REVIEW: SENNHEISER IE 80 S IN-EAR HEADPHONES
Sennheiser has doubled down on the success of the original IE 80 In-ear headphones with the release of the newer, 'S' version which is said to have taken real-world customer feedback onboard for a range of improvements.
IE 80 S
Back in 2011, In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) were all the rage in the Head-Fi community. For a while, and for the die-hard audiophiles, it was all about how many balanced armature drivers the manufacturers could be packed into the driver enclosure.
Sennheiser paid no attention to this and took a very different and unconventional approach to creating its high-end audiophile IEM: single dynamic drivers, with a selectable bass dial.
And so, the Sennheiser IE 80 was born.
The idea worked brilliantly, skyrocketing the IE 80 in popularity, and audiophiles that initially smirked at the seemingly gimmicky idea of user-adjustable bass were swiftly silenced once the positive reviews started to roll in.
Once the dust settled after the initial release, the IE 80 became a strong permanent contender in this price bracket.
But now, the team at Sennheiser have doubled down to release a new version: IE 80 'S'.
Coming in a stunning new black enclosure, the IE 80 S boasts some new features, as well as some of the classic characteristics that earned the IE 80 so much praise all those years ago.
Does this new release have what it takes to stand taller than its predecessor and all of its hard-earned glory?
Anyone who is familiar with the original Sennheiser IE 80 will feel a sense of familiarity with the IE 80 S. You’ll find the same removable cables, the same weight, and physical dimensions that have been tweaked only slightly.
However, just like other Sennheiser headphones bearing the “S” moniker, the updated IE 80 S has a smooth jet black finish, along with some mean looking curves.
Bundled with the IE 80 S is a clever little hard case with a zip, which contains modular sections allowing you to store the IE 80 S in a few different ways; either wind them up and carefully place them into the custom sleeves for displaying, or just wrap them up and throw them in loosely for quick storage.
The choice of ear tips is vast with nine pairs in total included. Choices include Comply Foam tips, traditional olive tips, as well as a new “lamela silicone” tip, which have a second flange and are said to give a small boost in noise isolation.
There are also optional ear hooks which can be added to the standard cable in case (like me) you prefer to wear them over the ear.
The removable cable is Sennheiser's standard 2-pin cable, which is a double-edged sword; it allows for the user to replace the cable at will which is great, but you're also limited to Sennheiser cabling, and not standard IEM cables or connectors.
Sennheiser's engineers continue to stand their ground when it comes to IEM driver design. You won’t find any multiple balanced armature configurations here. Instead, inside is a neat single dynamic driver design featuring neodymium magnets.
It’s unclear these new drivers were created solely for the IE 80 S, or if they share the same drivers as the IE 80. One thing is clear; the housing has been updated which has had an impact on the acoustics of the unit.
The short version is we tweaked the existing IE 80 design based on community feedback without changing what people loved about the original, so that you can have longer listening sessions and longer ownership. Think of the IE 80 S as a blend of audiophile and professional gear, like an IEM version of our also classic HD 25.
On the face of each of the IEMs is a tiny little flathead screw, which can be turned to five different positions, clearly marked with solid lines. This little adjustable knob allows you to increase or decrease the bass at will. Very cool. The included tool does a great job of this, but any small flathead screwdriver will work as well.
When making this adjustment, what internal physical changes are made is not described. If I had to guess, I’d say that turning this screw opens up a valve inside the IEM which in turn allows the driver to breathe a little more, which in turn increases the amount of airflow to the driver.
Using the headphone
The team at Sennheiser have indeed been listening to feedback from its user base, and the quality of life improvements that the IE 80 S includes are a testament to this.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the seemingly unusual housing shape of the IEM might not fit comfortably in the ear; but you would be wrong. When I first saw these housings, I must admit that I had my own doubts.
When trying them on for the first time, I quickly realised that this unusual shape was the perfect shape for its purpose, and sat perfectly within my ears.
To make life even better, the IE 80 S weighs approximately five grams and was effortless to leave them in my ears for hours at a time.
With an impedance of 16 ohms, you may need to take a little care when selecting a source for the IE 80 S as the output impedance may cause some frequency response issues. I had no problems driving these with my Samsung smartphone or the Chord Electronics MOJO, so my advice is to stick to the typical safe options for playback, and you should be fine.
Sadly, much like the IE 800 S, the microphonic noise in the cable is quite loud, even with minor rubbing or gentle movement. I’d love to see some braided cabling in the future, which would make this less of an issue.
As soon as I hit “play” on my phone/Mojo combo, the very first thing that struck me about these IEMs was an immense sense of sheer power. The sound instantly hits you just like a German line array system at a concert.
There are a few contributing factors to this: A heavy and fast midbass thump, some lighting fast kicks, and some truly thunderous sub-bass. The bass isn’t just loud and heavy. It’s also precisely controlled and quick. It responds immediately when presented with either rapid rolling basslines or murderously heavy slams.
From my testing, the bass knob seems to open up frequencies below the 150hz mark, which is actually quite high. At the very highest setting, it will give the lower mids a nudge forwards but won’t cause any muddiness or messiness. I preferred to leave the setting at maximum because it gives the 125Hz area a real sense of bite.
As much as the bass reproduction is a clear highlight for me, those not as bass inclined will still have plenty to be interested in here. Regardless of where the bass dial sits, the midrange takes a more gentle and refined approach, oozing with clarity and realism, but without too much sharpness or sibilance.
There is a “V” shape in the sound signature, but this doesn’t take away from the epic soundstage the IE 80 S is packing inside. I’m not sure how they have managed to create such a wide soundstage inside an IEM, but I suspect it's the angled drivers which are the contributing factor here.
For a universal-fit IEM, they also isolate reasonably well. Some tips isolate better than others but don’t expect full noise cancelling levels of isolation. I am confident wearing these in the street at lower volume levels, and I still feel like I would be able to hear any loud noises around me (such as traffic, or someone calling out to me). With some of the thicker/double flange tips, this isolation level increases and would be more appropriate for public transport or home use.
Sennheiser's IE 80 S packs some of the most fun, visceral and epic bass I’ve ever heard on an IEM. It's made even more attractive by the fact that it can be dialled down at will to your preference. It’s addictive and alluring, and pairs well with the excellent clarity and airy soundstage that these little drivers can offer.
The team at Sennheiser have claimed that they listened carefully to customer feedback from the original IE 80, and the range of improvements evident in the IE 80 S is a testament to this.
With a decent amount of accessories and customisation options, entirely visceral (and adjustable bass), a fun sound signature and excellent soundstage, the Sennheiser IE 80 S is a worthy upgrade for fans of the original IE 80.
For more information visit Sennheiser.
- Impedance: 16 Ω
- Frequency response: 10 - 20,000 Hz
- Sound pressure level (SPL): 116 dB (1 kHz / 1 VRMS)
- THD, total harmonic distortion: < 0.1 % (1 kHz / 100 dB SPL)
- Ear coupling: Ear-canal
- Jack plug: 3.5mm, straight
- Cable length: 1.2m
- Attenuation: - 26 dB
- Headphone connector: Sennheiser proprietary 2-pin connector
Further reading: Headphones Discussion Forum
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.