The Sennheiser IE 80 is another of Sennheiser’s hi-end product that seeks to up the game in audio delivery. Touted to be an exceptional piece of German engineering, its price puts it in the big leagues, but will it come out on top in performance?
Design and Comfort
The Sennheiser IE 80 is by far the most minimalist of Sennheiser’s in-ear headphones. Brushed silver plates adorn the back of the angular housings, with the Sennheiser logo subtly etched onto each. Puzzlingly, their shape seems to draw complaints rather than praises, when it’s actually a nice change of scene from all the roundish ones out there. Besides, all the angles make the housings easier to grip.
Nothing else can be said about the aesthetics – minimalist designs are simple enough to describe – except that the plastic housings are in a dark brown, faintly metallic finish. The color combination is surprisingly pleasant to look at. Fit-wise, the nozzles are positioned at a slight angle in accordance with the ergonomics of the ear. There are in total three sizes of rubber and foam tips included in the box for the most tailored fit. If they don’t work for you, Comply’s foam tips are always compatible with the IE 80.
Since they only sit at the entrance of the ear canal – unlike rival Shure’s more invasive tips – some fiddling is necessary to get the magic seal. Consequently, they offer less than stellar noise-isolation compared to Shure and Klipsch. Nonetheless, they sit very comfortably without popping out every few minutes (if you get that perfect fit).
The set comes with a pair of rubber ear hooks, allowing the earphones to be worn over-the-ear in addition to the orthodox cable-down manner. The hooks rest pretty gently with no untoward pressure behind the ear cartilages. Also in the box are a sound adjustment tool, a cleaning tool, and a cable clip. All this can be stowed in a neat case that slides out to reveal a tray to wind the cable around and plug the extra tips in.
Sennheiser left out a handsfree kit for the IE 80, just like it did for the IE 60. Why? They apparently churn out ‘i’ versions of these earphones, intending them to be phone calls-receiving, track-skipping upgrades. Making them part of the original versions would have been much more fuss-free, seeing as the remote and microphone cost only about $40. The upside is that the cable is removable, one advantage it has over IE 60.
An innovative feature that had people talking is the adjustable bass dials on the back of each housing. You can tinker with how much bottom-end you want the earphones to dole out. This can be done with the included sound adjustment tool in the shape of a screwdriver. There’s no need to crank it way up high – a quarter clockwise turn would suffice for that beautiful, powerful boost.
For them to really live up to their true potential, a burn in period is essential. After about 100 hours in, they begin to exhibit the clarity and precision expected of a flagship product. It’s not a radical change from the preceding IE 8, but in comparison to its rivals the IE 80 held its own pretty well. A beautiful opportunity to perceive nuances of music unheard of before would be lost if you give up on it too soon.
As with other Sennheiser offerings, the IE 80 is bass-centric, and the low-end performance is excellent. With the adjustable bass dial, bassheads can change the settings for every track if they want to. As mentioned earlier, a slight boost is more than enough for deep and rich bass that hits that sweet spot (but this could be a matter of preference). Although there is some thickness to it that audiophiles can pick up, it’s not enough to affect the mid-range adversely.
Overall, the IE 80 sound is balanced. Vocals sound pure and vibrant on top of all the other layers, making them a treat to listen to. Slight jumps from the bottom-end sometimes clog up the instruments, but again, it’s nothing major. The soundstage though, is spacious and well-suited to most music genres, from rock to jazz.
At almost $450, current users of IE 8 can sit back and let the IE 80 pass over; it’s not an upgrade they have to have. It’s still unable to wrestle the baton from its predecessor, but judged on its own merits the Sennheiser IE 80 is a solid pair. With its premium quality construction and great performance particularly in terms of clarity and bass, these are well worth the money if you’re looking for a new pair.