REVIEW: SENNHEISER IE800S IN-EAR HEADPHONES
Sennheiser has just unleashed a successor to award-winning IE800, this time bearing the company’s flagship “S” at the end of the model number. We take a closer look at these in-ear monitor headphones.
In Ear Headphones
The original IE800 was a very special flagship IEM, for a few reasons.
Not only was it deeply revered by audiophiles worldwide, but it also served as a lesson to be learned about in-ear driver technology.
You see, back in 2012, the market was obsessed with the idea of packing in as many drivers that will fit into an enclosure. In-Ear Monitors (IEM) were flying off the shelves, full to the brim of multi-driver configurations - some even housing as many as eight or ten drivers.
Amidst all this hype, at the time Sennheiser took a brave stand and released a flagship product with one single dynamic driver. While some armature critics held little faith, the product turned out to be a success and changed perceptions of what a single driver IEM was capable of.
Six years later, Sennheiser has just unleashed a successor to this model, bearing the company’s flagship “S” at the end of the model number.
With a driver housing that's engineered and handcrafted in Germany, along with custom-made Comply foam tips, this boastful release seems to be a complete package.
Coming in at $1,599 RRP in Australia, the IE800S is a flagship IEM that means business. Can Sennheiser possibly rekindle the fire they once lit inside the in-ear market with this release?
Included in the box:
- 3.5 mm standard cable
- 2.5 mm balanced cable
- 4.4 mm balanced Pentaconn cable
- Three different sizes of olive silicone tips (S, M, L)
- Three different sizes of Comply tips (S, M, L)
- Transport leather case
- Micro fibre cloth
Like the other models in the “S” line from Sennheiser, the IE800S features a smooth flat black finish, from the driver housing all the way to the headphone jack. This is a sleek new advancement from the polished black look of the original IE800.
Weighing in at around 8 grams, the tiny ceramic housing features unique bullet-shaped earpieces. At the rear of the housing, two wide holes poke out, presumably to house Sennheiser’s patented dual-chamber absorber.
Seeing as Sennheiser and Comply Foam partnered up on this release, it’s no surprise that the included Comply tips were custom made. They were specifically designed for isolation, attempting to mitigate external noise as best as possible.
Usually I wouldn’t be too interested in a carrying pouch for a pair of headphones, but in this case, I’m more than happy to make an exception. It's exquisite. Not only is it crafted from premium leather, but it also has a gentle magnetic lid that snaps shut to firmly store the IEMs.
It also has a very cleverly designed cable management system, plus a custom stamped metal plate on the inside lid, with the serial number of the IE800S housed inside. Very cool.
I can’t possibly fault the build quality or design of the IE800S. It’s a clean and luxurious design that I’ve come to expect from Sennheiser's flagship products.
Inside the headphone
Back in 2012, the Sennheiser IE800 was named as an International CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Awards Honouree. This was (in part) due to Sennheiser’s very own specially developed Extra Wide Band drivers (XWB for short).
The principle behind the XWB driver is a simple yet effective one: Utilising several balanced-armature drivers in parallel can cause a whole host of issues and problems, so it’s better to use one single large driver to cover the entire frequency spectrum.
Sennheiser’s Senior acoustic engineer Axel Grell explains that:
Until now, high-quality in-ear headphones have used so-called balanced-armature multi-drivers. Reproducing the entire audio spectrum requires several narrow-band drivers to be operated in parallel. However, this results in very slight jumps and delays in music reproduction.
The IE800S utilises the same XWB technology, but with some revisions and tweaks under the hood to slightly adjust the tonality, and to squeeze out some extra detail.
Sennheiser’s patented Dual Chamber Absorber system (D2CA) also makes a comeback. This system was designed to fight the resonances that the average human ear canal creates when sealed off with an IEM. Generally speaking, this resonance is between the 7Khz to 8Khz range, and is said to be the cause of the “ringing” sensation that some IEMs can deliver during playback.
