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 impressive—there 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, however—the 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 about—otherwise 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 these—listeners 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.

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zephyre's picture

Good review. Though arguably a bit late to the table, it's still nice to hear a trusted source weigh in.

Deviltooth's picture

I'll definitely listen to these if I get the chance (and then probably order another custom instead, but that's just me).

Jazz Casual's picture

It's a nice earphone and joker's listening impressions are similar to mine. As a long time user of the IE8, the IE800 sounded familiar when I tried it. Sennheiser has refined the sound signature overall but the family resemblance is strong. Although I liked the H.R. Giger-like design aesthetic, I found the IE800 more fiddly to fit than the IE8, which is the most straightforward and comfortable earphone I've used. I can also understand the misgivings about the change to the cable design, which doesn't seem to be an improvement. I preferred the K3003 however, and would choose it over the IE800.   

ljokerl's picture

Don't get me wrong, I like the aesthetic quite a bit - I just wish the form didn't come with a sacrifice in function compared to the lower-end Senn models. I still have an Sennheiser IE6 and while it doesn't sound great by today's standards, it's superbly easy to live with.

The K3003 is so far the most user-friendly of the hyper-expensive universals I've tried. 

Jazz Casual's picture

Not at all - I agree with you. I think the design revamp has made the IE800 less practical and user-friendly than its predecessors. 

Mkubota1's picture

"...the treble has a slightly "brittle" and "splashy" character."

I had the exact same impression both times I listened to this IEM.  I'm glad someone else caught it because the reviews I've read didn't mention it.  I wonder if that's the ringing Tyll mentioned?  Maybe these IEMs are particularly fit-sensitive.

ljokerl's picture

Unfortunately the nozzles of the IE 800 do not allow tip rolling but having tried all of the included tips I settled on a larger size and shallow fit to minimize treble unpleasantness. It really does seem like this earphone was designed for a shallow insertion, perhaps to minimize the potential for user error or just enhance comfort.

In any case, the intensity of the treble features that bothered me does vary with fit, but I never quite managed to get rid of them entirely.

Laurence Wayne's picture

I'm totally in alignmenmt with Jazz Casual and Tyll's observations vis-a-vis the AKG K3003.  What a superb "out and about" without the need for an amp.  Just pop 'em in (easily and comfy) and a great, natural listening experience.  

paul's picture

As soon as I read that the Sennheiser IE 800 don't work well with Dummies, I stopped reading the article.



HuoYuanjia's picture

I had the chance to use the IE800 for a while and I also used the time to write a review on a German site.

Leaving personal preferences aside (annoying subbass-boost), I also had issues with the technical performance. The highs perform far poorer than the price suggests. Actually, they are bad even when compared to the usual 400 € contenders.

I fully agree with your careful phrasing when you mention the issues but I do not understand how you simply accept it and even award the product?! Sennheiser claims to have created a miniature HD800 with reference sonic abilities. I could not disagree more.

The treble is very uneven and different cymbals splash at different levels in your face. This is confirmed by many users. Even if the resolution is good, it feels like a powerful car that cannot handle curves.

I also had obvious issues with channel imbalance and I noticed them before the measurements were posted. Cohesion is hurt by much faster decay in the highs than in the lows - even with the use of a single driver.

This is not high-end and not even close to reference sound. I am very sorry to say that because I like the leather pouch a lot.

ljokerl's picture

I hadn't noticed that the "Stuff we like" badge ended up on there. That was an editing error. 

I do like the way the IE 800 sounds overall, even though I have issues with the treble, but I think it falls a little short on the usability front next to the K3003 from AKG and even the Ultrasone IQ. That said, it is clearly not a "reference" sound. The fact that it is marketed as such is dissapointing, but ultiamtely inconsequential since I am not looking to validate any marketing claims.

Regarding the treble - I agree that it is far from accurate, but just how bothersome it is will depend on a number of factors and will vary between listeners. Listening volume and personal tolerance to treble peaks are two obvious ones, but there is also Sennheiser's new dual-chamber absorber (D2CA) feature, which seems to be designed to eliminate a treble peak at 7.5k caused by ear canal resonance. The patent can be found here. My guess is that the effectiveness of D2CA is highly dependent on seal/insertion depth. I definitely noticed a difference in the treble "tizziness" when playing around with the different tips and ended up with tips a size larger than those I normally use to keep the treble under control (more or less).

Regarding channel imbalance - the one in the measurements was caused by the difficulty of getting the IE 800 to fit in the testing rig, as noted by Tyll. I have two pairs of the IE 800 here and there is no audible channel imbalance with either unit. In any case it will definitely vary between units so if you're hearing an imbalance with yours it might make sense to get a replacement under warranty.

I am very glad that at the very least they were able to get the pouch right, unlike AKG.

HuoYuanjia's picture

Thank you for the reply. I think we are on the same page.

The pair I reviewed actually belongs to another user and, luckily, he says the imbalance issues are not as grave as I tried to make him believe. I assume they are fit dependant too. I did try both M and L tips with and without foam and it was more obvious to me than with any IEM in my collection, though.

The effect of D2CA seems to cause the bouncy treble or tizziness. I guess, in the end, it's a matter of preference.

I really wish Sennheiser had aimed for a 499 € price point. In that case it would have been an obvious recommendation for many people searching for an easy to use in-ear.

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