Details: The earphone that established the ability of dynamic-driver IEMs to go toe-to-toe with multi-armature setups
MSRP: $449.95 / manufacturer’s page, $599.95 for IE8i with mic & 3-button remote / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $375 from amazon.com; Note: an updated IE 80 model has since been released
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 125 dB | Freq: 10-20k Hz | Cable: 4’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: UE Single flange, stock short bi-flange
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Single flange (3 sizes), bi-flange (3 sizes), and mushroom (2 sizes) silicone tips, foamhybrid (2 sizes) tips, cleaning tool, bass adjustment screwdriver, over-the-ear cable guides, shirt clip, and storage case with integrated cable winder
Build Quality (5/5) – The oddly-shaped housings are made of sturdy plastic and surprisingly ergonomic. The cord is light, strong, flexible, and, best of all, detachable – one of the best cables I’ve seen on an IEM. For some reason the L-plug is not gold plated and rotating it can cause a tiny bit of static
Isolation (2.5/5) – Not a strong suit of the IE8, which are rather shallow-fitting earphones, but quite passable for everyday use, especially with dual-flange tips
Microphonics (5/5) – Nearly imperceptible when worn cord-down (with the cables flipped); completely unnoticeable when worn in the proper (cord-up) orientation
Comfort (4/5) – The housings are light but rather large; those with smaller ears will have to settle for very shallow insertion but, like many dynamic-driver in-ears, the IE8s are not overly sensitive to insertion depth. With average-sized ears the IE8s are nearly flush and can be slept in quite easily
Sound (8.9/10) – As usual, the first step to my listening involves spending time with the tuning system. In the case of the IE8, tuning is done by turning a bass adjustment screw on the front fascia of the earphones with a small screwdriver. Personally, I don’t much care for the tuning feature. In the minimum-bass configuration, the IE8s are plentifully impactful – similar in bass quantity to my Monster Turbine Pro Golds but a bit more forward and aggressive with the way low notes are presented. Turning up the bass seems to extend the bass hump of the IE8 lower down. A single notch of bass increase puts the overall bass quantity of the IE8 on level with the Fischer Audio Eternas (rev.1), two notches get it closer to the Future Sonics Atrio M8, and the maximum setting matches the monstrous bass of the TDK EB900. The bass itself is fairly forward, at least in comparison to the rather relaxed midrange and treble of the earphone. Bass depth, power, and texture are all among the best I’ve heard out of in-ears, beating out the MTPG in technical prowess by a hair. The bass of the IE8 also manages wonderfully realistic attack and decay when necessary. On bass-heavy tracks, the low end of the IE8 can be slightly overwhelming for my tastes but for the most part it works quite well with the unique presentation and overall balance of the Sennheisers.
The heavy-handed low end makes the midrange of the IE8 seem slightly veiled and recessed. On their own, the midrange and treble of the IE8 are both excellent in their own right. The mids are smooth slightly thick, warmed up by the mid-bass heft and quite full-bodied. Clarity is good but not quite as good as, for example, that of the Phiaton PS200 or even the Radius DDM, and the detail is not presented as aggressively. Transparency lags quite a ways behind earphones such as the DDM and Yuin OK1 as well, hindered by the thickness and slight coloration of the IE8s.
The treble transition is seamlessly smooth, yielding a clear high end with no harshness or sibilance. The treble is well-extended and seems a bit edgier and more present in the sound of the IE8 than the similarly-bassy MTPG and Future Sonics Atrios. The top end does lack the effortlessness of the CK10/RE252 and the sparkle of the OK1/TF10. Expectedly, it is not as crisp and resolving as with many of the BA-based IEMs, resulting in less aggressive detailing but also a generally pleasant an non-fatiguing sound.
Lastly, the presentation of the IE8 is more than noteworthy in itself. The gargantuan soundstage size is one of the most apparent and striking aspects of the sound. Headstage width is similarly tremendous, giving the IE8 and out-of-the-head feel on par with many proper headphones. Soundstage depth is above average as well and the IE8 can convey distances adroitly. The IE8s do not, however, portray extreme intimacy very well; instead, the soundstage extends to within what seems like a few feet from the listener. Nitpicking aside, the presentation of the IE8 has a distanced and yet spacious feel that Sennheiser faithful may find familiar – the earphones infallibly put the listener in a third row seat. With that in mind, the presentation is quite realistic – a bit thick but nevertheless relaxed and boasting decent air. In the land of high-end IEMs, the Sennheiser IE8 stands out in that respect.
Value (7.5/10) – Launched at a time when “high end IEM” was synonymous with “balanced armature”, the Sennheiser IE8 re-introduced dynamic drivers into the world of ultraportable hi-fi and firmly established Sennheiser, a late entrant in the IEM game, in the realm of top-tier earphones. Though past its popularity peak, the IE8 still competes with the best of the best. The uniquely rich and full sound, from the heavy bass to the warmed-up midrange and smooth but extended treble, works wonderfully with the relaxed and spacious presentation. Aside from the isolation, which isn’t actually as bad as some say, the biggest issue with the IE8 is its price – at $400 retail, it’s a fair stretch pricier than many of the newer high end earphones. As with all other top tiers, the IE8 brings its own unique strengths and weaknesses to the table, and, again as with all other top tiers, the decision as to whether or not it is worth the asking price rests with the individual listener.
Pros: Detachable and all-around excellent cabling, no microphonics, light and comfortable, excellent bass depth and texture, enormous soundstage
Cons: Mediocre isolation, not the best at conveying intimacy