(Editor’s Note: what follows is a blog—not a formal product review. In keeping with longstanding practice at Playback, we typically like to do “First Listen” articles to give you initial impressions when products first arrive, and then to follow up with in-depth product reviews later on. Enjoy.)
Sennheiser’s IE 8 ($449.95) is the firm’s flagship in-ear headphone and it’s a product I’ve wanted to hear for a very long time. I’ve previously reviewed lower cost Sennheiser in-ear models and a number of their full-size, over-the-ear headphones, but somehow the IE8’s remained elusive (perhaps because Sennheiser sell all that it can make?)—until now, that is.
What drew me to the IE 8’s was an introduction that I got at a Sennheiser tradeshow booth well over a year ago. The booth guide explained that while the second-to-the-top-of-the-line IE 7s and top-of-the-line IE 8s were both intended as top-tier performers, the IE 7 offered—deliberately—slightly brighter or more “treble rich” tonal balance overall, while the IE8 offered more neutral voicing (which is always music to my ears, if you’ll pardon the pun).
But what I didn’t realize at the time was that the IE 8 actually offers user adjustable voicing—a feature not commonly seen in in-ear headphones (in fact, off the top of my head, I really can think of another that provides the feature). Here’s how it works. Each of the IE 8’s earpieces provides a small, recessed frequency-response adjustment screw, complete with finely graduated adjustment markings (so that you can experiment and easily repeat settings that work best for you). When the screws are turned full counter-clockwise, frequency response measurements are as flat (or neutral) as possible. But, because some listeners perceive measurably flat response as being a bit bass-shy, Sennheiser lets you dial in more bass emphasis by turning the screws in the clockwise direction (more rotation = more bass emphasis).
While you may or may not wish to adjust response from its default neutral position (I had a strong preference for the neutral setting), it’s nice to know that at least some range of bass adjustment is possible. Interestingly, though the adjustment screws affect only bass balance, they give the illusion of adjusting the “tilt” or slope of the headphone’s entire response curve. As you turn the screws toward the full-neutral position, the headphone sounds brighter and a perhaps a bit more open through the midrange, while with the screws turned the other way, toward maximum bass emphasis, the headphone takes on a darker, deeper, warmer cast.
The Sennheiser IE 8 come in a neat rectangular packing case with a flip-open lid and a multi-level series of foam packing trays within (one level contains the headphones, themselves, while another contains their hard-plastic carrying case plus accessories. Frankly, the packing case fits together a bit like a challenging children’s puzzle, so that it takes some time to figure out how to get at the contents (then again, they say you have to be smarter than the box in order to use what’s inside it…).
Once you get everything unpacked, you’ll find the IE 8 package includes: