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Sennheiser IE8i - Sound Quality, Performance and Value

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
Sennheiser IE8i 7

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

The Sennheiser IE8i's sound signature is defined by the dynamic drivers used. It's warm and bassy, and not what we usually expect from a pair of earphones costing around £200. Up on the high-end shelf, earphones tend to become terribly serious, obsessing over accuracy and fidelity. Not so here.

However, these aren't the bullish dynamic earphones you'll find for less cash - these are probably the best dynamic driver IEM earphones in the world.

Sennheiser IE8i 1

They have the voluminous bass recognised as a feature of dynamic earphones, but it's taut, deep and as well-behaved as a diplomat. But it's a diplomat who's always ready to become the life and soul of the party. While this warm, bassy sound signature is a good catch-all approach to take at the low end of the earphone market, it's more of a risk here up top.

It's the opposite of what's traditionally linked to the "audiophile" tone expected at this price. In order to combat this, Sennheiser incorporated the user-customisable bass dial, which sits on the outer edge of each earpiece. The dial is turned using a tool included as part of the package, and it subtly turns up the bass response.

Sennheiser IE8i

After some experimentation with various bass levels, we found the lowest setting to be the best, most balanced option. It supplies the powerful sound that's the staple of these earphones without letting the low-end dominate.

Quite what magic Sennheiser has weaved to keep such a healthy low-end swell in-check within a pair of single-driver earphones remains something of a mystery, but it's helped by the unusually wide soundstage. This provides excellent separation and a wonderful sense of space within complex arrangements that's very rare in a bass-heavy earphone. This is truly one of just a few bass-crazy IEMs that will satisfy audio snobs.

Sennheiser IE8i 4

Greater treble insight can be found in the more traditional multi-balanced-armature brigade, such as the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10, but there's little point in chasing the Sennheiser IE8i from the start unless big bass is high on your priority list. We've criticised Skullcandy-toting bass hunters in our reviews in the past, but the IE8i earphones' stellar bass deserves no detractors. The effect it has on the super-low frequencies of dubstep tracks is particularly praise-worthy - it's scarily good - but it comes in handy with all genres because it's kept in check.

The upgrade the Sennheiser IE8i offer over the previous IE8 model, reviewed back in 2009, is the on-cable hands-free microphone and remote control. It allows you to take calls while these earphones are jammed in your ears, as well as changing tracks and volume when listening to music. This housing adds around £20-25 to the retail price, compared with the IE8.

Sennheiser IE8i

At £200, the Sennheiser IE8i sit alongside the Ultimate Ears Triple fi 10 and Shure SE425. Each has a different character - the Shure SE425 middy and mature, the Triple fi bright and fun, and the IE8i are bass-pump pioneers. Crucially though, they perform around the same level. This feat is all the more impressive when you consider the Sennheisers are powered by a single driver, while the Ultimate Ears earphones use three a piece.

Verdict

The Sennheiser IE8i show that earphones don't need six drivers to produce great sound. Using dynamic drivers, the low-end is more prominent here than in almost all pairs available at a similar price, but the quality of bass here is alarmingly good. It's deep, taut and thoroughly exciting.

If you want an analytical, bright or completely neutral pair of earphones, you're looking in the wrong place. But if your discerning ears are after a good time, you can't go far wrong here.

Overall Score

9

Scores In Detail

  • Design & Features 8
  • Sound Quality 9
  • Value 8

ffrankmccaffery

July 8, 2011, 4:19 pm

Painful to read as an IE7 owner - even though I got those cheap.

Andrew_TR

July 8, 2011, 4:27 pm

Are you not impressed with your IE7s then?

ffrankmccaffery

July 8, 2011, 7:29 pm

I most definitely am but contentment isn't a virtue common amongst AV enthusiasts.

simon jackson

July 8, 2011, 8:12 pm

I currently own the ultimate ears super fi 5 pros (twin driver precursors to the triple fi 10s). I enjoy their sound signature, but that said im not generally overly fussy in that department - i think you get used to the sound signature of whatever cans you use regularly, whether that be flat, bass heavy or overly trebbly. I've been considering upgrading to the 10s for a while, but i'm a bit suspicious of the multi driver trend of late. Feels a bit like the megapixel race in digital cameras. I've read a few articles espousing the virtues of a single, high quality driver over several lower quality ones. So naturally this review has piqued my interest. I listen to a really broad range of stuff, from classical to dub-step and everything in between, so it'd definitely be nice to have some 'phones that can kick out some decent bass for music that suits it. Would these be a sensible upgrade from the 5 pros?

Andrew_TR

July 8, 2011, 8:15 pm

Hi Simon,
I've owned both the Super Fi 5 pros and the Triple.Fi 10s (and I reviewed the IE8i here). The Triple.Fi 10s are a big step up from the Super.Fi 5 Pros, much as I loved the 5s at the time. I personally prefer the Triple Fi to the IE8i, but they're both fantastic. The Sennheisers have more bass though, if that's a concern.

simon jackson

July 8, 2011, 8:42 pm

Ahhh I do love the 5 pros, so looks like it might be swinging back in the Triple fi 10s favour again ;) Many thanks for the insight!

Godxyon

November 14, 2011, 6:56 pm

Had the ie8 for a few years changing across from Klipsch X10's which kept failing. Very Pro feeling, well made with great carry case. Bass knob is a bit of a gimmick I feel as this just muddies the sound for me. And bass is well high enough even at lowest setting (..so who'd want more anyway?) Definately a bit weak in the treble though, so I feel that clarity is a bit of an issue with me. So I need to use the EQ setting in my player to 'brighten up' a bit
Makes my ears hurt after a few hours with the large size also. Over the ear design is a bit of a pain. The stirrups dont work so well juts being plain annoying. I am for ever fiddling with them if I move around a lot (walking for the bus etc) to keep them in place. Sit still at a desk and all is fine though.

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