Sennheiser IE800 Stereo Earphone (IEM) review by Dale

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 8, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube video review: http://youtu.be/ASwrumRgTuU

    Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with FiiO E17 and PA2V2 amp using LOD, various computers using Audioengine D1 or Dragonfly DAC and the DAC's headphone out.

    Note: IE800 purchased from HiFi Headphones U.K.

    Question No.1: How does it sound? The treble is as strong or stronger than the Senn. HD800, as strong as the Shure SRH940 and SRH1440, and stronger than the Grado PS500. I had my ears cleaned 48 hours before testing, giving them time to settle back to a normal listening state before making this evaluation. After adjusting the highs a little, I find the sound to be better than anything else I've heard. The bass hits hard but is clean, not bloated, not boomy, i.e. as perfect as I'd want in a thousand dollar (USD) IEM, but that's based on use with mini-DACs such as the Dragonfly or Audioengine D1 from a computer USB. With the lesser analog amps or with a portable music player (PMP) alone, the bass might seem a bit strong, but even then it's not especially boomy, and not bassy like (for example) the Philips L1 or v-moda M100.

    The midrange is so clean and free of coloration that switching back to any other headphone I have currently (Senn. Momentum, Beyer DT770LE, v-moda M100, ATH ESW9a and ESW11Ltd, Soundmagic HP200, B&W P5) - all of those sound distinctly lo-fi by comparison. The treble as noted above is smooth, sparkly and detailed. There's a possibility that a strong treble can create the impression of greater detail than the earphone actually has, and the intimacy of having an earphone directly in the ear canal eliminates reflections and other minor smearing that large-cup headphones produce, so that fact can also add to the impression of greater detail. That said, what I hear with just the mini-DACs is real detail, and pretty amazing detail at that. I'd guess that a really good valve(tube) amp would make the sound even better. Much better in all probability, given the quality I'm hearing at this point.

    HDTracks has a 96k download of David Chesky and Wonjung Kim doing Girl From Guatemala, and Emily Palen at Valence Records has a 96k download of The Inevitability of Water, and I'd suggest those two tracks to anyone who wants to analyze headphone/earphone detail. So, question no.2: Is it worth the price? Yes, based on my experience with the Senn. HD800, Shure SRH1840/1440, Grado PS500 and other headphones, if you have a good enough amp to get the best sound out of it, or if you're willing to experiment as I've described when using lesser quality amps. And make no mistake - you can hear and appreciate the IE800's sound quality advantage over lesser headphones with just the smaller amps that I have. The music examples listed below will provide more specifics about the sound qualities I've observed.

    The IE800 earpieces are small, slightly angled, and fit my average ears fine. The cord is thin but strong (plastic coated apparently), and while it's very flexible over its length, it has a bit of stiffness over a short stretch, so I use a shirt clip to keep the cable from moving around and tugging at either earpiece. There are 5 sets of eartips - large, medium and small round tips, and large and medium oval tips. Each eartip has its own metal screen, and the earpieces also have metal screens like all IEMs I've seen, so you have two screens between each driver and your ear, which apparently reduces the chance of earwax getting into the drivers. I've had comfort issues with other IEMs, and with some of those the earpieces wouldn't stay in my ears while listening. The IE800 for me is very comfortable and the earpieces do stay in, although there's some kind of "warmup" period where they take time to get the right seal. People who have positive experiences with IEMs in general should find the IE800 easy to use.

    The IE800 cable is slightly microphonic close to the earpieces - nothing that I notice when playing music at normal volume, but the clip I described above that keeps the cable from wandering takes care of this issue too. The cable is 1.2 meters long and terminated with a right-angled 3.5 mm plug. The cable is detachable about 27 cm down from the earpieces, and the connector looks like a standard 2.5 mm jack and plug, but the sleeve around the plug appears to be customized, so a generic extension cable with a 2.5 mm jack to 3.5 mm plug may not work as a replacement for the IE800 extension. There is no indication of a provision for microphone or music player controls with the IE800, so Sennheiser apparently didn't intend the IE800 for casual use and telephone interruptions, in spite of their PDF that says the IE800 was made for "Audiophile music on-the-go".

