Sennheiser IE 300 review: A new old-school approach to audio
Featuring no modern features and no compromises, the Sennheiser IE 300 earphones let music purists focus on one thing: timeless sound.
The advent of the iPhone changed personal audio forever. Naked wires that once ran between devices and the speakers near your ears all grew an unsightly bulge packed with controls for navigating audio, answering phone calls, and adjusting the volume. Fiddling with our shirts became the norm; otherwise, we’d be forced to go to unimaginable lengths and reach into our pockets to complete simple tasks. The Sennheiser IE 300 earphones do away with the distractions of traditional wired earbuds in favor of simply delivering clean, well-balanced sound that should delight the audiophile on the go. The IE 300s produce deep, rich lows to crisp highs, while their in-ear nature helps eliminate the noise of your surroundings without any circuitry. Just be prepared to “pay the price” of pulling out your smartphone or audio player for calls or controls.
What is the Sennheiser IE 300?
The Sennheiser IE 300 is a mid-tier high-fidelity earphone from a company with a well-deserved reputation for designing high-quality microphones, speakers (such as the AMBEO soundbar), and headphones for both mixing and merely enjoying. The German company’s gear can be found on stages, in studios, and in the homes and backpacks of audiophiles. Sennheiser took cues from live-performance in-ear monitoring systems while designing the IE 300 so, like the Sennheiser IE 100 Pros, the earphones are light, unobtrusive, and comfortable to wear whether running from place to place or sitting at work, in transit, etc.
These earphones offer isolation by inserting deeper into your ear canal than typical earbuds, such as the Apple AirPod Pros. For those not accustomed to this level of ear penetration, it’s important to test out a pair before purchasing because some individuals do experience issues with equilibrium. The tight fit was welcome on multiple flights and shut out a good portion of the jet engine’s roar, delivering distortion-free music that didn’t require the volume to be turned all the way up—a typical issue in noisy environments when using earbuds that aren’t active noise-canceling like the Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds.
The Sennheiser IE 300’s design
Launched at the same time as the flagship Sennheiser IE 900, the IE 300 shares design language with its far more expensive sibling. Like the aluminum-only, similarly-sized IE 900, the compact IE 300 earphones come in one color—a silver-stippled black, the model number etched into the interior face of the left one with the Sennheiser “S” on the exterior of both. Inside each 4g plastic housing are multiple chambers to control airflow from a single, pea-sized 7mm Extra Wide Band (XWB) transducer manufactured at the company’s German headquarters.
Three pairs of silicone eartips (S/M/L), plus three foam pairs, let you find the right fit to assure a complete seal (a must to get proper bass response and cut out distractions). The addition of adjustable memory wire hooks topping the cable is a welcome feature, especially if earbuds have a tendency to fall out of your ears. The cable those hooks come on is a detachable 3.3-foot unbalanced cable that connects to the earbuds via gold-plated Fidelity+ MMCX connectors. On the other end, a 3.5mm connector fits the standard 1/8-inch headphone jack on any smartphone, tablet, audio device, or interface. The supplied cable does present one issue: it’s not always long enough to use with a computer at a desk. It’s a fine length for a mobile device output but if you listen to music off your desktop or laptop, the lack of slack is disconcerting, and using an additional cable or scooting the hardware closer is less than an ideal solution. There’s also that “downside” of the cable lacking any sort of in-line controls, which for some smartphone users might be a dealbreaker.
A small zip case and a cleaning tool complete the set. Paying close to three bills for what feels like a very diminutive package seems steep…until you hear how much music you’ve been missing by paying less for the standard earbuds on the market.
Without Bluetooth, etc., the Sennheiser IE 300s are a simple plug-and-play affair. The most difficult part of “set-up” was the trial-and-error of determining which of the tips fit my ear best. A small red accent on the right earphone made sure I placed the correct earphone in my ears for stereo as the recording artists intended.
I was curious, however, if the Bluetooth module that pairs with the IE 100 Pro in-ear monitors would fit the IE 300s but, unfortunately, they didn’t. It seems that even though both models use MMCX connectors, Sennheiser opted to build the IE 300 with recessed sockets (another similarity to the IE 900). While the company says this provides increased consistency and durability for your wired connections, it’s unfortunate it costs you the versatility of any modern conveniences. Especially since they’re available with a set that retails for half as much. Nope, it’s the included cable, Sennheiser’s own 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced cables (sold separately), or turning to a third-party cable maker willing to make a bespoke (read expensive) solution.
With a price tag of $299.95, the Sennheiser IE 300s need to prove their worth, especially for those dipping their toes into the audiophile world. And these earphones deliver a nicely balanced soundstage with a frequency range of 6 Hz – 20 kHz, which on the low end is even below what the average human can hear.
Now, the low-end response for those used to the 40mm drivers of full-sized headphones tuned for sub-bass might feel like it could hit harder, but the IE 300’s extension means that bass notes and 808 hits from LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” offer satisfying rattle and rumble without threatening to drown out the rest of the song. On the high end, cymbal hits are crisp and the soprano stylings of Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins sound great without being too sharp. That may sound a little U-shaped, but the earphones also match the Sennheiser reputation for rich, full-bodied midrange and overall will make those that do splurge happy as long as they’re fine without the boomy mainstream tuning of many headphones and earphones in recent years. Delivered by a single dynamic driver per side, without any crossovers or other circuitry in the path, there’s a sense of coherence across the spectrum.
The earphone’s sound pressure level (SPL) is a whopping 124 dB, which means they get loud. Sometimes too loud. I plugged these into an iPad that had the volume turned all the way up and the onslaught of sound hurt my ears. It does give you a lot more volume headroom than most headphones and I found myself adjusting the volume as I tested the earphones with different albums that had been mastered at differing audio levels—from The Violent Femmes’ notoriously quiet self-titled debut album to the latest Run the Jewels album, “RTJ4,” which slaps hard thanks to the latest recording technologies.
The Sennheiser IE 300 is a wonderful listening companion for an eclectic playlist that includes bands like Tame Impala, Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, and Daft Punk. Each artist’s songs felt fuller while I listened to them with the earphones. The timbre of Willie’s distinctive voice and the swirling guitar work of Tame Impala expressed nuances that can get buried on less competent gear. Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” has been a go-to album for high-end gear and the first track, “Move,” includes a full range of audio explosions that sounded great with the earphones. If you’re just listening to EDM and hip-hop bangers, you’re better off putting your money into headphones tuned for that type of listening experience. But if you want to luxuriate in Daft Punk’s melodic electro-pop, you’ll appreciate how the IE 300’s bass keeps both its energy and equilibrium with the rest of the instrumentation.
Even if you’re a fan of multiple genres of music, the IE 300s build on Sennheiser’s legacy of audiophile headphones and offer up a warm, rich soundscape that will reveal portions of songs you may not have heard before.
So, who should buy the Sennheiser IE 300?
For fans of multiple music genres looking to step up their mobile-audio setup, it’s easy to recommend the IE 300s, especially if you’ve had issues with how even the best earbuds fit. These Sennheiser earphones are comfortable, decrease potential hearing damage thanks to natural attenuation reducing the urge to crank the volume, and they’ll reveal tiny musical nuggets in your favorite songs you may have missed while using lower-tier earbuds. The price can be steep for those new to the audiophile world but, like the best Sennheiser headphones, the Sennheiser IE 300 is a solid audio investment for those into eclectic playlists…as long as you love all music in general or you’re cool reaching into your pocket to hit skip.