While I had owned many entry level Sennheiser earbuds during my college days, it wasn’t until I got my IE80 back in 2015, that I got hooked on to this hobby. Although, I have upgraded my setup since then, the IE80 remains to be one IEM, I keep going back to for its warm, soothing and relaxed sound. And the 80S continues on the same path, but with a touch more balance in the tuning and lower distortion characteristics.
The tuning of the 80S is quite similar to that of the IE80, with a slightly enhanced bass and a treble bump, resulting in a U shaped sound. Given the tuning choice, it isn’t an IEM that would be applicable for critical listening, as it is quite far from a neutral signature. The stock tuning makes it a great IEM for a very easy listening. And it is quite versatile of genres, if you are okay with listening with a colored signature. It is a fun type of tuning that works well for genres like; Pop, Electronic, Techno, and Psychedelic. It also works alright for Rock, Hip-Hop and Metal. Some genres that don’t work well are country, jazz and classical.
The biggest complaint from the community, about the IE80 was, the IEM had a significant mid-bass/upper-bass bump that not only cast a veil on the mid-range, but it also made the mid-range muddy. Many of us on Head-Fi and other audio forums, resorted to doing the tape-mod (applying a small piece of tape over the bass dial) to control the mid-bass, to bring the mid-range slightly forward and thereby improving the mid-range transparency. While the tape-mod helped reduce the warmth, there was still a bit of muddiness in the mid-range. The 80S not only has a more controlled bass that lets the mid-range pop out better, but it also seems to have better distortion characteristics, that seems to remove that muddiness in the mid-range.
The 80S has an enhanced bass section, with a tilt towards mid-bass. Although it may not be as bassy as its predecessor, 80S is still a bassy IEM. It becomes evident, if you compare it to an IEM with neutral bass. As a result, it is responsible for the warmth in the presentation and the thickness in the lower-mids. As it is a DD IEM with an enhanced bass region, what you get is that natural bass decay and an easily perceivable sub-bass extension. The bass is not completely clean nor agile. This is a bass for people preferring warmth and power. As a result of reduced bass on the 80S, the bass is no longer over-powering the rest of the spectrum, like what you find on the IE80.
For those who find the bass on the 80S insufficient, you do have the option to increase it, using the Bass Dial that sits on the faceplate of the IEM. Although, it is marked as 5 discrete steps, it is really a continuous adjustment that goes smoothly from Level 1 (Minimum), all the way up to Level 5 (Maximum). My sound impressions is based on the bass dial set at Level 1 (Minimum). Dialing up the bass, increases the quantity of lower-bass and sub-bass frequencies (20-100Hz). As a result, sub-bass is now more prominent, bass now goes deeper, bass notes gain weight & size and the rumbles are heavier. The bass region starts to take a darker tone.
The mid-range on the 80S is a definite improvement over the IE80. IE80’s midrange was not just recessed, but it lacked definition and transparency. The mid-range on the 80S sounds clearer and more resolving in comparison to the IE80. But still, the mid-range is fairly recessed compared to the bass and the treble peak. Asa result, the vocals do not have the immediacy, size and density. So this is not an IEM I would pick for vocals, especially the female vocals as they may sound delicate. But given the enhanced bass, there is a certain thickness to the mid-range that helps the presence adequately, especially the male vocals. The mid-range overall is a bit relaxed. If you are looking for an engaging mid-range, something like the Simgot EN700Pro might be the better suited one.
The treble on the original IE80 was anything but bright. It did have a small peak in the lower treble at around 6kHz. The peak has followed suit on to the 80S. On the IE80, this peak was hardly noticeable for 2 reasons. One, it wasn’t a very prominent peak, and two, the warmth from the bass masked the brightness from this peak. On the 80S though, the peak seems more prominent, as the peak by itself seems to be a dialed up by a few dBs. And the reduction in the warmth in the bass doesn’t mask it completely. Whether this brightness is a positive or a negative aspect, depends on one’s preference and tolerance for the treble. While there is definite brightness from this peak, it doesn’t put the IEM in the ‘Bright IEM’ category. It’s still a warm IEM, with some brightness showing its head once in a while. Except for this peak, the treble is linear and smooth otherwise. It also has better treble extension than the IE80 that makes the notes feel more complete. The controlled warmth and brighter treble, allows the 80S to retrieve more details than the IE80. As a consequence it is not as forgiving as the IE80.
One of the biggest highlights about the IE80 was its huge soundstage and the 80S is no different. Many IEMs in the price range have come close to match or surpass the width. But what makes 80S’ stage special is its depth. Although, there is not an abundance of air in the stage, the depth makes the stage appear more 3D. While the imaging is not pin-point precise, it has a certain realism due to the instruments in a 3D space. The abundant space allows for good instrument separation and layering. But the IEM can tend to congestion as it is warm and its speed is not the best.
I should also add that, the 80S is an IEM that works great for watching movies and gaming, due to its spacious soundstage and powerful bass. Watching action movies in particular, is a very engaging experience on the 80S. If you play First Person Shooter games, you would know that you have a strategic advantage, if you were able to locate the enemies from their foot-steps. As 80S’ stage is 3D in nature, it is able to locate the enemies from the depth perspective and not just from width perspective.
Power Requirements, Hiss and Source Matching.
One of the nice things about the IE80 is, it is quite efficient and doesn’t desire power to sound good. But the problem was, the IEM picked up hiss with some noisy and powerful sources, as it was too sensitive. Sennheiser went ahead and made the 80S less efficient and less sensitive. As a result, it needs a few more positive clicks on the volume, to get to the same level of loudness you got on the IE80. So, it’s slightly more difficult to drive now, but it is still within the comfortable powering levels of your smartphone. For example, I listen to the IE80 at 2 clicks on the volume on my iPhone 6. With the 80S, I am at 4 clicks, which still gives me plenty of headroom for volume adjustment. But the best part about making the 80S less sensitive is, it no longer hisses like the IE80.
Unlike some DD IEMs like the Rhapsodio Galaxy or Dita Dream, which require really powerful sources to unleash their true performance, the 80S doesn’t require a powerful source to sound good. So the source pairing basically comes down to synergy with the source in terms of tonality. Given IE80’s warm tone and thickness, it is better to use a neutral source. But due to the slightly prominent 6kHz peak, avoiding bright sources would be a good idea. So a neutral source, that is smooth in the treble like the Shanling M3S would be an ideal source for the 80S.