    The IE800's impedance is 16 ohms, and the efficiency is high enough for iPods and iPhones with headroom to spare for most music tracks. I have a handful of tracks that I've downloaded where the volume is barely sufficient for portable music play, but most computer music software has facilities to raise the volume levels without introducing distortion, by changing a simple numeric value stored within the music file. The only accessories provided with the IE800 are the eartips noted above, a small eartip cleaning tool, and a small (10.5 x 8.5 cm) leather case that has slots for the cleaning tool and the earphone, and a magnetic closure. With this case, the cable is wound around the outside of the inner raised area where the slots are, so that when the case is closed, the cable can be seen extending to the edge of the case that's open on three sides.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the IE800 compares with each individual track.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2013
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Sennheiser IE800 review Pt.2 - Music Samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has great detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The IE800 plays this perfectly.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds realistic and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. The IE800 plays this music extremely well.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The IE800 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice sounds good and the percussion instrument in the background is not only clearly a tambourine, it has harmonics I haven't heard in previous headphone tests.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The bass in this track has a strong impact but little detail, while the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The IE800 plays this track very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the IE800 renders those notes beautifully. The ambient voices are slightly indistinct, but well reproduced given their background presentation.

    Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail by the IE800, and both the voice and percussion are crisp and well-balanced.

    Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the IE800 handles this very well. The trumpet sounds natural but slightly soft, and the voice is excellent.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion hits hard here, and the IE800 handles it well. The bass tones beginning around 0:45 into the track are the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind that require good deep bass response from a headphone, and the IE800 delivers on those.

    Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is very subtle, but the IE800 plays it well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other - the IE800 gets this right.

    Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played very well by the IE800. The voice is somewhat forward and bright, but it doesn't overpower the instruments or get lost in the mix.

    Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a good balance, and the IE800 plays this very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Massive Attack - Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some slightly soft deep-bass impacts. The voices blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn't great. The IE800 plays this pretty well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The IE800 plays the percussion very well, and the voices sound good too.

    Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The IE800 renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the IE800 reproduces those effects very well.

    Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is unusually light here, but the IE800 renders the notes very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the IE800 renders the tones and transients superbly.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The IE800 delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 have a subtle quality, and the bass adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

    ---------- IE800 REVIEW PT.2; OLDER MUSIC TRACKS ----------

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled extremely well by the IE800.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well by the IE800.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the IE800.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good with the IE800.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the IE800 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The IE800 plays this very well.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The IE800 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the IE800 delivers the full experience of this music.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the IE800.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. The IE800 plays those notes with good impact and control. Having played this track a number of times now, I'm highly impressed with the IE800's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The IE800 reproduction is bright but clean. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the IE800 plays them well.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the IE800.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the IE800 plays it perfectly.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not too bad with the IE800.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Today I listened to the Beethoven 9th with Abbado and Berlin Philharmonic on DG circa 2002. My copy is the 96k download from HDTracks. I played the entire thing with a nice $250 USD headphone, which I thought sounded pretty good except during climaxes of orchestra and chorus, which sounded congested and had a hardness like everything was merging into a single unpleasant tone. Not that bad in reality - just an impression. Then I switched to the 4th movement only beginning with the vocals, using the Sennheiser IE800. It was enough to make a person cry. The soundstage wasn't exactly wider, but there was a depth that was missing with the full size headphone. And that was just the beginning.

    The mass climaxes of orchestra and chorus were delineated clearly with the IE800, and voices and instruments sounded real and suspended somewhere in front of me. I haven't heard one of these symphonies live, so I can't judge the recording on how well it was mic'd, but it sounded utterly fantastic. The bassoons had real weight, the triangles' harmonics seemed to stretch out to infinity, the brass had color and bite, and everything had a palpable reality like I last heard on a direct-to-disk LP played through electrostatic headphones, only better. Highly, highly recommended. I also replayed the last movement with 4 other headphones ranging from $300 to $500 USD. None of those came close.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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