The IE 200 are Sennheiser’s entry-level in-ear monitors. If you’ve ever felt envious of the company’s more expensive IE 300, IE 600, or the flagship IE 900 models, then at $150, the IE 200 is a much easier pill to swallow, especially since the previous entry point cost twice as much.
With the IE 200, Sennheiser has a very clear goal; to offer an exceptionally neutral sound signature at an affordable price. This is a bit of a departure from the other models in the series, which have all come to be known as bass cannons. In that sense, it is a bit of a role reversal. If you want the most accurate sound, you have to pay the least. That’s quite an interesting proposition and a good place as any to stop this introduction and start the review.
Design and comfort
Aesthetically, the IE 200 are virtually identical to their more expensive siblings, at least as far as the basic shape is concerned. The main difference is in the choice of materials; whereas the IE 600 and 900 are made out of metal, the IE 200 use plain old but reliable plastic like the 300. Moreover, the IE 200 lack the textural flourishes of the 300, and instead, just opt for plain black plastic to really drive the point home that these are the least expensive option amount the four.
However, nothing drives that point into the ground like the supplied cable. This is quite easily one of the worst cables I have comes across on any IEM, and I have used quite a few at this point. It is thin with roughly the same feel as a curtain’s drawstring, it retains all its kinks and basically will never straighten out, has a melted plastic wrapping for the splitter junction, another thin plastic wrapper to adjust the length of the split and overly flexible ear hooks that you need to adjust every single time you put the earbuds in. The cable also has quite a lot of microphonics.
The cable terminates in two MMCX connectors. However, while these may look like standard MMCX, you can’t just fit any MMCX cable on the earbuds as the connector is recessed. This means you have to be careful picking aftermarket cables for Sennheiser IEMs.
The IE 200 also comes with two sets of earbuds. There are the usual silicone tips in three sizes and also the foam tips in three sizes. The silicone tips are unusually thin and cheap-feeling. I couldn’t get a good seal with them no matter which size I picked. Even if they felt fine at first, simply moving my jaw would cause the seal to break.
The foam tips offer a better seal. I am not particularly fond of foam tips as they are usually more trouble than they are worth and can also tend to be less comfortable over extended sessions as the foam expands and exerts pressure on your ears. The foam tips Sennheiser provides also aren’t particularly great; they expand quite rapidly after you press them, causing them to almost certainly expand back to normal shape before you are even done inserting them in your ears. Sennheiser recommends waiting 15 seconds for the foam to expand in your ears but in my experience, they took less than 5.
One trick of the IE 200 is being able to adjust the frequency response based on how you attach the tips. You can either attach the tips by inserting them all the way on the nozzle. This produces a more bass-heavy sound. Alternatively, you can attach them halfway on the nozzle; this will create an audible click and the ear tips will lock in place. This creates a slightly less bass-heavy sound and is seemingly the intended way of listening. This trick only works with the bundled ear tips as any other tip won’t stay halfway without coming off. You can still use them in the fully inserted position, at which point they work like any other tip.
In terms of comfort, the IE 200 are very good. The main shell of the earbuds is extremely small, the smallest I have ever used on any IEM. They basically fit entirely inside your ears and weigh almost nothing. Most of the time, you are feeling the cable or the ear tips, not the earbuds themselves. With a better cable and more comfortable earbuds, you will likely forget you are even wearing these.
Of course, the small size has some disadvantages. The earbuds are somewhat finicky to grab and insert in your ears, as there isn’t much to hold on to. Also, the cable constantly gets in the way and will often even dislodge the earbuds if you try to adjust it. You have to insert the earbuds, adjust the cable hooks, then adjust the earbuds again otherwise your seal would have almost certainly been broken by the cable adjustment. This is not a problem with larger, heavier earbuds but the IE 200 just get bullied by their cable.
Overall, while the design and comfort are good, the cable is in dire need of user replacement. You should also look into better-quality silicone tips if the two-step nozzle trick isn’t important to you.
Audio quality is a major focus of the marketing for the IE 200, as it should be. After all, you are only buying wired because you are interested in audio quality. But more than the quality, Sennheiser has also been very particular about the type of sound you will be hearing. Going beyond just saying the sound is precise and neutral, Sennheiser also mentions that the IE 200 are tuned for the diffuse-field target.
Diffuse-field target is not common these days for headphone tuning, let alone IEMs. Diffuse-field target is based on the sound of loudspeakers when playing a flat test tone in a reflective room, as heard through a dummy head microphone. Headphones tuned to the DF target tend to have a very neutral bass and mid-range but fairly bright treble response. It’s not something most people find enjoyable to listen to, which is why diffuse-field (and its cousin free-field) have largely been replaced with more conventional Harman target curves that are more consumer friendly.
