Top critical review
33 people found this helpful
Not for everyone. Not for active lifestyle. Poor selection of ear tips.
on June 29, 2014
Because I purchased these IEM's after reading these positive Amazon reviews, I felt obligated to write this review after my experience of trying to get these to sound good during a few days of use. A lot of these headphone reviews start with reviewer's experience and headphone inventory, so here is my brief explanation. I sold headphones at a HiFi store in the seventies (mostly Sennheiser HD414). I owned my own audio store in the eighties. I currently own Sennheiser HD600 with a Cardas cable, Sennheiser HD580, Sennheiser HD25-1 II, Shure SE535, and Etymotic ER4P. My portable players are an iRiver Astell & Kern AK120 and an Eco-iPod 5.5. My headphone amps are Benchmark DAC1, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA Class A, and an old Headroom Supreme. I listen to CD quality files (no MP3 or other lossy) and I also listen to high-resolution files (up to 192/24) and probably have about 100 high resolution albums.
For those of you that aren't sure when you have a good ear tip seal, the rule I use is that the sound should not change when you move your head, and the sound should not improve if you apply pressure to the IEMs. I use my IEMs for snow skiing and mountain biking, so my IEMs must pass these tests. If you use yours in the office it may not be so bad if you move your head and lose the bass.
I am a huge Sennheiser fan and have been since the seventies (HD414). I was very hopeful that these would sound as good as my Shure SE535 and have the convenience of my Etymotic ER4P. I was very disappointed.
Pros: Size, weight, soundstage, image, SPL, and made me appreciate my Shure SE 535.
Cons: Poor selection of tips, tips come off too easily, no shirt clip, 2.5mm interface at cable Y, noisy cable microphonics, poor U.S. support from Sennheiser, low efficiency compared to SE 535, no removable cable, and poor overall design for active listeners.
These IEM's have potential. It is as if these IEMs are a prototype for something fantastic, but Sennheiser never fixed their design errors. The first big design error is the lack of variation of ear tips, and a total lack of regard for the need of the variation. When I buy Shure or Etymotic IEM's I have dozens of brands, styles, and sizes of ear tips to choose from. Sennheiser gives us one proprietary style in 5 shapes & sizes. None of the ear tips included fit my ears properly. The cable & strain relief on the IEMs prevent the IEMs from being inserted deep enough to seal. So I spent hours searching for ear tips that I could buy to be able to hear my new IEMs. There aren't any. I tried the Comply T-500, and they worked well enough for my short listening tests, but the ear tips stayed in my ears each time I removed the IEMs, and it would take me several minutes to remove them. That was infuriating. And the tips come off so easily, because the new Sennheiser proprietary design has a low retention force. I don't think custom tips with a proper seal would have enough retention if designed for the IE 800. The new Sennheiser design includes a proprietary flange that prevents the use of any aftermarket ear tips. That wouldn't be so bad if Sennheiser offered a good selection. Some users are destroying the ear tips that come with the IE 800, and gluing Comply ear tips to the cores of the stock ear tips. I did not try this and didn't want to go to that much work. Some owners complain that if they lose or damage one Sennheiser ear tip that they have to buy the entire set for $60 - including the 5 sets you will never be able to use.
These IEMs are designed to have the cable drop straight down instead of going around your ears. That causes a lot of cable microphonics (noise when you rub the cable) compared to the design that goes over your ears (Shure). It would be nice to have a choice, and it would have been so easy with this design, but Sennheiser prevents that with two design features. The cable Y is so short that most persons don't have enough cable length to go over the ears. But if there is enough cable for you there is another feature that prevents it from working. The transducer nozzles are angled like a stethoscope, so if you place the cables over your ears the transducers are pointing the wrong way. For me this still worked, but the angle is unnecessary and just reduces the flexibility that these IEMs could have had.
Most IEMs come with a cable clip for your shirt. These IEMs need one but Sennheiser chose not to include one. The shirt clip reduces the weight of the cable pulling on your IEMs. It is extra important to have a shirt clip on this design, because the low retention ear tips are the only thing keeping the IEMs in your ears, and the shirt clip reduces microphonics.
The cable is not removable. What a step backward. There is a cable detachment at the Y, but Sennheiser chose 2.5mm instead of the standard 3.5mm. This is not a big deal, but means I would probably have to make my own cable extension if I needed one.
Some listeners complain of ambient noise and wind noise with these, because of the vents. I did not hear this when I had a good seal, so that makes me think that other reviewers are not getting a good seal either. I could not do extensive listening tests because of the inconvenience of getting the Comply tips out of my ears.
I called Sennheiser and spoke with a technical expert. He seemed genuinely surprised that I was having problems, and seemed proud that Sennheiser did not offer any additional ear tips. He said they leave that to "third parties" as if it providing an ear tip selection was beneath them. I asked if the "third party" he recommended was Comply, and he said yes. When I told him that Comply did not make any ear tips for the IE 800 he was and silent and remained unhelpful. He didn't offer any help or advice. That's when I realized I was on my own and needed to return these. Another small annoyance was that the "authentication" on the Sennheiser site did not work. There was no error message. It just didn't work. I contacted Comply several weeks ago to see if they have plans, but they never responded.
My listening tests were very brief, so I did not form a strong opinion about the sound. During the time I had the T-500 ear tips in it seemed that the soundstage and imaging may have been better than the Shures, but I would need more time and the ability to swap earphones more quickly.
I returned my IE 800's and went back to my Shure SE535. I believe that the IE 800 may sound better if you are lucky enough to get a good seal. I have been a Sennheiser fan for years, but I am really disappointed that Sennheiser is so disconnected from the ear tip design. And deferring to "third party ear tips" could have been a good strategy, if they made the IE 800s to fit the custom ear tips that are already on the market.
I may buy IE 800's again if Comply introduces a new model line to fit the new Sennheiser design. If you are considering these I highly recommend reading other review sites and forums to get other opinions. The general advice from the people in the forums is to EQ the bass down to get rid of the muddy midrange, EQ the midrange up to improve the laid-back midrange, and place dryer sheets over the transducer nozzles to reduce the harshness of the highs. Remember, that these recommendations are from people that like these IEMs.