Replacing an icon
Dec 6, 2010 (Updated Aug 9, 2011)
Review by monoblocks
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Lighweight with an added emphasis to low end performance to its already excellent sound
Cons:Increased flatness to the upper range with losses in detail, sound leakage
The Bottom Line: The successor to the highly regarded PX-100, version 2 is a more than capable performer that should make bass fans happier.
It's been over six years since I wrote my review about Sennheiser's iconic PX-100 portable headband headphones, a design that throughout its product life has apparently managed to please and gladden the musical soul of most everyone who's ever sampled these remarkable cans. Even though I'd pretty much moved on from the PX-100 during the intervening years I still have fond memories of my listening experiences with that set of cans, particularly once they've been subjected to at least 50 or so hours of burn-in time. The sound I as recall was rich and vibrant, with an expansive soundstage and broad imaging with remarkable clarity and detail. If there was one aspect to its sound signature that was lacking it was in the lower ranges, where mid-bass and downward were more than a little suspect in terms of its presence.
Recommend this product?
With all of the time that's past Sennheiser was bound to make a few upgrades along the way, and it was about a year or so ago that the fruits of their labors came to market in the PX-100 II.
The 100 II looks a lot like the old 100, only with a few detail changes and a somewhat steep hike in price that not even accounting for inflation can fully justify. Unfortunately I think the weaknesses in our U.S. currency over these same years seems to be the prime culprit in the more than doubled price of the 100 II from the last amount I recall paying for an example of the original model. The 100 II does look right for the part it's playing as the original's successor; apart from the more monotone color scheme, the simplification of the design of the earpiece cup frame and other minor detail revisions the 100 II does seem to follow in the footsteps of the original. As with the old design the newer model is available in black or white. And like the predecessor model, the 100 II maintains the open-back configuration; sound leakage is just as much an issue as a result.
This time around however there's also a bit of decontenting going on. Gone is the hinged plastic case that first accompanied the original 100 six years ago, replaced by a simple nylon drawstring bag that serves as a carrying case when the 100 II is not being used. Signs of the times, I suppose, that things were bound to be placed on the chopping block in order to keep costs in check. The headphone band looks very similar to the old design; there's still the accent brushed band of metal overlaying the plastic headband, with the company name and logo stenciled for low flying seagulls to see and read, if only they could. The dual head pads on the underside of the plastic headband are still present as is the ability of the headphones to fold down into a compact, storage-friendly object when not in use.
The foam earpads appear to be the same design as before, which is nice since I have 3 or 4 extra unused pairs ordered direct from Sennheiser that were left over from my PX-100 usage days. The biggest aesthetic change comes in the plastic earcup, where the dated, silver 5-spoke 'wheel' design of the old headset has given way to a more subtle matte black piece, with only a single bar of plastic bisecting its circular form. Functionally, the 100 II also makes do with a single cable lead connected to the left earcup instead of the separate left/right channel leads of the old design. This also means that the new headband does multiple duties; not only does it have to be designed to hold itself firmly to a person's head, it also has to provide good protection for the audio data for the right channel to pass over to its own earcup driver, which means passing through the headphones' two hinge points.
I went back and re-read my review on the original 100 just to try to remind myself on what my original impressions were like and what made the most impact for me to write about. I seemed to have harped a lot about the PX-100's looks--or lack thereof (as according to me). I hated the spoked earcup design and thought the headband design was rather ridiculous in terms of its stylistic execution. But it was pretty clear from my words all those years ago that I was smitten by the sonic performance of this little headband set, enough so that it left me wondering if I still felt the same way about them today.
In truth it's been more than a couple of years since I last used one of my PX-100 sets. My oldest, once most cherished PX-100 unit finally reached the point where its drivers had seen better days. The sounds emanating from this grand old set was finally tiring and those lush sonic details were becoming increasingly muddy. The subsequent heir apparent PX-100 set that I had broken in never really got the chance to follow through on its sonic promise; by this time I had moved on to other designs and was spending much more of my portable listening hours with in-ear sets like the Shure SE530 and later my Sennheiser IE-8 set that I reviewed previously here on Epinions. When at home I also began to increase my listening of CDs and vinyl LPs over ripped digital content during this period, which meant listening directly off of my home audio gear. So when I opted to give the speakers a rest and use headphones I invariably chose cans that were more fitting for those occasions, which typically meant the use of full-sized sets like my Sennheiser HD-650 and HD-800, or my Grado PS1000. Not that I actively try to be a headphone snob, but I figure that if I'm going to be stupid enough to spend this sort of money on headphones (or any other entertainment gear), then I'm going to damn well use the things whenever I possibly can.
