Sennheiser IE900 IEM Measurements and Review

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by purr1n, Jun 1, 2021.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    Given the massive marketing blitz from Sennheiser, getting pre-release IE900s into the hands of potential shills, I don't see a need to post any photos. There should be plenty of photos of the IE900 on the Internets. My photos suck anyway. One thing I would like to point out is that the construction, fit, and finish are very nice and reminds me a bit of the Swiss based Gaudio, although the stylistic differences are significant from Gaudio.

    It's hard to describe the tonal response of the Sennheiser IE900. At first listen, I couldn't decide whether it was neutralish or U-shaped. There is a peak in the lower/mid treble that emphasizes sibilants and unnaturally sharpens the sound. This peak seems to be narrow, but when it hits, it's very severe. It's most evident on certain recordings that I specifically use to assess this (Alanis Unplugged album, Tom Petty - Don't Do Me Like That). I don't know what it is, but there's something off about it - I cannot listen for more than a song or two before I get fatigued. I would be curious if those who are treble sensitive such as @rhythmdevils or @Hands would notice this. There is also some pinna gain, but not extreme like with IEMs voiced for China. The rest of the upper mids is very slightly muted. While vocals stand out, the trumpet blares on Kind of Blue don't make the hairs on my back stand up as much.

    Tonality aside, technically the IE900 is extremely capable. The bass sounds first rate to my ears. There's plenty of it and I found it to be clear, plenty textured, and decently fast. This has to be the best bass in an IEM I've heard in a long while. Could the bass be almost as good as the Sony EX1000? Maybe. It's been a time since I've heard the EX1000 and would be curious to know @Kunlun's thoughts as this could be nostalgia on my part.

    On thing to note is that the included tips (two sets: foam and silicone) have small bits of open cell foam inside them. We'll explore the effect of these pieces of foam later on with measurements. Maybe Sennheiser has been learning lessons from @james444's tweaks. BTW, the resolution on these IEMs is utterly fantastic, to the point where I'm going to pull out the Loki to see if I can EQ out its tonal weirdness. (I've decided I can't stand surgical digital EQ and prefer to tune things by ear with knobs - also @rhythmdevils use of Loki in prior IEM reviews to match FR to assess technicalities has inspired me). If there is one shortcoming, it's headstage. It's wide, but flat without depth. Instrument localization, separation, and layering are a step back from the best BA an hybrid types.

    On to the measurements...
     
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    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    Hahahaha. Look at the channel matching! This is typical Sennheiser - perfect. Makes me able to stomach the high price of the IE900 a little bit more. Note that the lowest bass registers sound louder than what is measured below. There seems to be a pattern with my measurements which show less bass for DD type drivers.

    Sennheiser IE900
    Frequency Response
    upload_2021-6-2_0-23-14.png

    Much of the time, when we see treble peaks with this primitive coupler, there's a good chance that it's a measurement artifact or a good portion of it might be. I don't think this is the case here. There really is a spotlit treble peak here. As Currawong would say: it's good for classical.

    Sennheiser IE900 (BLU/RED) vs foam-tip with NO filter (WHT)
    Frequency Response
    upload_2021-6-2_0-35-24.png

    It would appear that the piece of foam cuts down on the treble peak by a few db. Here is a photo of the foam. As the foam looks very wimpy, I think there could be some serious potential for mods. I will let the SBAF masters of IEMs mess with this during the loaner period. Maybe @shotgunshane can provide us with an overpriced mod kit with an accompanying YouTube video a la Dannie Ritchie.

    DSC00004.JPG

    A few more comparisons against other DD IEMs:

    Sennheiser IE900 (BLU/RED) vs DUNU Zen (GRY)
    Frequency Response
    upload_2021-6-2_0-42-25.png

    Sennheiser IE900 (BLU/RED) vs Drop JVC x FDX1 blue filter (GRY)
    Frequency Response
    upload_2021-6-2_0-44-17.png
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    Distortion distribution looks great. Fairly even amount across the spectrum with the exception of the bass below 60Hz where the distortion rises slightly. Second order remains well above third order distortion. In fact, third order remains very from from 80Hz upward (note 200Hz spike is a measurement artifact) regardless of SPL. The vast majority of distortion product is second order which rises with volume.

    Sennheiser IE900
    Distortion vs Frequency at various SPL
    upload_2021-6-2_2-52-22.png
    Note D3 spike at 200Hz is a measurement artifact.
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    Sennheiser IE900
    Impedance and electrical phase
    upload_2021-6-2_8-21-29.png

    About 17-ohms and flat. The frequency should not change with varying amp output impedance; however higher impedance may affect transients.

    In terms of voltage sensitivity, that is the spot on the volume knob where I usually have it set with most recordings, we're talking about 10:30 to 11:00 on the dial*, the same as when I use Grados with TTVJ Deluxe pads. This is similar to other DDs (dynamic drivers) which take more voltage potential than BAs (balanced armature drivers). However since the impedance is half that of Grados, the IE900 suck up more power. Don't worry, these are still quite efficient and any modest amp will drive them well. As far as noise, any amp that can be used with Grados without any noise should work. The IE900 isn't touchy like the CFA BA driver based IEMs.

    *Magni 3+ low-gain from Gungnir A2 balanced to SE using Cinemag transformer
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    This is what I did using a cheap 4-band EQ box (Loki). I DID THIS BY EAR without worrying about measurements and only took measurements afterward*. This took my a while because I initially was only thinking about lowering 100Hz and 2kHz instead of also bumping up 400Hz. Note that the Loki EQ is a bit tricky because the bands are wide.
    upload_2021-6-2_9-21-47.png

    There! I sort of Audeze'd it. TBH, I don't mind Audeze voicing. This works when I want to crank up Rage Against the Machine or Nirvana. Note that there's still plenty of low/mid-treble, at least subjectively. (These couplers are not very accurate past 8kHz - I think the measurements are underreporting the amount of treble). The is the best that we can do with four graphic EQ bands and no parametric EQ. That trough in the upper mids is impossible to get rid of since I had to push down the 2kHz bump and especially the 8kHz peak to tolerable levels. We can do better with digital PEQ which seems to be all the rage these days with everyone and their brother and their mom taking measurements*

    upload_2021-6-2_9-18-21.png

    * Using limited-band EQ via physical knobs is right-brain experience that left-brain sciency-benchmarks personalities will never understand. This is why I highly suggest this. It's a good exercise to balance your personality and ensure that girls (or boys) will talk to you and not think you are creepy. These types of EQ are often used by creative people who make music instead of looking at graphs. They can be found on guitars, mixing boards, microphone preamps, etc. From the measurements point of view, this method is limited. From a subjective point of view, this method is not only effective, but fun. It also serves as a sort of ear training.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    Earlier I mentioned that from a resolution point of view these are fantastic. I wanted to explore the subjective technicalities, that is perceived clarity, lack of distortion, "plankton", dynamics, so on a whim, I plugged the IE900 into my custom 45 amp. Oh wow! These things do scale like a mofo!

    DSC00517(1) (Medium).JPG

    Anyways, to sum things up in closing:

    Tonality: D+ (needs improvement)
    Dip in upper lows / lower mids (depending upon which way you look at it). Little bit too much bass. Low/mid-treble peak which is retrospect sounds worse than I originally thought in my first post. Scoop in the top portion of the upper mids.

    Technicalities: A (excellent)
    Scales like mad with better gear. Resolves plankton like a mofo. With the right components, can slam, like really slam, not DD slam from an iPhone. Great distortion pattern with low third and higher orders - mostly second order which rises with volume - and this shows. Textured bass. Good transients without artificial edge or unnatural speed. Excellent channel matching.

