Review Price £599.00
Sennheiser has been making headphones for the best part of a century, and in recent times it has started moving into new territory. It has just unveiled its first "urban"-ish headphones, and now we have the Sennheiser IE 800. These are the most expensive Sennheiser in-ear headphones we've ever reviewed, the thumb-sized relatives of the top-end HD 800. But can they possibly justify their £599 price?
Sennheiser has often produced rather industrial-looking headphones, where the form has followed function. There's more than just a dollop of style going on in the Sennhesier IE 800, though.
Get up close to them and they have a look that's arguably more purposefully distinctive than either the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 or Shure SE 535. However, even these top-end earphones are not direct rivals for these earphones, as the Sennheisers cost around twice the price of either. Ouch indeed. These earphones are in custom ACS T2 territory.
The earpieces are made of a smoothly-curved ceramic material, which has a hard feel closer to glass than plastic. Holding them for the first time, we'll admit Sennheiser's mention of porcelain made us worried about smashing the things, but they certainly feel extremely well-made.
The two exhaust-like pipes that form the rear of these earphones are bass ports, used to improve bass response. They will also likely reduce noise isolation a little, but during our demo they appeared to be capable of blocking out a decent amount of sound.
When we first saw the Sennheiser IE 800 at their original unveiling, we had assumed that this dual-ported design suggested there were two drivers in each earpiece. Bit there's just the one.
Sennheiser says it was out to produce the smallest full-range driver it could manage, and what resulted was a teeny 7mm driver with a claimed frequency response of 5 - 46,500Hz. That's massively impressive, and not too far off the 5 - 51,000Hz of the full-size Sennheiser HD 800. However, we do assume this is at -10dB, so the effective response may be a little different.
Getting such performance out of a single driver is quite incredible.
But before we take a look at the sound, a bit more on the accessories and cable. The Sennheiser IE 800 cable is part-removable. There's a jack bridge 10cm or so from the earbuds, letting you swap cables - Sennheiser says that cables with remote control/handsfree housings for Samsung (primarily Androids, presumably) phones and iPhones will be available in time.
The cable does not detach at the earpiece itself, but cable quality and general build quality is fantastic. What else would you expect for £600?
Along with the earphones themselves, the Sennheiser IE 800 come with a real leather case and a selection of rubber tips. The jack plug used here is the right-angle type. And to our eyes, it looks about as hardcore as they come.
We got to check out the Sennhesier IE 800 briefly during our hands-on with these impressive new earphones, and can report that - as you might expect - they sound fantastic. They don't have the treble roll-off of the top-end Shure SE 535 and have greater bass separation and overall low-end performance than both the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 and Sennheiser IE80i. Low bass performance is particularly notable, with bags of power without sacrificing sonic balance or composure. How Sennheiser has managed this with a pair of 7mm drivers is anyone's guess.
They offer superb sonic integrity, with a perfectly proportioned weight to each part of the frequency spectrum. Rich and involving, without piling on the warmth like some headphones do, there's no mistaking the Sennheiser IE 800 for anything but world-class earphones. They're not clinical-sounding, but appear to offer the insight that only highly-analytical earphones can normally eke out.
While they're terrifyingly expensive, it is somewhat reassuring that the earphones they reminded of us most notably were the AKG K3003 - which cost a grand. But are these earphones a bargain? We're going to reserve judgement until we get a pair in for a proper long-term test.
The Senneheiser IE 800 will be available from later this month from carefully-selected retailers for £599.