Pros – Wonderful sub bass, small size, natural and organic tone
Cons – Cable microphonics, frustrating case
Sennheiser – Direct link to USA
A Little Technical Stuff:
- Impedance – 16 Ω
- Frequency response (Headphones) – 5 to 46,500 Hz
- Frequency response – diffuse-field equalized
- sound pressure level – 125 dB at 1 Vrms
- THD, total harmonic distortion – < 0.06% (1 kHz, 94 dB)
- Ear coupling – In-Ear
- Weight approx. – 8 g (without cable)
- Attenuation – -26 dB
- Earpad size S, M, L (Silicone and Comply™)
- Transducer principle (headphones) – dynamic, closed
-MRSP: Universal fit $999.95 USD
I was contacted by Sennheiser directly and asked if I had any interest in reviewing the IE800S and obviously I did or I wouldn’t be writing this review, thus they supplied me with the IE800S for purposes of the review.
Sennheiser is one of the few companies that is known to mainstream consumers, casual listeners and audiophiles. They sell their products through a wide range of outlets and honestly have something for everyone. Clearly, Sennheiser is one of the top names in the industry and have been on the cutting edge of technology for quite some time. I have had a couple of Sennheiser products along the way myself. Momentum, Momentum 2, the venerable HD650, just to name a few. This would be my first foray into a Senn IEM. Their TOTL offering the IE800, was released sometime around the end of 2012. It was just one of those earphones that I never got around to trying. Honestly, if Senn hadn’t reached out to me I am not sure I would have tried the IE800S. It would have been one of those IEM’s that would pique my curiosity but there are also a lot of wonderful TOTL options available in the market, particularly in 2017, which in my opinion was a wonderful year for IEM’s.
The IE800 has been quite a success story for Sennheiser, there are still current and active threads in the forums for the IE800 as it is still a benchmark that many use for comparison. At quick glance, almost six years after release the IE800 the price has dropped to somewhere in the $500’s on Amazon. It really is pretty amazing the staying power the IE800 has sustained in the ever changing consumer gadget market.
Enter the IE800S! It is refreshed, updated and ready for business. I wish I could give you some comparisons between the IE800 and the IE800S but as I previously stated I have never heard the IE800 so this will be a review based on what I hear and experience with this new iteration, the IE800S. There are plenty of reviews and threads that talk about the IE800 and I encourage you to read those and compare to the IE800S.
A Little Marketing Hype:
Sleek and compact, the IE 800 S is a giant where it really matters: in reproducing music. Featuring a refined version of our proprietary Extra Wide Band (XWB) drivers, it redefines the benchmark for crisp and clear in-ear sound performance. The extraordinary musical capabilities of the IE 800 S are complemented by a perfect fit thanks to Comply™ foam ear tips. A cool and attractive look tops off this handcrafted piece of aural excellence.
An in-ear masterpiece
Incorporating the next evolutionary step after the groundbreaking IE 800 ear-canal headphones, the IE 800 S contains great technology within a very confined space. Fitted with pioneering solutions like the proprietary 7-mm transducers that create an almost unbelievable sound stage and our patented dual-chamber absorber (D2CA) system, the IE 800 S conquers new aural territory for high-end in-ear headphones.
The music unfolds inside your mind
Strikingly rich in detail, the IE 800 S generates a stunningly lifelike sound image. Offering brilliant trebles as well as a precise and improved bass sound, these in-ear headphones create the most beautiful musical landscapes for your mind to wander around in. Explore your music in all its glorious depth.
A brilliantly engineered sound experience
The IE 800 S features our patented dual-chamber absorber (D2CA) system. This innovation overcomes the “masking effect”, where low-volume components of a sound are obscured by much louder sounds in a lower frequency range occurring at the same time. Removing the energy from any masking resonances to prevent unwanted peaks, the absorber system makes sure even the finest nuances of sound become audible – enabling a truly high-end listening experience.
