Sennheiser IE8 / IE8i Review

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Sennheiser IE8
Reviewed Jul 2010

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


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

31 Comments

  1. Pritika Pradhan on

    Hello,

    Thank you for your excellent reviews! I am also planning to purchase my first (relatively) high end IEM, and would appreciate your advice. I am torn between the Sennheiser ie80 and the DUNU DN2000J. I appreciate clear details with some bass (I’m afraid I have no knowledge of technical terms). I was leaning towards the Sennheiser, which I felt has fuller, richer sound (though more ‘buzzy’ sound) than the DUNU, but the over-the-ear design put me off (my previous earbuds was a Klipsch, and I would prefer in/under the ear wear).

    The DUNU seems to offer clearer, if less bassy, sound, and is more comfortable, but I am concerned about the relatively light build and the seeming lack of warranty (I’ve emailed the manufacturer about this, but it seems I will probably have to mail it to China for repairs etc). I know these matters are subjective, but I would appreciate your advice here. How does the Sennheiser IE80 compare wth the DUNU DN2000j in your opinion? Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      Honestly, it sounds like the Sennheiser would be a better fit for the sound you want. The DN-2000J is a much more niche sound tuning and I don’t usually recommend it as a first high-end IEM anyway. It definitely focuses more on detail and clarity than richness or fullness. You would probably also want to buy it from a local dealer/distributor (if possible) so you could reach out to them should any warranty issues arise. Sennheiser is definitely the “safer” choice in this regard.

      By the way, If you want something akin to the IE80 in sound but with a cable-down form factor, the Yamaha EPH-100 (if you can find one) is potentially a very good option.

      • Pritika Pradhan on

        Thanks, really appreciate it!

  2. Patrick on

    Hi joker,
    I am currently considering buying my first “audiophile grade” IEM for under 300.

    I want:
    I appreciate clear high resolution sounds and a dynamic listening experience. A wet noticeable base would be preferable. I really like a wide open soundstage, where the music isn’t just coming from my earphones but from the space around me. A clear seperation of the different sounds and a distinct location of each would also really tickle my fancy. All in all I want to pop in my headphones and be taken to a new wide world of clear vivid lively sound thats is layerd on an engaging base,. An experience where I am rather in the music than just with it, while being surpised by all the details in the soundscape. An exciting and immersive experience. Clear highs and solid mids would aid this experience, I think.

    I mainly listen to electronic music, but want to be able to listen to every genre, as I am lfexible in my taste of music.

    I need my earphones to be robust, with detachable cable or with a good warranty, as I am planning on using them in everyday life, while being active. (so no Dunu 200 for me, I am to afraid to break that tiny little attached cable)

    So I came up with the IE80 and nearly bought them,
    but then someone introduced the Fidue A83 to me.

    Which one would you suggest I buy given my description (or do you have any other suggestions)?

    An answer would be highly appreciated, great work!

    • ljokerl on

      For what you’re after I like the IE80 better. While both of these earphones will do what you want, the IE80 has a little more of a focus on getting the bass right, with a little more depth and slam to it. This should be of benefit for EDM. Soundstaging is also its strong point. Plus, all things considered, I also trust Sennheiser more for build quality if you plan to keep these for years and years.

  3. Dontmakemebuybeatsplz on

    Joker, how do these compare to the Beats Tour 2.0? I use a Senn HD650 and Porta Pro at home BUT for whatever reason I like my iems extra bassy or else they just sound too thin and “small” and v shape headphones sound artificial in the highs to me and mids recession just sucks. The Momentum in ears were good but just simply sounded too metallic in the highs and the sound was too lean and thin in all aspects, bad was good tho so I ended up returning them. I picked up the Sony XB50 extra bass in ears at Best Buy a few months ago and they are fine for $30 but they are really bulky and not exactly comfortable. They are muddy sure but they sound big and the bass is massive which I like in an iem. The IE80s are $300 while the Tours are $100 right now, I like the straight down style of the beats, integrated mic and volume control for my phone, and the titanium gray one looks like a non beats product which is a plus really. Is the sound of the Senns that much better to justify the huge gap in price and features?

