Coherency of German Engineering!
PROS: very natural resolving tonality, coherent tuning, tiny ceramic shells with 7mm XWB dynamic drivers, modular cable design with 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm terminations.
CONS: cable is not detachable, microphonics wearing cable down (but not up), short nozzle with custom eartips.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
After so many multi-BA and hybrid IEM reviews, I found this year (2017) to be quite eventful for single Dynamic Driver flagship discoveries. I also found that after every DD IEM review, I received many requests with a question how it compares to IE800. Coincidentally, back when I used to review full size headphones, I also had many requests asking me to compare to Senns HD-series cans. IE800 and HD600/650/800 have a huge fan base where it seems that many audio enthusiast own at least one pair of either ones, which leads to many requests for comparison using Sennheiser headphones as a reference.
Now, 5 years after its original release, Senns is ready with a refreshed IE800S version, and I finally got the opportunity to test this update. I won’t be able to compare it to the original IE800 since I don’t have access to it, but so far I heard a number of impressions where many refer to IE800S as a refined version of IE800. Don’t want to speculate about the changes, and instead will focus on what I hear, how it compares to competition, and how it pairs up with different sources. So, let’s find out what this new single DD flagship from Sennheiser brings to the table.
* edit * After the review, I got my hands on IE800 loaner, and published a separate comparison review of IE800 vs IE800S HERE.
Unboxing experience of IE800S was very straight forward with a colorful packaging sleeve over a giftbox-quality all black storage box. I do like the soft texture finish of this storage box, makes it more premium to the touch. The packaging sleeve has a very similar picture angle of IE800S dual-chamber shell as I have seen in IE800 packaging, but here Senns made sure to differentiate the design with a focus on the new cable and red (right side) strain relief.
Inside the box, you have a secure soft foam lining with a cutout for IE800S shells, storage case, and other accessories, including a little plastic back plate with all eartips sorted on display.
The accessories include 3 sets of detachable extension cables (2.5mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm), 3 pairs (S/M/L) of genuine Comply Comfort eartips with a wax guard, 3 pairs (S/M/L) of silicone eartips with a built-in nozzle extension and a mesh guard, a shirt clip, a storage travel case, and a manual.
Carried over from the original IE800 design, S version has the same very short nozzle design with silicone eartips that latch on to the lip of the nozzle. These eartips have a built-in nozzle extension with a metal mesh and the silicone eartip over it. The latch connection is relatively secure, and as long as you are not disconnecting it daily, in theory shouldn’t wear off too soon. Just make sure you choose the correct eartip size for a tight seal with your earcanal – that will yield a decent sound isolation, something I was worried about due to 2 large vents in the back of the shell. I’m very satisfied with a sound isolation wearing IE800S with a wire up over my ears using the largest silicone tips.
Comply tips are the standard ones, with a typical thick inner rubber core, going over a short nozzle stub of IE800S and staying secure without a problem. This gives a hope that you can find other silicone tips with a stiff inner core and a small enough diameter to stay secure. Personally, I prefer the silicone tips over Comply because, in case of IE800S, these foamies do boost low end (which is ok with me) and also attenuate treble (not ok since it kills the treble sparkle). Some might find this useful for fine tuning of the sound, but not for me since I wanted more top end sparkle.
The included case feels like a real leather material with a fine textured finish. On the inside of the cover flap, there is a personalized metal plate with S/N. Inside, you have a rectangular foam spool with a cutout for IE800S monitors and for the cable to wrap around the spool. While this looks practical for shells with its attached cable down to y-splitter, when you also have a removable part of the cable connected – it becomes a little tricky.
The main part of the cable has a short wire with a straight 2.5mm modular connector termination, thus not an issue wrapping it around the spool. The removable part of the cable has L-shaped connector where the only way to get it right is to make sure the cable wraps VERY tight around the spool. It took me a few tries to get the connector around the corner, putting some strain on the wire. It’s definitely doable, but time consuming, thus not as practical.
This is not going to be my typical cable review section because I don’t know much about the wire material of the included cable and can’t use the replacement cables from my review collection. I can speculate that IE800S cable uses higher purity copper wires, instead of some cheap OFC, but I don’t know for sure.
The cable itself is very soft, thin, flexible, no memory effect, and with a rubbery all black jacket. At the shell joint, there is a durable but short color-coded strain relief, with red on the right side and black on the left side. You will also find imprinted R/L letters on each strain relief piece, as well as a little bump on the left side for a blind ID, though I would have liked for this bump to be bigger.
The cable design is modular where above the y-splitter with a chin slider you have about 10″ of wires, and below the y-splitter you have about 39″ extension. The upper part of the cable above y-splitter has 2.5mm balanced termination, and the lower part of the cable extension has female 2.5mm balanced socket on one side and right angled connector with either 2.5mm TRRS (BAL), 3.5mm TRS (Single Ended), or 4.4mm TRRRS (BAL) terminations. In all 3 extensions, the right angled headphone connector has a rubbery housing with a nice grip and a decent strain relief. A good grip is especially important when dealing with a tighter fit of 4.4mm jack.
The y-splitter modular 2.5mm interconnect, which is about 2″ in combined length, has a very tight and secure fit, looks slim, and doesn’t weight down the cable. So, either if you wear the cable wire up or wire down, it works just fine. The only issue, wearing wire down introduces a lot of microphonics. You can use included shirt clip to help with this problem, but the best way is to wear IE800S with the wire up over your ears. I have an average size head, and found the wire above y-splitter to be long enough for over ears fit, even with about an inch of margin for chin slider. But at the same time, wire up can put more strain on the cable at the shell joint.
I don’t know the exact reasoning behind the design decision of why IE800/IE800S cables are not detachable. In theory, you can add mmcx connector, but that could affect the size of the ceramic shell and offset the acoustic balance of its dual chamber absorber system.
Based on all the pictures and info I read about the IE800 model, seems that IE800S kept a lot of the original design elements, from a proprietary 7mm Extra Wide Band (XWB) dynamic driver to a dampened dual-chamber absorber (D2CA) system which utilizes a unique tapered shell design with 2 vents in the back. According to Sennheiser, D2CA will neutralize the so-called “masking effect” of overlapping high/low frequencies at different volume levels by removing unwanted peaks from any masking resonance.
Original IE800 design.
To some people, the description above will sound like a mouthful of marketing hype you put on a product brochure. But once you start listening to IE800S, you will quickly realize that Sennheiser is putting their money where their mouth is. I will go into more sound analysis details and comparison in the follow up sections of the review, but do want to mention that to my ears I found IE800S to have a very impressive natural resolving tuning without any distortion or artificial peaks.
Going back to the design, the shells are very small, approximate 8g of weight (without a cable). Despite a small size, these won’t be comfortable to go to sleep with you ear on the pillow, though they do nearly disappear in your ears. The finish of the shell is matte black with a premium scratch-resistant ceramic housing, an upgrade from the original IE800. And as it was mentioned before, the cable is still not removable. Considering how much effort Sennheiser put into the design of every single element, I’m sure the wires of the cable were hand picked for the best audio performance. But my concern remains about the cable joint at the shell which I consider as a single point of failure in the design, since the cable can’t be replaced.