Custom-made wearing comfort
Supreme sound can be best enjoyed when it comes with supreme comfort. Thus, with the IE 800 S we introduced ergonomically designed viscoelastic memory foam ear tips from Comply™. They shape themselves to each individual’s ear canal for a custom fit, providing great comfort as well as excellent attenuation of external sound.
Attractively handcrafted in Germany
Engineered and handcrafted in Germany, the IE 800 S looks as immaculate as you would expect: modern, elegant aesthetics with an attractive matt black finish to its premium scratch-resistant ceramic housing. The IE 800 S even shows its style when it’s not in use, with the newly designed premium leather case for easy storage on the move.
With best connections
In the world of high-end sound quality, which is definitely the world of the IE 800 S, details can make a significant difference. The cable connection, for example. So, in addition to the standard cable with a 3.5 mm jack, the IE 800 S comes with a choice of cables with 4.4 mm Pentaconn and 2.5 mm balanced connectors.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX:
- IE 800 S
- Connectivity cables:
- 3.5 mm Standard
- 2.5 mm balanced
- 4 mm balanced Pentaconn
- Ear tips (pairs):
- 3 x Silicon S, M, L
- 3 x Comply™ S, M, L
- Transport leather case
- Micro fiber cloth
Unboxing and Accessories:
The unboxing is pretty straight forward it has a Sennheiser cover box with a picture of the right-side monitor of the IE800S. I would say that they are intentionally showing the right side because it is color coded red at the stress point where it enters the monitor itself. I searched for the IE800 and confirmed my suspicions that the right side was not color coded on the IE800. Inside the cover is a black box adorned with the Sennheiser logo. Those of you that follow my reviews know I don’t get too excited about boxes and unboxing…meh! I have pictures I will include in the review so you can see the box and inside contents. I will say that inside the black box there is a foam padding with cutouts for the IE800S and its accessories.
I included a nice tidy list of pack-ins above but I will elaborate on some of the various items included.
The case is kind of a peculiar case. It is a leather exterior with the Sennheiser logo emblazoned on the bottom front of the cover. It is a bi-fold type of case that once opens on the left side of the inside cover has a metal plate identifying the model of the IEM(IE800S), listing Sennheiser and states Made in Germany. Also, on the metal plate is a unique serial number. On the right side of the inside cover is a kind of “spool” that you use to wrap the cable around and a cutout to insert the IEM. Honestly, it is a strange case, as strange as it sounds for me to try to explain. In my opinion this is one of the least practical cases I have ever tried to maneuver. The end of the detachable cable that holds the monitors is short and has a 2.5mm female connector. That end wraps around the spool fine and the cover of the case closes. When I try to leave the long end of the cable connected to the short end and wrap it all around the spool that is when I realize that patience is not my best quality. Without pulling the cable tighter than I wish to do I could never get a good wrap job and could never close the cover of the case completely. I refuse to allow my patience and dexterity be challenged by an IEM case so I don’t use it as often as I would if it were simple, convenient and didn’t cause unnecessary stress on the cable. Anyone with a bit more mechanical aptitude than I please feel free to let me know the secret code to this Rubik’s cube. This, for me, would be a strike against the IE800S and a strike against my dexterity, a minor one but a strike.
The cable is a fairly unique design but unlike the case it is a positive uniqueness. The cables are detachable, not from the monitor as they are non-removable, but are a detachable cable at the base of where the short cable “Y”s. These are an extension type of cable that connects to ends with a 2.5mm connection. The extension cable not only has the single ended 3.5mm connection but includes 2.5mm and 4.4mm. This is actually a pretty cool cable system. Whereas the Dita Truth uses different connector tips, by screwing them on, to the main cable the IE800S uses this extension cables with different connections. It is really pretty intelligent and an efficient way to provide the consumer with multiple connections, German engineering.
The cable itself is a thin, rubber coated cable. It is flexible and has no memory wire as the design is actually designed to be worn down. The strain reliefs are color coded, Red for R and Black for L. There is also an R or L on the relief but my old eyes clearly can see the color a heck of a lot easier than I can the letter.
I have not been able to locate any information as to the makeup of the wires so I would rather not speculate.
