At £250, the flagship IE 8 sound-isolating earphones from Sennheiser sit at the top of the price range even for high-end earphones, competing head-on with the Shure SE530s and Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10s.
With the potential to customise their sound in ways we've never seen before, we have to admit we were excited when these arrived. They're on sale now.
Like many high-end earphones, these are to be worn with the cable going up over the top of the ears. It gives a more secure fit, but the 'phones can be comfortably worn in the more traditional way quite comfortably, should you really want to.
They're extremely well-built, with cabling that easily detaches from the earphone enclosures for easy upgrade or replacement in the future. We found them to be comfortable from the word go, and easily enjoyable for several hours on end, depending on which tips you use.
A range of such tips are provided in the box, from traditional silicone plugs, to double-flanged silicone, to stiff foam. As with many things in life, experimentation here is key. Take some time to find the right fit for your ears, and ensure a good seal in the ear canal as this is critical for bass conduction.
One of the most interesting and unusual aspects of this earphone involves a small screw on each enclosure. Using the supplied screwdriver-cum-earwax remover (not a tool we get to write about often), you can turn the screw to increase or decrease bass intensity to your liking. We'll come to this again later.
Inside, and unlike the competing Shure SE530s and Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10s, the IE 8s use just a single dynamic speaker driver instead of the aforementioned models' use of three. Sennheiser believes such designs offer wider frequency response ranges, lower distortion at higher volume levels and a greater resistance to damage from knocks and bumps.
These drivers deliver a frequency response between 10Hz-20kHz, with a sensitivity of 125dB/mW and a low impedance of 16Ohms, making them suitable for all portable players. No extension cable or 6.3mm adaptor is included, which, considering the price and competition, is a bit poor (pun intended).
In our initial hands-on report for Crave, we mentioned how impressive these earphones were for dance music, thanks to their explosive, seismic bass performance. And our opinion hasn't changed. Not only does the driver respond to frequencies so low you can almost feel them instead of hear them, they're extraordinarily powerful to boot.
We've said this about Denon's fantastic AH-C751s -- another single driver earphone we've complimented the bass performance of -- but the IE 8s take this to a new level by offering a warmth to their sound that the Denons avoid. Combined with a rich, detailed mid-range, it makes vocals and most instruments sound wonderfully alive.
Pendulum's thick, live style of drum 'n' bass sold these earphones to us. The unthinkably low bass lines and rumblings found in this type of electronic music will cause dance fans to grin, and hold that grin until the song finishes.
We also found them to be notably capable with rock and metal, R 'n' B and rap; Muse and Metallica, Rihanna and T.I. Again, it's that cataclysmic bass and the in-your-face-like-a-hatchet-to-the-head power the IE 8s can deliver.
Using the bass screw mentioned earlier, this booming bass can be reduced slightly, although it's perhaps not as huge a reduction as some people might like.
Compared the the Shure SE530s, the IE 8s still deliver a huge wallop of low-end activity, but lack some of the crystalline clarity in the high end, suggesting to us that the Shures are more balanced, and more suitable if you favour sonic balance and an airier, more transparent treble, more than sub woofer-esque bass.
The much more affordable Denon AH-751s deliver a brighter treble, with more perceivable detail in the high-end, at the expense of the warmth and mid-range punch felt through the IE 8s. And in fact, the IE 8s are solid all-rounders for every genre we tried (and we try the lot!), as long as deep bass is important to you.
A blindingly impressive pair of earphones and more than worthy competitors to the Shure SE530s. As long as you like deep bass, these earphones will bring out dance, drum 'n' bass, rap, rock, metal and pop with admirable skill -- our favourite earphone to date for these genres.
Shure's SE530s will give you less bass but a sweeter, airier treble, perhaps making them preferable for country, folk and jazz, but this is too subjective for us to use when scoring the IE 8s. But they're certainly an alternative to consider if you want the abilities of the IE 8s, without the extended low-end presence, or if you find bass fatiguing after a few hours of listening.Edited by Cristina Psomadakis