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Phonak Audeo PFE vs. Sennheiser IE8

post #1 of 158
Thread Starter 
OK, I read about the X10s, was going to get those, but then read the NE-7 review from HeadphoneAddict (thank BTW), so I got the NE-7s. Wow, after burn in I was super impressed! I thought, if these sound this good, how good can more expensive IEMs sound. So after more reading, I decided the IE8s were for me. Well, ordering from the UK took some patience, and I guess I ran out, as reading about the Phonak Audeo PFEs piqued my interest, and I received them before my IE8s.

There are a lot of people (at least there seems to be) that want to know how the IE8 and PFE compare. My initial goal in writing this was to see if I needed both IEMs by determining which I like better and their ideal applications for me. These are my opinions from listening to some of my favorites I know well and picking some songs that might accentuate strengths and weaknesses of each. I casually listened, critically listened, and did A/B comparisons.

This is my first extensive post/comparison and I am fairly new to head-fi, so forgive me if I don’t describe things in the typical way. I might sound like I am rambling, maybe I am When doing A/B testing, I had to match the volume, as the PFE requires a higher volume than the IE8. I tried to get it as close as possible, and think I did a good job for the most part. And forgive me if I state the obvious or things that have already been noted a million times And finally, these are my observations and opinions, YMMV as your ears will tell you what is best for you! * Final finally (maybe), I could have (or should have) spent more time writing more details about the comparison, but chose to post it now to try to help answer some questions, or at least give a general idea about how the two compare. *

PFE – Initial Impressions: The Phonak Audeo PFEs came with the grey filter, which was too treble heavy for my taste. So I switched to the black filters after 5 minutes and haven’t looked back. I got these while waiting for the IE8s and I read so many good things about them, I just had to try them. They haven’t disappointed! * Additional impressions with the grey filters *

IE8 – Initial Impressions: The IE8s have come a long way in the 200+ hours of burn in I have put on them. Initially they sounded horrible, which I knew would be the case. After 8 hours, the bass deepened and the soundstage came out to play. After 50 hours, they sounded better, but still lagged behind the Phonaks, and were pretty close to my NE-7s, but the IE8 had a bad mid-bass hump.

After 100 hours of burn in I was still disappointed compared to the PFE, as the IE8 was losing to them in detail, accuracy, and while they sounded airy and fun, were fatiguing after a little while. The highs also hadn’t really fully come out. I was contemplating selling them as the PFEs sounded better in a lot of ways.

Now, with over 150 hours of burn in, the IE8s have started to shine. I didn’t think there would be that big of a difference from 100 to 150 hours of burn in, but wow, to me there is!

I have played a little with the bass knob on the IE8s, but prefer it set to the minimum. I did notice a big difference setting it to the midway point, but to me, the midbass was too much, and they are darker, and most of the time I don’t prefer dark!

Sources - NuForce Icon Mobile/Fuze – Initial Impressions/Notes:
I have been using my Fuze as my primary source, as my soundcard quit, and I just got an Icon Mobile that is fully not burned in yet. I am using Winamp with the AudioBurst FX System output for computer playback. * I am wondering how rock boxing my Fuze will improve the sound...probably a wider soundstage with crossfeed, which in my experience with the 2 IEMs will benefit the IE8 more than the PFE. *

Initially with the IM through USB, there wasn’t much of a difference and my Fuze sounded much better. With 130+ hours on the IM via USB the IE8 sounds noticeably better than my PFE, as the soundstage is very noticeably wider. The IM still needs 150+ hours of burn in, though. Currently the Fuze has better bass than the IM via USB, and also ever so slightly from the line out. But the IM seems to have more treble than the Fuze, making the IE8s treble sound similar to the PFE through the Fuze. Of course the PFE has more treble with the IM. The IE8 and PFE are much closer when the Fuze is used as a source.

During my listening, I also realized a lot of my source music (mp3s) need to be updated to FLAC, and some of the songs/albums I have re-ripped in FLAC still sound just OK to bad. For example Queensryche Empire doesn’t sound all that great, even in FLAC.

PFE – ★★★★ - I started with the large silicon, wearing them just in my ear canals. The treble was too much for me, so I switched to olives, which were a big step up in isolation and bass response, taming the highs. The olives required me to wear the IEMs deeper. Then I switched to the included Comply T-130s, and they seem to isolate and seal a little better than the olives. The PFE provides a little better isolation than the IE8, and more than enough for all the environments I have used them in. These are the most comfortable IEMs I own.