While this system of cabling is cool there is one downside the IE800S cable. When wearing the cable as designed, in the down position, there is a great deal of microphonics in the cable. I have seen online where people are wearing them over ear, but the found the top portion of the cable to be a little short for my big head. The simple solution is to wear the included shirt clip when wearing them during activity. I wear the shirt clip close to where the two sections of the cable connect to help with weight. The cable is very lightweight and comfortable. Another wish would be to have a detachable cable but it doesn’t so why dwell.
The included eartips are 3x Silicon and 3x Comply both in S, M and L. The housing of the monitors is very small and the nozzle is very short. The included eartips are the only ones I used because the eartips have a slight nozzle extension and are notched so that they lock on the nozzle. Fortunately for me the large silicon tip seal perfectly and are very comfortable. The monitor itself has wire mesh on the opening of the nozzle but there is also wire mesh on the extension portion of the eartip itself. I have never removed the eartip since putting them on the IEM for fear that the “lock” might loosen up from removing and installing many times and not maintain it’s snug fit on the IEM. As far as using the Comply tips I can tell you I have never been a fan of them as they tend to increase the bass response and lessen the amount of sparkle in high end. The IE800S has a wonderful smooth treble and I certainly didn’t want to diminish that in any way so the Comply tips have been stored.
Build and Quality:
The IE800S is a premium scratch-resistant ceramic housing that is a matte black. They are really small with two “vents” on the backside. As would be expected there were no blemishes or flaws in the tiny shells. The housings weigh in at 8 grams and are very very light weight when in your ear. I like the look as they are very inconspicuous in the ear. They do not sit flush in the ear they sit straight in the ear with the “vents” sticking out of the ear. I have never tried to sleep in them but I can’t imagine they would be very comfortable for sleeping as they do no sit flush. Based on the size of the housing would be my clue as to why they do not use a cable that can be disconnected from the housing as it would add size to include connector. As with any non-removable cable the end user must be aware not to tug or pull on the cable itself. I find them comfortable for long listening but the isolation could be a touch better.
My review was written utilizing three sources, Opus #1S and LG V30 and Shanling M3S. Sorry my Opus#2 is out for repair. Opus #2 returned the same day I published the review so I have added brief impressions. Stock tips and stock cables were solely used during the review. I listened using the 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm balanced connections. My sample music consisted of 320kb and FLAC as well as streaming Tidal.
Moving on to the sound section….
Where to begin with this wonderful IEM? I was very excited to give the IE800S some extensive listening time. I have always been rapt with single driver IEM’s compared to high driver count units and am especially a devotee to dynamic drivers as their bass is devine. Having heard some wonderful single DD IEM’s, Dita Dream for example, I truly understand the capabilities inherent in that driver, of course with proper tuning. Most of the IEM’s in my collection are multi driver BA’s.
My initial sound impression of the IE800S is that its intonation is superb if you enjoy a smooth natural tone. The tuning is articulate and meaningful, all in all very coherent with a slightly warm organic presentation. It is a sound signature that I really enjoy, and with time the IE800S has started to ascend my favorites list and is clearly near the top.
To elaborate more on the presentation, the IE800S has a wonderful smooth tone with an organic presentation that at times has a warmish cast because of the DD bass. The overall tone has a slight V shape and is relaxed, never fatiguing to my ears. I don’t want you to think that the mids are distant in the mix but they are slightly pulled back. There are couple of incongruities that I wrapped my head around. The sound is not the most airy or transparent and certainly not to the level of an Empire Ears Zeus, which is the transparency king. The IE800S does not excel at layering either. With the average air, transparency and layering one may think that the sound is constrained and congested but one would be wrong, there is no congestion and no veil to the details. This is not an analytical or micro detailed IEM but the details are extant in the signature.
