Sennheiser ie800S Review – Exercise in Restraint

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Comparisons –

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Sennheiser ie800 (~$800): The ie800 is slightly more v-shaped with more elevated sub-bass and treble. The ie800 has greater sub-bass impact, but it sounds muddier and less separated compared to the more even-weighted S. Otherwise, both are fairly similar, the ie800S is cleaner within its mid-bass by a hair and appreciably more defined overall. Both have a slightly thinner midrange though the ie800S sounds more natural, with more present vocals. The ie800 has a little extra raspiness to its midrange that the ie800S lacks, it’s also less layered. The biggest difference in high-frequency reproduction is detail retrieval, with the S being immediately more nuanced. The ie800 is actually clearer and crisper, but its instruments sound thin and metallic by comparison. The ie800 also has a brighter background where the ie800S is cleaner and more separated. The ie800 has a slightly larger stage due to its more laid-back midrange, but the ie800S is noticeably more layered with improved imaging and separation, its tuning is considerably more coherent overall.

Acoustune HS1503AL ($400): The HS1503 is immediately more V-shaped than the ie800 with very laid-back vocals mated to powerful sub-bass and pronounced treble tuning. The ie800S’ bass extends a little more and its impact is tighter. The HS1503 has more sub and especially mid-bass emphasis resulting in fuller but also more bloated notes. It’s less defined by a fair degree as a result. The HS1503 has a thinner, more articulated midrange that isn’t natural but very vivid and clear. It’s brighter with a forward upper-midrange while the ie800S is more natural and balanced. It also has more body where the HS1503 sounds clearer but also quite raspy. The HS1503 is brighter up top, with greater lower-treble and a large middle-treble bump delivering a brighter background. It’s still impressively detailed and surprisingly well-bodied, but isn’t as clean and composed as the ie800S. The HS1503 doesn’t extend as far as the ie800S and has a smaller soundstage. It also isn’t as separated nor are instruments as accurately placed.

Sony EX-1000 (~$400): The EX-1000 is brighter and leaner than the ie800S. It has a more typical diffuse-field neutral signature in-line with earphones like the Noble Katana. The EX-1000’s bass extends slightly more than the ie800S. It has a more neutral quantity, both with regards to sub and mid-bass. The EX-1000 is more defined and aggressively textured. The EX-1000 has a similarly tuned midrange that’s slightly thinner and cooler, but it also has more centre midrange vocal presence. As the EX-1000 is brighter in its treble its midrange isn’t as natural and smooth as the ie800S. Both lower and middle treble are more emphasized on the EX-1000, especially middle-treble that grants it a noticeably brighter background. The ie800S is a more grounded, cleaner sounding earphone with better extension and superior detail retrieval as it is more balanced and linear. The EX-1000 has an enormous stage though it isn’t as coherent as the ie800S nor is its brighter high-end quite as separated.

Dunu DK-3001 ($480): The DK-3001 is more balanced than the ie800S, it has a fuller sound and a smoother high-end. The Dunu extends just as well down-low, it has more mid-bass emphasis and is a little slower than the ie800S, sounding less separated and defined than the ie800S as a result. The Dunu has a fuller midrange with greater upper-midrange presence. It’s a little more vocal forward and very clear but also a little less transparent. The ie800S has a more pronounced lower-treble which grants it a noticeably more contrasty sound while the Dunu is more linear. Both are very well detailed, the ie800S is a bit cleaner while the Dunu is slightly smoother. The Dunu has a brighter background on account of a modest middle-treble bump, both extend well, the ie800S a little more so. The ie800S has a larger stage with better separation on account of its more controlled sound.

Flares Pro ($500): The Flares Pro is slightly cleaner down-low with a more laid-back midrange and greater detail presence. The ie800S has slightly more sub-bass extension combined with greater emphasis. The Flares Pro has a more neutral, linear low-end with similarly excellent control, it’s more defined as a result. The Flares Pro has a less natural midrange, it’s a little metallic and more laid-back, similar to the original ie800. The ie800S has more vocal presence and far more natural body. It sounds less artificial in its delivery despite being just as clear. The Flares Pro has a spiked lower-treble that gives it a very aggressive detail presentation. That said, though extremely crisp and clear, it lacks linearity and the ie800S is more detailed as a result. The ie800S also extends further, it has a larger stage and far superior imaging on account of its more balanced tuning.

