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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sennheiser IE800

Disclaimer: By no surprise, this is James' pair. Truly a great friend. 

In April 2012, Sennheiser introduce their innovative In-ear monitor, IE800, to the public. Designed by Axel Grell, who is the mastermind behind HD800's brilliant ring radiator driver, IE800 is equipped with several key features:

1. Extra Wide Band (XWB) driver with the rated frequency response range of 5 to 46.5 kHz
2. Precisely controlled air flow minimizing THD to less than 0.06 %
3. The dampened-two-channel-absorber (D2CA) reducing insertion-depth induced peaks
4. Diffuse-field equalized sound
5. Ceramic housing & detachable kevlar-reinforced cable

Unlike some manufacturers that exaggerate their technologies with commercial bluff, Sennheiser have always been quite truthful to their claims: Such as this and this. Once all these claims from #1 to #4 on IE800 turn out to be legitimate, not only IE800 will become the king of the high-end IEMs, but their technological superiority will also once again be fortified.





PRO: Low distortion, linear impedance characteristic, and naturally decaying bass

CON: There is a slight interchannel variance in the low frequency range, possibly due to the manufacturing error on the vent hole. Surprisingly, IE800 is not diffuse-field equalized, but rather is simply flat without any of HRTF in consideration, just like that of Martin Logan or Ultimate Ears. While such tonality is not of an issue at all, the fact that the manufacturer's specification indicates "diffuse-field equalized" should leave an impression of a false advertisement. Moreover, the XWB driver's high frequency bandwidth does not even reach 19 kHz, which means that the manufacturer specification is extremely misleading.

ON SECOND THOUGHT #1: The working principle of the D2CA is quite simple. It consists of dual helmholtz resonators, targeted at -6 dB @ 7 kHz & 8 kHz, canceling the half-wavelength resonance when the tip of the ear sleeve is located approximately at 24 mm & 20 mm away from the ear drum respectively. As deep-insertion is virtually impossible with small IEMs like IE800, such insertion depth compensation is absolutely brilliant.

ON SECOND THOUGHT #2: Thanks to the D2CA compensator, shallow-insertion works best for IE800, guaranteed.

ON SECOND THOUGHT #3: While the stock metal mesh does not have any acoustic damping effect, adding a small amount of acoustic resistance at the output of IE800 not only dampens some of the harshness in the treble, it also increases the frequency bandwidth greatly. This is a must for any IE800 users.

ON SECOND THOUGHT #4: According to the manufacturer, IE800 is finely tuned with precisely controlled air flow. While the upper rear vent controls the compliance of air in the rear cavity, the bottom rear vent works as a depressurizer, equalizing the air pressure of the front and the rear.

ON SECOND THOUGHT #5: It is quite interesting that the tonality of IE800 greatly resembles Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 PRO. Although IE800's overall electroacoustic performance is at another level for sure, for the users who find the Triple.Fi 10 PRO's sound to be suitable to their taste, IE800 must be a definite upgrade in every possible way. Not only the bandwidth & the sound stage have been increased, the sub-bass sounds a lot more pleasing.

ON SECOND THOUGHT #6: In conclusion, while #2 and #3 of their claims turn out to be legitimate, #1 and #4 are somewhat commercially oriented. Since even a microtransducer with the widest frequency range measured in the free-air may behave oddly in the ear canal, their mistake is somewhat understandable. (And that is why Sead Smailagic of Sony Mobile designed MH1's driver with the ear canal acoustics in consideration) In regards to #4, the diffuse-field claim.. I don't have a slightest clue what the designer, Axel Grell, was possibly thinking..

Regardless, Sennheiser IE800 is such a well-made IEM, exceeding my expectation greatly. Thus, I present a tweak: Simply add a piece of non-woven fiber, close to that of HiFiMAN's filter, and equip the IEM shallow. That's it!

18 comments:

  1. finally! thanks for the great analysis,but comparing with akg 3003, which is better?

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    1. I find AKG K3003, designed by Mr. Hannes Lehdorfer, to be an experiment project, progressively piloting the concept of BA+dynamic hybrid like how they did with their good old K340 electrostatic-dynamic hybrid system. The end result was quite nice, but Mr. Axel Grell of Sennheiser rather conservatively stuck with what they were best at, and came up with a masterpiece, which is virtually free of distortion, impedance interaction, and insertion-depth related issues.

