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The best IEMs I've ever heard!

A Review On: Sennheiser IE800

Sennheiser IE800

Rated # 51 in Universal Fit
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Isolation
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $600.00
scoyig
Posted · 11235 Views · 21 Comments

Pros: Superb bass, gorgeous mids, smooth-yet-sparkling highs, expansive soundstage, excellent imaging, very comfortable

Cons: Microphonics, no remote/mic included, short cord

The IE800 are the best IEMs I have ever tried. This includes the Shure SE846 & 535, Audeo PFE232, AKG 3003, JH13 and JH16 and many others. I also prefer their sound to many full size cans like the beyerdynamic DT-880, T70, T90; Sennheiser Momentum, HD650; Shure SRH1840 etc. The closest I've heard to the amazingly balanced sound of the IE800 is the LCD-2 rev 2, which I also own.

 

The critical thing to note is how cohesive and musical the soundscape is -- these excel with all genres of music that I've tried, from rock to jazz, acoustic to classical/orchestral, electronic to metal. It's laid back when you need it to be, and it can push out the PRaT like crazy when that's required.

 

The bass is full-bodied, with intense impact and extension but never encroaching on the mids. There is detail and texture regardless of whether it's the bass drum, the bass guitar or an electronic bass note. Having played acoustic and electric bass in countless bands and orchestras, I love the bass on these. The amount of bass on these is certainly more than 'neutral', but since they're probably going to be used in noisy environments, the amount of bass is quite appropriate. 

 

The mids are engagingly lush and full-bodied, never sounding thin. Vocals are refreshingly realistic, rivalling the LCD-2. Guitars sound realistic and piano! Piano sounds spectacular with these. Having played piano since the age of 5, with a performance diploma under my belt, I can say these produce the most realistic piano timbre I've ever heard, save a real piano (and maybe the LCD-2).

 

And the treble -- don't get me started. They are so splendidly detailed, sparkling yet never harsh or sibilant. You can hear the smallest details in acoustic records; the movement of fingers along guitar frets, the shuffling of feet, the fuzz of piano string dampeners as the pianist pedals up and down. It's surreal. Adding to this is an expansive soundstage rivalling many high-end full size open cans, with pin-point precision in instrument separation and imaging.

 

The caveat to achieving such spectacular sound is in the fit -- when I first auditioned them in the store the tips were too large for me and the sound was quite sibilant. A smaller tip meant slightly deeper insertion and the sibilance disappeared and instead became sonic bliss.

 

To (very, very) briefly compare the IE800 to the following, mentioning the main reason for my preference of the IE800: 

Shure SE846 & 535 -- these sound more upfront and almost congested in comparison, as there isn't as much soundstage depth and width compared to the IE800. I'm unsure what filters were on the SE846 that I tried.

Audeo PFE232 -- less cohesive sounding, less bass impact and body with slightly sibilant and artificial highs.

AKG 3003 -- way too much treble for my taste, tends to be quite sibilant.

JH13 (universal tip) -- very neutral and thus lacks the bass impact of the IE800 -- great for monitoring and use by live musicians etc but not as overall enjoyable experience, musically. Can also be sibilant

JH16 (universal tip) -- much bassier than JH13 but still produces noticeable sibilance at times. But otherwise a superb IEM, just very bulky (same goes for JH13)

Beyerdynamic DT-880, T90, T70 -- apart from two of these being open, the main sticking point is very neutral bass presentation, which means excellent transparency (at each price point), but lacks that punch and musicality at times.

Sennheiser Momentum -- brilliant closed cans but lacks PRaT and is very laid back, with somewhat loose bass.

Sennheiser HD650 -- quite neutral (and dark), very laid back

Shure 1840 -- neutral, quite similar to DT-880

 

Compared to LCD-2 rev. 2 -- the bass on the LCD-2 is renowned in its quality -- the IE800 has, however, noticeably more bass. But it still maintains excellent detail and texture even compared to the LCD-2. Mids on both are superb, with the LCD-2 ahead but not by leaps and bounds. With treble detail, I would give the LCD-2 a slight edge, probably owning to a slightly wider soundstage lending them an even more airy feel than the IE800 (which suffer in this regard by being IEMs, not open planar magnetic cans, of course! :p). But of course, thanks to the IE800's isolating properties, it can be much more immersive than the LCD-2 when there are ambient noises, especially when coupled with their extreme comfort (LCD-2 pads are too rigid!); this makes the choice between LCD-2 and the IE800 for listening at home a harder one than one may think!

