With Apple Music rolling out support for high-resolution lossless audio in India, there is renewed interest in wired earphones and headphones, particularly of the audiophile kind. I've tested the service with a number of headphones and earphones since its introduction in India, and while there's plenty to enjoy even with budget equipment, spending more money on premium, well-engineered kit will give you a considerably better listening experience. That's where the Sennheiser IE 300, the in-ear monitors I'm reviewing here, come in.
Priced at Rs. 29,990, the Sennheiser IE 300 audiophile earphones are considerably more expensive than much of the budget audiophile equipment that I've recently tested, but promise an experience that will capitalise on the benefits of high-resolution audio streaming. Is this the best mainstream pair of in-ear monitors you can buy right now? Find out in this review.
The Sennheiser IE 300 is a traditional wired in-ear headset, and can be used with any source device that has a headphone jack
Sennheiser IE 300 design and specifications
You'd expect nothing less than premium design and build quality from a Rs. 30,000 pair of earphones, and the Sennheiser IE300 does not disappoint. Although made of plastic, the earphones look and feel great, with each earpiece weighing just 4g (without the cable). The earpieces are slim and angled inwards for a secure fit, with the ear hooks on the included detachable cable offering stability. It took me some effort to put on and take off the IE 300 earphones because of the hooks, but the secure, comfortable, and noise isolating fit more than made up for this.
The earpieces have an interesting sparkling finish, resembling a starlit night sky with the Sennheiser logo in the centre, and I quite like this look. The included cable is detachable, using standard MMCX connectors to link with the earpieces, and has a 3.5mm plug for the incoming audio signal. The sales package includes a total of six pairs of ear tips – three pairs of silicone ear tips and three pairs of foam ear tips, each in small, medium, and large sizes. There is also a earphone cleaning tool designed to fit into the meshes of the earpieces, and a hard carry case.
The included earphone cable is decent enough and is usefully detachable, so experienced users have the option to replace it to improve the listening experience or in case of wear and tear. This is an audiophile-grade pair of earphones, and the cable doesn't have an in-line remote or microphone. You might want to look at aftermarket cables if you want to add hands-free capabilities to the earphones.
Powering the Sennheiser IE 300 are the company's 7mm XWB (extra wide band) TrueResponse dynamic drivers, which are said to be German-made and promise a natural and balanced sound. Sennheiser also claims further design tweaks including a resonator chamber and membrane foil that promise to reduce natural resonances and improve sound.
The frequency response ranges from 6-20,000Hz. The earphones have an impedance rating of 16Ohms, and can therefore be driven easily by even the most basic source devices including smartphones, laptops, and basic DAC-amplifiers.
Each earpiece of the Sennheiser IE 300 weighs just 4g, without the cable
Sennheiser IE 300 performance
Although Rs. 30,000 for a pair of wired earphones might sound high-end, the Sennheiser IE 300 competes against products that would typically be classified as ‘mid-range' in-ear monitors, going up against competition from brands such as Shure, Fiio, and Campfire Audio.
Since the Sennheiser IE 300 headset has a low impedance rating, I was able to comfortably use it with the iBasso DC03 DAC-amplifier connected to my MacBook Air, and even directly plugged into the headphone jacks of this laptop and an iPad mini (2019). My review coincided with the launch of high-resolution lossless audio on Apple Music in India, so I had plenty of excellent music content to try the IE 300 with.
Starting with If I Were A Folkstar by The Avalanches in high-resolution lossless (24-bit, 96KHz in ALAC) format, the Sennheiser IE 300 made for a rich, detailed, and beautiful sound. The sonic signature was balanced, giving this busy sample-based electronic track plenty of room to breathe, and allowing for all elements in it to shine. The gentle, cheerful beats, the vocals, and the instruments all sounded distinct and full-bodied; I was able to concentrate and listen to every element in the track as it was meant to be heard.
The earphones have 7mm XWB TrueResponse dynamic drivers, with a frequency response range of 6-20,000Hz
Let's Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire in high-resolution lossless format sounded even more impressive, giving the bass a refined, tight, and detailed edge over the rest of the track without significantly affecting the soulful vocals and funky tune. With well-engineered, detailed tracks, the Sennheiser IE 300 had enough room to shine, and I particularly liked how easily and effortlessly it managed to do its job – that is, without needing much support by way of expensive DACs and amplifiers.
With standard lossless (16-bit, 44.1KHz in ALAC format) tracks, the Sennheiser IE 300 sounded a bit less convincing of its high-end credentials and Rs. 30,000 price tag. Don't get me wrong, the sound was excellent and very enjoyable, but didn't quite match up to some of the similarly priced IEMs I've heard over the years, including the Audeze iSine 10, and options from Shure and Etymotic Research.
While the IE 300 is well tuned, I found that there was just a bit missing in terms of drive and attack compared to other IEMs at this price. Although the earphones did occasionally deliver very enjoyable performances with certain tracks such as Five Tango Sensations: Anxiety by Astor Piazzolla and Bambro Koyo Ganda by Bonobo, most tracks made for a fun and detailed sound, but it didn't quite match up to the audiophile credentials that Sennheiser hopes to pitch with the IE 300, or its Rs. 30,000 price tag.
The Sennheiser IE 300 is a very good pair of earphones, with solid build quality and design, and impressive sound quality. It's easy to drive and use with even basic audiophile equipment and source devices, and performs well even when plugged directly into a basic source device - that is, without any additional amplification or advanced digital-to-analogue conversion. This is a fun, detailed, and refined pair of earphones that almost brings out the best in high-quality audio tracks, including much of what Apple Music has to offer in its high-resolution lossless audio collection.
However, there's just a bit missing at the top in terms of attack and drive; the Sennheiser IE 300's focus on ease of use holds it back a bit when it comes to delivering the kind of sound quality buyers expect at its price. Nonetheless, this is a good pair of earphones to consider if you want something easy to drive, light, and equally suitable for purists and everyday listeners alike.
Can Nothing Ear 1 — the first product from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei's new outfit — be an AirPods killer? We discussed this and more on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.