Audiophile quality for less - that's the simple proposition that Sennheiser is making with the IE 200, bringing a hitherto rare level of affordability to its high-end in-ear lineup.
With other IE models running up huge prices by comparison, it's an extremely intriguing offer, one we've been putting to the test over the last couple of weeks. Here's how these earbuds have held up.
Sennheiser IE 200
It's hard to argue with this price tag - Sennheiser offers clean, balanced sound with only a few expected drawbacks, all at excellent value. Think of it as an audiophile gateway drug.
- Clean, balanced sound
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Good price
- A lot of cable noise
- Could have more oomph
- 1.2-metre braided cable MMCX connectors and 3.5mm plug
- Weighs 4 grams in total
- Available in black only
Sennheiser's reference earbuds all look pretty similar - it's in the details, and the materials, that the differences come in.
So, much like its far more expensive options, the IE 200 has an L-shape to its earbuds, each of which can be easily detached from its cabling to swap in cables you might want to buy yourself.
This is great for repairability since cables are a common point of failure, but the cost cutting is also evident in the cable Sennheiser provides.
It's nicely braided and we like the look and feel of it, which is tactile and tangle-resistant. However, it also brings with it a lot of cable noise - while listening to music, any shift will produce echoes and knocks.
We're also a little underwhelmed by the two plastic sleeves that keep the cable gathered and let you tie it together under your chin for more comfort - these don't look to us like they'll last all that long compared to sturdier options.
The earpieces themselves are made of black plastic, with a couple of small touches to let you know which is which (a subtle red ring of plastic, for example).
You get a very good selection of ear tips in the box, so getting a comfortable fit should be straightforward, and at the top section of each cable branch is a bendy plastic-wrapped section.
This can either hang straight down or be looped around the back of your ear to take some of the very light weight that the IE 200 places on your ears.
These options add up to a really comfortable pair of earbuds that can easily adapt to how you want to wear them, albeit with a design that does slightly showcase where Sennheiser cut corners to save costs.
After all, at the top end of its in-ear lineup, you're looking at earbuds made out of milled aerospace-grade rare metals, so the contrast is pretty obvious.
A small carrying bag is a final touch, great for storage and organisation even if it won't offer much sturdy protection. These earbuds aren't water resistant at all, so that needs to be borne in mind as you use them, although we'd argue they're really for home listening anyway.
- 6 - 20,000Hz frequency response
- 7mm transducers
Where Sennheiser is betting that all our minor quibbles on the design side will be drowned out is on sound quality, and it might not be wrong there.
The IE 200 is a beacon of simplicity in a more complicated age - it's wired, with a 3.5mm jack, and that's it. No companion app, no active noise cancellation, no worrying about EQs or battery life.
You just plug it into your audio source of choice (and if you've got an iPhone that means an adapter, unsurprisingly) and press play.
What you're greeted by is exactly the trademark Sennheiser sound you'd hope for - a balanced and clean signature that represents basically every frequency equally.
Whether you're listening to some classical music, vintage psychedelic rock or crunching bassy electronica, the IE 200 is going to be pretty much even-handed.
This makes it a really excellent pair of low-cost reference headphones - you can rely on its audio signature giving you a neutral and pleasant read-out of basically any genre.
If there is a single downside we've found on the sound front it's potentially that the IE 200 isn't exactly the bassiest earbuds we've tried, and it stands out a bit in an industry that knows the popularity of a slightly boosted low end.
To temper that, though, these buds are not intended for bass heads. By their nature, they offer a flat, neutral presentation, and those looking for more oomph would probably be better served by a pair of great over-ears instead, so it's no great sacrifice.
Of course, you'll find these earbuds perform at their best when paired with a lossless source, so something like a Tidal subscription is basically a must-have.
Swapping between Spotify and Tidal on the same tracks is instructive, and confirms that the IE 200 can indeed manage impressive detail when given high-quality sources. Tracks from the latest Gorillaz album were noticeably more sparkly and effervescent, to name just one example.
We'll be interested to see how the IE 200 does for Sennheiser - it has every chance of acting like a gateway drug for those who've been interested in going down the audiophile route but were put off by the prices.
At a very, very reasonable rate it gives you extremely neutral, clean sound and acts as a perfect demonstration of what wired audio can offer compared to more convenient options.
That said, its cable noise and slightly flimsy quality do mean you can tell where upgrades could easily be made, which makes us think it'll send people down the rabbit hole of research eventually. Since that way lies Wonderland, though, who's complaining?