The diffuse-field equalised drivers have an impedance of just 16ohms and didn’t seem too fussy with sources. This is one of the advantages of having one single driver, instead of several smaller ones - output impedance and damping factor is less of a concern when choosing a source device.
Using the headphone
First impressions matter. And my first impressions when trying these out were: “these things are tiny”.
The plus side of this is they are easy to fit - even for people with small ears (such as my fiancé, who had no problems wearing these. And trust me, she is a very fussy lady).
The IE800S comes with an array of familiar sized olive tips, as well as the custom-made Comply foam tips.
The cables are swappable, but not removable. Like the IE800, the IE800S cable is hard-wired into the earpiece, but has a removable section at the Y-split. This removable section allows the freedom to choose whichever connector you like on the end of the cable - but only from the Y-split to the headphone connector.
The storage case is very clever. Once you place the IEMs into their little bed and wrap the cable around the storage spool, there is a little bed for every single possible connector that comes with the IE800S. It’s a very intuitive design, and it not only looks great but allows for quick and easy storage. It’s been well thought out, and the execution is on-point.
When wearing these, the cable noise/microphonics is quite loud, no matter which cable is plugged in. The IE800S seems to be better suited as a “sit down and listen” IEM, not a “walking around” IEM because of this. I’d love to see some braided/twisted cabling in the future for the next release.
If you’re a fan of the HD800S or the HD660S, there is a good chance you might enjoy these, too. The sound signature across the “S” line isn’t the same, but it is similar in some respects; meaty, punchy midbass, and killer details around the 5Khz-6Khz mark.
Thankfully, the IE800S sound great even connected to the humble smartphone and aren’t too fussy with sources. Like most other single driver dynamic IEMs, these are remarkably easy to drive.
It’s worth noting that they're perfectly matched to the Chord Electronics MOJO, which is what I used as a source for this review.
Upon first putting these into my ears and hitting “play”, I was blown away by the sheer sense of space and soundstage.
For such tiny little things, the sense of room and space they offer was simply unexpected. I don’t know what kind of trickery that Sennheiser have employed, but it was almost an unnerving experience.
There were so many out-of-head moments, and at times I even removed one IEM from my ear to double check I hadn’t heard a noise outside.
The soundstage is bigger than the earth itself. Very cool.
It’s not just the soundstage though as the detail is also next level. I’m calling it now. You will not find an in-ear monitor with more detail or nuance ability. The reverb tails continue from the beginning and continue to extend all the way until they disappear into the black, sending plenty of shivers down the spine on the way.
The bass has a meaty, deep-reaching authoritative feel to it, but it is definitely not overpowering the rest of the mix.
Much like other headphones with the “S” moniker, there is plenty of punch and bite around the 5-6k mark, and a nice midbass kick, but don’t be fooled, even with a decent fit this is not a bassy IEM.
I found myself preferring acoustic tracks over bass-heavy electronic music. It just seemed to be a better fit. On some tracks, there was also a bit of sizzle that was a little uncomfortable but changing the tips and reseating the IEM seemed to alleviate this somewhat. You'll need to experiment to see what works best for you.
If I had to draw a comparison to another Sennheiser product bearing the “S” logo, I would say the sound signature is most similar to the HD800S, albeit a tad brighter and more airy, with less midbass, and a little more sparkle up top.
The IE800S is an incredibly well-designed IEM, with a ton of included goodies packaged along with it.
It is lightweight, with a clean, refined and ever-so-slightly bright but immensely detailed sound. I now have a new benchmark for the largest soundstage I’ve heard produced by an in-ear monitor.
Overlooking the cable noise (hopefully this will be addressed in a future release), I have no hesitation recommending Sennheiser's new IE800S flagship In-Ear Monitors.
For more information visit Sennheiser.
- Impedance: 16 Ω
- Frequency response (Headphones): 5 to 46,500 Hz
- Frequency response: diffuse-field equalized
- Max. 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
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.