However, pushing these earphones too far results in treble and bass distortion. With the right volume and right genres of music, the Sennheiser MX 581 headphones can sound great, comparing favourably to other similar priced earbuds and beating the earphones bundled with most MP3 players.
The earbuds have Sennheiser’s LiveBass system, but a heavy finger on the volume button will expose a lack of bass at higher volumes. The MX 581's bass response distorts slightly at high volume; this was only made worse by the ‘Bass Booster’ equaliser setting on our MP3 player. Songs that are heavy on bass — like hard rock ballads with strong bass lines or hip-hop tunes with deep low-end beats — will suffer.
We found the treble excellent and balanced during mid-volume play, delivering crisp, sharp sound that works for vocal-heavy and acoustic audio. Once again, pushing the volume beyond half-way on our Apple iPod Touch MP3 player exposed faults. The clarity of the treble allows for crunchy metal riffs, but at higher volumes it tends to become harsh. This also works against the bass, drowning it out at higher volumes.
When listening in quiet surroundings sound quality is not an issue, with the MX 581 headphones solidly beating the earbuds supplied with Apple's MP3 players. However, listening to music in a loud environment may wreak havoc on your ears. Turning the volume higher strains the ears because of the high-intensity treble, loud environments will leave you between your rock music and a hard place. Like most earbuds (with the exception of in-ear headphones), the Sennheiser MX 581 earphones do little to block out external sound, so the only way to drown out ambient noise is turn up the volume.
Bundled foam sleeves add to the comfort of the earbuds. The Sennheiser MX 581 earphones are designed for smaller ears but will fit larger ear canals as well using packaged rubber ear pads that slightly increase the size of the buds. A 1.2m cable is long enough to suit an MP3 player stowed in a hip pocket, and the volume control module connected to the cable is a handy addition that doesn’t weigh the earbuds down. A smooth coating on the cable supposedly cuts down on tangles, and a soft pouch is supplied for storing the earphones.
The Sennheiser MX 581 earbuds aren’t designed for audiophiles, but for day-to-day use they fare better than the stock headphones supplied with almost all MP3 players.