Wired in-ear headphones may have declined in popularity but the Sennheiser IE 200’s neutral sound shows they’re still alive and kicking
- Accurate, analytic sound
- Comfortable and secure fit
- Reasonably priced
- No in-line controls
- No microphone
- Replacement cables are pricey
There was once a time when in-ear headphones like the Sennheiser IE 200 were the most convenient way to listen to music on the go. That all changed with the arrival of Bluetooth options, specifically true wireless earbuds, but wired headphones aren’t dead just yet.
In fact, if what’s being used by London commuters is a reasonable reflection of the industry at large, plenty of people still favour being able to plug their headphones directly into a smartphone or laptop.
The Sennheiser IE 200 are dearer than many options, including the brand’s CX 100 and CX 300S, but these aren’t headphones aimed at your casual listener. Instead, they’re an affordable entry point into Sennheiser’s audiophile range, which includes options such as the eye-wateringly expensive IE 900, which will set you back a cool £1,299.
They strike a keen balance between price and performance but do have a few chinks in their armour, namely a lack of in-line controls and microphone, and the high price of replacement cables.
Sennheiser IE 200 review: What do you get for the money?
The Sennheiser IE 200 have a list price of £130, which is reasonable for headphones designed for the discerning audio enthusiast. That spend gets you the earphones, three sets of silicone eartips, three pairs of memory foam tips, a removable 1.2m braided cable and a small, faux leather carrying pouch.
The cable terminates in a 3.5mm plug at one end and connects to the earphones via MMCX connectors at the other. The sections before those connectors are sheathed in a semi-rigid, flexible material that allows you to hook the cabling over your ears for greater in-ear stability.
The earphones themselves house Sennheiser’s 7mm “extra-wideband TrueResponse” transducers, which the company says exhibit almost no harmonic distortion, have a stated frequency response of 6Hz to 20KHz and impedance of 18 Ohms.
Sennheiser IE 200 review: What do we like about them?
Fit is crucial for in-ear headphones and the IE 200 are both comfortable to wear for long periods and remain secure in your ears. Having to loop the cabling over your ears is less convenient than popping earbuds straight in but it’s reassuring to know that the earphones won’t be pulled out if you get the cable caught on something.
The inclusion of a small adjustable band of plastic where the braided cable splits is neat, too, allowing you to draw the left and right strands together and reduce the amount of cable dangling under your chin.
The choice of eartips is ample but most people will gravitate towards the memory foam options as they fit more snugly and provide better sound isolation. I used the largest foam tips and they moulded to the shape of my ear canals very quickly and dampened external sound to a reasonable extent. You’re still going to be able to hear a fair amount of what’s going on around you but with music playing at around 70% volume, the sound of my own typing was largely unnoticeable.
Once you’ve got the IE 200 in your ears, you should be very pleased with how they sound; I certainly was. As these are headphones designed with budding audiophiles in mind, the focus is on a neutral and accurate presentation and that’s precisely what you get. There’s no hint of the low-end boost common on today’s mainstream headphones and that’s part of their charm. Conversely, bassheads will find them rather tame in that department.
Where precise delivery is concerned, there’s no disputing their talents. Chopin’s “Nocturnes, Op. 37: No. 2 in G Major, Andantino” was articulated wonderfully well, with each piano note crisp, clear and purposeful. The IE 200 had absolutely no problem managing shifts in tempo as slow, deliberate notes quickly transformed into more intricate sequences. Dynamic transitions were handled equally capably: softer sections of the arrangement were reproduced with an appropriate delicacy and the build-up to crescendos was finessed rather than treated with a heavy hand.
Stereo imaging and instrument separation proved highly impressive, too. During the intro to the 2013 remaster of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” there’s a subtle rattle of maracas to the left of the soundstage and what sounds like swirling wind to the right of it. These were both readily identifiable and accurately positioned but also very much part of a cohesive arrangement and not detached or distant from the lead guitar. That ability to convey individual elements distinctly while creating a fleshed-out, engaging sonic picture is something the IE 200 do very well.
Mid-range clarity is first-rate and songs with a strong vocal component benefit greatly from the amount of detail the IE 200 are able to deliver. They capture even the smallest fluctuations in tone, pitch and intensity and this ensures you get a real sense of an artist’s emotional state. Whether it’s Snoop Dogg’s loose, laid-back rapping or Michael Jackson rapidly switching from soft, smooth vocals to sharp intakes of breath and aggressive, staccato shrieks on “Bad”, the IE 200 draws out singers’ personalities brilliantly.
Sennheiser IE 200 review: What could be improved?
To be able to deliver such detailed and analytical sound at what is a relatively affordable price is a real achievement and a testament to Sennheiser’s technical expertise. The IE 200 aren’t without a few shortcomings, however.
As noted above, some may find their bass response doesn’t pack a satisfying enough punch, particularly if they’re used to headphones from manufacturers like Beats that typically place greater emphasis on frequencies below 250Hz. For the most part, I was happy enough with their neutral bass reproduction but there were a few occasions I wouldn’t have minded a little bit of extra oomph.
The non-audio-related gripes are perhaps more harmful to their mainstream appeal. No in-line remote means you have to control music directly from your output device. This isn’t a big deal if you’re using the IE 200 with a MacBook Pro, as I did at times during testing, as volume controls are right there in front of you. But having to fish out your phone or MP3 player to adjust volume or skip a track feels a bit tiresome in an age where we’ve become accustomed to executing such actions using touch controls or having voice assistants do it for us. Ultimately, you’re not buying wired headphones for convenience but in-line controls would have been much appreciated.
The inclusion of a microphone would also have been welcome. Granted, not all that many smartphones house 3.5mm jacks any more but being able to use the IE 200 to make and take calls on those that do (and laptops) would certainly be useful. On that note, Sennheiser could also perhaps have included a couple of adapters to further sweeten the deal. A 3.5mm to 1.4in headphone jack adapter or a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter would be useful, although those can both be picked up relatively cheaply so are understandable omissions.
What can’t be bought cheaply is a first-party replacement audio cable if you manage to lose or damage the original. The only one I could find on the Sennheiser website was listed for £89; almost three-quarters of the headphones’ price. Third-party alternatives can be picked up for significantly less, however, and the simple fact the IE 200 aren’t battery-powered and you can replace the cable at all gives them a longer lifespan than their wireless alternatives.
Sennheiser IE 200 review: Should you buy them?
They’re not as convenient as their wireless competitors and don’t come with handy features like noise cancellation or voice assistant support, but the Sennheiser IE 200 do what they set out to do very well.
They’re designed to be an in-ear gateway to the audiophile world and they nail that brief. They’re a detailed and analytical listen and comfortable enough to be worn for hours on end. If you’re a fan of wired headphones and looking for a big sonic upgrade on the cheap pair you bought from a no-name brand on Amazon, you won’t be disappointed – just don’t expect bass delivery to blow your socks off.