I had known that the PX-100 II was coming out last year, but I didn't feel any compelling need to pick a set up. For portable use, I had rediscovered the joys of the Koss PortaPros, and those amply fulfilled my portable headband requirements to the point that this was the most likely reason that I stepped away from the PX-100 to begin with. But a recent shopping 'trip' on Newegg's website found me staring at the PX-100's successor, and the curiosity within me overcame all resistance (it also didn't hurt that the sale price was significantly lower than what I had been seeing elsewhere).
The PX-100 II arrived a few days later in a simple retail box with plenty of clear plastic inserts to go over the open bits of cardboard. Aside from the headphones there was little else to really write home about. There was the aforementioned storage bag and a stereo miniplug-to-standard 1/4” adapter for home stereo jacks, and that's it. Instructions and pertinent data was printed on cardboard on the inside and back of the cardboard box, though in truth it's not like headphone use is rocket science, as long as common sense about appropriate volume levels is followed.
In performance right out of the box, my initial impressions were positive. I had first listened to my most recently used PX-100 set first to remind myself of what I had been missing before moving onto the 100 II. Even without the benefit of burn-in time, the 100 II exhibited a deeper and more darker tone to them than the 100 ever did. The expansiveness of the 100 was gone, replaced with a shallower, huskier sound that really put on display and brought forward the lower frequency range. The sonic lightness of the old 100 was conspicuous in its almost complete absence, but at the same time the sonic signature of the 100 II definitely carried more meat to its auditory bones.
The airy sonic feel of the old design has its appeal, but truth be told I think the 100 II has its merits as well. Listening to a number of different musical types using my Zune HD as the source player, I found that, by and large, I actually preferred the sonic character of the newer 100 II over the old set it replaced. There's definitely a richness unto itself when the full depth of the listening spectrum is in complete sonic display, and the PX-100 II does this better than the old 100 ever did. I do lament the loss of the delicacy that the old PX-100 design had in spades, but the ability of the PX-100 II to present power and vigor in musical performances is hard if not impossible to deny. Truth be told, the sonic balance between the lower and upper ranges is probably far truer with the 100 II than it ever was with the older headset. Midrange material just sounds so much more complete with the 100 II. And the low end...there's just no comparison, whether I listen to hip hop, saxophone solo or a Bach string concerto. In fact the unit out of the box has a sonic signature far more like the Koss PortaPros I use now than that of its predecessor. All in all I'm most impressed by the abilities of this latest 100.
Since my five decade old ears really didn't detect much in the way of coldness, harshness or brittleness to the 100 II's sound, I do wonder how the sound will age as I put this set of cans through my customary burn-in period. Typically with burn-in the sonic signature of any headphone appreciable to the process will mellow and warm; straight out of the box I thought the 100 II was already pretty accomplished at this aspect. It will be interesting to see in week or two how I feel about the 100 II, but I suspect that these headphones will actually benefit from use.
In terms of whether or not the PX-100 II can replace the PortaPros as my most used portable headband set only time and burn-in results will probably tell. The Koss unit sets a VERY high bar performance-wise, and since the company came out with their black headband version the PortaPros don't look nearly so dorky as they once did, satisfying at least in part the vanity side of me (yes, I admit I still care about such trivial things). Sonically the 100 II falls short on clarity of detail when compared to the Koss, which seems very much like a happy medium between the old 100 and the new 100 II, maintaining the ability to present nuance and sonic delicacy, breadth of soundstage AND convincing low end.
When it comes to wear comfort, I find that despite the similarities to the old design the new PX-100 II is actually more appreciably comfortable to wear, although like almost all over-ear headphones with relatively small earcups I do find them increasingly uncomfortable to use as the listening session extends out over longer periods of time. That's one area that the PortaPros clearly has over the Sennheiser, regardless of whether it's version I or II that it's being compared to. The Koss design is simply more comfortable for me, even if it still has that occasional irritating habit of catching on my hair. And in the end, comfort may be the overriding reason why the PortaPros will be along for the ride when I'm out of the house and the PX-100 II stays at home.
But that's not to say that the PX-100 II isn't a worthy design. In fact it's quite the opposite. The more I listen to my test set the more I really like its performance capabilities, particularly with classical and small ensemble music. Well recorded vocal content sounds buttery smooth and absolutely convincing with these headphones. And of course if you like bass-heavy music, these have it all over the older Sennheiser design. But at the point where my 100 II is at this time, I'd have to say that my Koss PortaPros are still my preferred tool of choice.
A solid four stars for the PX-100 II, at least for now.
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