Sennheiser produces a range of headphones and headsets, both for industrial and studio usage as well as high-end consumer devices ranging from the basic iPhone headset to the gaming specific console and PC headsets all the way to flagship cans like the HD 800. By the same token, it’s not hard to imagine Sennheiser bringing their expertise to a pair of in-ear headphones for their audiophile range, and so today we have the IE 800 for review.
Now the IE 800s were designed from top to bottom to represent their exquisiteness. From the metallic grey ceramic housing of the 7mm drivers, to the dual-domed ends, to the oval-shaped ear adaptors to the Kevlar based anti-coil cable, everything about the IE 800 screams bleeding edge sound. Of course, the actual transducers themselves boast some high-end features as well, like the insanely extra wide band frequency of 5Hz – 46.5KHz. Of course, the normal human ear isn’t capable of listening to such frequencies, being roughly limited to 20Hz – 20KHz, but the extra wide band frequency does help remove sound distortion.
Obviously you don’t want this rather expensive pair of earphones to get dirty, so Sennheiser has put in two layers of protection, with one mesh being on the ear adapter and the other on the cone itself. There’s also a small thin wire cleaner that helps take care of business. The IE 800s also come with a total of five different sized ear adapters as well as a leather carrying case.
Now the cord itself, detachable about 20cm from the top, measures a modest 1.2m which was good enough for my iPhone 5 in my jeans pocket. That said, the detachable plug near the top makes me wonder if Sennheiser wanted to provide an extra longer cable, or some other attachment, perhaps even an in-line remote. Regardless, the IE 800 is all about exceptional sound quality so let’s look into that.
As expected, the Sennheiser provided a nearly unparalleled level of transparency as listening to music feels direct, without any artificial layers of magnets or transducers. I’m not really sure how well the extra wide band drivers helped, but the IE 800 was one of the most cleanest sounding earphones I’ve heard to date. When listening to single guitar riffs and heavy violins I could practically feel the strings vibrate – as close as the mic would have been in the recording studio!
Listening to various songs I was automatically going through the layers of instruments that make up the perfect symphony which resulted in said piece of music. It was a deeply involving experience, listening to some of my favorite tracks on the IE 800. And as far as bass goes, it’s a double edged sword, sometimes it’s too much, other times it brings out a deep rumble which is otherwise overshadowed in other earphones. That said, the bass is very precise in delivery, never muddying up the mids or vocals. Of course, the genre of music you listen will vary your mileage.
The ultimate test for the IE 800 was when I asked my wife to listen to them. While she’s not an audiophile, she has listened to her fair share of headphones and high-end speakers, and when I told her about the price of the IE800 she simply scoffed at them. A tryout with one song and 40 seconds later she said, “They’re maybe worth it.” That kind of instant convincing requires an extraordinarily tuned set of headphones, and Sennheiser has certainly hit the ball out of the park with the IE 800.
My only complaint is that the IE 800 produces a very severe stethoscope effect, which is great for sound isolation from outside noise, but very disturbing when you’re walking. The heavy Kevlar cord which I found a blessing due to its anti-coil nature, I cursed every time I was walking and listening to the IE 800 because even the slightest brush against my shirt would produce loud scraping and bumping sounds. I honestly cannot fathom how Sennheiser’s engineers, in all their designing ingenuity couldn’t figure out this glaring issue.
As annoying as it is, this issue can be resolved by simply clipping the cable to your shirt, but unless you leave some extra length hanging out, which looks awkward, the cables will tug down on the earphones any time you turn your head. I seriously hope that Sennheiser provides some sort of clip-on attachment (ideally with an in-line remote control) which will help solve this issue.
At the end of the day the Sennheiser IE800 is like a supercar; too expensive, looks gorgeous, but slightly impractical and sometimes a pain due to the heavy cord and stethoscopic effect, but by God you’ll love the sound it makes! The IE 800 is certainly the benchmark by which all future headphones will be judged.