 

In everyday use, the microphonics can be quite distracting when walking, particularly at the Y-splitter/2.5mm jack, as it knocks against your chest. Any contact with the cable above the splitter also introduces significant microphonics. Unfortunately the cord is too short to go over-the-ear without being somewhat choked under the jaw. However, if the splitter is secured, there is minimal cable noise. Noise isolation is also decent, but not exceptional. I personally find it is a good balance between isolation and environmental noise awareness.

 

The IE800 are, however, extremely comfortable (given the right tips are used) and never tangle thanks to the Kevlar cabling. They also don’t suffer from the annoying suction effect that plagues most balanced-armature IEMs, as the vents quickly equalise with the pressure of the outside environment. It's just a shame that at this price Sennheiser didn't include a remote/mic cable like they do with the Momentum.

 

I usually run the IE800 straight out of my iPhone 5s and they sound great. Out of my desktop amp (Matrix M-Stage), there's certainly an improvement in bass response and soundstage, but given how incredible they sound out of a smartphone, there's really no need for a mobile amp, (cue outrage from you hardcore audiophiles out there! ;))

 

And to those out there looking at frequency response curves and waterfall plots for these, I wouldn't bother. They don't seem to represent at all the sound these produce in reality, since the IE800 are designed with a human ear canal in mind.

 

The IE800 are simply brilliant whether you're out-and-about and listening casually; at home and wanting to truly focus on the music; if you're monitoring or anything in between (except maybe during exercise, due to microphonics).

 

If I could only have one pair of earphones or headphones, I would pick the IE800. Every time. So, what are you waiting for? Go get a pair!

21 Comments:

Very impressive review!  makes choosing IE800's seem like a no-brainer, which is handy when its so difficult to audition IEMs , let alone CIEMs.   maybe I missed it, but are the cords detachable/swappable with a better, longer one ? 
Sounds like you would love the 1964 ears V8s. :P
thanks, qveda. i forgot to mention though in the review that the JH13 and 16 I tried were samples in the store that had universal tips, so that may have influenced their sound somewhat. to what extent, i don't know :(
and the cords are attached at each earpiece but they terminate at a Y-splitter in a 2.5mm male plug. sennheiser sells an alternate cable with a remote/mic but that's hundreds of dollars extra :/. you could certainly use a longer/different/better cable as long as you can find one that terminates in a 2.5mm female jack
eaglex3 -- those look cool. i'll have to see if I could find them to audition but I'm pretty satisfied with the IE800 :)
$600! woah! Glad they're good (better be at that price lol). Senny seems to have hit it out of the ball park again. And very very nice review.
BTW, anyone else think that those look like the kind of earphones Batman would wear? they look insane! lol.
pardon me, which version JH 13 are you comparing here? note that JH 13 universal version is different from custom version in SQ
yeah unfortunately the store only had the universal tips to try, and I've edited my review to reflect that. I guess from my perspective the customs were essentially irrelevant since the only way to hear them was to buy them. but yes, i certainly would expect the customs to sound better than the universal counterpart, but in what way exactly i would have no idea, at least to my ears... haha
I dunno. After going into Customs I've never been able to go back to universals. They just haven't caught my interest until the I800's and the Shure 846.
 
I bought the Shures at an airport and used them for a few weeks. Fun, but they just lack the comfort and utilitarianism of a custom monitor. Suberb isolation, you can run in them, sleep in them, hell, just about anything!
 
I do understand what scoyig means by "almost congested" going from UERM's which are my monitors of choice, to the Shures took some time to get used to.
 
