Edited by thinker - 12/29/12 at 10:56am
Like I said in my review, I'm using the IE800 mostly short-cabled with my wireless headset now. That allows me to wear them over-ear with the receiver dongle clipped to the collar behind my neck. Microphonics are pretty much non-existant that way.
You are absolutely right that bending the strain relief does not address the microphonics issue. I have actually been contemplating a behind the back routing. My brief experiment was not very comfortable. I would need a much longer lower cable. (I suppose your wireless system solves that.)
Actually the length of the cable is one of my complaints with the the IE800. I am mostly a table-top IEM listener (which is why microphonics are less of a problem for me than for most people) and I like my cables long. For example, I ordered my ES5 with the longer 64" cable. At 47", the IE800 cable is too short to my tastes.*
Hopefully Sennheiser will offer some options for lower cables in the future.
*Strange. Sennheiser literature says 1.2 meters = 47". However I have measure the two cables and 10+32 = just 42" !
I'm afraid, that's a misconception. Neutral equipment doesn't change anything about the sound signature.
Come to think of it, I'll have to try the IE800 with my Nuforce Icon Mobile. This amp has a marked bass roll-off and may actually be beneficial to the IE800's transparency.
yeah haha it's a bad trade off just to tame the bass...
I tried that (actually with the S/M oval tips). It was very comfortable. You are right that there is less bass that way. The overall sound quality is also worse. That is because you are not getting a proper fit even if it feels like you are.
The air flow in the IE800 is actually fairly complex as Sennheiser have described it. Defeating it with tips that are too small is not the solution IMHO.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
But then, I don't think that the IE800 bass is necessarily a problem. ;-)
In my opinion it's more like different takes on the same thing.
First of all, the IE800 are definitely bass enhanced if you wear them with a proper seal. Here's a preliminary frequency response graph from Rin's blog:
The grey line shows raw (measured) data, whereas the magenta line shows the compensated graph (diffuse-field, a standardized method to predict how an average person will hear the raw data).
I personally perceive the IE800 not as far off balance as the compensated graph would suggest, neither the bass hump, nor the dip in the upper mids / lower treble. But even the uncompensated grey graph shows a significant boost of bass in comparison to the midrange, and from my personal listening impressions I'd need about -5db of bass equalization to achieve a reasonably balanced sound signature in quiet surroundings.
Now, different folks have different perceptions of the same thing, and a lot of listeners love bass and will say that the IE800 are perfectly to their taste. Like cooperpwc, who's obviously aware that the Senns are a bit bassy, but doesn't think that's necessarily a problem for him.
As for thinker, wearing IEMs with smaller tips and a loose seal is a common practice to deal with excessive bass, and I suppose that's what he is doing. But I have to agree with cooperpwc's post, that's not the intended way to wear IEMs and has potential side effects that compromise sound quality. At the very least it compromises isolation.
Hope this helps to clarify things a bit (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong).
Hah! I just remembered that I have a light 42" extension cable from an old pair of portable Sony headphones. So I have started running the cable over my ears and behind my head. It has advantages; I concede the point. No microphonics and a seriously secure deep fit.
The right-angle plug on the IE800 makes it less than ideal for adding an extension (although not bad.) Next time I go to Canada, I think that I may get this to place between the two halves of the Sennheiser cable.
(For now, time will tell whether I use it more 'over the ears and behind the head' or just hanging in front.)
Be careful, the IE800's 2.5mm plug is low profile and recessed. The wider female connector on that cable may not fit. Here's a comparison between the 25MM3-03 cable and the low profile Nokia AD-53 adapter that I use:
Had some time before dinner so I dropped by a local retailer to compare the IE800 and IE80. It was a very very short comparison, but the 800 is in a different league than the 80 when it comes to clarity, details and midrange quality. The IE80 was downright muddy in comparison.
These are my impressions of the IE800 which I have had now for six days. This is not a review; that would imply some discipline and standards.This is a stream of consciousness on the things that I think are important. james444 has already done an overview of the the IE800 in his excellent review thread so I won't repeat any of that but instead jump right in.
When Sennheiser announced the IE800, they made an interesting claim:
Innovative dual-chamber absorber
With the IE 800, Sennheiser has succeeded for the first time in solving what is known as the ‘masking effect’. This effect, which has a negative influence on overall sound quality, is due to the way in which our ears work. “The human ear is unable to perceive low-volume frequency components of a sound if there are much louder sounds occurring in a lower frequency range at the same time," explained Axel Grell. "This means, for example, that very loud low-frequency sounds will ‘mask’ very quiet sounds in the medium frequency range. This is particularly apparent in in-ear headphones. The sealing of the ear canal by the earphones normally causes resonances that result in a peak in the 7kHz to 8kHz range. This has the effect of masking the actual higher-frequency components. Precisely this problem has been overcome in the IE 800 by the use of an absorber. Sennheiser’s patented dual-chamber system absorbs the energy of the resonance, thus preventing any unwanted peaks. As a result, all frequency components – even the finest nuances – in the music material become audible.
So avoiding bass bloat was apparently a priority in designing the IE800. Reading this months ago, I did not assume that the IE800 would therefore have somewhat elevated levels of bass compared to the average high-end IEM. It does. While bass is neither the best nor the most important aspect of the IE800, it is likely the quality that will be talked about most so I start there.
I am not remotely a basshead. I am happy with tight proportionate bass like the ES5 and even slightly south of neutral bass like the PF IX so long as it goes deep and stays tight. I do not like excess bass that impacts on mids like the new Ultrasone Signature DJ or my dusty unloved Darth Beyers, an early naive Head-Fi mistake. (Anyone want to buy? Luxurious African Wenge - most surely cheap just for you!) So I approached news of the IE800's strong bass with some trepidation.
The best way that I can tackle this topic is to recount how my thinking has evolved over six days. I bought what might have been the only IE800 available in HK, sealed box and unheard. Day one, first listen at my friend's flat and I am thinking that these are great headphones. Yes they have lots of bass but it is well controlled and oh, those mids! I am happy. Day one, later that evening, I am listening to rock'n'roll and my brain is rattling around in my skull. The bass is intolerable. It is not that it is bloated; there is no night-club-throbbing that marks the really obnoxious basshead cans. However there is too much of it and it is making me a bit nauseous. It is then that I develop a simple EQ curve in Rockbox to reduce the bass by a slight but meaningful 2dB. (30Hz: -2dB, 60Hz: -1.5dB, 90Hz: -1dB, 120Hz: -0.5dB, 250Hz: 0dB). The problem is solved completely. In fact, I have one of the great listens to Who's Next in recent memory. The bass is slamming but not overwhelming. The album simply rocks. Trick of the Tail by Genesis sounds just as good. I am thinking that I can live with this. It is much better to EQ down than to EQ up; there is no precut required so that other frequencies are left undisturbed.
The next morning, I listen again and... I do not understand why I had been using the EQ. The bass is fine. It is a bit strong but not excessive. Actually it is very good quality bass. It is not the absolutely tightest - it is looser than the ES5 (but from memory still tighter than the TG334) - yet it is tight enough. Most of all it has presence. It is full. The dynamic driver slams hard in a way that balanced armatures generally do not. There is simply no need to EQ down. What was I thinking last night? It is then that I realize that in my excitement, I was listening very loudly the night before. I do that from time to time even though it is bad for my already compromised hearing (oh those foolish teen years). Most IEMs can handle excessive volumes well without EQ. However, unless you are an extreme basshead, the IE 800 just produces too much bass at loud (say 95dB+) volumes. It does control it rather well but it can be unpleasant.
