To S, or not to S, that is a question.
Manufacturer website: Sennheiser.
After my recent review of IE800S, I didn’t realize I will end up with more questions from my readers, this time about comparison between IE800 and IE800S. At the time of writing IE800S review, I didn’t have access to IE800, but I got it on loan now. Probably similar to questions audio enthusiast have about HD800 vs HD800S, many are trying to decide if they should upgrade to S-version or get S-version in addition to the original one. And I’m sure first time buyers trying to choose which one going to suite their needs and sound preference better since both are still available for sale. Hopefully, this short review/comparison will shed light on and help you decide which way to go.
For a detailed sound analysis of IE800S, please refer to my original review of these IEMs, posted here. The focus of this write up is only on comparison of IE800 to IE800S. So, let’s begin.
When it comes to a soundstage expansion, both models are nearly identical in width and depth, which still continues to impress me considering these are single DD “closed back” in ear monitors. I didn’t notice too much of a big difference in positioning/imaging of the sounds, though IE800S brings vocals a little more forward. Also, you can expect a similar layering, separation, and dynamic expansion of the sound in both IE800 and IE800S.
Sound signature does vary, where the original IE800 has a more pronounced v-shaped tuning, while IE800S is less pronounced, being mildly v-shaped, closer to balanced.
Starting with sub-bass and mid-bass, I find it to be nearly the same between IE800 and IE800S. And that’s where all the similarities end. Between my FR measurements, full frequency sweep, and extensive listening analysis, I found the mids region of IE800 between 400Hz and 5kHz to be more attenuated down, not by a lot, but noticeable. As a result, the lower mids of IE800 are more neutral with less body and less warmth, and upper mids are a little thinner and brighter in comparison to IE800S where mids have more body and sound a little warmer and smoother. With IE800 mids being scooped out more, there is a perception of a stronger mid-bass impact, though in reality mid-bass quantity is nearly the same between these two. When it comes to lower treble, it’s the opposite, where the original IE800 has a little more energy with more sparkle and sharper definition in comparison to a little smoother IE800S which still sounds crisp and airy, but scaled back in comparison.
Overall, IE800S doesn’t stir too far off the original tuning of IE800, but you can definitely hear the difference. It’s not exactly an upgrade or a side-grade, but more of a sound refinement with a smoother and fuller mids body and a more natural treble tonality.
In terms of a physical appearance, original IE800 ceramic shells are very shiny in comparison to a matte finish of IE800S, which I personally like better. I also like the red strain relief for an easy id of the right side, while you have to squint to see a very small L/R marking on strain relief of original IE800. IE800S also has that same L/R marking, but the red indicator is much easier to see.
The nozzle length of both is identical (short) and they both use the same custom eartips. The fact that IE800S also includes Comply tips, means that you can use them with the original IE800. Senns doesn’t specify exactly the Comply eartips model, but I’m sure you can order it from them directly for your IE800.
Cable length is identical, including upper part above y-splitter. So, if you had issues with over the ear fit with old IE800, you will have it with new IE800S as well. I sense microphonics with both cables wearing the wire down (thus a shirt clip is recommended), but I find IE800S to be quieter with a wire up over the ears. The cable jacket is different, with new cable being all black and more supple in comparison to “snakeskin” stiffer original cable.
The y-splitter modular interconnect has a similar design principle between two pairs, but IE800 has 2.5mm TRS single ended connection with single ended 3.5mm terminated extension. IE800S has a BIG advantage of having a 2.5mm TRRS balanced y-splitter inter-connect which enables a selection of modular balanced extensions including 2.5mm BAL, 4.4mm BAL, and 3.5mm SE.
In a summary, if you really enjoy your original IE800 tuning and don’t care about balanced cable termination, you will be perfectly fine without an upgrade. But if you always wanted to fine-tune your IE800 experience with a little fuller and more upfront balanced mids and a less peaky treble, then IE800S is a perfect upgrade. Also, if you have a collection of DAPs with 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs, due to non-removable cables, IE800S is the only way to go balanced.
For those who don’t have either pairs, it could be a tough decision considering Amazon currently has IE800 for $500, while IE800S is $999 directly from Senns, still a bargain considering prices of other flagship IEMs. From a simple math perspective, IE800S doesn’t offer 2x the sound and the performance of IE800. Here, the deciding factor will be a balanced cable connection and the difference in the sound tonality, depending on your personal preference.