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Sounds good, but you should run away from this and its inconsiderate and inacceptable design flaws

A Review On: Sennheiser IE800

Sennheiser IE800

Rated # 49 in Universal Fit
See all 7 reviews
Recent Pricing:
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Isolation
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $1,000.00
ag8908
Posted · Updated · 6301 Views · 11 Comments

Pros: Good spatial imaging for an IEM; good sound; very comfortable and easy to put on

Cons: barely isolates at all (!); line noise (!); chord too short; even the case is designed poorly

Let me start with the good, and then explain why you should never buy this IEM.

 

Sound signature: The treble, mids and bass are sort of like that of an HD800, except downgraded. For example, one of the songs I use to test headphones is Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel. One of the key parts I listen for is that initial drum blast. On this, it sounds very close to the way it sounds on the HD800, except it's just missing a little bit. Moving on to a treble heavy song, it sounds similar to the HD800, but slightly muddier and the highs seem a little rolled off. Something is missing with the mids/voices as well -- they seem a little bit more distant. In general, it sounds like the HD800 but it's missing a little of that oomph, exhilaration or spine tingle that the HD800 gives (and a little is a lot when you're comparing headphones in this price range). Despite the fact that I keep noting differences between the IE800 and HD800, I do definitely sense a similar sound signature. For example, like the HD800, voices, instruments and all sound "natural" (they way they would sound right in front of you) as opposed to that synthetic and adulterated sound you hear in so many headphones. Well this is the best I can do now but when I can better articulate the similarities and differences I'll edit. But please do not misunderstand, this is a downgraded HD800, not at all an HD800. They're similar, yet also quite different.

 

Comparisons with Shure SE846: Is the bass as good as with the Shure Se846? No. Shure has invented a magical device in the SE846 that delivers beautiful, clean, tight and undistorted bass of whatever degree you want (depending on the filter you use). This is pretty good, not nonexistent bass (like, say, the Shure SE425), but I would compare it to something between the white and blue SE846 filters and even then the SE846 might be very slightly better in terms of quality. Is the treble as sparkly as the Se846 with a white filter? I'm not even sure about that; I would have to think about it a bit and do careful tests. But I disagree with reviewers I've seen that claim the Se846 sounds like its treble was rolled off relative to IE800. The IE800 has OK treble, but it also feels slightly rolled off relative to sparkly treble kings (like the HD800 and Audeze LCD XC).

 

Spatial imaging: For an IEM, the spatial imaging on this is amazing, better than the imaging of the Shure SE846 (but it's still no where near the spatial imaging of the HD800, and other over the ear cans can also do better; ultimately this is still just an IEM). It achieves that effect of making certain things feel closer and certain things feel farther away. On some songs you get a version of that cool echo/spaced out effect you get on the HD800, which is impressive in an IEM.

 

Detail and instrument separation: Detail and instrument separation is very good. Again this is not as crisp sounding as the HD800, but it does have a lot of detail. It's quite good. Of course, the cool aspect of the HD800's detail/separation is that the detail is placed in a certain virtual location, and as noted above this can't do that as well as the HD800.

 

Comfort: You do not need to go through an ordeal to insert these, unlike the Shures mentioned above. In addition, the wires are not stiff like the Shure wires which has to be another advantage. It's really hard to read which is left and which is right (but after you find out once you'll know forever based on their shape). In addition, it has a hole that equalizes the pressure between your ears and the outside, which is a good feature. Consistent with Sennheiser's other cans, this is extremely comfortable and easy to wear. I guess that deserves a 1/2 star boost.

 

Now for the negatives.

 

Design flaw #1: Isolation: I decided to take it outside near cars and busy activity to see how well it isolates. The first alarming thing I noticed was how loudly I heard the door close on my way out; not a good start. But I readjusted the tips and remained hopeful and optimistic . . . until I hit the street, when I was overcome with disappointment after hearing everything. I stopped, played with the tips, did every trick I could think of. Nothing. This isn't as bad as an open back headphone, but it's only a little better than a closed back. Sennheiser, don't you think that, perhaps, people wear IEMs to block out noise? If they want to hear outside noise they could easily wean an over the ear or on the ear can. Eventually, the only way I could listen to the music was to turn the volume up to a level that I later measured as 70-75 dbA (for comparison, the Shure SE846 isolate well enough to easily listen at 60-65 dbA). Thanks for the hearing loss Sennheiser!!! All the outside noise of an over the ear and the "pumping music directly into your ear canal to destroy your auditory hairs" dangers of an IEM. Great lose-lose combination you got there! Due to the risk of permanent hearing deterioration caused by this unacceptable and inexplicable design feature, it has to lose 1 1/2 points. (Edit: I measure dbA by putting the IEM tip right up against the port of a decibel meter).