Campfire Audio Polaris ($600): The Polaris is a more v-shaped earphone with greater bass and lower-treble emphasis. Its sub-bass extends equally well, delivering greater impact on account of its increased emphasis. Mid-bass is also slightly more present, producing larger bass notes and a less defined image. The Polaris has quite a recessed lower midrange paired with a forward upper-midrange. Its vocal reconstruction is cooler and thinner as a result, but also very clear. The ie800S is more linear and balanced, it sounds more natural and refined but less revealing. The Polaris also has an aggressive lower-treble response though the ie800S is even crisper in its delivery. The ie800S is more detailed and extends much further with greater air and sparkle. The ie800S has a larger soundstage with better imaging and separation on account of its greater extension and more linear tuning.

Campfire Audio Lyra II ($800): The Lyra II is slightly more balanced but warmer and fuller in its delivery. The Lyra II’s bass extends just as well, it has greater sub and mid-bass delivering a fuller presentation. The ie800S is cleaner within its low-end and more controlled, it’s more defined as a result. The Lyra II has more lower-midrange and a little more vocal presence. It’s fuller in its delivery and similarly well-articulated. The Lyra II has a bit more upper-midrange presence, but it isn’t as transparent as the ie800S due to its warmer tone. The Lyra II has a modest lower-treble boost, though it’s nicely linear with its upper-midrange, producing an organic detail presentation. By contrast, the ie800S is a little more aggressive and isolated, but it’s also slightly more detailed. The ie800S extends further, it has more middle-treble air and greater sparkle up top. The ie800S has a larger soundstage in all axis, it is also more separated.

Campfire Audio Jupiter ($800): The Jupiter is a more balanced, full-bodied earphone. It lacks the sub-bass extension and impact of the ie800S but has similar mid-bass quantity. It has a smoother bass texture but is more agile and a little more defined. The Jupiter has a fuller-midrange with greater lower-midrange presence. It’s more balanced than the ie800S with greater vocal presence and a more realistic timbre. The Jupiter has a more modest lower-treble emphasis contributing towards its more refined midrange. That said, though smoother, the Jupiter is more linear, delivering a similarly crisp and detailed presentation, albeit one that isn’t quite as aggressive. The Jupiter also has a clean background but extends a little further, delivering greater air and sparkle. Both have spacious soundstages, the ie800S is a little larger while the Jupiter has a more layered presentation with superior imaging.

Hyla CE-5 ($915): The CE-5 is more v-shaped with greater sub-bass and detail presence. The Hyla extends a touch further at the very bottom and delivers greater impact on behalf of its more emphasized sub-bass. It has slightly more mid-bass, but also greater control delivering greater definition. The CE-5 has fairly recessed upper-bass and lower-midrange in addition to a rather laid-back centre midrange. As a result, vocals are noticeably pushed back even compared to the ie800S and it lacks the same natural body. On the flipside, it’s very clear and vivid, it also has high transparency and a very nice tone. The CE-5 has a more aggressive lower-treble paired with an attenuated middle treble. It’s not quite as linear, delivering less detail though the Hyla sounds more composed due to its cleaner background. The CE-5 extends just as well above, retaining separation and air. It has a huge soundstage that’s a little larger than the ie800S due to its extension and laid-back midrange. That said, the ie800S has superior imaging as it’s considerably more linear and balanced.

Noble Audio Django ($1000): The Django is a slightly more balanced earphone but also more organic, with a smoother high-end. The Django extends impressively for a BA earphone but still lacks the impact of the ie800S. Both have boosted sub and mid-bass with the Django focussing a little more on mid-bass. As such, it sounds a bit fuller, but as it’s slightly faster and more controlled, it’s actually more defined. The Django has more upper-bass and lower-midrange presence than the ie800S delivering a smooth, full-bodied midrange. The Django has slightly greater vocal presence that’s better balanced with the surrounding frequencies. It’s not as transparent nor as clear, but musical, smooth and well-bodied. The Django has a hair of lower-treble emphasis. It isn’t as aggressive as the ie800S but remains quite crisp and very well-detailed. The Django extends well, it’s also more linear up top with a cleaner background and more refined presentation. The Django has a slightly smaller stage, but it’s more layered. The ie800S is a little more separated as it isn’t quite as full-bodied.