      Although both IEMs are equally well-made, I personally prefer IE800.

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    2. Thanks! Well, now i'm gonna get it!

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  2. Hi, great measurements and review! Can you explain in more detail how to do the mod? I didn't understand where hifiman filter is...

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    1. Thank you, the mod involves with a non-woven fabric like the one you see here, which is easily found on Ebay: http://i.imgur.com/IGVel2A.jpg

      Cut out a small piece, possibly 3/16" wide, and insert it on top of the sleeve mesh, or between the sleeve and the IEM.

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  3. Thanks for another fantastic article (and James for loaning the IE800). There are so few scientific oriented audio blogs, great work!

    I remember when I got my IE800 I tried to wear it over ear as some comments recommended it, but quickly switched to cable down instead. Is seems this the only high end IEM on the market that is best worn like an earbud... Very comfortable and easy. By the way have you considered keeping an IEM top 5 list on your blog or something similar? I think many of your readers would like that! Maybe categorized by tuning style, V-form etc...


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    1. James should receive the credit, as he deserves a lot. :D

      That sounds like a good idea, I'll definitely think about the execution, as the list should be free of commercial/personal bias as much as possible.

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  4. First, congratulations on another great article and for your blog in general! Yes, it would nice to see something like a top of your favourite IEMs and also I guess you could include an ending paragraph to your articles, where you'd give your subjective opinion about how they sound, regardless of measurements...

    Now, about the IE800, they use some special tips with a mesh inside, right? So, using other tips is not possible and/or recommended? Comply has a model of foam tips with a kind of mesh/protection for earwax, the Tx model. Would be nice if you could try some of those with the IE800 and see what happens! :)

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    1. Thankx for the words. I guess giving out my own personal opinion shouldn't hurt. Since IE800 is a well-vented electrodynamic IEM, its acoustic output impedance is surprisingly low. Moreover, as the mesh on the stock sleeve does not have any acoustic damping effect, the stock sleeve is not that special after all. It can easily be substituted with Shure EA510 or Sony MH1 stock sleeve, which is acoustically equivalent.

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  5. It seems the CSD plot shows some ringing around 10k ??

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    1. Yup, quite audible too. Is it subjectable though? It goes away when the IEM is inserted shallow.

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  6. can i clarify how you wear them with shallow insertion - do you mean use larger tips so they dont insert into the ear as far ? I thought i read further up that the design of these prevents deep insertion anyway. I have experimented with the smallest tips and inserted them as deep as poss and also with the largest tip and pushed them only enough to grip in the ear - i cant really hear any difference.

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    1. Considering the fact that the average human ear canal length is about 1 in, it can be generally assumed that the D2CA is activated when the IEM barely inserted(1 mm into the ear canal) or slightly inserted(5 mm into the ear canal), whereas Etymotic Research recommends insertion depth of at least 10 mm or more into the ear canal.

      I used a pair of regular sleeves, and inserted the IEM until I obtained a good seal. That's all. As long as you do not thrust it all the way into your ear canal or barely hang it on the pinna, it should be enough to activate the resonators.

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  7. Thanks for the in depth analysis. Freq response of ie800 looks similar to eph-100 and xba 30. Can you briefly talk about differences between these iems?

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    1. NP! FR data don't explain everything. IE800 will simply murder EPH100 and XBA30 like a thug, when it comes down to electroacoustic performance.

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    2. I currently have Westone 4 and eph-100. I personally really enjoy eph-100 much more than Westone 4s mostly because of the much better sub-bass and better treble extension. I'm looking out to see if there is more refined version eph-100 out there. I feel like ie800 is more refined eph-100. Can you also compare EPH-100 and XBA-30 independent from ie800? Thanks!

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    3. Indeed, IE800 is a true step up from EPH-100, though the former is much more laid-back and refined, whereas the latter is more sibilant and punchy.

      I really don't like the current XBA models, since MH1 is lower in distortion, wider in bandwidth, and most importantly, way cheaper.

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  8. The graph with the Triple.fi (pic 9 of 10) shows a pretty nice FR of the IE800, it was only 3mm away of the reference plane or had any mods with it? I'm a bit confused comparing it with the other one (pic 6 of 10).
    Very interesting measurements!

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