe Bonamassa. Having Joe playing guitar never hurts, but Beth’s vocal’s and the orchestration play as big a role in making this track special as anything contributed by Joe. This tracks until about 3/4 of the way through to really see the vocal range into the upper octaves so may not be appreciated if you only listen to the first minute. The good news is Bonamassa’s guitar will keep most involved to that point. “Lullaby of the Leaves” off the same album is another powerhouse vocal and could have easily taken this spot as well as it shows off her range and has a more gentle tone. Looking back, I’d probably have been better off using Lullaby, but….
My last two contributions are tracks that show off stage depth and both are tracks I use for reviews quite frequently. The first is Keith Richard’s “Runnin too deep” off Main Offender. This album is largely forgotten today which is a shame as it represents Richard’s at the height of his career and creativity and didn’t do well on the charts probably due to poor marketing and the selection of the two weakest tracks as singles. Runnin too deep shows off Richard’s at his finest and has a depth to the stage that few studio tracks can match. The other song I use was recorded in a cathedral using a binaural mic so we expect to hear all the echoes off the walls. The track of course is one I’ve used as long as I can remember, the Cowboy Junkies “So lonesome I could cry” from the Trinity sessions.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The $300 price bracket is arguably one of the most hotly contested spaces in the market so the IE300 enters the ring with more than a few challengers vying for the same dollars and some of them are quite good so why should one consider the IE300 in this mix? The Sennheiser name will do it for some as they have an enviable reputation for quality builds and excellent customer service. The IE300 is well built and with the cable using what amounts to Kevlar in the coating, it should last extremely well. For those more interested in sound than build, the IE300 offers a shallow V with good musicality and enough detail to keep your interest without a lot of fatigue or harshness. The biggest thing that would make me select the ie300 over others though is its excellent imaging. A lot of hybrids struggle to keep movements synced as different drivers contribute parts of the signature and this is where the single dynamic has a distinct advantage. The IE300 presents a very cohesive sound with movements being easily pinpointed and tracked and a very wide stereo separation really contributes to the overall enjoyment of the music more than some will realize until they try something with above average imaging and separation like the IE300. The latest from Sennheiser is a worthy successor to the IE80s in many ways and while it lacks the tuning options of the ie80, it has a better more listenable base signature that helps offset the need for those same options.
- Bass - 7.5/107.5/10
- Mids - 7/107/10
- Treble - 6.5/106.5/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 8/108/10
Pros: very musical signature with great imaging and non-fatiguing treble
Cons: cable transmits most movements to earpieces, lacks a little detail compared to hybrids in same price class.