Note: the custom cables depicted here were not used for the review.
The Sennheiser “IE” series began with the IE6. Thick, round and bassy, it was well received for its staggering bass frequency but lacked embarrassingly in the mids and highs. Next, was the IE7. Sennheiser trimmed up the fat and cleared the mids and highs, but the fans felt that they had gone too far. In their pursuit for clarity, Sennheiser had cut the claws off their beast. Gone was the thundering subbass that made it clear to the world that the engineering department at Sennheiser understood that sound begins and ends with bass. In 2008, the Germans had finally struck a balance between vibrant mids and deep bass authority. The IE8 carried the Sennheiser flagship iem moniker for three years until it was given a slight tweak and a brushed aluminium facelift in 2011 and renamed the IE80.
|Driver Diameter||Unknown (probably around 8mm)|
|Frequency Response||10 – 20000 Hz|
|Maximum Input Power||Unknown|
|Cable||1.2m / Y-type / 2 pin detachable|
|Connector||3.5mm L-type mini stereo|
|Accessories Furnished||Protective case, Silicone earpieces (S,M,L), foam earpieces, pair of ear-guides, sound adjustment and cleaning tool, cable clip|
Comfort and Build
The design of the IE80 is reminiscent of other great German brands, such as Hugo Boss, BMW and Heckler & Koch. Elegant refinement with understated beauty oozes from these earphones. The tasteful brushed aluminium faceplate is garnished with a discreet laser cut Sennheiser logo. The edges are a perfect combination of straights and curves at just the right places. So perfect that a startup audio company in China called Havi basically copied the housing design for their own two DD model – the B3. The IE80 cable is detachable, with low microphonics, and is supple enough to leave the ear-guides in the packaging. It comes with a sturdy box, also featuring the brushed aluminium styling. However, in my three years of less than subtle handling of my pair, not a single hiccup has occurred.
The Havi B3 and IE80 side by side.
The IE80 is best known for its wide soundstage, bass and imaging. Instruments feel very well defined and clearly positioned when listening to live orchestra recordings, but I use my pair more for electronic music, especially dance music and electronica. The vast sense of space allows for all the little flourishes and tweaks of electronic music to come through without clashing.
Bass is the IE80’s strong point, with deep extension and tasteful presence. Never are you wondering if the music you are listening to has any subbass. The adjustable bass knob seems to work by controlling the size of the vent. As with all dynamic drivers, a vented housing allows for more air to escape and thus less air pressure transfers from within the chamber to your ear canal when the diaphragm moves. Fiddling with the bass knob yields a very slight bump in the midbass region, and one must strain to pick out the difference. I like to keep mine in the middle and this review was done as such.
I love the feeling of the wide soundstage and how the deep bass sounds like it’s coming from outside and beyond the IEM almost. Some earphones have deep bass and strong punch but because its soundstage is rather narrow, it creates an uncomfortable rugby ball shaped bass presence in the middle of your head just between your eyes, causing extended music enjoyment to be fatiguing, eye watering almost. The IE80 bass rumbles down to just below the throat and stops right above the neck. This might sound queasy but I guarantee you it’s not. The IE80 is soothing and comfy with jazz and lounge music, and then turns fist-pumpingly epic with big arena anthems.
The midrange is smooth and easy to listen to, with a touch of bass finding its way into the vocals, but the soundstage is large enough that vocals sound enveloping, sweet and rich. Thick and well textured, the vocals are a bit recessed, but I’ve never been a fan of forward vocals. Instruments are very easy to listen to. There is no harshness, no cold analytical sound that feels disjointed with the sub region, and I do believe the mids have gained clarity since the IE8.
The highs are no doubt the IE80’s greatest weakness. Even though the IE80 has already been updated since the IE8, there is still much to be desired as spaciousness and airiness noticeably fade in the upper frequencies. It is made apparent when A-B testing against more recent multi driver balanced armature iems. However, this only bothers me for a few minutes as the IE80 is able to quickly draw my attention back to its stronger attributes.
The IE80 is by far not the most analytical, nor the most clear iem in the price range, and it doesn’t try to be. There are plenty of bright, flat and analytical competitors and frankly, I’m not looking for such a sound signature. The IE80 is a very enjoyable iem with an immense soundstage and dark tone. Extremely easy to listen to for extended periods of time, I find myself reaching out for it again and again. The IE80 is my cozy, faded, stretched to fit t-shirt that I put on after I shower and take off before bed.
This is indeed a single dynamic driver iem from a bygone era when triple and quad balanced armature iems were already making their marks as the flagships for their respective big name brands. In a time when the BA driver-count arms race had already begun, Sennheiser bravely took the road less travelled, and that has truly made all the difference.
My final score is a very biased 9.2 because this iem fits my ears like a glove and the sound signature caters very well to my preferences in music. I urge anyone who loves deep bass and great soundstage to give these a few minutes of their time. After all, the price for a pair these days is not what it used to be.