So you’ve got your new iPhone 4S, and now you want to talk to Siri (and maybe friends) and enjoy some tuneage. Step one: Donate those pathetic white buds that came with your iPhone to your favorite charity, if they’ll take ’em. Step two: Get yourself a snazzy pair of microphone-equipped canalphones — earphones that fit snugly in your ear. Why? Because a good set of canalphones are the best accessory ever made for an iPhone; they’ll create a seal that will block out ambient noise while enhancing sound coming from the earphones, especially bass — which means better conversations with friends (or Siri), and better music.
Around $100 seems to be the point at which there’s a big jump in quality; also, most in that range are now equipped with inline volume controls (in addition to the play/pause and track-skip controls like the ones on Apple’s stock buds).
We’ve assembled an Apple Store’s worth of canalphones at that level, and we’ll be reviewing them over the next several days. Up first is Sennheiser’s MM 70 iP earphones ($100).
Sometimes earphones like the MM 70s are “canalbuds,” a cross between earbuds — like the ones that came with your iPhone you tried to give away to charity — and true canalphones, which are generally inserted more deeply into the ear canal. However, since there’s great variation in feel and use even between true canalphones, here at this site we tend to lump anything that even thinks about venturing into the ear canal in the canalphone category. Also, note that while Sennheiser’s website lists an MSRP of $130, they can be had at the Apple Store and pretty much everywhere else for $100 or less.
They’re really, really light. The set is among (or the) lightest IEMs we’ve tested. Pair this with their asymmetrical cable — the cable leading to the left earpiece is significantly shorter than the right — and the result is a set that feels almost like they’re not there, especially for active pursuits like running, or with the set is run up behind the head.
Because the MM 70s sit shallowly in the ear canal, they’re probably a good choice for those who are a little more squeamish about shoving foreign objects deep into their ears.
The set comes with several differently sized silicone eartips in two distinct types: standard and flanged. Both were relatively comfy, and created a decent seal. The flanged tips are about as minimally flanged as tips get, and I’m not entirely sure there was much difference between the two types.
The materials used, though light, seemed conspicuously cheap and plasticky for a set at this price. The control interface, especially, felt chintzy. They’re also fairly bland aesthetically — though this may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your tastes.
The earpieces are pretty small and stunted — so small that getting them in and out of my ears was tricky, and the curved surface didn’t help matters.
Here’s the crux, though: Although the set works well as a device for communication, listening to music was simply not a pleasurable experience. Bass was often absent; when it did appear, distortion crept in at a comparatively low threshold. Mids were jumbled and muted. Only in the high end did the MM 70s shine somewhat, with clarity that was decent, if uninspiring.
They’re light as a feather, and they may be one of the only options for sensitive-ear types who still want the canalphone experience — but the Sennheiser MM 70 iPs get completely outshined by their contemporaries where it counts.