Sennheiser IE 80S BT review: An expensive neckband for audiophiles

Mala Bhargava December 3 | Updated on December 03, 2019 Published on December 03, 2019

It’s not often that you come across audiophile earphones in the functional neckband design. In fact, I can’t remember seeing any. Sennheiser’s IE 80 S BT is aimed straight at audiophiles, focusing on accuracy, and a prominent soundstage.

At Rs 40,000 though, you’ll need to think whether you really want a neckband with its vulnerable wires and lightweight unassuming design, or whether you’d rather spend that money on a more solid pair of over-the-ears headphones with dozens of features. I know which I would opt for, but tastes and needs differ.

The IE 80 S BT not-truly wireless set of in-ear earphones come out of a neckband that seems made of some nice soft plastic material. I don’t know my plastics too well, but it looks tough, and at the same time is very comfortable to wear if you like the neckband style in the first place.

What bothers me about neckband earphones is the wires that lead up to each earbud, as I can’t abide the way the hang around the face. But, apparently you can hook them around the ear to shorten them and keep them from the face. Possible, but awkward looking. They don’t seem flimsy enough to snap if there’s a accidental tug, like if they get hooked into something when you lean over, but the overall feel of this form factor doesn’t seem as if it warrants the price.

If it’s meant for audiophiles, they’ll surely opt to listen sitting somewhere in peace. If one is dashing about or working out, the demand for really high quality music does not seem to be a priority to me. But, Sennheiser says it’s for ‘sophisticated people with a dynamic lifestyle’. Since audiophiles don’t need advice from non-audiophiles, we’re talking to regular listeners here.

Really comfortable

One of the features that could win over regular listeners is that it isn’t just comfortable around the neck, it’s also totally comfortable inside the ears. There are three differently sized ear-tips for the user to experiment with the perfect fit, after which the seal-in is enough to provide some passive noise isolation.

Around each earbud is an ear-hook which gives the earbuds better balance but not everyone will like either the look or the feeling of that ear hook. I felt as if the hook was too loose above my ears. Overall these are not stylish or flaunt level headphones but quite minimalistic, and sedate with just a modest Sennheiser logo to show off. If you have longish hair, no one will even see the neckband itself.

But here’s the unusual thing. You can actually detach the earbuds from the neckband and use them with regular cables. Why you would want to fiddle quite so much I’m not sure. If you want to listen tethered with wires, I would again have to wonder why not just opt for full headphones. Detaching the earbuds doesn’t turn these into truly wireless earphones — it’s just supposedly to get better sound by taking Bluetooth out of the equation.

The box includes a carry case with the extras including ear tips, cables and a cleaning tool that can be used to tune bass. This is another odd one. You can use this to boost the bass, but again, why make it so difficult? Otherwise, you use the Sennheiser app, which unfortunately was very troublesome on my devices.

All the usual physical controls are on the left arm of the neckband. They’re basic and include a trigger button for the Google Assistant or Siri. If you have as dynamic a lifestyle as these earphones call for, you’ll be making lots of calls, which works just fine.

Clear sound

The sound quality on the IE 80 S BT is very clear, very full-bodied, and has no hint of distortion at reasonable and low volumes. The sound of instruments is nice and separated.

Audiophile quality is said to be ensured by hi-res codec support including LHDC, aptX HD, and AAC and high-end AKM DAC.

The sound is comfortably balanced and the bass, as if so often the case, is present and accounted for. The sound is textured and tidy, but not punchy, which probably isn’t the intent. I often use the 'eyes-wide-open' test on headphones which is what happens when the sound is full of dramatic impact.

These earphones lack that, but again may be designed to do so. A good seal with the ear-tips makes all the difference with the sound, but even so, I don’t think that these sound as the high-end price would have you believe.

Senheisser has some amazing earphones and headphones making up a wide range of excellent products for different types of customers and at various price points. But the IE 80 S BT isn’t one of its best and rather difficult to recommend, audiophile or not. ‘Proper’ headphones have so much more to offer the audiophile and now include so many features like touch controls, active noise cancellation, and more. To top that, the battery life is about six hours which, for this format, is a bit low.

Price: Rs 39,999

Pros: Balanced clear sound, light, comfortable for the format, easy to carry

Cons: Far too expensive, no extra features such as auto stop on snapping the earbuds together, noise cancellation, fiddly extras.

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Published on December 03, 2019
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