It’s no secret that the wireless earbuds market is saturated with choice. Not only are there more companies in the space than ever, but each of those brands is pushing a lineup with wireless earbuds at every price point imaginable.
Sennheiser, for instance, sells the $130 CX, the $180 CX Plus (which feature active noise cancellation), and newly announced $250 Momentum 3 wireless earbuds. All three models are targeted at being your primary earbuds, but differentiate themselves on capability, features, and overall quality. Each is meant for different budgets, but all of them would be a good fit for anyone.
The $130 Sennheiser Sport True Wireless, on the other hand, are not meant for everyone. Priced alongside many terrific mid-range pairs, these wireless earbuds are for athletes and prolific gym-goers, from cyclists to marathon runners and everyone in between. To be even more specific, they’re meant for athletes who probably already have a favorite pair of wireless earbuds they use when not getting sweaty, be it AirPods Pro or the Nothing Ear (1), that don’t want to push the sweat resistance of their daily driver buds to the limit. Sennheiser basically told me as much.
So are wireless earbuds meant to be someone’s secondary pair even a good idea? Does Sennheiser successfully fill that niche enough to justify charging $130 for a product intended to be used for only a part of someone’s day? The answer is yes, mostly.
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Built for the gym, not the subway
I’ll start with why I wouldn’t advise making the Sennheiser Sport your only pair of wireless earbuds, because Sennheiser’s reasoning here makes the best case for the Sport as a whole.
The Sennheiser Sport do not feature any kind of in-ear detection, just like the Jabra Elite 4 Active. However, I can still recommend the Elite 4 Active to people as daily driver wireless earbuds thanks to their decent ANC, something the Sennheiser Sport lack.
I asked Sennheiser about the missing in-ear detection on the Sport and the company’s answer offered the best explanation for the Sport’s existence:
The SPORT TW is focused on providing the best sound, great fit and water resistance in an attractive offering. The Technology that is used as basis for SPORT TW does not have the in ear detection and is a result of the focused value creation for SPORT TW to be a best sounding sport earbud.
Focusing on being a sport-first wireless earbud and nothing else rings true with just about every other aspect of the Sennheiser Sport hardware.
Sennheiser is taking a wholly unique approach with noise isolation on the Sport. The wireless earbuds come with six pairs of ear tips in the box (Sennheiser calls them ear adapters), three of which are “open-ear adapters.”
“When the user changes the ear tip, the appropriate mode ‘awareness’ or ’focus’ needs to be set accordingly,” a Sennheiser spokesperson told Input. “This internally equalizes the frequency response of the earbud to provide a nice balanced sound regardless of the preferred ear tip.”
From my experience, when the open adapters are installed, and you toggle the wireless earbuds to “Aware mode" in the Sennheiser app, the Sport’s EQ shifts to keep your music audible and somewhat accurate while letting in a fair bit of outside noise. The “closed” adapters and the corresponding “Focus mode" in the app shift the EQ to the more balanced tuning Sennheiser is known for and provide passive noise isolation.
The open and closed adapters are designed for outdoor and indoor athletics, respectively. If you’re a cyclist or runner, the open adapters are supposed to provide a good middle ground of awareness of your surroundings without letting your music and podcasts get drowned out. The closed adapters do a good job of keeping typical gym noise and music from getting in the way of you enjoying your workout playlist.
If you weren’t convinced of the Sennheiser Sport’s fitness design bona fides, they come with three sizes of silicone wingtips that are easy to install and swap between for extra security. Thankfully, they also include the option to install a perfectly smooth piece of silicone with no wing for those (myself included) who can’t stand the feeling of a wingtip pushing into our cartilage. The Sennheiser Sport fit just fine in my ears without a wing and were very secure whenever I worked out with them.
Dear wireless earbuds makers: If you’re including wingtips in your next pair of buds, please copy Sennheiser’s approach and consider the wing-adverse in your design choices. The wingtip was the entire reason I had to return the otherwise amazing Beats Fit Pro.
The overall hardware of the Sennheiser Sport feels very premium with a plastic finish that has a good texture, very responsive touch pads, and an odd squarish design that sits comfortably in my ear — after finding the right ear tip/wingtip pairing — thanks to their geometry and weight distribution. Their IP54 water resistance means they should survive the sweatiest of workouts and longest of runs in the rain.
The case is equally well built, with a lanyard loop and solid hinges and magnets. There's a flap on the back that covers the USB-C port, but the case itself is not IP-rated. Sennheiser says the covering is there to keep the port protected from grime buildup and the odd splash, but I wouldn’t advise taking the case on a run with you if the forecast is looking rainy. Not that you’ll be pressed for a top-up, as the Sennheiser Sport buds hold nine hours of playtime, with an extra two charges in the case for a total of 27 hours of battery.
