Smartwatches, VR headsets and Bluetooth speakers can all take a back seat, wireless in-ear headphones are the latest must-own tech accessory. With smartphones moving away from classic cabled connections, the need to cut the cords is growing.
That's where the $199.95 (£169.99 / AU$299.95) Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless headphones come in, as the last pair of audio enablers to tick all the right cable-cutting boxes, with Bluetooth 4.1 and aptX abilities making it easier to shun the traditional 3.5mm audio jack.
These are part of a new breed of wireless in-ear headphones, however. Ones untroubled by degraded sound, latency issues and woeful battery life. They’re also a pair of headphones that are entering an increasingly crowded market, with this neckband style design having been adopted by everyone from Bose and Beats to Samsung and LG.
What, then, separates the Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless from the mass of other cable-free in-ear audio enablers that are popping up? We’ve been living with them to find out.
Headphones are becoming as much design-led fashion accessories as they are suppliers of solid audio performances. Sadly, Sennheiser clearly didn’t get that memo. The HD1 In-Ear Wireless aren’t ugly bits of kit, but neither are they the most stylish option going.
Chunky black plastic ends host all the inner workings and protrude from a leather neck band. It’s a design that’s pleasingly understated, yes, but can’t shake the air of being designed with mid-40s accountant in mind.
The red stitching in the leather neck strap helps break up the otherwise dark, dreary look, but the protruding lip of leather this creates is ugly and unnecessary. It gives the headphones an offcuts look, an unpolished air to an otherwise measured finish.
As well as not being the easiest on the eye, the HD1s aren’t the most comfortable either. With one of the weightier neck bands going, you’re constantly aware of their presence, and the bulky, boxy style isn’t attuned to exercise sessions.
It’s the weight of the ear buds and awkward tips that are the main problem though. The chrome effect plastic buds feel unbalanced and regularly at risk of falling from your ear. Compounding matters, all the bundled tip options feel pinched, needing to be pushed right down your ear hole in order to stay even remotely firm in the ear.
All this combines for a slightly uncomfortable fit that will deter you from enjoying longer listening sessions.
Although not an elegant design, there’s some practicality to the finish, however. Integrated volume and play/pause controls are found on the left protrusion, letting you tweak output levels and skip tracks (you’ll need to long press the volume up and down to skip back or forwards respectively) without having to fish your playlist-hosting handset from your pocket.
The volume buttons have subtle plus and minus symbols embossed into them, but these are impossible to feel while wearing the headset. This makes fine tuning the levels a bit fiddly.
What’s more, with the power button located right next to the volume toggle, there’s also the very real risk of accidental presses. Fortunately this won’t cut the music without a prolonged press, but it’s still annoying.
What these headphones lack in comfort and style, they make up for in sound quality. OK, no, they’re not the best sounding headphones of all time, but they’re better than solid and do bring a pleasing blend of high and low end that will appease no matter what genre of music dominates your Spotify or Apple Music playlists.
Listing to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Supermarket Flowers’, the HD1s In-Ear Wireless show their versatility, offering crisp, impactful vocals against the perfectly balancing highs of the piano. There’s a refined clarity to the sound, with no clipping or distorted fading to taint the solid output.
If you’re after a bass-rich modern sound, these won’t be the headphones for you. There’s plenty of low end but its carefully balanced alongside a clearly defined mid range and sharp, crisp high notes.
Playing ‘Can’t Hold Us’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the thumping bass line is clearly distinguished from the raspy horns and on-point vocals. There’s no dominating sound, just a carefully mixed meeting of notes.
Although the headphones are pleasingly loud and powerful, if you really crank the volume up, the mid range starts to become slightly overshadowed. Ultimately, however, they offer accomplished, solid sound quality.
It’s not perfect though. With no noise cancelling and a slightly iffy fit, the outside world can creep in, taking some of the distinction out of your listening experience.
The Bluetooth range is solid, however, and for those after more connectivity options, the HD1s have you covered with integrated NFC.
Battery life too is pleasingly impressive. The HD1's 170mAh inbuilt will last you an impressive 10 hours between charges. This is on par with the likes of the Bose QC30s.
Although staying power is solid, charge times are average at best. We found that you’ll need to set aside the better part of two hours in order to go from flat zero to full charge. Given the Beats X can add 2 hours of playback after just 5 minutes connected to the mains, the Sennheisers are positively average on this front.
The Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless headphones sound great. They offer well-balanced sounds that beautifully blend rich, dynamic highs with deep, impactful lows without muddying the middle.
Their 10 hour battery life is impressive too, although the headphones’s fast charge abilities sill leave a lot to be desired.
The design might not be ugly, but it’s certainly uninspired. It’s the fit of the headphones that most disappoints, however. Far from a comfortable option, you’ll find yourself getting ear fatigue after an hour’s listening.
These aren’t particularly versatile headphones, either. Not comfortably enough to wear to watch a tablet-based movie, they’re also too awkward and bulky to be your new running companion.
The Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless headphones prioritise sound over style, and while that’s the sensible way to go, a bit more thought on the look and feel of the things wouldn’t go amiss.
Sound quality is solid without ever reaching unexpected heights and will fit with most musical tastes. They sound about right for their $199.95 (£169.99 / AU$299.95) asking price and while lacking the intricate clarity and noise cancelling of the more expensive Bose QC30s, they do edge the Beats X in terms of audio performance.
A solid pair of commuter cans more than a versatile headphone, the HD1 In-Ear Wireless won’t disappoint, unless you’re after a solid day’s comfortable listening that is.