IE8 – ★★★ - The IE8s have a very big housing, so they only fit in my ears so far. I can wear them right side up (cable up), or upside down…both seem about the same to me, so I just wear them the way they were designed. I tried every large sized tip included and none of them gave me a good seal, so no bass. Luckily I had some T-400s, which work for me. Also see http://www.head-fi.org/forums/5369916-post7.html As for isolation there seems to be enough for me. When music is playing I can’t hear anything…neighbors or the wife can yell at me and I unless the volume is way down, I can’t hear them. With the comply tips, these are comfortable for hours at a time. Also I have got used to the size, and they now feel more comfortable than at first.

I went for a walk with these and could hear traffic noise at a normal listening level. I was with my family, so I didn’t do extensive listening, but the PFEs do isolate better.

I wear both over the ear and have experienced no microphonics with either. I have not run with either, but have done a lot of walking (or pacing with my baby) and housework/yard work with not a single notice of microphonics.

The IE8 cables are thicker between the Y split and each earphone, while the PFE has a thicker cable between the Y split and jack. The IE8 cable is less sticky/grabby, and detachable. Not a big difference, but I slightly prefer the thicker IE8 cable between the Y and earphones. The PFE cable part that wraps around my ears has a memory and is now curved, after straightening out the cable. If I had to choose one of the two, I would go with the IE8 cable.

The IE8 has a right angle plug, the PFE has a straight plug.

PFE – ★★★★☆ - Sometimes when I am listening to the PFE, I think I have the IE8 in. The PFEs don’t lack bass, but they do lack the bass quality the IE8s have. That is not saying the PFEs are bad at all, if I didn’t have the IE8s, the PFE would have the best bass quality in a headphone I have by a large margin. The bass production seems fast, and bass that has a slower decay does not reverberate as long as it should. The bass response on my Fuze is much better than with the IM via USB. When the volume is cranked up on my Fuze, the bass can distort somewhat, but that could just be an issue with the Fuze.

PFE w/grey filter – ★★★☆ – The bass becomes more detailed, on par with the IE8, and the instrument separation seems to be slightly better than the IE8. But the balance is changed to bass light (at least compared to the IE8).

When A/Bing between the IE8 and the PFE with the black filters, the PFE sounded ever so slightly hollow, with the grey filters they sound very hollow comparatively when used with my Fuze. Even EQing them with the Fuze didn’t bring the bass out like the IE8 or the black filters. When EQed through the computer via my IM I can get the bass comes back to the level of the black filters, and have more detail.

IE8 – ★★★★★ - I have primarily listened with the bass at the minimum setting. The bass quantity is compared to the PFE depends upon the type of bass tone/note. Sometimes the PFE is equal, but with reverberant bass, the IE8 has more quantity. The detail is one of the strong points of the IE8, as it seems to be fast enough for hard hitting, quick bass, and has the right decay for boom, reverberant bass.

More of my thoughts on the bass (PFE with black filters) http://www.head-fi.org/forums/5368567-post84.html

PFE – ★★★★☆ - The vocals are immaculate, pristine, clean, and oh so clear. Voices have a clarity that I have never heard be reproduced, weather it is a slight nasality, or voice inflection, it is all there and very clear. They seem to stand out against the music, not blended in at all. Vocals seem to sound good no matter the bit rate. Female vocals really shine more so than male vocals. The mids sound balanced with the highs and lows. The only negative to me is the instrument placement isn’t on par with the IE8.

PFE w/grey filter – ★★★★★ – The midrange detail and instrument separation increases greatly with the grey filters vs. the black filters. I can hear all the same nuances of the music I can hear with the IE8, but the instrument separation seems ever so slightly better with the PFE. While the detail level seems equal, the actual instrument sounds are slightly different between the PFE and IE8, with the PFE being the preferred sound.

IE8 – ★★★★☆ - With 200+ hours of burn in the midrange is very detailed and instrument placement is very precise. While vocals are good and still clearing up, but are not as separated from the music as with the PFEs making the PFEs vocals clearer. The bass doesn’t protrude into the mids, as they sound the same when there is bass and no bass. The mid-bass hump seems to have almost disappeared, leaving them with a slightly warm, pleasant sound. But I did say almost, as at times the mid-bass is annoying at loud volume levels with certain songs. The mids are smooth and detailed, with excellent instrument placement.

