I knew this day would come sooner or later, but it looks like I have to talk about Airpods for once without completely roasting them. These aren’t just the vanilla Airpods though, they’re the Airpod Pros, which have their own distinct features and improved sound signature. We’re not just talking about Airpods though, instead, we’re going to compare them to the new, hotly released Sennheiser CX 400BT. The 400BT is the latest model in Sennheiser’s CX line, and they’ve opted to upgrade these new buds to true wireless. Airpods have reigned as kings in the wireless earphone market for quite some time, but they’ve run into more competition now more than ever. Let’s see how the Sennheiser CX 400BT stacks up against the Airpod Pros.
What You Get
Both products are packed relatively light. Both include their respective charging cases, however, of course with the Airpods you’ll receive a lightning connector attached to USB-C and the Sennheiser CX 400BT will use USB to micro USB. We can talk about Apple’s use of their proprietary lightning cables, but if you already own multiple Apple products, chances are you probably have a few dozen of these lying around by now. Both the CX 400BT and the Airpods come with the same amount of ear tips which is a little unfortunate, but also not wholly unfair as their small, medium, and large fits are sure to adjust well with each buds overall design.
Look and Feel
The Airpod design has been recognizable for years now, and with the Pros make a few adjustments to let it be known that this is a new type of animal. They still sport the white alien pod design, but with a slight angular alteration that looks to bring more of a secure fit to your ear. If there’s one thing I hear about all the time from Airpods it’s that some people have an issue with their fit, which is greatly improved with the Pros. Apple has finally opted for silicone ear tips, rather than have the housing sit awkwardly on your concha. These are the most naturally fitting earbuds Apple has to offer.
The CX 400BT might take some getting use to, due to its larger housing design, but they’re a clean and secure fit nonetheless, and the bigger touch face makes functionality more user friendly. The Airpods do weigh a little less than the CX 400, coming in at around 5.4g compared to the laters 6g. This is notable due to the Airpod Pros weightless feel, I mean they don’t call them “Airpods” for no reason. It’s easier to forget anything is in your ear at all with the Airpods, and while there isn’t any real problem with weightiness with the CX 400, but there is still a slight feel to them.
Design and Functionality
With all it’s features and outboard app controls, the CX 400BT makes a major statement over the Airpod Pros. The only main buying factor the Pros have over the CX 400BT is the inclusion of noise-cancelation, which for a true wireless is actually quite good. This may be a deal-breaker for some, but I found the CX 400 to have it’s own self isolating qualities. On the surface, both the Airpods and the CX 400BT have similar functions, and with the Airpods, I find it more natural to interact with the short stems, rather than the touch-sensitive surface on the Sennheisers. However, the CX 400BT just has so much more to offer with its smart control app. With the app, you can customize the touch abilities to work with any gesture you’d like. Want play/pause control on the right side instead of the left? Have them switch places just like that. The app is extremely versatile with this feature, expect with phone calls.
Sennheiser’s Smart Control app also boasts a limited function graphic and parametric EQ that has its quirks but is a fine addition to the personalization of the CX 400BT. Both the Airpods and the CX 400BT offer responsive controls, and I do like the Airpods feedback “click” sound, but Sennheiser just offers way more than the Pros.
The Airpods use Bluetooth 5.0, but the CX 400BT uses the latest 5.1 technology, giving them just a little bit more range and bandwidth. Sennheiser also includes more CODECs for the CX 400, with AAC, aptX, and SBC, as oppose to Apples AAC, and SBC only.
While the Airpods offer a few more extra hours of playback time in total, the CX 400BT offers more playback time for the individual buds at full charge. The Airpod Pros will only last you for about 4.5 hours before having to use the charging case, while the CX 400BT reach a max 7 hours.
When it comes to the sound quality department, it’s almost too easy to rag on Airpods, and this is Sennheiser we’re talking about, so it’s not even fair. However, we should give the Pros a fair shot, first talking about soundstage. The Airpods sound relatively tighter compared to the CX 400BT, which lets space breathe a bit more. Both buds don’t offer anything substantial, but Sennheiser is noticeably more articulate with its sound field than Apple, as spatial imaging comes across more instinctively on the CX 400BT. While the Pros are still a vast improvement for Apple, Sennheiser is way further ahead of them in regards to quality. There are elements to the Pros that some may prefer, like pop and rock tracks featuring a bit more substantial drive, while the CX 400BT features more relaxed textures that work best in more contemporary genres.
There’s a major difference between these bass responses, though there is an illusion of similarity. Both earbuds have ample bass that features thick textures and punchy tones, but the main difference is that the CX 400BT has a softer and smoother response. With the CX 400BT, you’ll feel a lot more butteriness in your bass range than in the Airpod Pros, which take on a more artificial timbre.
Airpods are notorious for attenuating a lot of mid-range bands, and while the Pros are an improvement, they don’t hold am tea to the CX 400BT. The Sennheisers sport a much flatter range that while not being the most colorful, is so much cleaner than its opposition. Acoustical instruments in this range are represented with a lot more clarity and consistency, and vocals are presented with more surface than the Pros.
Both buds have a notably lacking high end, but the CX 400BT leaves enough space in the stage for the highs to expand on some details. The Airpods don’t sound all that bad up here, but when some tracks get up there the Pros can come across as too bright for some genres, like Jazz, or classical. The CX 400BT uses some roll-off to combat this, and generally consist of smoother textures.
In the end, you knew which wireless earbud I was going to be in more favor of. There’s also price, in which the CX 400BT buries whatever chances the Airpod Pros had left. The CX 400BT goes for $199.95 while the Airpod Pros goes for $249. For a whole fifty bucks less you get a more versatile, and better-sounding earbud than the Airpod Pros. If you don’t care about any of that, and you need a noise-canceling earbud then your mind is probably already made up. But as an overall product, the Sennheiser CX 400BT has got to take the win.
Sennheiser CX 400BT available from Audio 46
Apple Airpod Pros Available from Amazon
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