It was then that I realized that the IE800 is simply tuned lower on the Fletcher Munson curves than most high-end headphones. It has 'audiophile' quality bass (I hate, hate, hate that word) but it delivers it at a lower volume. For low to moderate listening, say 60-70 dB, the kind that I do early in the morning before the 'need for speed' kicks in, it might have the best bass out there. Most IEMs, by contrast, offer tame and underwhelming bass at such levels. At moderately loud volumes, i.e. around 85dB where I usually listen, the bass is north of neutral but it is damn fine bass, I say. At very loud volumes, particularly with sloppy hip hop songs that already have bloated bass that exceeded the recording headroom, it is nice to be able to EQ it down by 2dB. Most of all though, I stay within the limitations of the IE800 because they are healthy limitations and it sounds great at moderately loud levels. If the bass is starting to rattle my brain, that is a sure sign that I am getting carried away.
So if you don't have EQ on your DAP and you don't listen at ear-splitting levels, you will probably be okay with the IE800. The enhanced bass presence at moderately loud levels sure does groove along. It can be addictive. However the most important quality of the bass (given its relative strength) is that the "patented dual chamber system" actually works. The bass does not intrude on the mids even at rather loud levels. And the mids are what the IE800 is all about...
the mids - (oh that soundstage)
Vocals are great on the IE800. Nina Simone, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Patricia Barber, Roger Daltrey, Buddy Guy, Robert Plant all are right in the zone. (Actually I don't think that Robert Plant ever sounds completely in the zone but I have been rediscovering some old dinosaurs like Led Zeppelin with the IE800. It rocks.) Vocals are not especially thick - the IE800 is a not a thick headphone. Actually given the detail, it stays pleasantly on the right side of of thin. Nonetheless vocals are warm and forward. The rendering is very precise. It is dynamic and there is a lot of natural presence. It is good, I say.
Still that is not what excites me about the IE800. It is the mids in the soundstage that I love. I am talking about the piano and guitar and backing vocals... all of the things that go on to the left and right of your head while you are listening to headphones. These are beautiful on the IE800. There is lots of definition. You will not find quite the air between the instruments as with a top-end balanced armature IEM yet the detail is excellent. Instrument placement is very precise which I attribute to the natural frequency synchronization of a single dynamic driver. Most of all it has such wonderful presence. There is great clarity and transparency. For a portable headphone, it really is something special. It is exciting to walk down the street wearing these. There is no need to say much more.
I do not like treble frequencies very much. I was worried when I heard that the IE800 trends towards bright. There are some audio components that I just cannot listen to because of harsh, bright treble. As it turns out, the IE800 is fine. Percussion is more present than with some of my other headphones. It contributes to an enhanced perception of detail. Overall I prefer the more subtle and nuanced treble of the ES5 yet the IE800 treble does match its sound signature. I would say that it adds to the excitement of the sound without being offensive.
As to whether the IE800 has truly good treble, you would have to ask someone else.
isolation at ambient pressure (!)
The exclamation mark means that I am excited about this. This is one of the main reasons that I bought the IE800. From the Sennheiser literature, I anticipated that these might be vented IEMs that leave the ear canal at ambient pressure. I hoped that they would still provide decent usable isolation. This is a combination that I have dearly wanted in a high end IEM. The answer is affirmative on both counts. Huzzah!
By way of background, I am a bit down on BA (balanced armature) headphones. As much as I love my ES5 and enjoy some others that I have tested (especially the FitEar Private 335), I do not think that direct driving the tympanic membranes is very healthy. That direct driving is essential with a BA IEM. It is how it produces the perception of bass frequencies to the user. Years of teenage abuse add up and I now want to preserve my hearing. I find BA IEMs to be numbing by comparison with dynamic headphones that just bounce sound waves off the ear drum. However, BA IEMs usually provide good isolation which helps to preserve hearing if you then listen at lower volumes. I try to. The issue is even greater for those of us that have sticky waxy ear canals. On good days, my ES5 is very comfortable. On bad days, i get a vacuum suction that can be annoying. Again, any prolonged vacuum against your ear drums is not very healthy. All of this is to say that I would like to use BA IEMs less and less. The problem is that they are so portable, sound so damn good, and isolate so well. Enter the IE800.