The IE 200 uses a single 7mm True Response dynamic driver, the same as the one found on the IE 300, 600, and 900. However, the IE 200 is tuned very differently, which is important to consider as this sound is not for everyone.
First of all, I didn’t particularly care much for the adjustable nozzle gimmick. Sure, you can use them in the extended position, which does make the sound adhere more to the DF target. In my experience, this didn’t produce a dramatic enough difference and it was barely noticeable on most tracks. As such, I did most of the testing with the ear tips pushed all the way in.
Moving on to the frequency response and tuning, the IE 200 aren’t as neutral or precise as Sennheiser would want you to believe. Regardless of where you set the ear tips, there is definitely a small boost to the low frequencies over reference levels. This definitely keeps things from becoming a bit too sterile and uninteresting but if you are looking to use these for monitoring or mastering purposes, this is something to remember.
Having said that, the bass boost is very frugal and if you aren’t used to listening to DF or reference-level bass then you may think either the earbuds or your ears have stopped working. The focus is more on quality than quantity, and the low-end response from the IE 200 is certainly measured and bordering on warm but clean enough to enjoy percussion and string instruments without persistent rumble and thrum. Bass hits are fast and articulate with good extension in the lower ranges. There is zero risk of auditory masking here as the bass tapers off well before you get into the mid-range.
The mid-range on the IE 200 is exquisite. It is supremely well-balanced across the range, with superb presence and authority in the mix. Timbre is particularly excellent, with most voices and instruments having an authentic, natural tone to them.
The treble is where the sound gets a little spicy. The upper mid-range is a bit on the brighter side, which can cause the sound to be a bit shouty at times. Some voices have a thin, sharp edge at the top as they go into the upper registers. There is also a bit of sibilance in the S and T sounds. This is a classic pitfall of DF tuning and can make the sound a bit fatiguing to listen to on some tracks.
In terms of technicalities, the IE 200 is good but unexceptional. There is a good amount of detail in the mix, which does come through every now and then. The drivers aren’t crazy-resolving but they do a good enough job that you do still feel like you are getting the most out of your source material without taking a microscope to it. Imaging was above average; there is definitely a much more distinct sense of layering and positioning than what you’d get on cheaper IEMs but again it doesn’t exactly wow you if you’ve heard better stuff. Soundstage is roomy enough to not be claustrophobic but it’s still an IEM at the end of the day and there’s only so much space the earbuds can create.
The IE 200 do not require a lot of power to get the best out of. I was able to drive them just fine with the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm adapter and also the headphone jack on a OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite. Switching to a more powerful Shanling UA2 did not change things considerably when using the single-ended output. You could use a dedicated amp but it’s not necessary.
Overall, I did like the sound of IE 200. I am a sucker for clean and precise bass and mid-range and the IE 200 has good enough technical chops to stand apart from some of the cheaper IEMs I tend to review here. However, the treble is unabashedly bright and can be too harsh on many tracks. So while I like a bright sound as well, sibilance and hiss is something I cannot tolerate and the IE 200 has plenty of both.
As for your preference, I would highly recommend staying away if you have a particular affinity for bass. While it’s not true neutral, it comes very close and most people really have no understanding of what that means until they hear it. It’s like ordering Neapolitan if you’ve only ever had deep-dish. Don’t do it unless you know what you are getting into.
The Sennheiser IE 200 are a great-sounding pair of earbuds for the price. The specific tuning won’t be for everyone but those who know what they are getting into will be rewarded with a clean, engaging sound that gives a small taste of what it’s like to own truly high-end audio.
Sennheiser’s claims of precise and neutral sound may be a bit far-fetched as these are no mastering monitors but that does make them more entertaining for simply listening to music. I do wish the treble was less sibilant at times but that is an easy problem to fix with EQ. Technical performance is also good and sets the IE 200 apart from some of the cheaper options on the market.
The main bugbear with the IE 200 is the cable. While not completely unusable, it brings down the experience of using the product several notches and almost forces you to replace it, which then adds to the cost. The quality of the ear tips could also be a lot better. These are very obvious cost-cutting measures but they up significantly hurting the overall value of the product.
If you are into the type of sound described here, the IE 200 is a good option for $150 but I would strongly suggest taking the cost of an aftermarket cable into consideration. Alternatively, you can look at something like the Etymotic ER2SE.