 

Design flaw #2: Line noise. At first I decided to try it with the line hanging under my chin, the way you're supposed to wear it. But as soon as I started walking, it sounded like I was in a wind storm! There was no wind, but every time I would move, the chord would move, and apparently when the chord moves it has to let me know by sending this loud sound up and into my ear canal. Thud, thud, thud, thud. I get it chord, we're moving. You don't have to tell me every half-second. Let me move a bit without you machine gunning my ears. Sennheiser, did you even put this on and go for a walk with it before you decided to sell it to the public?! I wasn’t even exercising heavily. This is unacceptable, it has to lose 1 star over this. Edit: Sometimes I wonder if Sennheiser is playing a joke on us with this product. I say that because I just discovered that the Sennheiser HD800 has absolutely zero line noise. I tapped its line, shook it, whipped it . . . but I couldn't get it to produce even a tiny bit of line noise. So the HD800, which is designed for stationary use, has absolutely zero line noise, and the IE800, which is designed to be used while active, has insufferable line noise? Really Sennheiser? The fact that Sennheiser knows how to completely eliminate line noise means this flaw deserves another 1/2 star deduction.

 

Design flaw #3: So to cure the slight bit of chord noise you hear in every IEM, I discovered this trick I do whereby I let the IEM hang behind my head instead of under my chin. With the SE846 you hear nothing if you do this. I think your hair acts as some sort of sound baffle or cushion or something; whatever it is it works, and it helped a good amount with the IE800 too, but not as much as with the SE846 and the IE800 wasn’t as comfortable hanging behind your head. But whatever it's tolerable now and so I'm walking along and . . . I decide to put my player into my pocket, at which point I discover that the chord, from your ear to the jack, is only about 3 1/2 feet long! Sennheiser, did you test this on little people?! Did you think that perhaps customers would like just one measily foot of extra chord?!?! What terrible thing did you think would happen if you included a five foot chord like Shure? Fine, keep your chord short, but if I'm paying you $1,000, could you at least have thrown in an extra chord of a longer length? Shure includes two chords with the SE846 and their chords look to be of higher quality than yours, so why can't you? This inexcusable chintziness and lack of thought has to cost it 1/2 star.

 

Design flaw #4: This is minor but it shows how inconsiderate Sennheiser was when designing this. The case has no room to insert your extra tips. This four inch, by 3.5 inch, by one inch case (measure that out so you know how big it is) doesn't have room for the extra tips. The inside of the case is almost entirely foam, with a little groove where you insert the IE800 (you don't put the IE800's wire in the case, by the way, rather you must wrap the wire around the case). First of all, what happened to just being able to throw your IEM into a case and take it out with ease, rather than having to perform a complex lego piece insertion and removal each time? Back to the main point, Sennheier, if you're going to make a gigantic case as big as a fat wallet, could you let us use some of that room?! Cut a little area out of that foam where we can insert the extra tips you gave us. This is a small thing, but it shows such a lack of consideration and thought. It has to lose 1/4 star.

 

Conclusion: Ultimately, I am not going to keep these. Although I love the sound signature of the HD800 and this reminds me of that, I can't support a product engineered this poorly. It's of no use to me because if I'm in a loud area, I'll use my beautiful SE846 and if I'm in a quiet area I'll just use my HD800. This leaves the question of what rating to give these. Although the sound is very good, based on its hefty price tag it can't get more than 4 1/2 stars on sound (I have to save 5 stars for something that really wows you). Subtract 1 1/2 stars for lack of isolation, add 1/2 star on comfort, subtract 1 star for line noise, another 1/2 star for having line noise even though Sennheiser knows how to completely eliminate it, subtract 1/2 star for the chord, subtract 1/4 star for the case, and (this is very subjective) add 1/2 star for having something close to the HD800 sound signature (which I like) and for being made by Sennheiser, a very ethical headphone company that lets you return things you don't like for a full refund. So 4.5 -1.5 +.5 -1 -.5 -.5 -.25 +.5 = 1.75 stars, which I’ll round down to 1.5 stars because I expected better from a $1,000 headphone. For comparison, I gave the SE846 5 1/2 stars (capped at 5 stars). As anyone who has spoken to me on this board knows, I am a huge Sennheiser fan so I wanted to like this but this is just pointless.

