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The Sennheiser IE 8is are a high-end pair of in-ears designed with iPhone compatibility in mind. As with other high-end earbuds, the buds themselves are detachable, allowing the user to easily replace cables if and when they break.

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Like other Sennheiser earbuds, the nozzle is moderately long with a closed end, preventing most of your skin oil, earwax and other assorted bodily residue collecting in the speaker itself. Should you be an exceptionally waxy person, a cleaning tool is included to brush away the deposits on the mesh gate of the speakers.

The side of the headphones show off the silver-painted Sennheiser logo, prominently featured on a flat plane. Also here is the bass control for the earbuds. The included cleaning tool has a screwdriver attachment that is small enough to adjust these.

The cable insulation isn't very thick compared to other high-end earbuds, but the neck split is fairly well-protected. Further down the cable is an in-line volume control and a microphone. The cable is 3.94 feet, which isn't a bad length for earbuds.

The Sennheiser IE 8i's cable ends in a fairly uninspiring semi-translucent 3.5mm plug.

The cord guards by the head piece are translucent grey plastic like the plug's casing. The ear buds are removable, should you need to replace the cable.

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Inside the IE 8i's box, you will find several differently-shaped sleeves, foam nozzle-guards, a pair of ear loops, a clip, and a travel pouch.

As previously mentioned, the cords are not thickly-insulated or protected beyond what you'd find in a $20 pair of headphones at the local drugstore, so keep in mind you may have to replace cables more often if you're not careful. The gauge of the wire is also fairly thin, detracting from the overall durability of the IE 8i's cables. Still, the option exists to actually replace broken cables, which isn't found on many lower-end earbuds, so the IE 8is get good marks for this capability.

The Sennheiser IE 8is have a matte black plastic finish with a simple design: they don't have any gaudy frills or unnecessarily flashy features. Still, they're more attractive than some of their competition, which earns them a decent score.

The Sennheiser IE 8is had a fairly good overall frequency response, with great bass and no dramatic falloff along the range of audible frequencies. However, there was a rather notable problem with a boost in the 6.5-8kHz range. While it does make the sound of drum attack louder, it also makes any other sound within that range fairly shrill. Sibilance ( for instance: s, sh) will be noticeably louder with the IE 8is, which isn't a good thing.

Frequency Response Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Frequency_Response) The Sennheiser IE 8is don't show much in the way of distortion, with only tiny peaks registering in our measurements.
Distortion Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Distortion) For most of the measured range, the IE 8is had a fairly even tracking response. However, near the 5-6kHz range, there was an inexplicable, significant shift towards the right channel.
Tracking Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Tracking) The IE 8is don't block as much outside sound as other in-ear headphones do, but they still block out a decent amount of mid to high frequency sound, and some low frequency sounds as well.
Isolation Graph
[Click here for more information on our isolation test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Isolation) In-ears usually don't leak much sound, but the IE 8is underperformed a bit in this area for their type. Still, unless you're going to be blasting music at an unreasonably high level, chances are good that bystanders won't hear much of anything at all. [Click here for more information on our leakage test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Leakage) The IE 8is have a healthy maximum usable volume of 119.6 dB, which is quite loud for a device that fits inside your ear canal. Our guess is you probably won't have to drown out an 80dB jet engine in there, so you will almost never need to listen to your IE 8is at this level, even though the sound quality would still be quite good. The IE 8is can output sound in excess of 119.6dB, but they'll have more than 3% distortion: a noticeable amount. Still, we ask that you trust us on this one and leave your volume at a level under 120dB: this is the threshold that can cause permanent hearing loss. [Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Maximum Usable Volume) The Sennheiser IE 8is have a decent array of silicone and foam sleeves to best fit your individual ear canals. If you're worried about securing them to your ear, Sennheiser has included a pair of ear loops to assuage your fears of your $450 earbuds falling out and getting stepped on. Fairly comfortable, they tend to trap a lot of moisture between the silicone and your ear canal should the environment you're in be anything other than perfect. Consequently, the silicone sleeves don't always make the best fit for use at the gym. In all fairness to Sennheiser, this section is subjective at best, so try out your earbuds before you buy them: it's the only way to really determine how well they will fit you. Because ear canals aren't all exactly alike, it is quite possible—nay, probable—that your fit will be better or worse than what we're reporting (as we are more machine now, than man). Over time, the moisture buildup made our ears fairly uncomfortable. While the foam pads don't have this issue, they tend to get hot and we ended up removing them periodically as they were a bit itchy. Still, these issues aren't too unexpected given the nature of their issues in short term use, so there really isn't much of a difference in score here. The Sennheiser IE 8is come with two types of sleeves, foam and silicone. The silicone sleeves come in several varieties and sizes to fit a wide range of ear. The added earloops help redistribute any tugging or pulling on the cord, so the ear buds don't pop out as easily.
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The Sennheiser IE 8is have a cable that's 3.94 feet long, which is more or less standard for a pair of earbuds. They don't come with any additional adapters.