The IE800 is a vented (single dynamic driver) IEM. That means that while a good seal against the ear canal is essential for the correct airflow within the IEM body, the air does actually flow. When outside, I slightly feel the cool air enter my ear (and I love it). When you insert the IE800, you never have to lift the ear auracle or the IEM body to equalize pressure. Push the IE800 in or pull it out a bit, within a fraction of a second the ear canal always returns to ambient pressure. This is really really comfortable.
From the IE800 literature:
The vents are obviously very tiny. For example when chewing, with each chew I can feel the pressure change slightly in my ear canal and then immediately return to ambient pressure. So can such a vented system produce isolation? The answer is that it can and surprisingly well. It isn't as effective as the ES5 or ER4S but it does the job in any but the loudest environments (for example, those annoying people talking beside me at unnecessary volumes in the Shenzhen Airport).
I just traveled the long way home from Hong Kong to Shanghai via Shenzhen and it provided many excellent tests of the IE800 isolation. The Hong Kong mass transit to the China border is a modern, reasonably quiet rail system. The IE800 did a great job. You can hear what is going on around you but it is muted and there is this wonderful sense of connection yet separation between the "music in here" and the "world out there". I actually prefer it to the hard isolation of my ES5. The ES5 provides greater isolation but sound still leaks in. The sense of connection between the "in here" and the "out there" is missing. Damn, this is difficult to describe. The ES5 leaks the outside world while the IE800 manages the outside world. Okay, I'll move on.
Once I crossed the border, the subway to the airport in Shenzhen was much less refined, i.e. louder. I made the mistake of putting on some folk music and that really did not work. The IE800 might be providing 15 dB of passive isolation (just an estimate from experience) and it was not enough for the environment. So I switched to some rock, Throwing Copper by Live, as I remember. That worked out just fine. I do not think that it was just "drowning out" the subway noise. Here is my theory: those tiny vents can only let so much sound through. The IE800 has big bass. When you put on music with decent bass and other driving elements, the pressure outwards greatly thwarts sound coming in. The effect is similar to what I described in the Hong Kong subway: you can hear the outside world but it does not interfere with enjoyment of the music. Actually, I like the connection. The IE800 does not deal with all outside frequencies the same. Low rumbling is isolated quite effectively. The human voice is muted but still gets through more easily.
Loud talking beside me in the Shenzhen Airport terminal while waiting for my flight was really annoying. Good god, man, you are talking to someone five feet away! Like I said, voices can get through.
The airplane flight was very interesting. I thought that the IE800 might be useless on an airplane (the A300) and I had my ES5 in reserve just in case. The opposite was true. It is a wonderful airplane IEM. I tested taking them in and out during take-off when no music is allowed. Leaving them in significantly reduced the engine noise. It was very pleasant. Not bad for a vented IEM. And because it is vented, when I left it in for about five minutes during the climb, my ears equalized just as easily as if I was not wearing them. There was no need to lift the IE800 and allow air in. Listening to music during the flight was just great. The engine rumble was muted, I could softly hear the talking around me but I was in my own private heaven. Kudos, Sennheiser.
i still have to see how the IE800 deals with China's fast trains which can challenge even the ES5 but so far I am impressed.
limitations of the sound signature
There are limitations. I am only six days in but so far I am not a huge fan of listening to the IE800 at home. I love it walking outside. In fact, it is the only IEM that I have ever really enjoyed walking with. I have never done that much with my Triple-fis or ES5 because I don't like the sense of disconnection. (The IE800 also has zero foot thump which is nice.) I also enjoy the IE800 in coffee shops greatly. There is that nice "bold music in here" versus "muted world out there" effect. Even in coffee shops playing music at reasonable volumes, the choice of the right music on my Classic has done the job. Today Buddy Guy effectively eliminated the Eagles. Good for you, Buddy.
