Pros - Bass without sacrificing vocals quality, ease of use, comfort
Cons - Interesting design quirks, crispy highs, a ton of fakes out there.
Up for review are a pair of Sennheiser’s IE800 dynamic driver in-ear monitors. They were first released in 2012 at around $1000, but pricing has fallen to more reasonable levels, with Sennheiser’s MSRP at $800 and used pricing on the market under $500. There was a lot of controversy due to the cable design, dynamic drivers, price, and the proliferance of fakes on the market. Are they still worth picking up? Let’s take a further look.
I purchased this pair of IE 800s on Reddit after coming across them for a price I couldn’t refuse. I’ve had these since January, but refrained from commenting on them as they were shipped with small eartips instead of the mediums as advertised, which did not fit properly for me.
Thankfully, I was able to source replacement medium eartips from Sennheiser Canada directly for ~$20 for one pair (yikes). They were on backorder and had to come in from Germany first, resulting in a 3 week lead time. Really appreciate the seller Renew Logic for covering the cost on the replacement tips. Top notch customer service.
Have been using these for the past few days with the correct sized tips, so here we go…
I received the IE800s with only one pair of tips, the leather carrying case, and the earwax cleaning tool. New, the IE800s come with the above along with a box and 4 sets of silicone eartips ranging from small to large sizes.
The finish and build quality is definitely in line with a high end product. The IE800s have a ceramic finish, metal driver vents, and a kevlar cable. The housings are nice and smooth to the touch and are surprisingly durable, showing no signs of wear and tear after a month of use by me and use by the previous owner of these. The leather case is also really nicely finished, with high-density foam, even stitching, and fine leather quality. The cleaning tool provided does not have a brush like ones included with other IEMs, but this is understandable given that the IE800s have two wire screens (one on the IEM, and one on the eartip) to prevent earwax buildup.
Ultimately, no complaints from me on this end.
I’ll start off this section of the review by addressing the cable design, which is the big elephant in the room. Typically, higher-end IEMs have a detachable cable terminated at the IEM housings. However, Sennheiser decided to have the cable for the IE800s hardwired at the housings, with the cable terminated at the Y-splitter using a 2.5mm connector. This means that if your cable has issues near the connection to the housing, then you have to rewire the IEMs. I would imagine Sennheiser did this due to the small size of the driver housings. All other IEMs around this size I’ve come across have fully hardwired cables, so for Sennheiser to even offer a semi-detachable solution is honestly better than nothing.
To be perfectly frank, I don’t really consider this an issue. Out of all of the 20 or so IEMs I’ve owned and flipped throughout the years, I haven’t yet come across problems related with the cables. I don’t particularly baby my IEMs either, just shoving them into my pant pockets when not in use. If you consider its most relevant rival, the AKG K3003, the IE800 wins by at least having a semi-detachable cable.
Otherwise, the IE800s are great to use as long as you wear them cable down. The small size means they almost disappear in your ears and there’s no discomfort relating to the housing shape (looking at you, Andromedas). Isolation is pretty good, but is probably worse than a BA setup due to the smaller housings. Source matching is also less problematic then something like the Campfire Andromeda and its crazy impedance curve.
My one complaint on usability does relate to the eartips, another controversial IE800 topic. They are a proprietary design with a included mesh earwax filter, which click on to the housing. They do a great job of keeping earwax out of the IE800s, but can definitely be a pain to replace as you either have to get replacements directly from Sennheiser for an arm and a leg or buy knock-off eartips from Aliexpress. Definitely not many options for tip rolling on these unless you want to start hacking away and doing your own chop job.
Sennheiser’s always really stuck to dynamic drivers (Orpheus excepted) and their expertise really shows in the sound quality of the IE800s. I read on one review that these sound like the old UE Triple-Fi 10s but with an additional degree of refinement. Given that the TF10s were THE old guard for a V-shaped sound signature, I’m inclined to agree. One of the best parts about the IE800’s sound signature is the bass. These deliver a major bass punch for an IEM but without the bloatiness of lower-end gear. Sub-bass extension is also among the best I’ve heard.
Despite the bass emphasis, the mids don’t suffer at all in comparison in terms of quality. Vocals are very clear and detailed, only lacking a bit of lushness which the cream of the cream midrange IEMs (TG334s, Andromedas) have.
Highs are well-extended on the IE800s, which help with the sense of air along with crispness in hi-hats and other instruments. The highs do emphasize sibilance, which can be noticeable on pop vocals. However, it’s not so bad to be painful to listen to, unlike the Sony EX1000s.
Soundstage is pretty wide, but not so deep relative to the best offerings on the market. Running these from a more powerful output than a phone do help in terms of opening everything up. Clarity is definitely among the upper end of the IEMs I’ve sampled.
All in all, the IE800s really represent one of the best V-shaped sound sigs you can get on the market. They’re a great companion if you mainly listen to hip-hop and EDM, but can more than hold their own in other genres due its overall technical capability.
Some quick comparisons
Quick comparisons to other IEMs I’ve owned around similar performance levels are as follows. All of these play really in the same “league”.
