Sennheiser MM50 for iPhone stereo headset
Time to chuck out your Apple set?
Reviews Sennheiser launched the MM50 last year, but it's just re-issued the set, this time in white as well as black, and with a nod toward Apple's iPod Touch and new MacBook laptops as well as the iPhone, which the 'phones were originally designed for.
Sennheiser's MM50: tub-thumpers' delight?
The MM50s are an in-ear set, sliding into your ear canal on rubber sleeves intended to keep noise out and music in. Sennheiser supplies three sets of sleeves, one each of the small, medium and large sizes. They're of the flexible type, rather than the harder kind or the sponge sort included with higher-end earphones.
The rubber theme continues with the cord, which has the same feel as the sleeves rather than the smooth touch you usually get with plastic headphone cables, and with a figure-of-eight cross-section rather than a circular one.
According to the Reg Hardware shatterproof ruler, the cord runs 85cm from the slim 3.5mm jack - fully compatible with the original iPhone's recessed headphone socket - to the microphone dongle. There's a further inch of cable before it splits into two: 13.5cm off to the left earpiece and 43cm to the right hand one. The split is sealed within a plastic blob.
We're not fans of asymmetric earphone cabling because we find cables usually tend to hang centrally. Having a much shorter cable means the left-hand earpiece suffers all of the inevitable pull of a cable caught between layers of clothing and bag straps as you're walking around.
The MM50s use drivers from Sennheiser's CX300 set
It's worse with in-ear phones, because we always find it also makes it more likely that a cable will rub against you or your coat, the vibrations travelling along the cord to your ears, where they're seemingly amplified because the rubber sleeves are blocking out the noise that would otherwise baffle them.
The solution is to wear the 'phones in the traditional in-ear arrangement: put them in upside down and loop the cords back over your lugholes. Sennheiser clearly has this in mind, because the configuration minimises clothing snags that could yank the buds out while you're walking and practically eliminates body-cable noise.
Also available in white
The MM50s come with the medium-sized sleeves already fitted, but we found them just too large to be comfortable. Switching to the smaller pair made for a better fit and better noise reduction. That's an entirely personal judgement, of course, but it shows that it pays to try all the options, not make do with the default, as it were.
With the right sleeves and a wide selection of musical genres on the old iPhone, we took a trip on the tube. The MM50s won't rid you of background noise altogether, but the reduction makes a big difference to your listening enjoyment. And to your aural health too, we'd say, since it permits you to hear what's being played without pushing the volume on your player right up.
On regular 'phones, even that doesn't come close to drowning out the roar of an arriving underground train, but the MM50s got there with the iPhone volume on 50 per cent. As we say, the noise isn't eliminated, but it's muffled sufficiently for you to hear every bit of your songs. And you can still pick up station announcements unless you want to be totally lost in music.
Purists might not call the results hi-fi, but it was plenty good enough for us. Elsewhere, in rather more quiet surroundings, the MM50s produced a very pleasant sound with a good bit of bass oomph. We'd have liked the higher frequencies to be a little clearer, but that's not to say they're muddy or missing.
A rather bulky dongle, yesterday
Rock, pop, folk, country and classical - the MM50s handled them all with aplomb. We've never found standard iPods phones particularly bad, but the improvement here should be clear to all.
It's not all good news, though. We found the flush-fitted button on the microphone dongle hard to push when you're reaching for it by touch alone. The left cable's just too short to hold the mic away from your head in a position you can look down at it clearly, so most of the time you will be fumbling for the button blind.
Great 'phones - shame about the mic pod
Contrast that with the dongle on the standard iPhone headset, which is not only much smaller and lighter, but the whole thing is a button. The MM50 unit is fine for emergencies, but for pausing music and skipping tracks, which we do all the time with our Apple set, we found it a poor substitute.
We're not convinced the sound pick-up's any better, either. It may be, but the it naturally hangs with the microphone pointing away from you.
Incidentally, according to Sennheiser, the MM50s work with the new MacBooks - they're able to detect dongle-button presses and relay the commands to iTunes, allowing you to pause and skip tracks. With only a first-gen Air to hand, we can't confirm this, but it should be a boon to iTunes users and Skypers.
Sennheiser's MM50s make for a darn fine pair of in-the-ear noise reducing 'phones. They don't make for a good mobile phone headset, as such, but we were happy to trade that for the much improved musical quality they gave us over the Apple 'phones. They're great value at the stock price of £60 and even more so for the sub-£50 you can get 'em for online. ®
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