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Review of Sennheiser IE8 earphones
In the box
The Rubicon has been crossed and we cannot go back. At last we have to test the most expensive model in IE series - IE8. There are few people indifferent to the model. On forums you can find many fans or haters of IE8. I think it is a sign of an interesting model, which deserves attention. Let's try to find the advantages of these earbuds and we will pinpoint all defects, when we find them.
Box content and Packaging
The gorgeous IE series box contains many cool accessories. If we compare IE8 with IE6 we can say that the main difference is an array of additional tips. This time customers get not only typical single-flanged tips, but also two types of double-flanged and foam tips.
A rigid frame to wind the cable, device to clean earbuds from dirt and earwax are quite useful. A cable clip is great too.
We get a rich gift set, which allows toying with the different headphones position courtesy of a wide selection of tips. The only complaint I have is aimed at the useless case. It cannot be used to store the player, while winding of the cable is not cool.
Design and Usability
This model is hardly a compact and ergonomic solution. And this probably is the main reason for a negative feedback. Not every person can place IE8 in the ears. They look reserved and are made of plastic. It looks as if Sennheiser deems it unjustified to use expensive materials for "professional" earbuds. It is a bit odd as the body of IE4 is made of metal. The worst possible comparison for IE8 is with Monster Turbine. They look like headphones from different worlds.
Let's speak about the cable. In IE6 and IE7 reviews I did not mention Kevlar technology, which is really used in these models. But how much Kevlar is used in them? Not much, really! In the cable electric conductors are wound around Kevlar to ensure better tensile strength. There is nothing eternal though and sooner or later this cable will wear out. In IE8 this potential problem was addressed with the help of socket for cable, which can be replaced if necessary.
This model must be used behind the ears. You can carry it with the cable down, but left and right earphones must be in the right and left ears respectively. Luckily, cables can be changed and you will not have any mirror effect. The connector is quite massive, angled in shape and does not have a big gap from the player or phone.
Apart from the exchangeable cable the top model also offers low frequencies control. I advise to start from the lowest level and move gradually to the highest. Tastes differ, because certain owners of IE8 do not have enough of bass at the highest level, while for me even the lowest level is excessive.
Tips selection turns into ordeal due to low ergonomics of the body. Take your time and try all tips from the box. Bad fixation can also affect the sound. If somebody says he tried IE8 with one pair of tips and did not like it because of fixing issues, take it with a pinch of salt. Large foam tips were great for me. Low frequencies were fine and deafness free. The noise insulation was also decent.
Besides, IE8 has no acoustic windows, unlike cheaper models in the series, but provide the noise insulation, which is not much inferior. Others will not hear your music loud though. The sensitivity is high and the volume can be quite impressive.
Sound and Compatibility
I had tons of time to test this model. I remember recommendations to warm it up before use, so I tortured IE8 for 300 hours with TARA Labs Cascade Noise CD. I am not sure whether it really helped, but the feeling of self-satisfaction appeared after the first 100 hours.
The testing was carried out with different sound sources. At first I traditionally tried Hifiman HM-801 with Prime Test CD1.
I think that these two audio components do not perfectly match. Hifiman controls IE8 well enough, but the overall sound style of the player is a bit heavy and boosted low frequencies of IE8 oust mid frequencies in this case. The same happened with Nokia N900.
iPhone 3Gs or even Sony P laptop offered a more balanced sound. I do not call to buy a simple player for IE8. I used Sony PCM-D50 and can imagine how it can sound with the high quality source, but it should not have excessive low frequencies. Teclast T51 and HiSoundAudio Rocoo A may offer the right balance.
This time I would like to depart from the usual pattern of low-mid-high frequencies analysis and give my general impressions from the headphones.
What are the benefits of IE8? They have "serious" sound close to "monitor" headphones. It is achieved not least because of quality low frequencies. This "subwoofer" is not fine-tuned (I wanted to decrease its power, but the control does not allow it), but gives rich and thorough bass. May be IE7 is more predictable than IE8, but low frequencies are not the last high point of the model.
Apart from the "subwoofer" IE8 boasts a wide stereo pan. It was mentioned in Radius review by Dmytry Tumanov and I fully agree with him. The stereo pan is huge here. You can even enjoy the scene depth atypical of earbuds, unless you purchase UE11. However, the model is closed.
Do you need more peculiarities? The "warmth" of vocal parts is retained (read reviews of IE6 and IE7) and is accompanied by higher intelligibility and details. Sibilant sounds are almost nonexistent. You do not get the ideal accuracy of headphones with balanced armature and Monster Turbine Pro Gold is faster, but the resulting sound is good. In the review of Monster Turbine I wrote that "ordinary" Turbine equals IE8, but I was wrong.
As to high frequencies of IE8 they are decent if the sound source does not feature too much of bass. You can get good details, but the headphones still disguise a lot. However, Dmytry Tumanov remarked: "Do you need these details?". So the decision is purely individual. The power deserves respect, though it will not skyrocket you to heaven.
Now the most impressive feature - the wholeness of sound. I divide low, mid and high frequencies in reviews, but it just helps to structure articles. Some headphones can be analyzed in general, but their sound can be also tested component by component if necessary. IE8 is different, because its sound is one solid sphere, which cannot be dismembered. It is highly original, but is pleasant nonetheless.
I do not overestimate IE8 and can confirm that heavy music will lose here its power and the sound will be blurred and too soft. Even the fast powerful source will not help. May be these earbuds will make you change your taste. They play well and beautifully, which is their main attraction.
As the main rival (Turbine) was already mentioned in the previous paragraph I will comply with numerous requests of our readers and compare IE8 with Fischer Audio Silver Bullet. I think you do not need a comprehensive review, so we will touch upon general sound issues.
IE8 is the downright winner in terms of stereo pan. You can use clever words as "waterfall" or "transient response", but IE8 has a clear cut and considerable scene. Silver Bullet plays in an uptight way without much scene depth.
I have already described my general impression from the sound of IE8. It is juicy and undivided. Unfortunately Silver Bullet sounds a bit dry with bright mid frequencies and shallow low frequencies. It is not unified enough, as not all frequencies are properly represented.
I do not have any monopoly on truth, but IE8 belongs to another class compared to Silver Bullet. Probably, some people will not like IE8 with any sound source and not a single tip will fit your ears, but such things do not happen very often.
Despite a slightly uncomfortable fixation we get good sound if you follow two rules – choose tips correctly and ensure that your source does not provide too heavy a sound.
From the abovementioned you can realize that I observed these rules. I cannot guarantee that you will be equally lucky. Beware of quick listening with an awful sound source. Understand that IE8 can be easily counterfeited, which is often practiced by Chinese manufacturers. These fakes are sold in boxes, which hardly differ from original ones and tips are offered as well. The sound is a far cry from the original unlike the visual resemblance.
Do not buy IE8 for ridiculously low amounts. $290-320 is a regular price for the model. If you doubt whether you see an original, don't buy and hope that warming up may improve the sound one day. If you decide to listen to IE8 at the meeting of audiophiles ask the owner where s/he bought the headphones.
Generally, beware of fakes and experiment with sound sources. It's worth doing.
he author is grateful to the Doctorhead audio shop for the test sample.
Published - 07 September 2010
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