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Sennheiser HD 238i Mid-Sized Headset review: Sennheiser HD 238i Mid-Sized Headset

Sennheiser HD 238i Mid-Sized Headset

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read

Whenever I review a pair of Bose headphones, I tend to compare them with another device that that offers similar performance for less money. In the case of Bose's OE2i ($179.95) on-ear headphones, that product is the Sennheiser HD 238i, and costs significantly less.

Sennheiser HD 238i - headset

Sennheiser HD 238i Mid-Sized Headset

The Good

Sennheiser's <b>HD 238i</b>s are comfortable on-ear headphones that sound good for the money. They also have an inline remote and microphone for iPhone users.

The Bad

The headphones fold flat but lack a compact design like the Bose OE2i headphones.

The Bottom Line

Priced less than Bose's OE2i on-ear headphones, the comparable Sennheiser 238i headphones deliver good bang for your buck.

Design and features
The "i" in the HD 238i refers to its smartphone-friendly features like a microphone and an Apple iOS-friendly inline remote. In my experience, the track navigation only works with Android smartphones, and the track navigation and volume control features may not operate with some models.

These headphones are slightly bigger than their Bose competitors and the earpads aren't quite as plush, but they're decently light and almost as comfortable as the Bose headphones over long periods of wear.

The build quality feels solid to the touch as well, and while these guys do fold flat for storage (a simple canvas carrying case is included), they don't fold into a more compact form factor like the Bose or Sennheiser's own PX 100-IIi.

If you're comparing this with the PX100-Iii, this model has bigger earcups with more padding -- the PX 100-IIi headphones feature simple foam pads like you'd find on a generic model. Also the PX 100-IIi has an open-back design that tends to leak more sound than this model, which features a closed supra-aural design.

It's also worth noting that like the PX100 IIi, this model's 4-foot wire terminates in a vertical plug -- I prefer an L-shaped plug since it usually lasts longer because you're not constantly pulling directly on the cord connection point. Unlike the Bose OE2i, the 238i's cord isn't detachable from the earcup and the cord is arguably a tad thin.

While the HD 238i headphones don't isolate noise as well as over-the-ear models, they do well to muffle outside noises -- this is called passive noise cancellation, in contrast to the active noise cancellation of some headphones that requires an internal battery to work.

In reviewing the Bose OE2i, I noted that they sound more natural and don't suffer from "Bose bloat," a term coined for its obtrusive bass boost. These Sennheisers exhibit similarly detailed sound and ample but not "bloated" bass. These are a touch on the warm side and will appeal to listeners that prefer more laid back, less aggressive headphones with edgier treble.

Keep in mind that you shouldn't expect the same kind of sound from these Sennheisers as you would with higher end models that cost well over $200. The point here is that the while the 238i's don't offer great sound, they do deliver very solid performance for their price.

The Sennheiser HD 238i headphones actually carry a list price of $169.99, $10 less than the Bose's list price. Bose headphones are very infrequently discounted, however, and a quick CNET Shopping search finds the Sennheisers for around $130. (Note: I saw them for as low as $57.64 with free shipping, but after this review appeared, CNET readers quickly gobbled them up and vendors raised their prices).

No, they aren't quite as compact as the Bose OE2s and they don't stow away into a small carrying case, but they cost significantly less and offer comparable sound quality. In my book, that makes the Sennheiser HD i238i one of the better bargains in this class of headphones.

Sennheiser HD 238i - headset

Sennheiser HD 238i Mid-Sized Headset

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7