Beyerdynamic Xelento ($1000): The Xelento is probably the main competitor to the ie800S so this comparison will be slightly more in-depth. Chiefly, Beyer’s earphone is smoother and warmer than the ie800S. It has greater sub-bass extension combined with a little more emphasis. The Xelento also has a fuller mid-bass presentation, delivering larger notes. As it remains very well-controlled, it only sacrifices a little definition to the cleaner ie800S though its tone is notably warmer. The Xelento has a noticeably fuller midrange that trades the clarity and articulation of the ie800S for a smooth, natural and well-layered image. It has a little more upper midrange and is slightly more vocal forward than the ie800S but also less transparent and revealing.

Both have a lower-treble bump, the ie800S is considerably more aggressive where the Xelento has a more gradual, organic elevation that delivers more bodied treble instruments. As it’s more linear, the Xelento is slightly more detailed, but it’s not nearly as crisp in its delivery as the ie800S. Furthermore, the Xelento is quite restrained through its middle and upper-treble producing a clean, dark background. On the contrary, the ie800S has a lot more air and sparkle and it’s more discerning of micro-detail as a result. Both have grand soundstages that expand laterally beyond the head. The ie800S has a little more width while the Xelento has greater depth. Both image well, the ie800S is more neutrally toned and separated while the Xelento is more linear and layered at the cost of low-end separation.

Noble Audio Katana ($1850): The Katana represents the modern flagship that has risen far above the ie800S in pricing and driver count. It has a more diffuse-field neutral signature with less bass, a more forward midrange and a brighter treble tuning. The ie800S extends a little further than the Katana down low and has greater emphasis through its sub and mid-bass. The Katana is more neutral and transparent, it’s a lot tighter and faster, delivering a very concise punch. By comparison, the ie800S is smoother in its texturing and less defined, but also slightly more natural and more organic. The Katana has a more forward midrange. It has a little more lower-midrange body but also a brighter tilt into its upper-midrange and treble. As such, the ie800S is noticeably smoother and more accurately articulated while the Katana has even greater clarity and is generally more revealing.

The Katana has a similarly aggressive lower-treble though it’s also more linear from its similarly emphasized upper-midrange. It climbs to a gradual peak around its middle treble and extends exceptionally well above. As such, it has more air and sparkle than the ie800S in addition to greater resolution. However, it has a much brighter background and doesn’t sound quite as clean as a result. Still, on behalf of excellent control, the Katana is just as composed if not more so and its instrumentation is both more bodied and more detailed in addition to being more forward. The Katana has a similarly spacious soundstage with superior imaging. It is a lot more layered with greater separation on account of its more neutrally sized notes.

 

Verdict –

Like the HD800S, the ie800S represents a step up in balance over the ie800 before. The changes may be subtle, however, a 9.8 only requires 0.2 to make a perfect 10. Of course, the ie800S isn’t perfect, no IEM is. This analogy simply illustrates how expecting the ie800S to drastically differ from its predecessor is fundamentally wrong, not to mention, counterintuitive. It’s also rationale for my own personal enjoyment as I did walk away impressed by Sennheiser’s revised flagship in-ear as minute the differences may be. It’s more natural, more linear and more resolving while remaining just as suitable for portable sources. Its unchanged form factor does disappoint, alienating the same users as the original. However, the inclusion of substantially more stable fitting Comply foam tips offer a partial fix. Moreover, those that found a great fit with the ie800, will find a similarly practical and ergonomically invisible experience with the S. Its new cable is also a big step up, aiding stability and appreciably reducing microphonic noise.

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Still, like many others, I would’ve liked to see an over-ear design or longer cable above the y-split to enable more comfortable inverted wear. Regardless, with the ie800S, Sennheiser took a great earphone, addressed its sonic weaknesses and compounded upon its strengths. My extensive comparisons demonstrate that, at least sonically, the ie800S remains very relevant in the modern market as one of the most polished u/v-shaped in-ears. It doesn’t aim for perfect timbre, and won’t suit users searching for such, but executes its incredibly crisp, clear yet natural tuning with great refinement and remarkable technical aptitude. You will hear complaints about its hefty $999 USD asking price. However, one can argue that Sennheiser retaining the same RRP as the original is a feat in itself, especially within a market of perpetual inflation. In a world where we’re taught to be sceptical of the powerful and apprehensive of the economically inclined, industry juggernaut Sennheiser exercise their experience and expertise to produce a compelling product for the consumer.

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

2 Comments

  1. CL on

    well done! a heroic effort in comparing the ie800s with such a wide variety of iems!

    • Ryan Soo on

      Thanks CL, my pleasure 🙂

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