Sennheiser IE 800 Dynamic In-Ear Monitor
Sennheiser IE 800 ($999)
It's not every year that a company as revered as Sennheiser releases a new flagship product, especially one that nudges four figures with its price tag, but last year saw the release of the $999.95 Sennheiser IE 800, along with AKG's K3003 and Ultrasone's IQ. The K3003 and IQ both utilize hybrid driver systems, combining balanced armature and dynamic drivers, along with appropriate crossovers, in their housings. The IE 800, however, utilizes a single dynamic driver, like all of Sennheiser's other earphones. This in itself is likely to elicit groans from some IEM enthusiasts but Axel Grell, the creator of the earphone and Sennheiser's Senior Acoustic Engineer, obviously felt no need to go beyond the dynamic driver for marketing or performance reasons.
In truth, many aspects of the IE 800 are likely to draw complaints from seasoned users of in-ear monitors, but the earphone does one thing right: it makes every listening session an occasion to look forward to. Fair warning for the value-minded, there is no need to read on if you are expecting a huge performance gain compared to a solid $400 earphone.
The unique aesthetic of the IE 800 is due in large part to the rather small 7mm dynamic drivers. The diminutive drivers left quite a lot of room for the designers to sculpt the ceramic housings, resulting in sweeping curves that taper towards the rear of the earphones and terminate in two accented ports. Overall construction is extremely solid and the attention to detail is impressivethere is even a small bump on the left strain relief to help identify the channel without finding the tiny L/R markings.
In contrast to most high-end IEMs, including Sennheiser's own IE 80, the cables of the IE 800 are not detachable at the housings. Instead, the cable breaks apart at the y-split with a 2.5mm connection. It is unclear why Sennheiser eschewed using the much-liked detachable cable from the IE 80 model, or why the 2.5mm standard was chosen for the connector. The bad news stops there, howeverthe Kevlar-reinforced cord used is flexible and sturdy, and all of the hardware looks like it was built to last.
It is clear that the IE 800 was meant to be worn in the conventional cable-down manner, again unlike the IE 80 and most other higher-end IEMs on the market that intend wires up and over the ears. The only real issue with this is the cord contact noise (microphonics) present when moving aboutotherwise the comfort is excellent, due in large part to the earphones' small size and light weight. Additionally, the nozzles of the earphones are positioned at a slight angle in accordance with the ergonomics of the ear.
Much of the comfort is also down to the eartips, and these ones are proprietary to the IE 800. Each eartip is actually an assembly of the silicone sleeve, plastic core, and metal mesh screen. The plastic core clicks into the appropriate groove on the short nozzle of the earphone, becoming an extension of the sound tube. This means aftermarket eartips are not an option with the IE 800. It also means that those who can't get a good fit with the included tips are out of luck. Luckily, the included 5 pairs are of good quality and should fit most ears. In addition to eartips, the IE 800 comes with a cleaning tool and a very nice leather carrying case. The case includes an integrated cable winder and a metal plaque engraved with the serial number.
All said, the IE 800 is supremely comfortable and sounds great with a shallow fit, for which it was seemingly designed. Sennheiser obviously had a specific target in mind with theselisteners who want to just plug in and go, getting as close as possible to the sound of a high-end headphone setup in the process. This is facilitated by the fit and design of the earphones, and, as we will see on the next page, is something the IE 800 excels at.