Sony EX1000: I definitely prefer these over the Sonys as the treble peak on that one was unlistenable for me. I think these have the sound signature I would EQ the EX1000s to, and they are just so much easier to use. EX1000 probably has a bigger soundstage though.
FitEar TG334: TG334s are a bit easier to listen to due to lower treble levels. They also have better mids and a tad more clarity. IE800s have more bass slam though.
Campfire Andromeda: Campfires are more balanced but I’d say better all around with exception for bass slam. Less troublesome treble, sweeter mids, tighter bass, and bigger soundstage. Hiss can be a bitch on them though.
As you can see, the IE800s play in a pretty rarified field for me. So, at the end of the day, how much did I pay for these? $195. These are a definitely a no brainer at that price. I think that these are a pretty poor value proposition at the original $1000, good value proposition at $500, and an insane value proposition around the $250 mark. Ultimately, my greatest stamp of approval for these is that after I’ve got them, the IE800s have had more head-time than the Andromedas due to its comfort, ease of use and fun sound signature. Hope you guys have enjoyed the review!
Impromptu photoshoot at my office below
Make sure to look out for this split when determining if your example is authentic. A legit pair will have a break between the connector like above.
Also, on a legit pair, the 'dimple' above on the plug will be slightly bigger and more defined.
Pros - Bass Mids Treble and Sound Stage are world class
Cons - The cable is too short - does not flex enough - and is too heavy for the drivers
The Sennheiser IE800
What hasn't been said about these flagship earphones from Sennheiser?
My first wow moment for these was at a headfi meet sponsored by Sennheiser at the Great Russell Hotel all the way back in April 2014. This was around the launch time of the IE800s and was also the first time I was introduced to the Astell and Kern AK100. Club Orpheus were there in droves and one of the reps handed me an IE800 and AK100 and I was stunned.
I subsequently bought both. Not there and then , but the need to acquire weighed heavily on me until the feeling was too much to resist anymore.
The IE800 is still the flagship IEM for Sennheiser and is still a single driver. This in the age of more and more drivers marked a real risk for Sennheiser to convince the Audio buying public that 1 was as good as 12.
But remarkably , it is.
Where other companies have the inherent headache of crossover distortions , Sennheiser don't. Where other companies are buying in from the driver factories of the World and trying to fit their sound signature into their own designs , Sennheiser made their own.
And what a driver they have produced.
The reproduction of these IEMs still amazes to this day. Whilst there is undoubtedly strong competition out there, at £599 the IE800s no longer look exorbitantly expensive as an endgame portable solution for a smart phone or maybe as I shall show you later on , through a pretty nifty sounding DAP/Mojo/Speaker amp setup.
My belief is this ; if you have the time and the daftness to do it , be over the top. I shall not be giving a review based on my learnt experiences - although clearly you can't unlearn something. I shall be giving you a taste of what the IE800 can do against some competitors on a system comprising of @dill3000's unbelievable DIY built First Watt F5 power amp coupled to a Chord Mojo , coupled to a beauty of a cable my brother made for me using some Van den Hul cabling and neutrik connectors all going out to a speaker terminal to balanced cable custom built by @dill3000
For the review I have used a custom made balanced to single ended adapter , again by @dill3000 which I've plugged a 3.5 into . Simple!
What we have here is an ultra powerful but also ultra revealing system which will put the IE800s to an extreme test.
Needless to say , if you are trying this at home - keep the volume down very low indeed. The IE800s go loud through a smartphone , let a 50 Watt Per Channel Speaker Amp have it's way with them and they will be ravaged in a Medieval Crusades way that they may never come back from!
The method in this madness is the opportunity I have to show you fine headfiers how a top tier IEM performs when put into a high end setup as opposed to a smartphone. The IE800s will perform under these less stringent conditions but something this special needs pushing.
With a slightly sweating nervousness (the temperature of the Mini Beast can reach towards 50 degrees) I carefully switched things on. The results are impressive. So much so I treated myself to an extended listen to these before testing them against rival factions.
I shall divide my sound impressions into the following categories and try and explain the almost inexplicable and certainly subjective, hearing experience in as simple terms as I can , avoiding as much jargon as I can. There will be no cream mentioned in my findings or any other kind of dairy products. I am trying to be disciplined in my descriptions without becoming scientific. Or boring.
The categories are Bass, Mids and Highs, Clarity and Soundstage.
I shall use this as a basis for my reviews because this is how I listen critically to my kit, the other stuff for me causes confusion.
The bass of the IE800s. Bear in mind this is from one tiny driver. I think sennheiser got the bass just right in the mix. Axell Grell , at a headfi meet in 2013 in London , said that he had boosted the low frequency response to allow for the music to come through past the sounds of commuting of walking of travelling and off the road. So there is a deliberate bass hump. The impact in a quiet listening environment is fantastic. It's enough to make you sit up but not enough to drown out the rest of the mix or cause a mini war between the frequency range. The bass is accurate and has no boom but has punch.
Mids and Highs
The natural reproduction of strings being played the clarity of vocals and the hitting of cymbals is often how my ears are drawn to the quality of the kit I have. Guitar drums singer and keyboards all joing together when a song peaks is a good place to look for harshness.