  4. Vincent on

    Hi joker
    I wanna replace my Momentum in ears with a pair better earbuds. I did some research and I got to two pairs: ie80 and RHA T20. I mostly listen to rock music(Oasis, Radiohead, The Killers, Coldplay, etc). The Momentums were really horrible at handling highs. Anyway which one do you think I should get?
    Thanks a lot for your awesome website.

    • ljokerl on

      Both can be considered an upgrade depending on your specific needs, but if you found the highs of the Momentum to be overly harsh, that would make the IE80 the better choice. It’s a smoother, more “delicate” earphone. The T20 has quite a bit of upper midrange/lower treble presence and generally doesn’t offer the most refined high end.

  5. Vincent on

    Hi joker
    I wanna replace my momentum in ears with a better pair of earbuds. I did a lot of research and i got to the ie80 and RHA t20. I mostly listen to rock music. the momentums were really horrible at handling highs. anyway I’m stuck between choosing one of these, which one do you think I should get?
    thanks a lot for your great website

  6. IceCream on

    Hi joker. Want to thank you for all that you’ve done for the IEM community – your reviews are outstanding and a great resource!

    I’ve unfortunately broken my IE8i which served me well for a number of years and need a replacement. I’m not an audiophile, but I do appreciate good sound. 99% of my listening is through either my iPhone or my laptop, so my sources are nothing special. My music files are the stuff you buy from iTunes. As the IEM market seems MUCH larger now (its been over 5 years since I bought an IEM!), I was hoping I could do better than the IE8i, either by getting great sound quality at a lower price, or by upgrading to even better sound. If you could please give me a recommendation for each that would be much appreciated? I’ve done a bunch of research but the number of options is overwhelming!

    I liked the IE8i’s soundstage and bass. My IE8i was on the default setting, I never felt the need to adjust the bass. That being said, I don’t necessarily need to have as much soundstage or bass as the IE8i, but in general I like a wide soundstage and I like a good bass. By good bass I mean excellent quality (fast, precise, not bloated) with at least a moderate level of quantity (The IE8i quantity was not too much bass for me). I really don’t like the ‘in your head’ sound that some IEMs have and have owned a few IEMs with no bass at all (Shure E2c being an example of in-your-head sound with no bass – I really hated that earphone!). I’m not a ‘basshead’ but I just don’t like anemic bass. I recently bought the JVC-FR202 as a temporary short term replacement for $15 and it has way too much bass and the sound quality is awful in my view. Until I picked this up I didn’t think I would ever complain about too much bass, but this was definitely too much bass. The only mild negative of the IE8i in my view was I had the impression that maybe there wasn’t as much detail as some other high end headphones, but I never did an A/B comparison so maybe I imagined this. I sometimes hear people talk about the “Sennheiser veil” – if it exists, maybe that’s what I was feeling? So if I could get more clarity and detail than the IE8i that would be a plus. I don’t really care about isolation (though I don’t like sound leakage like Phillips Fidelio apparently has)

    As far as ‘value for money’ replacements go, the three earphones I’ve come across that seem to have good reviews are RHA M750i, Yamaha EPH-100 and VSonic GR07 [either Classic or Bass edition]. Any thoughts between these or is there something else that you would recommend? All three of these seem to be roughly around $100. I saw some good reviews for DUNU 1000 and 2000 but they seem pricer and it wasn’t clear to me if they were necessarily better?

