I will say, though, that the IE 80, much like its predecessor the IE 8, tends to lose bass definition if the earphones are not properly sealed in the ear canal. If the in-ear fit is not airtight and secure, this can have a detrimental effect on the overall perceived tonality of the pieces to which you’re listening. Listeners should be able to find a good fit though considering that Sennheiser includes 10 sets of ear tips (a small, medium, and large pair of silicone tips; a small, medium, and large pair of lamella tips; a small and large pair of foam tips; and a small and large pair of advanced ear tips).
The best example I found to explain the importance of the sound tuning feature is a Steve Strauss cover of the Bruce Springsteen song “Youngstown” from the album Just Like Love [Stockfisch]. The track starts off with the rhythmic beating of an extremely low-frequency drum that, if heard with the IE 80’s bass tuning dial set in its neutral position, sounds deep yet sort of hollow. But when you listen to the same passage with the bass dialed up to about 50%, you’ll find that suddenly the drum is rich and low and truly sets the mood for the rest of the song while still preserving the nuances and emotion of Strauss’ vocals. To take the example one step further, if you listen to the passage a third time with the bass dial set at 100% you’ll hear the bass of the drums extended down even lower but when Strauss’ voice comes into the mix it has lost the distinctive grit and emotion that it typically has. It was stunning (and quite eye-opening) to hear how different the track could sound through the IE 80s with different sound tuning settings applied.
On the Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton track “Joe Turner’s Blues” from Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues [Warner Bros.], listeners can truly appreciate the imaging capabilities of the IE 80. When you hear this track through the IE 80 you feel as though you have been transported to the Lincoln Center, so that it is easy to discern where individual instruments are positioned on stage. This track is also great because it showcases the IE 80’s ability to capture the dynamics of live musicians at play in a fashion that makes you appreciate the small pauses and tempo changes that occur as the artists wring every ounce of emotion out of their instruments and vocals. Listen specifically to Victor Goines’ clarinet fills, which emanate from stage left in the mix, and you’ll hear how the IE 80s render subtleties of attack and decay that would simply be skipped over by many other earphones.
Consider this earphone if:
• You want earphones that offer superbly neutral tonal balance and clarity to spare.
• You like the idea of being able to fine-tune each earpiece’s bass response as you see fit (within reason).
• The look of sleek, precision-oriented German design fits your style.
Look further if:
• The somewhat unusual shape of the IE 80 earpieces doesn’t work for your ears and feels uncomfortable to you. (I found my listening sessions were much shorter with the IE 80 than with my reference earphones because the shape of the Sennheiser earpieces became increasingly uncomfortable for me at around the 30 minute mark).
Ratings compared to comparably priced earphones:
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Clarity: 10
• Dynamics: 9
• Comfort/Fit: 7 (Don’t let this score shy you away, the fit is going to be different for every person especially with such an unusual earpiece shape)
• Sensitivity: 8
• Value: 8
The Sennheiser IE 80 is a remarkable earphone that rivals the tonal balance and clarity of the finest universal-fit earphone I’ve heard to date, while supplying levels of imaging spaciousness and scale that I’ve never before heard in any earphone. Add to that the fact that the IE 80 has an adjustable bass sound-tuning feature and you’ve got the recipe for an earphone that will be the user’s go-to pair in any musical application.
Sennheiser IE 80 Earphones
Drivers: Neodymium dynamic drivers
Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 20 kHz
Impedance: 16 ohms
Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.1%
Sound Pressure Level: 125 dB
Noise Isolation: Up to 26 dB
Cable: 3.9 feet, detachable
Connector: 1/8” (3.5mm) right angle
Headphone Weight: .18 oz
Warranty: 2 years