The Sennheiser IE 80 have a powerful audio heritage to live up to. Their predecessors, the IE 8 earphones, are widely recognised as one of the top pairs in the £200-300 price range - and perhaps the best of the lot for lovers of bass.
This new model is a slight iteration on the classic, bringing improved clarity while retaining the famous bass response of these earphones. The gimmick of this pair is that it offers bass dials that let you control how much bottom-end they dole out. These dials sit on the back of each earpiece, and are operated using a little plastic tool included within the box.
Having experimented with the bass setting extensively, we came to the conclusion that the only way to use the IE 80 is with these turned all the way down. In this configuration, the bottom end is powerful, deep and rich without booming out in the way some bass-centric headphones do. There's a tiny amount of thickness to the bottom end that means bass-averse audiophiles should still avoid them, but if you like a bit of beef to your beats, they should be right near the top of your audition list.
To accompany this low-end performance, clarity and detail are excellent. There does not appear to be any drastic improvements over the IE 8 sound, but side-by-side with the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10, the IE 80 could keep up in supplying detail, while offering slightly punchier, tauter bass. Not bad going - although mids are beaten by Shure's SE 535 and the top-end by the Phonak PFE 232.
The slight bass and low-mid-centric approach of the previous top IE models hasn't changed, giving the Sennheiser IE 80 a clear appeal for lovers of harder-hitting music. However, we found that the slight low-mid, upper-bass bump, which adds a cuddly warmth and richness could clog up rock music - where a bass guitar is often standing in the wings, just waiting for its chance to upstage its bandmates. This is something only those who favour ultra-delicate crystalline treble over all else are likely to complain about, though. And if you're among that crowd there are other earphones you should be looking at.
Sennheiser's IE 80 leave us a little confused. While they justify their high-end price and offer an aesthetic upgrade over the IE 8 pairs, we're ultimately convinced they're not worth the upgrade for people clutching onto a beloved pair of IEs, wondering what Sennheiser has in store next.
Bags of detail and fast, taut bass ensure Sennheiser's onto another winner with the IE 80 earphones. For current IE 8 users, we're not convinced they qualify as a must-have upgrade, but if you're looking for a high-end in-ear set with more bass than the "audiophile" standard, they're worth serious consideration.