The spaciousness within the soundstage is impressive as it has quite a wide stage. When listening to the 24bit/192khz David Chesky Jazz in the New Harmonic- Primal Scream, the width of the stage is immense. It also gives a surreal depth as well, I did not really experience that same level of holographic display with all of my recordings but I certainly did with Chesky. With some of my recordings there was an intimacy in the depth but always substantial width. It is very easy to discern where the instruments are placed in the stage, when you close your eyes it is very simple to imagine their placement thus the imaging is very good. Both male and female vocals sound very natural and smooth and it is easy to envisage the singer standing at the mic or sitting in the studio recording the music. The isolation is not the best but when music is playing it does a sufficient job of blocking ambient noise.
Each time I review an IEM with a DD I realize why I love the DD, it is because if the IEM is tuned properly the bass is sublime. Overall, the bass is south of neutral. It is not a bassy type of IEM that annoyingly bleeds into the mid-range but the bass is certainly prevalent. There is plenty of heft in the sub bass as it rumbles deep. The bass is textured and has authority and that authority is also prevalent in the mid bass range as it delivers a punchy presentation. I feel the Dita Dream and it’s single DD had more control in all ranges of the bass and was tighter in delivery, but the IE800S has a natural tone to its bass. The speed of the bass is about average. The natural tone, decay and richness of the bass adds to the smoothness that is the IE800S. With some burn-in time I found the bass to become tamer and slightly more controlled. Out of the box the bass was predominantly displayed. Decadently enjoyable is how I would describe the bass. I would like to mention that it is the type of bass that creates a shroud between the music and outside, everyday commute noise. With their delivery you will find they maintain an excellent level of sound quality in al conditions.
The mids in the IE800S are slightly retracted. It is a mild V-shape and, in my opinion, the mids infuse so well that it creates a wonderful coherent sound, do not think the mids are lacking as it is only a mild V-shape. As I mentioned above, the sound is not congested and without veil. There is not a lot of air between notes but the wide stage creates an illusion of a more spacious sound. The lower mids are close to neutral with the needle moving a bit north and with some added body. The remainder of the mid-range exude the natural and organic tone that is ubiquitous to the overall sound. Not stale, analytical or micro detailed but there is a certain translucence and resolution that can be enjoyed. I love how the vocals are displayed and feel there is a large amount of realism and fervor in the vocals. Rich and tonally smooth vocals are so alluring. Listen to some Sade and you will feel the sexiness in her tone.
I have perused the forum threads and found a recurring theme with the original IE800, that the treble could be a bit sharp and peaky to some owners. Meanwhile, the IE800 treble was not as offensive to other listeners. When I first plugged in the IE800S I felt that the treble had a slight peak that did not agree with me on certain musical tracks. Many IE800 end users have stated that the IE800S is somewhat similar but with a more refined sound. After 3 or 4 days of allowing music to play through them at high volume, it appears that the IE800S treble has chilled out, and actually extends well with a wonderful smoothness. Not to mention I have logged many hours of listening time now, not just for the purpose of burn-in but because they are that addictive to listen to. I now find the treble to have a well above average extension and smoothness, the harshness has gone. At the northern end of the treble spectrum there is vitality, a twinkle. The cymbal strikes and ticks in Dave Brubeck’s iconic Take Five can be heard in all of their realistic timbre and resonance.
The IE800S do appreciate some power. It was not as if any of my sources had an issue driving them but when given power they transcend into another level. My two favorite sources to pair with the IE800S are the Shanling M3s and the LG V30. *Opus#2 pretty much kicked butt!
LG V30 – wide soundstage, average depth. Pushed the mids slightly more forward with large doses of transparency and clarity. The overall signature was very crisp and a touch more balanced.
Shanling M3s – wide stage, mids were slightly back compared to the V30. Overall clarity is superb. Added air to the notes with great resolution.
Opus#2 – soundstage has plenty of width and depth, you could feel the bass roar, this was the most detailed pairing. The mids are slightly forward but clear and detailed. The Opus#2 is my reference DAP and unfortunately most of the time I have had the IE800S my Opus#2 was not functioning, it was returned to me the day I published the review so I snuck in a little listen and as is always the case it didn’t disappoint. A fantastic pairing!