Sennheiser was right about the Sport’s focus on athletics first. I shifted my habits for this review to see how they fit into my life when used as intended. I made an effort to either hit my building's gym or take a walk once a day during this review to get time with both the open and closed adapters.
Starting with the open adapters and “Aware mode," I’m impressed with what Sennheiser has done here from what seems to be something as simple as changing tuning and using a different physical ear tip. No matter how loud my environment got I never lost track of what terrible thing Henry Kissinger had done in the series of Behind the Bastards I was catching up with.
The only issue with Aware mode I had was that the music didn't sound as powerful. Lots of detail gets lost in the noise and tracks have less oomph. I also had to keep the volume high to regain some of that lost detail. If your running playlist needs to have the extra bass for you to stay amped, you’re probably going to be disappointed with the Sennheiser Sport, even with the "bass boost" toggled on.
It’s a balance of how much you value the awareness these wireless earbuds provide for a safer workout outdoors versus a more intimate connection with your music. I’m not experienced with a daily bike commute or distance running, but I do know these are similar tradeoffs to bone-conducting headphones like Shokz, or the open-design Sony LinkBuds. If you want to make sure you can hear vehicles speeding past you and still keep your music present but not all-encompassing, the Sennheiser Sport provides.
I most enjoyed using the Sennheiser Sport in "Focus mode" in my building's gym. They stayed locked in place as I ran on the treadmill, and needed minimal adjustment for weight lifting and yoga exercises. Listening to music while working out is an overall better experience, too, with stronger low end and clarity and detail that you expect from any Sennheiser product. This was much closer to what I expected from a pair of fitness wireless earbuds from Sennheiser.
If there's anything to nitpick, it's that the wireless earbuds are quieter on the maximum volume side. Whether it’s headphones or wireless earbuds, I rarely turn the volume above 80 percent; with the Sennheiser Sport, I often found myself cranking it up to 90 or 100 percent. The dynamic range of these earbuds just seems very limited. This is a shame for people who want a pair of fitness-first wireless earbuds that prioritize balanced tuning over booming bass.
The passive noise isolation the Sennheiser Sport provides in "Focus mode" with the closed adapters is perfectly suitable for most noisy environments, but I still prefer ANC for working out in a crowded gym, especially one with music playing in the room already. ANC does have its detractors, and while I understand the issues ANC presents while exercising outdoors, I’ll always take it over passive noise isolation when given the choice inside.
The main issue with using the Sennheiser Sport as a pair of workout earbuds is keeping track of those ear adapters. In the box they’re stored in a plastic container with a piece of resealable film covering all six ear tips. But, presumably, users of these wireless earbuds are only going to use two pairs once they find the right fit: identical pairs of open and closed adapters. Unfortunately, there's nowhere to store the adapters you don't use; a special compartment in the case or in the lid to attach them to would have been great. I tried storing my extra tips in the case’s channels meant to fit the wingtips when those are installed; they fit, but they don't stay securely in place. For a product that’s designed for switching modes, Sennheiser seems to have forgotten a key part of enabling that use case. I hope this is something the company considers in future iterations of the Sport.
If you have a pair of wireless earbuds that you love, but don’t necessarily like to work out with, then I can see a case being made to pick up the Sennheiser Sport. While I adore my AirPods Pro, they certainly don’t stick in my ears as well as I’d like them to for strenuous workouts. Not having to reach for my ears every few minutes on the treadmill while reviewing the Sennheiser Sport was probably the best part of this process.
However, the Sennheiser Sport themselves aren’t the best sounding earbuds you can get in this category for this price. I return to the Jabra Elite 4 Active, which retail for $10 less, are a more comfortable fit, and offer ANC. They also sound better and have a higher IP rating (IP57 versus IP54 on the Sport). If my goal is to save my daily driver wireless earbuds from the grime of the gym, then those would be my go-to pick.
For anyone who primarily works out outdoors, the Sennheiser Sport are a good option. They did a great job of balancing external sound with my audio and their long battery and fit will make them perfect for distance runners. The Elite 4 Active do have customizable “HearThrough” for sound pass through, but I’ve found software transparency modes to favor outside noise too strongly for extended listening sessions.
The Sennheiser Sport are going to make a very specific athlete happy. My concern is the market for these wireless earbuds might be too narrow to gain traction; I’d like to see the company take a crack at a pair that does feature ANC and a transparency mode that is suitable for long-term listening outside.
The Sennheiser Sport are not a home run product, but they’re an impressive showcase for what could be an exciting new category in the wireless earbuds market, one that Sennheiser should definitely keep cracking at.