At home though, there is this interesting psychological effect of the soundstage collapsing. I have larger airier headphones that I can listen to at home, specifically the Piano Forte IX and the Beyer DT800/600. The exciting 'integration with yet separation from' the outside world does not move me in my flat. That bold soundstage is almost a bit claustrophobic in the confines of my own world. So to my ears, the IE800 is truly a portable IEM. I will go out on a limb and say that is probably the best portable IEM that I have ever heard. It is not that it is the best in every category - although I think that it has the best presence where it edges out the Fitear offerings - but it is simply more exciting in the outside world than anything else that I have heard. At home, I feel that I have even better choices.
(I also am not about to throw away my ES5 which has greater subtlety and nuance, as well as more glorious air in the soundstage. The ES5 is hard on my ears but it will still get its airtime.)
Sennheiser, what were you thinking? James has already dealt with this topic so I will summarize quickly. Worn with the cable down the front, the IE800 is probably the most microphonic IEM that I have ever tried. Even sitting down, movement of my head causes crunching noises. (The microphonics are almost entirely in the upper cable; the lower half in the two piece system is okay.) In addition, the placement of the stress-relief on the earpieces prevents it from fitting in deep and fully secure when worn with the cable down the front.
The obvious solution then is to wear it over your ears and down the front like other IEMs. Unfortunately, unless you have a small head (I do not), you can't. The cable length to the Y-splitter is so short that it chokes me! (Two more inches, Sennheiser; that is all that was required!)
The next obvious solution is to wear it over the ears down the back. That works absolutely great. You get a deep secure fit, no microphonics, and ultimate comfort. James was right on this. I have never worn IEMs this way before but it is the only way to wear the IE800. Unfortunately the IE800 is advertised as having a 1.2 meter (equals 47") cable which is (i) way too short to wear over the ears and down the back and (ii) false advertising. The actual cable length is about 42". You cannot run it down the back and use it sitting down with your DAP on the table. Period. You can barely use it walking around with a tote, as in not a damn inch to spare. Maybe put your DAP in a shirt pocket? Sennheiser what were you thinking?
I am okay because I happen to have a 42" extension cable from an old Sony portable headphone. It too had a two-piece design but with a 3.5mm connector rather than the 2.5mm on the IE800. I add that to the end of the full IE800 cable and I am good to go in all situations. It still isn't ideal because I am attaching it to a right-angle connector on the end of the IE800 but it is fine.
Sennheiser please sell a five foot replacement lower cable for the IE800. I will pay by cash, credit card or manual labor. Just give me the opportunity. But really, an $800+ headphone should be fully usable out of the box and this one isn't. Sennheiser what were you thinking?
(I am also working on some other cable solutions but the rare low profile 2.5mm connector makes it difficult. It will take some time but I will get there and report back.)
Here is some good news. This is the most comfortable IEM that I have ever worn. It is more comfortable than the ES5, Triple-Fi's, TG334, FA-BA-SS, Heaven IV, sundry Westone, Shure and Grado IEM offerings, everything. It helps that the M/L oval tips feel like they were molded for my ears. I usually have endless trouble with silicon tips. Of course, the IE800 is vented so vacuum with the tips is not an issue. And of course, YMMV.
I think that I will just let these impressions peter out. I absolutely love the IE800. Ergonomic flaws aside (and they are manageable), it is a fine portable IEM. It is still early days but these look to be my new go-to portable headphones. They are exciting to use in the outside world - uniquely so in my experience. If you do not mind running the cable down your back (which I find to be surprisingly agreeable) and if you also can get an extension cable (these are big ifs), I have little hesitation recommending these.
Greater impressions cooperpwc, the ergonomic considerations (especially on the plane) are especially valuable. A little price-y for a sidegrade from the EX-1000, hmmm, logic tells me I should just jump for the ES5s, but there is something very slick about these... I think might there might be one or two in stock in Hong Kong XD