11 Comments:

Well, you can actually use Comply tips with this. T500 series can fit, but not very firm; T200 series are perfect fit.
Even the T200 have a tendency to get stuck in one of my ears so not a perfect fit but they are good alternative to the stock tips.
And I agree with your review regarding design. Sennheiser really need to come up with a new cable that eliminates cable noise.
I don't understand the people who say the in-ears clearly was designed for a straight down fit. That will create massive massive cable noise and the distance between in-ear and cable split is perfect for an around the ear fit.
I'm not really into IEM's but thanks for the comprehensive review, flaws like these are inexcusable at this price point, Sennheiser must think people will pay a ridiculous premium for just about anything as long as it bears their name...same as with their new branded headphone cables.
@ Xenphon, don't forget the Momentum series!! :< wrost sen headphone i ever bought... 
Thanks Xenophon. It's a shame too because I really did like the sound, listening in a quiet room (it's now "wow" sound, but it was good for an IEM).
Okay, so I recieved my T500 Comply tips from a few weeks ago to test it on my IE800.  I've got to say, it actually got rid of the isolation problem in this IEM.  The only minor problem seemed to be the fact that these tips can't snap on like the stock tips due to the nozzle shape, so for some people (didn't happen to me), the tips may end up staying inside your ear if you take the IEMs out, but that isn't really a big deal.  So when it came to sound isolation, it blocked out the sound fairly well like many sound isolating IEMs that I've tried, and I don't think I detected any sacrifice in the sound quality in the IE800 either with the Comply tips.
 
At this point, although I no longer find it necessary to be wearing the IE800 over my ear, it greatly reduces the cable noise.  But for now, I'll be waiting for Sennheiser to make a microphonics-free cable that's actually long, and I'll also be waiting for Comply to make a sound isolating tip exclusive for the IE800.  However, while I'm waiting, using the T500 tips and wrapping the cable around my ear will help me forget about the flaws about the Sennheiser IE800....for now.
Did you notice my edit about how I tried everything I could to get the HD800 cable to make noise, and I couldn't get it to make even the tinyest bit of microphonics? I don't understand why Sennheiser can't just do whatever it did with the HD800 cable to the IE800.
 
If the IE800 solve the isolation and microph issues I might buy it again.
Have you considered the reason why the HD800 might not have cable noise/microphonics is because it 1. has removable cables and a large plug area that dampens cable noise as well as 2. being themselves gigantic in size, which would also dampen noise, and 3. the cables not being in such close contact with your ear canal as with the IE800? The IE800 in comparison is minuscule and has the cable going straight into its tiny ceramic housing with mere millimeters between it and your ear canal (and the driver inside) -- it's a physics nightmare trying to dampen the cable noise when they are so compact! Their 'simple' single driver design unfortunately has the side effect of acting as an unwitting stethoscope.
 
I will certainly agree that an over-the-ear design would've been a smarter choice, but as it stands now, as long as the y-splitter/2.5mm jack is secured (e.g. with lapel clip or wedged behind a shoulder bag strap), there is actually quite minimal cable noise (assuming each L and R cable isn't rubbing against one's collar or similar, above the split). And the cord indeed could do with being a little longer. As for your criticisms of the case, I don't personally see that much utility in carrying multiple tips with you, and indeed Sennheiser isn't forcing you to use their case either! I actually use a padded Audeo soft case which works brilliantly. Anyway, each to their own! :)
Excellent review otherwise, though, by the way :)
http://www.complyfoam.com/ie800/ <<< Comply tips for this. Not sure about the cable. I emailed Senn. See what they say.
sadly that link is for TDK's IE800, not Sennheiser's. Comply don't currently make tips for the Senn IE 800, unforunately.
Whoops. Any word on a different cable though? Maybe one with a mic? The only thing I've seen so far is a ALO modified one which is way too much at $1050.
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