WARNING: Possible TL;DR alert. I couldn't help but make this pretty thorough, there's loads of one paragraph reviews you can find through Google if that's what you're after.
In a journey that has spanned the last few years, beginning in late high school, I've been progressively becoming more and more fussy about the device/s in which I listen to music through. This stuff is important, there is nothing like the feeling of truly being able to immerse yourself in the music your favourite artists spent months, maybe years creating (often with more expensive gear than you can ever imagine) and really hear it back close to the way it was intended.
If you are still simply using your iPhone with the included earphones - this is not what I'm talking about. I recently upgraded to the 6s model - and seeing as I was still waiting for the earphones being discussed in this article - I decided to take them out for a day as I had not heard them since they changed the design.
Let me just say, I'm not a total snob - they actually impressed me, nowhere near as bad as I expected them to be - but, the way they are designed to just hand on your ear rather than fit into it, is horrible and I expected them to just fall out on their own accord the entire time. Another aspect of this horrible design is the fact that there is barely any passive attenuation of outside noise, no wonder I constantly hear peoples music so loud and clear from half a train carriage away - you have to deafen yourself to try and block the train sounds out.
Anyway, the iPhone earphones are not the product we're discussing here so I'll leave it at that. The moral of the story is that music sounds completely different on properly designed earphones that isolate the music and allow you to
The IE 800 is Sennheiser's flagship earphone, it doesn't get any more unique and expensive than this. There are very few in-ear models that break the $1000 price-point. This doesn't necessarily scare me, but it does for the vast majority of music listeners. It can be hard enough to convince some people to spend $100 on a pair when their Apple earphones work "perfectly well".
I think awareness is the key and experiencing all of the levels of quality that are available really opens your mind to what is possible. If you had asked me whether or not I would consider these a couple of years ago, I would have said no way. However, since then, I have owned a pair of Sennheiser IE 60 and then IE 80. Both blew me away, and left me more curious than ever before.
Now, in 2015, I have toppled all remaining inhibitions and hit the top. The trouble with IEMs that regular headphones really don't suffer from is that trying before you buy is near impossible thanks to the obvious hygiene issues of sticking these little things in your ear. You kind of have to take a leap of faith, but reading reviews like this (some very short, some downright hateful and others long such as this one), really did help push me over the edge.
Upon opening the small box you will find the IE800s safely snug in a foam cutout, a nicely sized "leather" feel case that features a cool little etched plate with your serial number on it, and a little plate of different sized special tips.
The build of these earphones is remarkable. Not only are they absolutely tiny (coming from the IE 80 which practically fills out your entire ear), but the ceramic material housing makes you feel instantly reassured that they are anything but delicate. They're also extremely light, which probably helps with keeping them in your ear in place of the hook-over-the-ear method.
Similar to the HD 800 over-ear headphones (of which I also own), the design of their top-level products is always a true statement of what the German company is truly capable of producing. Their design aesthetic is consistent across all of their products, but on these top level products, it really feels like they're trying to show off a little bit and I love it.
A lot of people have had a go at the tip design, in which they are specific to only this model and have a unique "click-on" fitting style. For some this complaint comes from not easily being able to get custom moulded fittings made, and others because they are worried they'll be expensive and difficult to replace if lost. That is of course a valid concern, but for me I don't consider it a problem. I think you obviously need to exercise as much care as possible not to lose them - but if you're really worried about that happening maybe $1000+ earphones aren't for you.
I actually think their design is a huge positive for longevity of use because there is a double mesh - meaning a mesh inside the detachable tip and then a mesh on the body of the earphone itself. This means hopefully any and all earwax etc. (let's be honest, that stuff is going to happen with in-ears and it's annoying but that's life) will be caught by the first mesh. You can then take the tip off to clean it properly without risking damaging the earphone.
Before I get into this part of it, I have to warn you that I don't get into this the same way some people do that like to talk about really specific frequencies etc, to me that stuff can be a headache to read and often more confusing than helpful. Plus I often wonder if those people are just trying to sound impressive somehow and worthy of talking about such expensive mythical earphones or headphones.
The IE 800s really do the best job of any IEMs or headphones I've ever tried of immersing you completely in the music. Their passive attenuation of outside sound is excellent (bar some microphonic and wind noise I'll get to in the next part...), and the sheer depth of the low-end reproduction leaves you feeling like it is just so... "close" to you.
Some reviews go to town on this low-end, some say it is unnaturally hyped and lets down the whole mix. I'm on the fence about this. In most cases, I don't mind it and actually quite like everything that's going on, although I must admit the very first song I listened to worried me quite a bit as I tried to get used to it and strive to hear everything that was going on.