    As far as an upgrade goes I’m totally lost. There are so many options! If I am going to shell out for an upgrade, I do want something that will hopefully ‘wow’ me. I would want better and outstanding sound quality (i.e. more ability to pick up details) with good bass quantity. I don’t really care about headphones being analytical. When I bought the IE8i the Earsonics SM3 v2 had just been released and everyone was raving about it on head-fi. However, that would have cost me twice as much as the IE8i so I went with the IE8i. Earsonics has newer earphones now, and so does everyone else. I don’t have a budget per se, but I’m a careful spender. I would need to think very hard about spending >$500 as I would wonder if I was really getting good value for money, and I feel like there would be more chance I could get disappointed that the sound quality didn’t match with the price I paid (I’m using an iPhone/laptop too so I’m sure a $1000 earphone doesn’t make sense with those sources). I would prefer to stick to universals (never owned a custom) but if there is a a custom that you think represented noticeably better sound quality and good value for money I would consider it (1964 v3 is a custom that seems to get good reviews?).

    Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      You seem to have your research. The EPH-100 is generally what I recommend as an IE8 replacement for less money, but the MA750 has some advantages too. Yamahas will give you very deep and fairly powerful bass (comparable to IE8), similarly warm tone, and highs that aren’t harsh. It’s not as flat as the IE8 from the midrange upwards, but not bad at all. Soundstage is narrower compared to the IE8 (true for most pricier earphones too) but has good depth so it doesn’t sound congested. The MA750 handles bass similarly (slightly less boost, but still plenty impactful) and has a wider soundstage but its sound is a little more v-shaped, with some boost in the upper midrange as well. This is why I generally consider the EPH-100 a better match for the IE8.

      VSonic GR07s, both Classic and Bass Edition, are flatter-sounding earphones with lower bass quantity and sharper/brighter treble. Good if you want to go for something more accurate compared to the IE8, but if you want to maintain the bass boost and forgiving nature of the Sennheisers GR07s wouldn’t be my choice. Same story with the DUNUs, though the DN-1000 has a little more bass boost than VSonic products.

      Upgrade is tough, there’s not a lot of higher-end earphones that I’ve tried sharing the IE8 signature. I would say Sony tends to do warm and smooth pretty well (e.g. XBA-H3, XBA-Z5, etc). I consider the Z5 too bassy but the H3 is pretty good. Very smooth, deep bass, nice soundstage.

      EarSonics still does good work with this type of sound as well. My favorite is the Velvet even though it’s pricy: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/earsonics-velvet-in-ear-earphone-review/. Amazing combination of bass and clarity.

      As for customs, the only one I can think of with the IE8 type of warm and smooth sound is the Gorilla Ears GX-4b, but I don’t think it’s a better value than the Velvet.

      But again, it doesn’t seem like you’re totally sold on the idea of upgrading and I happen to think that some of the best value in in-ears, especially if you’re not going for a reference-flat sound, is in the $100-150 range, i.e. with things like the EPH-100, MA750, GR07, and so on.

      • IceCream on

        Thanks a lot! That was very helpful! I think I’ll go with the EPH-100, and if I get “upgradisitis” I’ll then explore the Velvet =)

  7. Arthur on

    Hi joker, I am going on a limb here, but I can get the IE80 for 200$ for new, are they still worth that price in this current day in age? Also, would the wires from SE215k be compatible with the IE80? I am mainly asking so I can switch out the stock cable and replace it with the mic and remote one for the IE80.

    • ljokerl on

      These days there are alternatives, such as the $150 Yamaha EPH-100, but if you like this type of sound and this behind-the-ear form factor (or require a wide soundstage on top of it), the IE8 is a good value at that price.

      The cable from the SE215 will not fit – different connectors.

