- Excellent bass
- Great detail
- Minor upgrade over IE 8
- Average looks
- Bass dial arguably unnecessary
- Review Price: £254.99
- Removable cable
- Adjustable bass response
- 1.2m cable
- 10 - 20,000 Hz frequency response
The Sennheiser IE 80 take the top-end baton from the IE 8i, one of our favourite pairs of 2011. They don’t look all that different and offer very similar functionality, although this new pair leaves out the handsfree kit – the inevitable IE 80i will tighten-up that slack.
Like their predecessors, we haven’t fallen in love with the looks of the IE 80 IEMs. Sennheiser has added a brushed metal plate to the back, but they remain chunky and angular in a way that won’t win them any pretty points. The plastic bodies of the buds are finished in dark metallic brown, making up a trio of shades with the silver of the back and the black of the cable – a distinct design, but not a beautiful one. When they’ll spend most of their time in your ears who cares, right?
Setting aside the looks question, the Sennheiser IE 80 make many of the right moves. The cable is removable, letting you replace it without having to replace the earphones themselves, and ends in a chunky right-angle jack that should be able to stand some significant punishment. With a standard plastic-coated round cable design, Sennheiser hasn’t made any conspicuous moves to reduce tangling, but as cable friction is fairly low, we didn’t find this a problem
They come with a decent selection of rubber and foam tips, to give you some level of isolation from the outside world. However, we found that noise isolation was not quite up to the level offered by an important rival, the Shure SE535. The tips used here are similar to those used in the CX-series earphones, which are happy to sit on the entrance to your ear canal rather than delving deep like the olive-shaped tips used by Shure and Klipsch.
These less invasive tips require a bit more care and attention about their fit – just jamming them in won’t get the best seal – but equally many people, who can’t get on with earphones that feel as though they’re trying to tickle your brain stem, like this style.
The Sennheiser IE 80 earphones don’t come with a traditional carry case, but part of the unusually-chunky plastic packaging pulls out, becoming plastic armour for your new, expensive earphones. Within the packaging, you’ll also find a pair of rubbery ear hooks to let you wear them over your ears easily. Like the buds themselves they’re not exactly pretty, but keep the cable in check very well – more so than most ear hooks we’ve encountered.
All this is just useless window dressing, of course, if they don’t sound any good.
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.
Score in detail
Design & Features 8
Sound Quality 9
|Number of Drivers (Times)||1x|
|Frequency Range||10 - 20,000Hz|