The IE 8is come with a pretty good travel case. The case itself is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards, but slightly thicker: it shouldn't be too much of a burden to carry around. The interior of the case slides out like a drawer, can hold two sets of spare sleeves, and lets you wrap the cord up to keep it neat.

In-ears typically are difficult to clean because there's no easy way to do it yourself. You are pretty much only able to remove the sleeves and use the tiny cleaning brush packaged with the IE 8is. It is important to note that the IE 8is have removable earbuds, which allow you to replace broken or damaged cables for much less than you would have to spend on a new set. We've seen other models of earbuds do this in the past, and frankly, it's a great way to boost the lifespan of a set of earbuds.


The Sennheiser IE 8is do not have a battery, which is enough to net them points for this section. Let's face it, batteries are cumbersome and make listening to music a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Sure, special features may need special accommodations, but batteries are usually a drag.

Remote & Mic

The Sennheiser IE 8is have an in-line remote and mic. The remote has volume up/down buttons, and the mic is situated at the top of the unit, facing your head.

Volume Control

The in-line remote has volume control, which doesn't seem to work with straight-up music listening, so it's likely a feature that only works when using an iPhone. You don't have to worry about accidentally blowing out your eardrums with these.

The Sennheiser IE 8is are definitely geared towards the no-nonsense crowd that doesn't care how flashy their earbuds are. If you'd rather your headphones had a sleek and modern design, the Monster Turbine Pearls are the better choice.

The Sennheiser IE 8is have odd peaking in the 7-8kHz range (about the range where you'd find most cymbal crashes) that is absent in the Monster Turbine Pearls. Overall though, the Sennheiser IE 8is provide marginally better frequency response as they don't share the Monster Turbine Pearls' dip in the 8.5-10kHz range. This means the IE 8is are better at outputting those really high-pitched sounds you just love to grate your teeth to much more reliably.

There's a low level of distortion in the Monster Turbine Pearls that probably won't be detectible to you. Still, the Sennheiser IE 8is performed better in our tests for this section.

While both the Monster Turbine Pearls and the Sennheiser IE 8is had relatively even tracking responses, the IE 8is had a rather bizarre shift to the right channel in the 5.5 to 6kHz range.

The Sennheiser IE 8is didn't quite stack up well against the Monster Turbine Pearls, which is a little surprising given the difference in price between the two sets of earbuds. Though neither set has an active noise cancellation feature, the Monster Turbine Pearls block out much more low-end noise than the Sennheiser IE 8is.

This one's a tossup, as both are in-ears. Both the IE 8is and the Pearls have the option of using the ear-loops, which will prevent the need for the buds to sit in your ear canals 100% of the time, making them a bit more comfortable for most. This is a good feature to make use of if you find yourself accidentally tugging on the cords or find your buds popping out every once in a while, as the loops redistribute the force over your entire ear, keeping them in.

The Sennheiser IE 8is cost a lot more than the Pearls. They do offer more in the way of customization and durability, but that likely won't justify an additional $300 investment to some consumers. The Pearls are a stylish, functional set of in-ears at a decent price, and they'll be a better value for most consumers. If you don't mind investing the extra money up front for a pair of headphones that can be easily maintained, however, the IE 8is will show a return on the investment—it'll just take a while to do so.

Both the Shure SE535s and the Sennheiser IE 8is have detachable cords for easier maintenance. Overall, the Sennheisers have the better design, as they don't have the same troubles with the long nozzle and they are a bit more attractive overall than the SE535s.

The Sennheiser IE 8is had a better frequency response than the Shure SE535s, even if only by virtue of the fact that they aren't as reserved or have a dramatic dip in the 5kHz range (for all you linguistics nerds out there, the Sennheisers will output plosives, sibilants, and much more of the spoken word better than the Shure SE535s).

Neither pair of earbuds had a significant level of distortion, but the Sennheiser IE 8is still performed a bit better. Yes, we're splitting hairs here.

The Shure SE535s have a much more even tracking, without the dramatic shift to the right channel in the 5.5 to 6kHz range that the Sennheiser IE 8is have.

The Shure SE535s isolated far better than the Sennheiser IE 8is, as you can see from the graph below.

The Sennheisers' come with optional ear loops, while the Shure SE535s are meant to be worn with the cord wrapped around the back of your ear. This one would normally be a push, but the SE535s feel a bit weird if you don't loop the cord behind your ear: the IE 8is are fine no matter how you wear them. The edge goes to Sennheiser on this one.

Both pairs of earbuds have a high pricetag, but over time will give you a return on your investment as these headphones will have a longevity only dreamed about by in-ears that can't have their cords replaced as easily. Both come with many additional sleeves and the option to remove the earbuds from the cords to make for easier maintenance, but in the end, are those features alone really worth spending a bunch of money for? It really depends on what you want out of your headphones. Still, the Shure SE535s will give you better overall performance than the Sennheiser IE 8is, and the IE 8is will give you better bass and clearer sound in a larger range of frequencies. In the end, you have to choose what you value more in a pair of headphones to decide between the two, but you probably can't go wrong with either.

Both the Sennheiser IE 8is and the Etymotic Research hf5s are decent sets of in-ear headphones, but because the IE 8is have an in-line accessory, they are a bit more likely to break. The hf5s have a more unique design, as they are very simple but with a stylish color; however personal preference plays as big a role here as it does with other headphones.

The Etymotic Research hf5s and the Sennheiser IE 8is differed a bit in their frequency response, with the hf5s getting quieter and quieter, and the IE 8is getting louder in the 6.5-8kHz range (as well as having more bass).

Neither the IE 8is nor the hf5s had major issues with distortion.

The hf5s had virtually no issues with tracking, whereas the IE 8is had an inexplicable shift to the right channel in the 5-6kHz range.

The hf5s were much, much better at blocking outside noise than the IE 8is.

While both sets of headphones are in-ears, the Sennheiser IE 8i's additional ear loops make it possible for the listener to prevent the ear buds from being solely supported by their ear canal. Overall not a major difference, but a small comfort for long-term use.

The Sennheiser IE 8is don't blow the Etymotic Research hf5s away in terms of audio performance, but they're worth it if you're willing to pay $300 more for better bass response, easy maintenance and longevity. In terms of pure bang for your buck, you're probably better off going with the hf5s as they offer a comparable audio performance. If you're used to headphones constantly breaking on you, however, the hf5s will likely follow suit. By allowing a replaceable cable, the IE 8is will likely make up for the initial investment if you choose to go that route.

The Sennheiser CX 980s are much more stylish than the IE 8is, if that influences your preferences any. Both have in-line remotes, but the CX 980s are a bit more durable due to having a metal jack vs a cheaper plastic one.

Both the CX 980s and the IE 8is had extremely similar frequency response, with any variation among most frequencies almost inaudible. Still, the CX 980s have a peak at the 10kHz range that will be rather annoying to audiophiles.

Neither the Sennheiser CX 980s nor the IE 8is had any troubles with distortion.

The CX 980s had much more even tracking by virtue of the fact that it doesn't have a sudden shift to the right channel in the 5-6.5kHz range like the IE 8is.

Overall, the IE 8is had marginally better isolation, even if it isn't the greatest we've ever seen.

While both sets of Sennheisers are in-ears, the added ear-loop offered by the IE 8is definitely give them an edge in long-term listening comfort as it reduces the need for the buds to be supported solely by the ear canal.

In terms of performance, these two sets of earbuds are virtually identical. That being said, users who place a premium on long-term comfort, frequency response and isolation will have to justify spending double the price for the IE 8is over the CX 980s. While long-term listening with the IE 8is will be a fair bit more comfortable than the CX 980s, really, are you going to listen to the same in-ears for 10 hours a day every day? Okay, maybe we would. The IE 8is are much more of an investment, since you can easily replace its cable, where portable headphones break down first. If you're looking for headphones from a purely economic standpoint, the CX 980s are a better value.

Overall, the Sennheiser IE 8i's shortcoming is its pricetag. While they are decent earbuds, their cost is a bit high. Still, if you are looking for audio performance and longevity above all else, these are a great pickup. They produce decent quality sound, provide options for more comfortable listening and easier maintenance. Over time, the ability to replace cables that are damaged or broken will save you the hassle and pain of having to buy a new pair of headphones, which users looking for durability will greatly appreciate.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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