There are no IEMs I have heard that do these finer than the IE800s. There is a natural effortless sound through the mids into the highs and yet there is an extension to the highs that adds a level of detail to the overall signature that is seldom noticed in other In Ears.
The space in between the instruments and the size of the picture in my head that I have of the recording is how I work out the soundstage. The IE800s excel at this , there is so much detail in the highs and mids the sound stage is fit for a flagship model.
And talking of flagship models I checked the Sennheiser IE800s against 2 similarly priced IEMs I happen to own.
The ACS Encore Studio Custom IEMs have 5 drivers. The bass on these are superb , better than the IE800s even and they as customs have far more isolation and need far less volume. The mids and highs are not as impressive as the bass and are slightly rolled off , in my opinion making the soundstage more intimate. I can of course wear the customs without problems whilst I'm running whereas this is not an option for my IE800s.
The oBravo Erib 2a is a dual hybrid diver IEM it is the world's first neodymium driver combined with a planar magnetic tweeter in an earphone. The low bass frequency has no punch but the mid and high bass has lots of impact as do the mids on these. They have not as good a low bass impact as the IE800s but more impact in the higher bass and mids. The treble , as good as it is , (and it is great) still does not outshine the IE800s. Obravo have done well to come so close to Sennheiser at a similar price (these retail at £579.99) but they are not the IE800 beaters I thought they were in the first month I had them. The soundstage of the Erib 2a is a similar size to that of the IE800s.
Herein lies the problem, or if like me you love these enough , the challenge. Whole reams of threads have been devoted to answering the question as to what can be done to make the IE800s stop falling out of the ears. The 4 problems with the Senns are : the weight of the Kevlar cables their stiffness the lack of length between the driver attachment and the clip on cable attachment the tips supplied are a patented design so no others will fit the cable is not detachable from the drivers
The solutions are possible: Get them recabled - but who would do this given their initial price? Get custom ear sleeves made - I did this , through Snugs, but the Snugs after months of hard work and research done by me were not as good sounding as the Senn tips New innovations - there are silicon wings which were sent with the oBravos which help to keep these and other large IEMs in place. Maybe some such customisation might do the trick? Put up with them - that has it's level of wisdom too , but it does mean the IE800s are likely to be only used when sat down, and how many of us do that for too long?
Perfection is a very hard thing to achieve . The Sound Quality of these IEMs , for an IEM , is close to perfection. The bass mids and highs and soundstage are wonderful, no question in my mind. But an IEM has to fulfil a specific purpose and that is to be used out and about. The IE800s are not versatile enough to be put in the perfect bracket. But if anyone gets them modified to enable that, they have a world beater on their hands
IGNORE!, NEEDS REVISION DUE TO FAULTY UNIT. REVIEW WILL BE UPDATED SOON
Before i start the review i would like to mention that my pair of IE800 were authorised and confirmed not to be a fake set and i use a chord mojo as a reference dac/amp to ensure there is no bottleneck prior to my reviews.
Packaging & Build Quality
A very underwhelming unboxing experience considering i paid £650, included is the IE800 (obviously) genuine leather case with engraved serial number, microfiber cleaning cloth and 5 sets of silicone tips, that's it. This is definitley not on the same packing contents and well thought out level like the Shure SE846 for example. Now on to the build, IE800 housing are made from a ceramic and according to Sennheiser has one of the hardest surface materials in the world and almost impossible to scratch. The kevlar cable feels well built and has sufficient strain relief on the L shaped jack.
8 - 41000 Hz (-3 dB)
5 - 46500 Hz
Ill start with bass, its big and its jumps at you shouting "hey notice me!" allthough the bass is fantastic quality with excellent texture and what seems like a never ending depth in to the sub frequencies, the impact and sheer amount of it is just too much. it does not bleed in to the midrange but because it so distracting it makes the midrange "feel" very recessed. the amount is reduced some when using outdoors like a in ear headphone should be, but again its still too much. Midrange
A very open and spacious midrange which is remarkably clear and clean sounding, nothing gets muddied up here. The best i have heard guitars and vocals sound so far, it could be truly incredible if the bass was toned down and not a being victim to overshadowing the midrage you would be left with something magical indeed. This really is my favourite part of this in ear, such shame the bass makes it feel so withdrawn. Treble extremely unsual treble and overall poor quality compared to the midrange, it sound so odd and out of place. Cymbals sound like they have been hit with pencils and not drum sticks, audience clapping sounds like a foil bag being crumpled up, not very realistc and natural timbre at all. With that said though i think the helmholtz resonator does a fantastic job at letting the extension go quite high and stopping it sounding harsh and peaky to really let the clarity and detail flow.
Open, airy, spacious and wide are the 4 words i chose to describe soundstage. Each instrument is in a space of its own left to breathe with ample air in between. It really is of excellent quality and only bettered so far by the Pinnacle P1.
Detail & Resolution My second favourite part of the IE800, detail and resolution like i have never heard before in an iem. the line that came to mind was the cliche that goes something like "hear what you didnt know was in your music" and for the first time i did.