Opus#1S – I wasn’t sure how this pairing was going to work out. You have a rich and full sounding IEM and a rich and full DAP, logic would tell you it would be too warm. Not so, the pairing yielded very good results. Yes, the sound was full, but the details shimmered through effortlessly. The bass was not as layered as in the Opus#2 but it delivered a satisfying bass tone. Overall the tone was very smooth and rich. The mids were maintained in their mild V shape.
I compared different sources, a multi genre, multi format playlist, while testing IEM’s for their characteristics.
IE800S VS. FIBAE3
Soundstage in both units is very wide and I would venture to say it is almost equal with the F3 being a touch wider. The depth of the IE800S is slightly greater but the F3 has more a more holographic stage at times. The bass of the IE800S is deeper and has more of a rumble and better textures in the other bass ranges. The F3 has more transparency and clarity in its mids while the IE800S has more richness. The IE800S mids are smoother with zero harshness. The IE800S has an overall smooth, full signature while the F3 is known for its clarity, transparency and sub bass. The treble extends well on both IEM’s but what we are talking about is a tale of two very different IEM’s. I tested the F3 using the Ares II cable. I have not completed my FIBAE3 review as of yet so I do not want to give more detail.
IE800S VS. FIBAE2
Soundstage has an equal width with the IE800S having more depth. The FIBAE2 has a more fun, musical characteristic while the IE800S is more tonally accurate. The bass of the IE800S goes a little deeper and has more rumble, but the F2 is no slouch. IE800S bass has more layering and texture due to the DD. Both IEM’s have polite mids with the IE800S adding a richer lower mid-range, and a more natural tone belonging to the IE800S. Both are detailed in their mids with the F2 being brighter. The IE800S has that touch of twinkle at the upper range of the treble while both extend very well there is that certain treble tone to the IE800S which sounds more natural and organic.
IE800S VS. EM10
The IE800S has a wider soundstage with the EM10 sounding more confined and narrow. EM10 is more balanced across the board and reveals itself as smooth throughout the spectrum. IE800S has more texture in its bass and rumble in the sub bass. Both IEM’s have mids that are slightly retracted, neither are an aggressive V but a mild v, with the IE800S having more natural mids with better detail retrieval. Again, the tone of the IE800S is more natural and realistic. The treble extends further in the IE800S and with more detail and sparkle.
IE800S VS. Zeus XR
Both have a wide soundstage and are about equal in depth. In terms of overall sound, the Zeus(XIV) mids are more forward with greater transparency and layering and superb detail that best the IE800S The IE800S has a less harsh tone and more richness in its mids which may appeal to more to some. The Zeus bass appears when called upon and has great layering and transition but the IE800S always has more weight and it has the sub bass the Zeus lacks in comparison. The Zeus is an overall brighter IEM not known for its warmth, but that is not what it excels at. The IE800S treble extends well but the Zeus treble has better extension but at times it shows its brightness where the IE800S has the twinkle in the upper range.
With the IE800S at nearly $1000 it may be a bit pricey for some, especially since Sennheiser reaches out to the masses not just the audiophile crowd. The audiophile crowd would certainly not be scared of the price tag knowing that today many of the TOTL offerings are above $2500. I would like to see the masses take the leap of faith and purchase the IE800S as these could easily be end game for most consumers.
The cable needs some work as I like to use my IEM’s on the go and without the shirt clip the cable noise is annoying. Many are using them with the wire over the ears but I found the cable too short for me to use them in this fashion. Although, it is pretty cool that the IEM’s come with 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.5mm connector cable to be utilized with a full range of DAP’s. The case design could be better so that it is not necessary to wrap the cable super tight to make it work correctly, thus potentially causing extra stress on the cable.
They are light weight and comfortable and come stock with Comply and proprietary locking silicon tips which I found to provide an adequate seal.
There have been stories circulating that the IE800S has tuned to resemble one of their latest full-sized headphone offerings, I can’t verify that. I do know that they are rich and full with wonderful rumble in the sub bass and an incredibly wonderful natural, organic and smooth tone.
I personally walked away impressed as hell with the Sennheiser IE800S, this is a wonderful single DD.