A Headphones Reviews Blog
TDK Life on Record is a huge, very well known data storage, recordable media and audio manufacturer. In the 90s, almost every cassette and VHS Tape was manufactured by them. In the 2000s, when the DVD had begun to be the most used media, TDK started to slowly disappear from the market. Fast forward to 2007, Imation, an American corporation from Oakdale, Minnesota, had purchased TDK’s brand name, and made a new TDK brand: TDK Performance, which offers mostly portable audio products: Headphones, IEMs, “Digital Boom-boxes”, etc. About the same time a year ago, I have reviewed TDK’s BA200, an IEM which is actually my personal-favorite. I found it to be on the best in its price range and even above it – an IEM which some people say that it can compete even with IEMs that cost double than it. A few months ago the company announced about a few additions to their Headphones & IEMs line – one of these additions was the IE800, a Dual-Dynamic IEM, which I immediately knew that I’d like to review, after having such a nice experience with the BA200.
Packaging- the IE800 is packaged inside a quite small, well designed cardboard box. Its front is transparent with a small paper sleeve that has some information about the IEMs written on it, while the box’s back has a photo of a singer singing into a microphone in the studio.
Accessories- When I reviewed the BA200s, I thought that there was only a decent amount of accessories, a thing which I hope that was fixed on the IE800s, but sadly, it wasn’t. The included accessories are:
A case- The included case is made of a black-colored nylon; the one that came with the BA200s looked more prestigious than this one, I preferred its looks to this one. It’s soft, and will protect your IEMs from scratches and scuffs, but not from falling or being crushed. It’s a bit smaller than the case that was included with the BA200s, and would easily fit any pocket.
Five pairs of ear-tips- Two of the pairs are Comply foam tips: TS-400 (Medium Sized) & T-400 (Medium sized as well), while the three other pairs are silicon-made tips (Small/Medium/Large). The silicon-tips are similar to the ones that I got with my BA200s, but those were Bi-Flanged ones, while the ones included with the IE800s are single-flanged.
A shirt clip
In my opinion, the included accessories are only basic; I would’ve liked to get a few more pairs of ear-tips and a cleaning tool (which was actually included with my BA200s).
Building Quality & Design- The IE800s are well built, but they’ve got a few problems in their design, which make them not so durable. The housings are made of two pieces: one being a black-matte plastic, and the other being a shiny piece of black-plastic. The housing’s rare side consists of a small shiny metal plate with TDK’s logo engraved on it, and a venting circle around it. The nozzle is shorter than usually, and the sound-tube has a protective plastic-piece installed on it. A thing which worries me is the total lack of strain reliefs; the flat-cable just goes out of the housing without any protection. The quite thin flat-cable is the same one as used utilized on the BA200s, a cable that I don’t really like.
The Y-split, as opposed to the BA200’s one, is very low-profile and small piece of rubberized plastic.
The cable ends with an-I shaped 3.5 gold-plated plug (it’s again the same one as the one that was utilized on the BA200s), which doesn’t seem to be weak but nor too durable and tough.
Comfort & Ergonomics- when first using them, I thought that the IE800s weren’t very comfortable, with the Comply TS-400s which were pre-installed on them. I immediately “blamed” the housings for being un-ergonomically designed, but it seems that I was wrong; later, when trying the different included tips I gave a try to the smallest silicon-tips (I usually use medium sized ones), and to my surprise, the comfort was a lot better than with the Complys, so I have settled with them. The silicon-tips gave me a great insertion depth while making only a small pressure level inside my ear-canal, and they made me understand that the problem that I’ve had at first wasn’t due to the housing’s shape, but rather due to the Comply tips. In a final conclusion, the IE800s are actually very comfortable, almost not felt in the ears when having the silicon-tips installed on them. The IE800s are designed to be worn straight-down, but they’re similarly comfortable when wearing them over-the-ears (some people say that it’s problematic to do this with flat-cables, but I didn’t feel that this is indeed true).
Isolation & Microphonics- the IE800s offer a noticeably smaller amount of isolation than the BA200s. That is because they are vented and because the BA200’s housing is shaped to isolate better. Also, the BA200s offer a deeper insertion, so that might be another reason. I’d say that the IE800s offer an isolation level similar to the T-PEOS H-100’s one (the IE800s might isolate better, but only by a bit). The flat-cable is quite noisy and could be somewhat bothering when the earphones are being worn straight-down. Using the included shirt-clips helps this a bit, but the best thing to do in order to avoid the microphonics would be to wear them over-the-ears; doing this helped me a lot.
Sound Quality- Before I started my critical listening, I gave the IE800s more than 100 hours of burn-in. I haven’t found any noticeable changes after doing so. My gear for this review was my 4th Generation iPod Touch, which is loaded with mostly iTunes Store M4A files and 320 KBPS files. I have also used it together with a few amps (Govibe MiniBox, Firestone Audio Fireye HD), but only for a limited time, most of my listening time was done with the IE800s connected straight to my iPod.
The Dual-Dynamic Micro-Drivers produce a mid-centric, smooth, warm, musical relaxing and un-fatiguing sound-signature. I found that these sound a lot better with a deep fit and with the silicon-tips installed; you get a better clarity, more detailed sound, larger soundstage, etc.
Now, we’ll move on to a more detailed description of every one of the sound’s parts:
Bass- as I hear it, the IE800s have a bit more bass amount than the BA200s, and its impact is also more powerful on the IE800s; so if you’re a person that likes bass (but not a basshead), the IE800 would be a good choice. Surprisingly, the IE800s possess a faster bass than the BA200s (usually, BA based IEMs have a faster bass than Dynamic-driver based ones). It’s very well controlled, and there’s no leakage of it to the mids. It also has a great level of clarity and cleanness (it’s a bit worse when having the Comply tips installed, instead of the silicon-ones). The IE800’s bass digs quite far in to the deepest frequencies, having a great extension.
Midrange- like the BA200, also the IE800’s best possession is the vocals-reproduction. That happened due to a superb midrange tuning by TDK on both models. While the BA200s have a quite thick midrange, the IE800’s one is actually about average in its thickness. It is forward, open, airy and quite warm. The timbre is very well done, it sounds very natural and real. Detailing is excellent, and so is the clarity.
Treble- this part of the sound has the biggest difference between the BA200s and the IE800s; the BA200s have a very laid-back and smooth treble, while the IE800s have a more energetic and a somewhat crispier one, the highs extend rather nicely, and are pretty detailed in all of their areas. Clarity is better by a bit from the BA200s, and there’s no sibilance as far as I’ve heard.
Sound-Staging and Instruments Separation- the IE800s have a large soundstage and a great imaging. I found the BA200s to be better in imaging, while I found the IE800s to have a larger sound-stage. The IE800 does the instruments-separation magnificently; honestly, it is the best in its price range regarding to instruments-separation.
Amplifying- I found the IE800 to be a hungry-for-power IEM. I discovered that because of two things: 1. I had to raise my regular-listening volume when listening to it through by a bit. 2. When plugging it to a portable amp, I felt that it showed more of its magic. My recommendation is to use these with a portable amplifier if you want to get the best sound that these are able to produce.
At $150, the IE800 offers the same incredible value for the money that the BA200 offers. It is beyond amazing how TDK makes such amazing IEMs a year after a year. I feel that the IE800 compliments the BA200 and as opposed too, so if you’re an owner of one of these, I’m quite sure that you’ll also like the other one too. The IE800 offers a warm and smooth sound signature that most of the people would like, so if you’re interested in them, I would take the chance, because I can hardly imagine a person that won’t like them for their sound. They do also have some weak points, such as their only-about-average isolation level, the lack of strain reliefs, the flat cable (but some might see this one as a pro) and the small amount of included accessories.
Where to Buy? The TDK IE800 has an MSRP of $199, but it is sold for a “street price” of around $150. It can be purchased from lots of retailers, which can be found with a simple Google search.
* I’d like to thank TDK for the review unit.