    Headstage*: C- (average)
    Competent but nothing special. Wide, but lacks depth. Headstage is inside the head. No precise imaging or deep layering and separation.

    Misc Notes
    Solid construction with great fit, and finish, although aesthetically not blingy (I think the Germans would rather kill themselves rather than make tacky shit). Set of very usable tips provided (required to tame highs somewhat). Flat impedance and sensitivity where almost any amp will work. Nothing stood out to annoy me, and that tends to be rare. Two additional sets of cables to satisfy the balanced outputs (I hate you Sony). Compact low-profile design allows for easy and secure fit without feeling you have a Lt. Uhara earpiece.

    Quickbite
    The HD800 of the IEM world, with the great technicalities and screwy tonality, except without the headstage.


    *Headphones and IEMs don't do soundstage, they do headstage. Speakers do soundstage. Sorry to burst your bubble.
    **Disclaimer: Take this review with a grain of salt. Because I live in the USA, I don't know anything about IEMs because I haven't heard the latest VX Nerve Toxin Anetode Special at the local IEM shop, of which there are two on every city block in Asia.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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  8. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    And priced that way. Still waiting for the HD6x0 equivalent; sadly it seems their recent models have been steps on the way to this one rather than anything like that.
     
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  9. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021
  10. Riotvan

    Riotvan Got lost for three weeks at Delft City Hall

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    Don’t expect it from Sennheiser it seems. Saw a review which seemed to have similar impressions as Marv that stated the IE300 was the same with lesser technicalities and a bit more spike.
     
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  11. purr1n

    purr1n Building Magnis part time because it's peaceful.

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    I don't think it's possible with the direction Sennheiser has chosen with their DD tech. Really good technicalities at the expense of treble peakage. It's been the same ol' story for a decade now.
     
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  12. tranhieu

    tranhieu MOT: Soranik

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    Technicality-wise the full metal casing probably plays a big role here. You can try sticking some blue-tack to the shells and see how much it dampens the resonances lol.
     
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  13. Tachikoma

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    Pity you can't open up these suckers and stick a little mountain goat fuzz behind the drivers to dampen treble reflections.
     
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  14. james444

    james444 Mad IEM modding wizard level 99

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    Well, you'd have to stuff that mountain goat fuzz into three Helmholtz resonator chambers they use to smooth out treble:
    [​IMG]
     
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  15. Kunlun

    Kunlun cat-alyzes cat-aclysmic cat-erwauling - Friend

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    Wait, is there going to be an IE900S????

    Those 3 helmholtz resonators are supposed to tame exactly the treble peaks that are being heard and measured here.

    I'd love to chat with someone from the Senn design team as this is exactly what happened with the ie800.
     
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  16. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Facebook Friend

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    Don't Helmholtz resonators... resonate? I suppose its possible that they work a little like ANC.
     
  17. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    The quote from Sennheiser’s engineer says it all, really. They believe that audiophiles listen primarily for detail, and they increase detail by spiking the treble. Perhaps their multi-chamber resonator setup makes the treble more bearable than it would be otherwise, but it’s clear they’re focused on increasing treble to increase detail, and that to them is the hallmark of their high end releases. The HD800 line is a perfect example of this. We’re three iterations in now and the treble is still spiked. And it seems their answer to everything is to add more resonators. I doubt this team could build a headphone tuned like the 650 if they tried.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 3, 2021
  18. james444

    james444 Mad IEM modding wizard level 99

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    You're absolutely right! These treble spikes would be even higher without the Helmholtz resonators.

    This has been demonstrated with measurements on the older IE800, which had a dual-chamber resonator (D2CA):

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    Marv, how are these in their stock tuning at low-level listening? Do they exhibit anywhere near the dynamic capabilities of the other in ear monitors you've heard (Dunu Zen/Luna)?
     
  20. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    Pretty sure they could; I think they just don't want to.
     

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