This low-end reproduction would be potentially overwhelming, if the drivers weren't producing blissfully clear and cutting mids and highs that tastefully pair up with the low end. In a lot of material I've listened to so far, I can actually hear the bass guitar line more clearly than I've ever been able to hear it before - while heavily distorted guitars are cutting through clearer than ever like I'm sitting right next to the roaring quad box in the recording.
|The specifications from the Sennheiser website listing.|
Judging by the technical specs Sennheiser provide - as you can see, the IE 800s reach LOW territory, and I think you can really hear the difference. In a lot of tracks I've listened to, the kick drum is just so dynamic and you really feel each hit. So I think, maybe some people hear this and immediately jump to thinking "oh it's bass boosted this is no good", but I disagree - I think they've just improved the overall clarity of the low end and combined with the extraordinary reach of the unique driver, it changes the whole way music sounds - for the better too.
In another note about the IE 800s over-ear counterpart, the HD 800, I've read some people compare the sound of the IEMs to these - to which I must refute. These sound nothing alike, but not in a bad way - the design is just so different there is no way they could. I'm sorry folks, the only things the two models share is the number 800, a large price tag and a stunning level of sound quality.
Rather than mix in the negative thoughts with the positive, I thought maybe separating them will keep my messages clear here, because I still think they're amazing and I do not regret purchasing them. In fact - I only really have one complaint and it doesn't really affect the earbuds themselves... Truth be told if Sennheiser came out with a slight revision that fixed this I would probably drop everything and buy them immediately.
The Cable - this is an interesting design, many reviews I've read take aim at this for the most part. The two lower models previously mentioned in this review, the IE 60 & IE 80, both use a traditional pro-IEM over-ear design. This is both more secure for moving around and reduces microphonic noise.
What is that I hear you ask? Well, it's the way the cable attached to your earbuds bouncing against you or anything else transmits vibrations up into the earbuds and this can be really quite annoying if you're walking around. A lot of professional IEMs use an "over the ear" design (see IE 60 / IE 80) to help combat this and provide a more secure fit. I have definitely noticed walking around with the IE 800, you can feel them wiggling out of your ear from time to time. Staying stationary - they perform beautifully, you're in audio nirvana.
Now, in the strange two-part connect-in-the-middle design of the IE 800 cable, the length of the part connected to each earbud is unfortunately not long enough to give you the freedom of choice as to how you use them. This is an extraordinarily poor oversight on Sennheisers behalf considering how simple the concept is and how it could have helped eliminate the only bad thing I have to say about this otherwise masterfully created product. It's just short enough that if you try to hook them over your ear, the joining point of the two separate cables is practically choking you and looks/feels very unfortunate.
The design also means that if a problem in the upper part of the cables occurs, they are seemingly hard wired to the earbuds. I can understand this given the miniature size, sometimes these things simply aren't possible - but it is another blow to consumer confidence in their longevity, which is a naturally acceptable concern when you're investing ten times the average amount of money on them.
A side note of this, although I must admit not one that I would normally care about given the absolutely atrocious prices these companies charge for them, is that you also can't really change the cable to a third party solution and therefore fix the problem of not being able to hook them over your ears.
I've heard you can use a simple shirt clip (Sennheiser HZC 08) to partially reduce this. I haven't had a chance to get one yet so I can't comment on whether or not it's effective yet but I will report back when I do.
These are a near perfect product, from a company who has exceeded my expectations so many times before. I'm really pleased I can finally say I have an intimate perspective of all three levels of their high-end earphone products. Would I recommend you all skip the former two and spend all your cash on a set of IE 800? Not necessarily. I'm going to break it down across the three models as to which one I think you should purchase.
IE 60 - General listeners, never had much experience with decent quality earphones, not using professionally in any way - just looking to listen to music in much better quality, with proper passive attenuation of the noisy outside world. No detachable cable.
IE 80 - Also good for slightly more daring general listeners, particular people who care enough to "tweak" a little I dare say (given the tuneable bass ports, which are interesting enough to play with), very appropriate for on-stage use. These fit very snugly in your ears, definitely offering the most secure fit for those moving around a lot. Detachable cables mean pro users can feel a little more confident if road-wear gets the better of the cable.
IE 800 - Serious enthusiasts, and I recommend that you're not predominantly using them mostly moving around. DEFINITELY NOT STAGE USE. These are perfect for at home use, in-studio use, long travelling and even standard work commutes (what I'll be using them for every day). Obviously price will be an issue for most people, but I think they're totally reachable if you save up for a while and music is your passion. I can confidently say the sheer sound of these earphones is unmatched from what I've been able to try.
Thanks for reading!