The Flexible Flagship
May 19th, 2010 -- by Chris Martens
Let me provide comparisons to show how Sennheiser’s IE 8 stacks up relative to two of its closest competitors, the Shure SE 530 and Monster Cable Turbine Pro Copper Edition.
Sennheiser IE 8 vs. Shure SE530
- The SE 530 lists for between $499.99 and $549.99, while the IE 8 retails for $449.95. Research shows that street pricing for both models falls significantly below retail pricing, and that the two products are similarly priced.
- The SE 530 offers a handy PTH (Push-to-Hear) module as an option that allows users to momentarily turn down the music and instead to hear natural room sounds (via an inline mic) at the push of a button. The IE 8 does not offer such an option.
- The IE 8 offers a user adjustable “sound tuning” feature where the SE 530 does not.
- The IE 8 offers detachable/replaceable signal cables where the SE 530 does not (though Shure’s next-generation SE 535—slated for release later this year—will incorporate this feature).
- The SE 530 is a three-driver design which proponents say gives the Shure an advantage in terms of optimizing drivers to cover specific portions of the audio spectrum. On the other hand, the IE 8 arguably enjoys a narrow edge in overall sonic purity and coherency.
- Tonal balance for both headphones is similar, at least when the IE 8 is left in its default bass output setting. Of course, the IE 8 does allow dialing-in additional bass should the circumstances warrant.
- Both headphones come with extensive set of eartips, so that users should plan on spending time experimenting to find which tips work best for them.
- Both headphones use over-the-ear cable routing schemes, which will please some listeners but frustrate others. On the whole, the SE 530 is easier to fit owing to the fact that its earpieces are smaller and more smoothly shaped (in contrast, the IE 8 earpieces are somewhat large and more angular so that creased edges can and sometimes do come into contact with ear surfaces). Once properly fitted, though, long term comfort between the two headphones is comparable.
Sennheiser IE 8 vs. Monster Cable Turbine Pro Copper Edition
- The Copper Editions retail for $399.99, while the IE 8’s retail for $449.95. Research suggests, however, that the street price for the IE 8’s may well be lower than that of the Copper Editions.
- The IE 8 offers a user adjustable “sound tuning” feature, where the Copper Editions do not.
- Tonal balance for the IE 8’s and Copper Editions is similar, though the Copper Editions do sound just slightly more extended at the frequency extremes (though this is a subtle difference that some listeners might not notice at first).
- Both designs offer very high degrees of purity and coherency, though when push comes to shove I would say the edge goes to the Copper Editions. That said, however, note that ultra-high levels of transparency and detail are not necessarily what all listeners are looking for (one man’s “excellent resolution” can be another man’s “too much information”). Listeners who crave resolution, detail and focus will probably gravitate toward the Copper Editions, while music lovers who want their sonic details be presented with absolutely uncanny smoothness will likely prefer the IE 8s.
- Both headphones offer an excellent array of eartips, and both require considerable trial-and-error experimentation to find out which eartips work best for a given user. In an absolute sense, Monster’s dual-layer, gel-type Super Tips are among the most sonically effective eartips I’ve yet heard, though their somewhat stiff consistency means they may not be the last word in wearer comfort.
- On the whole, the compact Copper Editions are easier to fit and more comfortable for very long listening sessions than the somewhat more awkwardly shaped IE 8’s. In part, the Copper Editions benefit from the fact that they do not require over-the-ear cable routing, though the IE 8’s are helped along by the fact that the IE 8 earpieces are featherweight designs. In contrast, the Copper Edition’s solid metal earpiece housings, though compact, can feel a bit “chunky” at times.
- The IE 8 carries a superb two-year warranty, but the Copper Editions come with an unbeatable limited lifetime free replacement warranty—even if users are responsible for breaking the headphones.
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, and so on). One word of caution: 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. Patience is the order of the day.