PFE – ★★★★ - Balanced with the mids and lows (when using olives or Comply), detailed, accurate. With the silicon tips some songs were sibilant, however I think it is in the source and I can hear it to a much lesser extent on my other headphones. The treble is analytical resulting in a somewhat harsh presentation at times, and the treble doesn’t sound as natural as the IE8 or with the grey filters. The star value was lowered by a ½ star after hearing the detail improvement the grey filters made.

PFE w/grey filter – ★★★★☆ – The treble sounds more accurate and detailed to me with the grey filters. Instruments in this range such as high hats, cymbals, and tambourine jingles sound almost exactly the same as the IE8, but with the black filters they seemed less detailed and more harsh. However, there is too much treble for my preference in many songs, but because the quality is very high, it is tolerable.

IE8 – ★★★★☆ - They started somewhat recessed compared to the bass and mids resulting in a darker sound sig. But the treble is very detailed, and the more they burn in, the more the treble is coming out. After about 200 hours of burn in the highs are starting to come out and are much closer to the PFEs with the black filters. If the treble had the same quantity as the PFE with the black filters, the rating would be 5 stars.

Sound Stage:
PFE – ★★★ - Good, but only slightly larger than my NE-7. With my Fuze, the soundstage is slightly smaller than the IE8. With my Icon Mobile the soundstage increases a little compared to the Fuze, whereas the IE8s soundstage gets a large increase.

PFE w/grey filter – ★★★★☆ – The soundstage opens up with the grey filters and is near the IE8s level, but still falls a little short. Instrument separation also greatly improves, slightly bettering the IE8 across the bass and mids, with the highs being about equal to me.

IE8 – ★★★★★ - Very expansive, and when a song exhibits a wide soundstage, these really shine. The instrument placement is much better than the PFE as I can make out the instruments much better, see them in space, where with the PFE they are more all together. To me, when coupled with the Icon Mobile through USB, these sound like full sized cans!

Overall Sound:
PFE – ★★★★ – These are excellent, and if I had never heard the burned in IE8s (especially with the Icon Mobile), I could have been happy forever with the PFE, and probably given it 5 stars. But I did hear the IE8s and they are superior to the PFE in my opinion in many categories. The PFE is excellent all around, bass, mids (especially vocals), and highs, but with the black filters the soundstage, instrument separation, and detail suffers, especially treble detail.

PFE w/grey filter – ★★★★☆ - With the grey filters, the detail is on par with the IE8, the soundstage is almost as expansive, and the instrument separation is ever so slightly better, but the balanced across the spectrum takes away from my enjoyment of my music leaving me wanting more (bass ).

IE8 – ★★★★★ – Smooth, detailed, extended bass, perfect timbre, wide soundstage, great instrument placement, almost as balanced as the PFE, these couldn’t get much better. The only complaint I have with these is the treble quantity could be slightly higher for my taste (with the Fuze). I am listening to these now…audio heaven! Do I really need D2000s now (probably yes)? They make listening fun!

PFE – ★★★★★ – For the $135 I paid, I think these are a great and do compare quite well with the IE8 in my experience. From what I have read, they also compare well with the W3 and best the more expensive X10s. Even though they are not my preferred IEM of the 2, they are so close they are a better value to me.

IE8 – ★★★★☆ – I paid a great price from the UK (and was one of the lucky ones to get them a while ago), and personally I think (now that they have been burned in coupled with the Icon Mobile) the money is well spent. Now there is a US reseller that has them for a similar price to what I paid, keeping their value up there.

Comparison Notes:
- After about 175 to 200 hours of burn in the IE8s sound like different headphones to me, they actually sound like full sized headphones via my Icon Mobile though USB. I PMed soozeq about burn in and she replied that she didn’t notice a lot of change after 10 hours, but she likes them more and more each time she listens to them Maybe I noticed larger burn in differences because I am A/Bing with the PFE.
- IE8 is more detailed
- Both are excellent with all genres
- IE8 is smoother
- IE8 has a wider soundstage
- IE8 has better instrument placement
- PFE is slightly better balanced across bass, mids, and highs
- PFE is more comfortable
- PFE is less obtrusive and smaller, I feel like I can sleep with the PFE, but not sure about the IE8
- IE8 has more bass speed range, as the PFE seems to prefer faster bass
- IE8 sound more “fun” and has a slightly fuller sound
- PFE has brighter, more analytical highs
- IE8 handles loud, complex passages better. Could be an amp problem, I just don’t know.
- Instruments sound more natural on the IE8
- The PFE separates the vocals from the music more, resulting in more clarity
- PFE is less forgiving with low bitrate music (because the IE8 is smoother?), except for vocals, where they seem to shine unless the vocals are really bad in the recording (but then the vocals just sound bad, duh!)
- With my Fuze, the detail is very close; I wouldn’t know there was any difference unless A/Bing them
- With my Icon Mobile through USB, the IE8s mop up the PFEs. The PFEs sound a little better with the Fuze than the IM via USB.
- With the IM via my Fuze, the IE8s take a step up from the PFEs.

My Conclusions:
- I prefer the IE8s sound signature, but when listening to the PFEs for extended periods I get used to them, and they sound fantastic also
- The PFE is in the $130 range, the IE8 is in the $250 range (if purchased from the UK), and there is a difference in overall sound to [almost] justify the price difference
- I no longer want to listen to the PFE from my Icon Mobile! It is a tossup between the PFE and IE8 on my Fuze. The IE8 does sound a better for critical listening, and due to the lower volume playback, the battery lasts longer, but the PFE is more comfortable. Actually, I now think the PFEs sound very good via computer -> IM with EQing and the grey filters.
- The IE8 seems to be picking up steam, and the highs are filling in, and I am noticing more and more the IE8 is sounding better to me on my Fuze. And with the grey filters, even EQed, the PFEs just don’t pump out enough bass for my liking, nor compared with the IE8.
- With the grey filters through my IM via computer with EQing and crossfed, the PFEs sound as good, if not slightly better than the IE8
- I don’t think either are perfect…maybe if I didn’t have both, I would think that the one I had is perfect, but they both have different sounds, and I prefer certain aspects of the sound sigs of each.

P.S. - Song Comments (all from the Fuze unless otherwise noted):
- Leona Lewis (female vocal) sounds better to me with the IE8s, but Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera sound slightly better with the PFE (low bitrate and FLAC)
- VooDoo & Serano - Blood Is Pumpin' (320kbps) - sounds incredible with both, but the IE8’s soundstage edge the PFE, and slightly more bass impact with the IE8
- Queen – Forever (320bps) – While they sound slightly different, they both sound very good. I think both perform equally well with piano, but that is because I need a live reference, as they do sound a little different from each other. They both sound very natural to me with piano, but how is that possible when they do sound a little different?
- The Eagles - Hotel California (live) – how the kettle drums sound make the IE8 far superior to me on this one, and the IE8 offers better image placement, soundstage, and detail
- Sarah Brightman - Time To Say Goodbye (320bps) – The vocals seem to blend into the music with the IE8, and have better separation on the PFE resulting in a more enjoyable experience for me.
- Flo Rida Feat T-pain – Low (320bps) – tie, both sound excellent and very similar.
- The Police - Every Little Think She Does is Magic (320kbps) via my IM through USB - The cymbals (or high hats?) sound much more forward on the PFE and are louder compared to the rest of the spectrum. But to me the IE8 sounds more realistic, even with the slightly recessed highs.
- Everything But The Girl – Two Star (VBR) via my IM through USB – PFEs are sibilant with this song, however I think it is in the song. The vocals are harsh with the IE8. Time for a FLAC rip!
- Enigma - Callas Went Away (FLAC) – sounds good with the PFE, airy, good instrument placement, but the IE8 betters the PFE in all aspects in this song.
- Armin van Buuren – Imagine (FLAC) – The PFE doesn’t have the reverberant bass that the IE8 has, but this song sounds very similar and engaging on both.
- Listening to Ride the Lightning album (well, most of) by Metallica on my Fuze (while trying to get a teething baby to sleep, ouch, the teeth!) I first listened to the PFE, then switched to the IE8. First, sonically the songs didn't sound as good as I remembered (320kbps MP3). Possibly the 1980s source CD? Well, on my list of FLAC upgrades when I find the time. Oh, the PFE sounded OK, not too involving because of the poor sound quality. When I switched to the IE8 I was immediately drawn in much more, and I thought it sounded better, more fun, more involving, more detailed.
post #2 of 158
Wow, great comparison! Thanks! I've decided to get the IE8's Maybe I'll get the PFE's when my wallet recovers ^^
post #3 of 158
Thanks for the grat review
post #4 of 158
nice review
post #5 of 158
Thanks for the review!