      • Arthur on

        Joker, I’ve seen those earphones, and many of the ones that have been posted on this website and head-fi. I believe the eph-100 would be a good choice for me, but the newer mic-equipped m100 and m200 seem to have mixed reviews, and are not really the most aesthetically pleasing. I listen to rap, edm, trap, trance, mostly modern music and would use them for travel and home use. I actually prefer not over the ear and from research, I would most likely prefer dynamic vs ba for the type of music I listen to. The fx850/750 caught my eye but don’t have a mic/earphone capability. Would you know any suggestions that would satisfy this? Thank you so much, your website is fantastic and is a terrific source of information

        • ljokerl on

          Right, with a mic requirement you have even fewer options (e.g. RHA MA750i) and for cable-down with mic you have fewer still (RBH EP2, maybe Klipsch X10i). Neither is better than an IE8/IE8i.

          I believe the FX850 has detachable cables with standard MMCX connectors, so in theory Shure cables would be compatible with it (though you’d probably want ones without memory wire, which are out there). Would confirm in the FX850 thread on Head-Fi to be sure, though.

          Haven’t tried the FX750 or FX850 myself so I can’t comment on the sound.

  8. eco on

    Hi joker,

    now that I have been reading headphone websites for days – yours especially – I am ready to ask a question 😉

    Basically I am searching for an In-Ear that sounds like my AKG K702 with bass mod. The K702 is a balanced headphone, but lacks some bass. The bass mod adds a bass which can actually be felt, but which is still precise and not boomy. Despite the more bass the mod also doesn’t veil the mids, nor sacrifices the neutral and very spacious sound nor the huge soundstage.

    I also like the sound of the Sennheiser HD25 Aluminium and can live with its small soundstage but dig its forward energy and punch.

    Now I got the IE80 for sports but even on minimum bass port it’s a little too veiled for me. I could dispense with some of the infamous mid bass hump for some clarity. I already tried some EQ (110 Hz -2dB and 14 kHz +2 dB) which makes it better but not perfect.

    So I wonder if there’s an alternative? I guess I am searching for a balanced IE with extended sub-bass and a small hump there, but no boomy bass. With the IE I would listen to Psytrance mainly (with the other headphones I also listen to other genres).

    I don’t know if the IE80 would be V-shaped or warm and smooth in your categories?

    I am thinking about getting the Fischer Audio DBA-2 mkII, but I am afraid that it won’t have enough bass for me. Fidelio S1/S2 won’t work because of the subpar isolation.

    Any ideas are highly appreciated 🙂

    • ljokerl on

      This is a pretty clear-cut dilemma you have here. I would classify the IE8 as warm and smooth.

      Assuming your budget is $300-ish and looking at IEMs with a balanced or slightly v-shaped sound with more bass than DBA-02 but better bass control than IE8 and good isolation, my picks would be:

      DUNU DN-2000: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/dunu-dn-2000/ – Bass is excellent for what you want, extremely deep but with almost no mid-bass enhancement, which keeps control good. Overall a little V/U-shaped with some treble empahsis as well, but with the right fit it’s no brighter than the DBA-02.
      Fidue A83: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/fidue-a83/ – much in the same vein as the DN-2000, the A83 trades off some of the clarity and crispness of the DUNU (and some of the noise isolation as well) for a slightly wider soundstage and more IE8-like form factor.
      VSonic GR07 BE: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/vsonic-gr07-bass-edition/ – Similar to the Philips Fidelios but with slightly better isolation (but not as good as the DN-2000), a touch more bass, and slightly more tendency to be sibilant. Much less expensive than the two hybrids above.

      All three are fairly energetic earpones (compared to the IE8) but as you like the HD25 that’s most likely not a problem in itself.

      • eco on

        Thanks a lot for the quick and informative reply 🙂

        I just ordered the DBA-02 and the DN-1000. Both cost around 150€ (170$) in Germany – the DN-2000 would have been 300€ (342$), same goes for the A83.

        Unfortunately, the GR07 BE is not sold here anymore.

        I see that the DN-2000’s tuning might suit me better than the DN-1000, but at twice the price I try my luck with the DN-1000 first.

        Since the In-Ear is for sports only, I didn’t want to go higher than the cost of the IE80 (209 Euro / 238$).

