Note: This review was first published on 9 July 2021.
Last year, Sennheiser came up with a more affordable version of their award-winning Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds called the CX 400BT True Wireless earbuds. It was to introduce the brand to the masses, win new fans, and gain market share. But the fact it was often on sale suggests that it wasn’t quite the success that the company hads hoped it would be. The CX 400BT were fantastic sounding wireless earbuds, but at S$299, our fear that Sennheiser might have priced it too optimistically seems to have come true.
So it was back to the drawing board and now to this, the CX True Wireless. At S$199, it’s priced even lower than the CX 400BT but the design brief hasn’t changed. Sennheiser still means for it to be the wireless earbuds of choice for discerning and fussy listeners. Its tagline says as much: Superior sound. No compromise.
To keep prices down, the CX True Wireless earbuds and its charging case are entirely made out of plastic. While it doesn’t feel the best, the upside is that they are extremely light which helps make them comfortable to wear. The buds weigh 6g each and the charging case is only 37g.
The CX True Wireless earbuds’ design is similar to the CX 400BT and Momentum True Wireless 2. The lineage is clear. That’s no bad thing because these earbuds are easy to wear and the comfort is good – see, plastic isn’t evil. I could wear them for hours on end with no issues, unlike, say, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 which I found to feel a little unpleasant after a few hours. It stays securely in place too, I could jog with these and not have them fall out. The charging case is also relatively compact. It’s a little tall but it will fit into most pockets easily.
These are also inconspicuous earbuds. The entire earbud is matte black and so is the charging case. The only embellishment is the Sennheiser logo on the touchpad but even that is black so it’s barely noticeable. The CX True Wireless also comes in white. I haven’t seen that model in the flesh but I would imagine it would be a great option for readers who want their earbuds to stand out a little more.
These are basic earbuds so you are missing features like active noise cancellation, ambient sound mode, and sensors that automatically stop and play whatever you are listening to. But I’m not sure you’ll miss these features because a) the passive isolation is so good, b) most ambient sound modes are disappointing, and c) is it really so hard to hit the play/pause button on your own?
One feature that has thankfully been retained is support for Sennheiser’s Smart Control app. This app lets you manage the earbuds firmware, customise the touch controls, and gives you access to the equaliser so that you can tweak the earbuds’ sound to your tastes.
The equaliser works well enough but go easy otherwise the earbuds can sound wonky. And because the earbuds don’t have fancy ANC or ambient sound modes, the default touch controls are sufficient. You have playback and volume controls all at your fingertips.
One feature that the CX True Wireless earbuds have that the CX 400BT doesn’t is some form of water resistance. Sennheiser claims the CX True Wireless are IPX4 water-resistant which means it can withstand splashes of water, making it a suitable companion for your workouts.
There’s no support for multipoint connection so the CX True Wireless can only connect to one device at a time. If it’s any consolation, it pairs really quickly – almost instantly. Connectivity is generally good. I tested these earbuds with an iPhone 12 Pro Max and M1 MacBook Pro and I only encountered random dropouts when I was outside in crowded places. Latency wasn’t an issue either. Range, however, seems a little below average.
And since we are on the subject of connectivity, it’s worth mentioning that these are one of the few earbuds to continue support for aptX which should come as good news to Windows PC users at least until AAC support comes later this year. Apart from aptX, the CX True Wireless also supports good old SBC and AAC.
Battery life is excellent. Sennheiser claims 9 hours of battery life on a single charge and that sounds about right. I could go the entire day and not have them die on me. The charging case provides an additional two charges bringing the maximum listening time to 27 hours, which is one of the longest of any true wireless earbuds. The case only charges via USB-C – no wireless charging.
Because the CX True Wireless uses the same 7mm dynamic drivers as the CX 400BT and Momentum True Wireless 2, similarities in the way these earbuds sound are immediately apparent. If you forced me to give a number, I’d say they are about 95% similar. To my ears, the Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds are less hazy, a bit smoother in the treble, and faster sounding. But overall, their sound signatures are mostly identical.
Overall tonality is mostly balanced. The bass is tastefully elevated so pop tracks have thumping basslines; the mids are smooth and full-sounding so vocals have body and sound intimate; and the treble has the right amount of air and sparkle so it has sense of detail but it’s never grating. And because the bass is oh-so-slightly emphasised and the treble is polite, the CX True Wireless earbuds can be said to be leaning toward the darker sounding side. The default tuning is remarkable but if I had to tweak it I would bring the mids and treble up by 2dB and 1dB respectively to get the earbuds to sound a little brighter and more energetic.
Compared to its contemporaries, the CX True Wireless has, without question, the most matured and refined tuning. Most true wireless earbuds strive for hard-hitting bass and while that may be what the market wants, there are a handful of listeners who prefer a more restrained and balanced approach. And that’s what the CX True Wireless delivers.
Does it have weaknesses? Sure. It isn't the most resolving earbuds so detail retrieval is a little lackluster. And because it sounds a little laid back, it can sound lazy on faster and more energetic tracks. Even so, I think it's handily one of, if not the best-sounding earbuds in its price range.
In short, the CX True Wireless can really be thought of as a slightly improved CX 400BT with added water resistance, a longer battery life, and, crucially, a lower price tag.
The problem, however, is that there’s no shortage of inexpensive true wireless earbuds these days. Online marketplaces are chock-a-block with them. And next to them, the CX True Wireless earbuds look like the high-end premium option. I think these will really take off if Sennheiser brings the price down to under S$150 and maybe street prices will eventually reflect that.
Make no mistake, the CX True Wireless are great sounding earbuds but I fear it's talents will be overlooked by a target audience that will be largely fixated on price. That's the problem you face when your USP is something as intangible and subjective like great sound. It was always going to be a hard sell. Just ask Apple and their ill-fated HomePods.
You can purchase the Sennheiser CX True Wireless on the Sennheiser Webshop, the Sennheiser Brand Store at Marina Square, and all authorised retailers. You can also find it on the Sennheiser Flagship Store on Lazada and on Shopee from retailers like AV One and ConnectIT.