The new Sennheiser IE80 earphones are only a small upgrade over the equally competent IE8. Having said that, we can say it with complete confidence that these in-ear soldiers will appeal equally to the crowd that likes the 'neutral' sound, and to someone who wants more thump to the tunes. The trick is in the little screw dial that lets you tweak the sound to your liking. They might just dent your wallet though.
Good sound is expensive, and there is no getting away from that fact. Which is why, it’s mostly the ‘audiophiles’ amongst us who don’t mind spending so much money for speakers, home theaters, and even something we consider as very basic – earphones. We are a tad surprised when people spend anything upwards of Rs. 50,000 for a home theater or even the high-end iPod docks, but will only ask for “budget” recommendations for earphones! By budget in this category, we mean below Rs 5,000.
Looking at the utility aspect, you may end up using the earphones for while you are sitting in office, commuting, or even at night while reading a book. And the expensive home theater - maybe for a couple of hours a day, at the maximum? If you are among the demographic that use the earphones quite a bit during the day, every day, we recommend you consider spending more than the usual pittance on earphones.
While the Sennheiser’s IE80 earphones would still be beyond a newly extended budget, it is a prime example of something true that was said by someone very smart – “good sound costs money”, which holds true even for the smallest drivers among them all – the earphones. With the Sennheiser IE80 walking the same expensive path, they need to be brilliant – a feat of miniaturization, if you will – but are they?
Build & Design
The Sennheiser IE80 are expensive earphones, which is why there is that dash of brushed metal on the outer side. The area around the ear buds is still plastic - albeit with a metallic colour finish, and the review earphones that we got had the dark brown finish. However, they are still rather chunky like the predecessors. With the silver brushed metal at the back, the brown innards and the black cable including the connectors, this trio of colours is the maximum colour you will get from something that aims to remain rather understated. We like the no gloss and no shine though process, but somehow this trio of colours doesn’t blend in very well. While we wouldn’t take anything away from the very premium build of the IE80, we’ll note it doesn’t have the visual smoothness we would have expected.
The area of the Sennheiser IE80 that sits just above the ear buds has been given a chunky design, something a few people may at first find a little uncomfortable, but shouldn’t bother you once you get used to it. We found it quite comfortable, and had no issues with any stress on the outer portions of the ear because of this. Once you do wear it, you begin to see the sense in the design of the IE80. The angular position it sits at means one edge is comfortably snuggled and held in place by the inner side of the rear-facing portion of the ear.
On the metal finish area of the Sennheiser IE80 earphones, you would notice two slightly depressed tiny screws. These are for tweaking the sound between more lower end thump, or to switch back to a neutral sound. The cable can be removed and replaced, negating the need for replacing the earphones themselves in case the cable breaks.
While we find the design of the earphones slightly odd, there is no taking away from the fact that they are very comfortable to use. There are multiple sized in-ear buds offered with the package, meaning you will surely find one that is comfortable for you. The earphones themselves sit very comfortably on the ear, and the cable is adequately long for keeping your music source in the jeans pocket without the risk of the cable getting stretched. Slightly surprised that there is no inline volume controls, something even the much lower priced CX400 II Precision offers!
There are lots of nifty little features that Sennheiser offers with the IE80. First is the carry case that is big enough to store the different sized ear buds as well as the screw for tweaking the sound. It has a unique slide out from one side style, but at first look, you will probably be searching for a traditional lid to open it up! We would recommend carrying the IE80 in a soft pouch most of the time, if you aren’t carrying the buds and the screw all the time.
The second feature, for which there is the packed key, is the ability to tweak the sound on the earphones individually. That tiny little screw can be used to turn the dial between a neutral sound and a more bass heavy one. Now this is an idea we really like – offer the option of complete customization to the users, for what they prefer. We remember the good old Hi-Fi home audio systems did offer this feature at one point of time, but that seemed to have been forgotten for quite a while now. Sennheiser has brought it back, and it has our compliments for that.
The third really interesting feature is the ability to change the cables in case something goes wrong with them. Instead of having to throw away the earphones and buying another ones, these ones can do good with just a change of the cable. To provide additional insurance against breakage due to sudden extension, the ends of the cable have been given a nice rubber protection. The one on the 3.5mm jack’s end is particularly quite solid.
If the Sennheiser IE80 was playing cricket and signed with the name Cheteshwar Pujara, it would be under a lot of pressure considering it was replacing the legend Rahul Dravid, in this case the Sennheiser IE8! The predecessor, the IE8, was one of the best earphones between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 30,000. Those who wanted earphones leaning slightly towards bass heavy appreciated the efforts of Sennheiser in making the IE8 punchy, without sounding boomy.
What the IE80 does is builds on the excellent bass, with a lot more in terms of clarity. The overall sound is now more wholesome than before, with the vocals not getting overshadowed. The detail in an audio track is of utmost importance, irrespective of the sound leanings, and the Sennheiser IE80 does excellently on that front. The fact that you can manage how much punch you want thanks to the dials on the earphones means you have the clarity as a foundation to build on, with as much bass as you want, depending on whether you are listening to hard hitting music or not. Unlike the IE8, the IE80 handles something like rock music a lot better. Those of you who like a certain amount of sharpness to the treble bit will be a bit disappointed, because the way the IE80 handles it is in a softer way, without sounding flat, wooly or sharp. That is a difficult thing to do, but as we have said all along, the IE80 seems to be aimed at the user who wants a bit of everything, without really having any staunch leanings in terms of what the sound should be like.
If you are using the right tips, choosing correctly from the many that come as a part of Sennheiser IE80 earphones package, you end up with pretty good ambient noise blocking. Without active noise reduction, the snug fit of the earphones is very important to prevent outside noise from trickling in. We’ve tried out the multiple tips, and the perfect fit did block out 90% of the ambient sounds. So much so that we were listening to music and typing a document at the same time on the laptop, and the keyboard sounds were completely clocked out.
A mild safety warning to those who haven’t tried earphones with good sound proofing or noise cancellation, be sure not to wear them for the first time whilst outdoors –walking the dog or checking out some sights in the public transport! Make sure you get used to the experience first, though of course, alacrity and alertness in any environment is advised.
Surprisingly, there are no inline volume controls with the Sennheiser IE80. That is something even the Rs. 4,000 priced earphones – the CX 400 II Precision offer. For now, you will need to use the device to control the volume.
What you get with the Sennheiser IE80 is taut bass, deep details, extreme clarity and the ability to manage how much bass thump you would like. The IE80 does not have any leanings out of the box – neither is it bass heavy, or is it treble centric. What it does, and does well, is follow the neutral path with great effect. Purely for the sound bit, this is a worthy successor to the Sennheiser IE8.
However, all this does come for a price. In a market where earphones are primarily treated with a very meager budget, we aren’t sure how many people will actually consider this. You say those who love sound, or those who use earphones for a large part of their daily life? Yes, they surely will put down the cash for this one, but at Rs. 24,990, it will be rather restricted to these limited demographics. But if you have saved up enough, and prefer in-ear earphones as your primary or travel audio devices, this is a good choice.