With the IE 80S BT, Sennheiser wants to satisfy the audiophile slice of the market with these Bluetooth-enabled headphones. At a retail price of just under 500 Euros, you’d be forgiven for being more than a little curious at just how well they deliver.
First things first, the IE 80S is thoroughly equipped for daily listening on the go. Thanks to an elasticised silicone neckband that’s been designed for easy access to essential controls, not to mention the handy inclusion of earhooks, wearing comfort is high and positioning in the ear both safe and secure. This is true even when you factor in fast paces and sudden, jerky movements. On the other hand, the design of these headphones means they’re not the easiest to slip in or remove quickly.
There’s a wide selection of ear inserts to choose from, with no less than nine sets available here. There’s two types of silicone on offer here, each with three sizes apiece. There are also three sizes in memory foam form, with these inserts, in particular, providing welcome acoustic insulation against the outside. As always, picking the right earpieces has a noticeable effect on the overall sound quality, particularly when it comes to the bass components of the audio material you’re looking to enjoy.
Technically, Sennheiser relies on high-quality dynamic drivers boasting powerful neodymium magnets. The driver housings themselves can be removed for wired operation with the RCs IE smartphone cable, which can be purchased as an optional extra for approximately 50 Euros/Dollars. This cable features an integrated microphone and remote control as standard. The drivers are particularly impressive and perform well, with no need for any substantial electronic correction.
Bluetooth 5.0 is used for the wireless connectivity of these headphones. Music signals pass through a high-quality DA convertor from AKM. Equally as important here are the codecs, with the manufacturer supporting a substantial amount of them. Compatible codecs include SBC, LHDC and AAC, Sennheiser also supports data transfer via aptX HD and aptX LL. The latter two are low-latency options ideal for enjoying films and television material. The only notable absentee from the compatible codec list is LDAC.
A USB-C charging port and buttons are located on the left side of the neckband. You’ll find a button for triggering the digital assistant via smartphone, along with buttons for music and volume controls. The outer buttons control the levels themselves, while the middle one handles start/stop functions, skips forward/backwards between tracks, manages call acceptance and switches the device on and off. Pairing is initiated via a key combination. Operation via these keys takes a little getting used to and a while to perfect.
The free Smart Control app for iOS and Android allows for further configuration. Automatic functions for call acceptance and termination can be activated, while status information can be delivered as voice announcements or audible tones if desired. The app also grants access to a five-band equaliser, allowing you to raise and lower respective bands by ±6 dB each, even if the resulting changes are somewhat discreet.
Some dropout of signal can be expected, even if you’d expect more reliability from Bluetooth 5.0. Battery life, which is advertised as six hours, is also on the average side. On the other hand, voice quality for calls is impressive, both for the caller and recipient. According to the manufacturer, noise-cancelling technology is utilised in this area.
Listening tests were carried out with an iPhone 8 and the Comply earpieces which, among other things, provide good levels of ambient noise suppression and an effective seal for bass-heavy audio. Furthermore, the bass section can be adjusted manually on the drivers themselves, with a miniature screwdriver supplied with the headphones to assist with this. However, we made no such adjustments for the purposes of our test.
In the bass range, the IE 80S BT delivers a convincing performance. Sounds are reproduced beautifully down to the lowest frequency, with superb definition as standard. This takes into account dynamic differences and tonalities. In my opinion, you’re best served by turning these headphones to a higher volume, but you shouldn’t push these levels too enthusiastically. With too high a level and considerably low bass, the drivers reach their limits.
Mids elegantly convey the sound character of vocals and acoustic instruments, giving audio material a real sense of emotion and the listening experience an intimate edge. Conversely, the IE 80S BT provides the required pressure for mid-focused material such as rock genre recordings. I felt that these headphones performed a little too well in the lower mids than elsewhere, with the result being the higher mids were outshone. Nevertheless, speech intelligibility is good, as is the dynamic response. This is particularly noticeable with orchestral recordings.
In the higher frequency range, the desired blend of fast pace and rich detail is present. What’s more, hardness is not an issue here. As a result, the stereo panorama and positioning of individual sound elements are well reproduced, delivering audio that’s incredibly animated in character. Finally, acoustic depth is beautifully reproduced, with these headphones hitting an above-average level in this area.
The IE 80S consistency achieves top marks in almost every respect. Nevertheless, I struggle to give it the audiophile seal of approval. In terms of clarity and resolution, these headphones cannot compete with wired over-ears you might find at a similar price. In addition to this, sound enjoyment in typical smartphone situations is never optimal due to the reduced levels. Particularly in terms of this drawback, I’m confused as to why Sennheiser hasn’t integrated noise cancellation as an easy fix. However, this may be at odds with the audiophile philosophy. Having said that, it’d instantly increase overall intensity of sound output and ultimately, enhance listening enjoyment.
With the IE 80S, Sennheiser has delivered a confident and consistently solid piece of hardware. Sound quality, not to mention workmanship and driver technology, convinces in all the right places. In view of the RRP of almost 500 Euros, the lack of noise-cancelling capabilities might come as a shock. This is especially true of a Bluetooth-enabled device. However, the smartphone-centric concept brings with it some limitations. Ultimately, Sennheiser has produced a headphone design that continues its efforts to encourage puristic listening enjoyment with a clear focus on sound quality.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)10 - 20.000 Hz
- Sound pressure level (SPL)110 dB
- Weight with cable30 g
What's in the box
- Detachable Bluetooth neck strap (IEN BT)
- Silicone ear tips ( S, M, L)
- Lamella silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- Comply ear tips (S, M, L)
- USB C charging cable
- Travel case
- BT codecs: SBC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, AAC, LHDC
- BT version: 5.0
- BT profiles: HSP, HFP, AVRCP, A2DP
- Free iOS/Android App
- Optional cable for IE 80 S with in-line remote control and microphone for smartphones and tablets (universal)