        Thanks again, I will report my findings 🙂

        • ljokerl on

          Sure, that makes sense. Both are solid in-ears at that price.

          Hope the DN-1000 is not too heavy in the ear for your purposes – if it is, the DN-2000 is out as well.

          Enjoy!

          • eco on

            While waiting for the DN-1000 to arrive from Hong Kong, I checked out some other In-Ears as well 😉

            Hifiman RE-400: Don’t like the sound signature and they don’t have enough bass as well. I may have to check again for optimal seal, though.

            DBA-02 MKII: Like I expected not enough bass, in spite of good seal. Box smells like a chemical plant.

            Philips Fidelio S2: Almost perfect! Ideal seal out of the box, punchy and quite precise bass (with kick and not boomy) and a very homogeneous and forward sound. It’s more “in-your-face” in comparison and missing the veiling of the IE 80. Nothing to complain about soundwise. I don’t like the looks, though 😉

            I however observe a strange behavior with the S2 and my Cowon i9+ Player: When I insert the jack completely, the sound is not correct. The jack must not be inserted all the way in order to get the correct connection. I wonder if this is because of the microphone channel of the S2 or something.

          • ljokerl on

            Yes, that’s a known issue with some Cowon models. They don’t like TRRS (4 pin) plugs. This can be corrected by breaking apart the audio and mic channels with an adapter like this one: http://amzn.to/1EL5tj3

          • eco on

            I can’t reply to your last post, so I write here.

            Finally my quest has an end: The DN-1000 is great!

            Actually the Fidelio S2 turned out to have a flaw – the 5 kHz peak is too much for me. Sounding a little too harsh and causing fatigue. Plus the mediocre isolation – other people hearing what I am listening to.

            The DN-1000 sounds better than the S2 in every way. Sounds more natural to me and clearer at the same time. Not too much difference in bass quantity.

            Additionally I have gotten rid of the veil of the IE80 and got more bass than possible with RE400 and DBA-02.

            Your review nails it: “The Dunu DN-1000 is a high-end earphone of a very rare breed – one of a select few that are both quite bass-heavy and superbly clear”.

            It also suits my needs at the gym, it’s not too heavy.

            Now I am a happy camper. Thanks a lot, joker 🙂

          • ljokerl on

            Awesome, glad to hear the DN-1000 works for you, even the fit at the gym! Yep, the RE-400 and B2 just can’t touch the bass of a proper hybrid 🙂

  9. Alen on

    Joker – thumbs up for the effort you are giving.
    I’m in the process of buying the new set of IEMs as my IE80s were stolen.
    I’m located in EU so the choice and the pricing is a bit different from US I assume.
    Anyhow I was very satisfied with the IE80, liked the bass performance and overall experience. Now I see MA750 are getting a lot of praise for half the price – how would you compare the two are IE8/80 worth the price gap? Also I see DUNU DN -1000/2000 are getting good marks, how would this compare to IE8/80. Also any thoughts on cabling, as I really liked the IE80 replaceable cable security
    Last here is the available pricing: MA750 – 100€M IE80 – 210€; IE8i – 230€; DN-1000 -130€, DN-2000 -250€
    All advice appreciated
    Cheers
    Alen

  10. omar on

    hi joker how would these compare to gr07. i listen to rock, rap, classic, pop music.

    • ljokerl on

      Pretty different from the GR07 – if you want an IEM that sounds big/open, warm, smooth, and bassy, you want the IE8 / IE80. If you want something that’s flatter and more accurate (doesn’t have heavily enhanced bass) with brighter treble, you want the GR07.

  11. touji666 on

    Hi joker, just curious on how this differs to the ie80 in terms of sound. TIA

    • ljokerl on

      Only tried the IE80 at a show and it sounded like an IE8 to me. Also confirmed that there were no changes to the primary components. It is possible that there are minor variations in sound between the two that could be revealed in A:B testing but nothing drastic.

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