From the sound of things, is it safe to assume this has a considerable amount of bass? What is the extension and detail like? One thing I miss about my UERM's is the bass detail I remember hearing in my late JH 16's. Can these bring that back?
yeah I can certainly appreciate the immense potential that customs have over universals, but the main issue for me still lies with being able to audition them in person. the allure of having such great isolation, comfort and ergonomics with customs is still a very strong selling point.
and yes, there is a considerable amount of bass, probably as much as the 846 and JH16 (though i suppose it would also depend what filters are used with the 846). 
sadly i've not tried the UERMs and I didn't extensively test the bass response and detail of the JH16's bass, but I personally find the bass detail of the IE800 quite good, maybe a step or two below the LCD-2. there is a noticeably increased amount of bass compared to the LCD-2 as well, but that certainly adds to the overall impact and engagement of the IE800. You'll probably have to audition them in person to see how they fare against the JH16's bass :)
I agree with the reviewer in every aspect. I´m lucky enough to be able to have the cable over my ears, so there´s zero microphonics. I also have a pair of ACS T1 customs, but they are rarely used as ie800 are much, much better in every aspect. (Perhaps exept for sound isolation) At home I have a pair of Fostex TH900 (which cost twice as much as ie800), but I often reach for my i800 when listening on my sofa. I´m wondering if I should sell the TH900, because they are not that much better....
Well stated. Review is spot on. I have the IE800 balanced version from ALO. This has become my favorite goto setup. I paired this with the AK240 and now my home setup with cans has been neglected. The soundstage here is breathtaking! If your stationary, close your eyes and music extends beyond your shoulders. I gotta say though, these don't travel well. You do have to fiddle with the earbuds to get the right fit. Not so good, if your very active, as they have a way of getting loose. Work around for simple mobility, get a clip. Not recommended for working out. 
Wow, I am a huge fan of over ears, so much my father and I have an in ear vs over ear rivalry, and he just told me he's getting these. After reading this review and comments of others I might have to give in and join his team, especially at a $600 price tag. I can't even find a pair of used T5p's for that price.
IE800 was not impressive. Sibilant once you reach mid-level volume. The proprietary oval tips are impractical. The cable is ultra-microphonic and also a pain to replace. I have the LCD-2.2, Shure 846, as well as other high end IEMs/headphones. I don't understand what is so special about the IE800. Both form and function were a huge disappointment to me, especially being a huge fan of almost all the Sennheiser products I've owned over the years.
I'm fairly certain that if you're getting sibilance it's because the insertion depth is not quite right. I experienced the same thing when i was using tips too large for me, which meant they weren't sitting deep enough. Changing to a smaller tip fixed things completely  and there definitely should be no sibilance, at any volume (even deafeningly loud levels). I have the LCD 2 rev 2 as well and the IE800 are definitely not sibilant at all in comparison. And i actually find the oval tips quite comfortable. But yes the microphonics are a pain but can be remedied quite easily by anchoring the y-splitter part of the cable down to your shirt.
oh wow! I wish I wouldn't have read this, because now I want some!  lol
Nice review. As a fan of IEMs I find these rather intriguing. The price point is a bit cost-prohibitive, especially when considering that there are customs in the same bracket. But it's the sound of these, as articulated by so many, that force me to take the plunge.
I have the IE800 and have to add my view of these earphones. The proprietary oval tips are impractical, as stated above, and do not fit my ears correctly. I have big ears but small canals, these fall out and don't give me a seal. Cord is not good as well, especially if you wear your earphones over ear. They are made to wear hanging down and because the cable is so short, and short from the chin link link to the earphones, one has to loop the cable behind the head and then over the ears, not the quickest way to start listening. For the few times when I did get a decent seal, they did sound outstanding. Just wish that they designed the ear-tips to be replaceable by other brands for tip rolling, and that the cable was longer. They could have also made a detachable cable as well, but now I'm really asking for too much.  
Got a chance to hear these and I was not impressed at all. The bass was way overblown, and absolutely did bleed into the mid-range, the treble is very peaky and there is some nasty ringing up top. They're both boomy and bright, and combined with the heavily veiled upper-mids, they sounded completely hollow. That's not even considering the terrible cable and fit issues which several people have already mentioned. 
If I didn't know better, I'd say that these were $250 IEMs at most, and even than would be pushing it. 
Alondite -- are you sure you had proper insertion depth with the tips you tried? I noticed the same things you mentioned re: the boomy bass, brightness and hollowness when I first tried them with M tips, but when I used the smaller S tips, I was able to get the IE800s in deeper, and those problems completely went away. So perhaps it's worth auditioning them again with smaller or different tips, I know it made a world of difference to me.
Carlsan -- sorry to hear the tips don't fit you well; and yeah removable cables would've been nice but I think would definitely have made the design a lot clunkier to add a plug at each earpiece :(. non-proprietary ear tip connectors would've been nice too!
4umF 6/14/14 at 1:42amWow, I am a huge fan of over ears, so much my father and I have an in ear vs over ear rivalry, and he just told me he's getting these. After reading this review and comments of others I might have to give in and join his team, especially at a $600 price tag. I can't even find a pair of used T5p's for that price.
---------------------------
 
Please save yourself time and money and never purchase the Beyerdynamic T5p. I have never had a worse experience than with those. Even my Bose QC20i earbuds and Bose QC15 Headphones sounded better with the extreme mids and bass. I don't think I will ever purchase from beyerdynamic ever again due to my horrible experience.
I hate to post negative comments, but this is for others who are on this forum.  
Im probabaly gonna purchase the Sennheiser IE800 from www.crutchfield.com
scoyig: I tried a number of different tips and insertion depths, all to little benefit. I've never once had any issues getting a perfect fit with every IEM I've ever used, and these were no exception; the fit was fine, they just don't sound anywhere near as good as a pair of IEMs should at that price. I know they aren't IEMs, but the HD600 sound much better at half the price.
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