The AKG K3003i is an ultra high end reference grade universal in-ear monitor. It's priced at $1,300 dollars. It takes the AKG K 701, K 702, and Q 701 sound to the extreme by focusing on a clean, accurate, neutral, and transparent mid range and fanning out to the bass and treble region with evenhanded tonal balance. For some listeners, it may sound peaky in the upper treble region, but that's indicative of the AKG house sound. It has a lean, analytical, clinical sound that lets the music speak directly for itself. Unlike the AKG K 701, K 702, or Q 701, the K3003i has a more pronounced deep bass that is tighter, quicker, more highly textured, and it has more impact than the full-sized open design reference headphone does. It features a hybrid bass dynamic driver and two balanced armature mid range and tweeter drivers. Like most multi-driver designs, it does suffer ever so slightly from frequency incoherence and phase distortions, but the only way you'll hear such imperfections is if you use very well mastered high resolution test tracks of which you are intimately familiar such as 24 bit 192 kHz loss less files. The passive sound isolation is fair for most ambient noise, but it does not offer sufficient noise blockage in very noisy environments such as construction sites, subways, live concerts, and trains or airplanes. They are pretty sensitive so they can be easily driven from an Apple iPhone 4s or earlier or an Apple iPod Classic or Touch or an Apple iPad 3rd generation. It comes with an inline volume control and microphone that works on older Apple iOS and OS X devices. I used the reference filters most of the time, but I did try the bass boost and treble filters and I didn't like them. The fit and finish is superb. The box is handsome and worthy of keeping as a collector's item. It comes with a genuine leather carrying case. The cables are non-removable.
Comparing these to the Sennheiser IE-800, it's much more difficult to pick out a clear winner. These two top of the line universal IEMs use completely different technologies. I'd say that the IE-800 has to be the more popular choice among audio professionals and rich audiophiles because it is a better known brand and it's $300 dollars less expensive and it comes with a user detachable cable at the Y split. The IE-800 has strong bass impact that's well articulated, taut, snappy, and it delivers excellent slam due to the resonance filter and the unique double bass ports at the back. It's easy to see why they would be the more popular choice especially among purists that believe a single ultra wide dynamic driver is superior to a hybrid multi-driver design. To a certain point, they are right. The only reason why the hybrid design is superior is increased focused clarity, purity, accuracy, neutrality, resolution, transparency, detail retrieval, micro dynamic shading, and a wider dynamic range. The IE-800 has a much wider frequency range than the K3003i, but the K3003i is better suited for audiophiles that want a portable reference grade sound performer in as tiny of a package as possible. I'd give the slight edge to the AKG K3003i if you value purity and clarity and transparency more than the deep bass power of the IE-800. The K3003i has more evenhanded tonal balance than the IE-800, but it's slight and it comes down to personal preferences. I felt that the real key difference is in the mid range with the K3003i delivering a purer and more analytical mid range that sounds quite exceptional whereas the IE-800 is merely excellent. The K3003i is focused on the mid range in particular whereas the IE-800 trumps it with its solid bass foundation. Again, the differences were slight and it comes down to personal preferences at this level.
I feel that these compete well with top of the line headphones like the Sennheiser HD-800, HD-700, AKG K 702, Beyerdynamic T1, etc. You sacrifice that out of head sound stage with IEMs, but it's more intimate and focused. It's a private listening studio inside your head with the K3003i or IE-800. I feel that it's better to spend the money on top of the line universal or custom in-ear monitors because portability is a key enabling factor. I never saw anyone travel with Sennheiser HD-800 headphones in my travels. I keep my AKG K 702 at home.
Finally, the better your source music, the better these top of the line IEMs will scale. High resolution loss less audio files are mandatory with the IE-800 or K3003i. I have a limited 31 gigabytes of FLAC 24 bit 192 kHz files while the rest of my music library consists of Fraunhofer or LAME 3.99 --preset-insane 320 Kbps CBR MP3s. Listening to MP3s or Spotify Premium using Vorbis 320 Kbps with the IE-800 or K3003i is futile. You're not going to get the maximum sound performance using lossy codecs period. It's a lot less expensive and more sensible to use lower end universal IEMs like Etymotic ER-6i or HF5 or Ultimate Ears Ue-700 or Super.Fi TF-10. It makes me wish that I had an iRiver AK100 Astrell and Kern digital audio player with 160 gigabytes of flash storage to store my 24 bit 192 kHz FLAC files. I do have a full backup of my FLAC library in my CrashPlan+ account in their data center, but it would be terribly expensive for me to re-purchase my entire music library at high resolution.
I performed almost all of my critical listening sessions at home. At this point, it's clear that the IE-800 and K3003i belong outside of the home on the go with an Apple iPhone or iPod or iPad. After thinking very hard about the $1,300 dollar price tag and $1000 dollar price tag respectively for the K3003i and IE-800, I think that I will return both for full refunds. To be quite honest and truthful, I don't do critical listening sessions outside of my home. I rarely take my System76 Lemur Ultra Thin notebook PC outside of my home because it is a US DoD hardened PC with confidential data. It doesn't make much sense for me to spend $2600 for two top of the line IEMs since their intended applications fall outside of my case usage. I can easily think of better things to do with that kind of money like paying bills that would be put to better usage.
I thank Crutchfield for helping me to acquire both the Sennheiser IE-800 and AKG K3003i for review. They have a generous 30 day guarantee.
I don't think I have a need for any more headphones or IEMs. I'm pretty satisfied with what I have got and they meet my case usage and they're eminently affordable.