But I often find that many times some very important things are forgotten. For example: These are both closed phones right, so how is the cable noise when walking/running/moving around?

I bought my first IEM Etymotic hf2 and they were absolutely unusable for me! Unless I´m sitting PERFECTLY still in train/airplane or somewhere. The cable noise was unbearable, constantly scrubbing inside/outside of my shirt/jacket, no matter how I adjusted the cable. I bought portable phones for their PORTABILITY. These things were not! These things come with so much cable noise, that I went crazy, absolutely horrible! (They had good sound though, shame).

I think most closed headphones suffer from this. You can even try it now, block your ears with your fingers and try walking around, you will hear your own footsteps going THUM THUM THUM inside your head!

So imo in portable headphones we should be also concentrating on these factors too, not just the sound (although it is important too). But for sitting down and listening to music I can use my HD600/650.

So how well are the PFE and IE8 doing on these factors?
post #6 of 158
May be you should try to test again with grey filters. If you are using Phonak with black filters, you are listening it's only half potantiel.
post #7 of 158
Great review,

Ie8 is really required a lot of time to burn-in for running properly
Once I get used to Ie8’s style , it is hard for me go-back to my E500 which is not well performed in classic and Symphony music

post #8 of 158
Great review. Someday I might get to own the IE8.
post #9 of 158
Thread Starter 
You are all welcome

I updated some info in the review which is surrounded by *

Originally Posted by MetalElvis View Post
Thanks for the review!

But I often find that many times some very important things are forgotten. For example: These are both closed phones right, so how is the cable noise when walking/running/moving around?
See edited review, but to answer, since they go around my ears, I don't have any microphonics.

Originally Posted by MetalElvis View Post
I think most closed headphones suffer from this. You can even try it now, block your ears with your fingers and try walking around, you will hear your own footsteps going THUM THUM THUM inside your head!
Don't closed cans also have that phenomenon? And When I have them in, music is coming out of them, so it is not a problem

Originally Posted by ulyses View Post
May be you should try to test again with grey filters. If you are using Phonak with black filters, you are listening it's only half potantiel.
I prefer a more balanced with strong bass sound signature. I think the IE8 is warmer and more fun than the PFE, so the IMO the grey filters will get me further from that. I didn't like them when I heard them initially (with the silicon tips), but I will possibly try them soon.

Originally Posted by cwilson View Post
Great review,

Ie8 is really required a lot of time to burn-in for running properly
Once I get used to Ie8’s style , it is hard for me go-back to my E500 which is not well performed in classic and Symphony music
Yea, burn baby burn...for a long long time. But it is hard not to listen to a new toy!

Originally Posted by GreatDane View Post
Great review. Someday I might get to own the IE8.
I hope you get the chance, I think the IE8s are fantastic!
post #10 of 158
Thanks for your thoughts in your review! Very informative!
post #11 of 158
Great! Thanks for the review.

I think if I made an adjustment, it would be to the "value" rating.

The IE8s cost $450 USD here (SoundEarphones.com, Amazon.com).

Given that and the admirable performance of the $139 competitor, I would probably give the IE8s 1 fewer stars.

But this is just my opinion.

If/When I have a lot more money to burn on IEMs, then I definitely think I would like to give the IE8s a try.
post #12 of 158
Great review
I wish I could have my IE8 in the shell of my E530
post #13 of 158
Aaarrgghh, I've a nice pair of Denon IEM's but fancy an upgrade to even better sound heaven, do I go for PFE's or IE8's???!!!
post #14 of 158
Excellent comparison, and of course it makes one want to try out the IE8s. I agree with Schneller on one small point. No doubt the value of getting the IE8s for $250 (or less) is there, much like the $260 I paid for the W3s. I would not have paid $399 for the W3s, nor would I pay $400+ for the Senns. So the major question is, given the cost differential ($135 for the Phonaks, $449 for the Senns here in the U.S.), is the cost differential worth it at those prices. I would guess the answer is no, unless you can really afford the Senns, or get them at a very steep discount, as you did.
post #15 of 158
Originally Posted by Fedorov View Post
Aaarrgghh, I've a nice pair of Denon IEM's but fancy an upgrade to even better sound heaven, do I go for PFE's or IE8's???!!!
Seems like it would be based on the thickness of your wallet.
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