Sennheiser and Adidas teamed up a few years back to make exercise-friendly earphones, and the line was recently updated. The CX 685 SPORTS, at $69.95 (direct), is another well-designed, sweat-proof, moisture-resistant in-ear option from this collaboration. It delivers deep bass at top volumes without any distortion and balances things wonderfully with crisp, but never overly-bright or harsh highs. Alas, the CX 685's only real flaw is what it lacks: There's no inline remote control or microphone for mobile devices—an odd choice for an exercise earphone pair in the era of app-based workouts.DesignThe CX 685 uses a blue, silver, and black color scheme, with blue silicone ear tips and black support fins protruding from the earpieces to rest against the ear and provide superior stabilization. The fit, therefore, is quite secure. A Sennheiser logo subtly graces the left earpiece, and the Adidas logo graces the right.
The expertise Adidas brings to the table is in the form of ergonomic design and workout-friendly materials. Thus, the flexible materials that line the cable and parts of the earpieces are sweat-proof and moisture-proof, as well as shock absorbent.
Despite the overall solid design, the lack of an inline remote doesn't make much sense to me. So many exercise apps integrate music, so it's a disappointment to not even have volume controls on the CX 685. The argument that it's a less expensive pair so it needn't include a remote is obsolete, thanks to the presence of so many less expensive earphone models with inline remotes and mics.
The CX 685 ships with three pairs of eartips (small, medium, and large), a shirt clip, an earwax cleaning tool, and a snazzy black Velcro-sealing carrying pouch.PerformanceOn tracks with strong sub-bass content, like the Knife's "Silent Shout," the CX 685 does not distort, even at maximum (and unsafe) listening levels. Not only does it deliver the audio cleanly, but it does so with quite a bit of deep bass thump. This is not really an overly-bass heavy earphone pair, but it definitely packs some sub-bass boosting. Since this is an exercise-focused pair and not a critical listening tool, we'll consider this a positive characteristic.
Regardless of whether you'd choose to exercise to Bill Callahan's "Drover" or not, it provides an excellent testing ground for the CX 685's sonic capabilities. Too often, the vocals on this track lack enough treble edge and definition and receive a bit too much low-mid boosting, while the drums, on a bass-heavy pair, will often get so much bass boosting that they compete with the vocals for space in the mix. Through the CX 685, we get a perfect balance—Callahan's baritone delivery still packs plenty of rich low-end, but it has just the right amount of high-mid contour to it. The drums get a bit of boosting in the lows, but nothing over-the-top. The overall mix sounds as it should—dynamic, crisp, powerful.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild", the kick drum loop's attack can often sound muted on bass-heavy or cheaper earphones. Through the CX 685, its attack has plenty of crunch, while the kick drum's short sustain is delivered with a nice low frequency push. The sub-bass synth hits that accent the loop are delivered with power, but nothing that overwhelms the balance of the mix. Basically, this is an earphone pair for those who love crisp vocals and guitars as well as a nice, rich bass response. It doesn't sound as if there's a subwoofer rattling your skull, but the bass is strong enough to make hip hop, dance, and electronic tracks—often staples of the exercise playlist—feel powerful.
And just for the record, if you happen to listen to classical music when you exercise, that, too, sounds solid through the CX 685. John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" begins with the bright, crisp bowing of higher register strings, and soon the lower register strings and brass join in. Each instrument gets attention in this balanced mix. The lows aren't unnaturally boosted but neither are they anemic, and the growl of the brass is attention-grabbing, but never harsh nor thin.
There's no shortage of solid exercise earphones, so if you're looking for one with more booming low-end, consider the bass-heavy (and more expensive) Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats. If it's not powerful bass response you crave so much as the inline remote and mic that the CX 685 lacks, both the pricier Bose SIE2i and the Sony XBA-S65 are solid options. Meanwhile, if you want solid sound in an exercise pair, but prefer on-ear headphones to in-ear options, the Polk Audio's UltraFit 2000 won't disappoint. At $70, however, the Sennheiser's only disappointment is the missing inline remote control and mic—it sounds excellent and if sonics are your main priority, it's a winner.
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