Sennheiser IE 900 review: A one-driver wonder
The Sennheiser IE 900 earphones are a small miracle that leave a big impression.
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Anyone shopping for audio gear nowadays is spoiled for choice. Every color and configuration of headphones, earphones, etc., is available with a simple search. Despite the audio abundance, one feature remains elusive: simplicity. Venerable German manufacturer Sennheiser’s new flagship audiophile in-ear monitor (IEM) the IE 900 is a miniature marvel that cuts the clutter. It comes in one finish and features zero buzzwords on the packaging—no Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode, or waterproof IP rating. It connects via a wire, quaint right, so you’ll need a device with a headphone jack—or a dongle—if you want to engage with it. With all that unnecessary lifestyle tech excluded, there’s just enough space in the low-profile Sennheiser IE 900 to pack in multiple precision-driven structural elements. And it’s all in the service of one thing: pure satisfaction.
What is the Sennheiser IE 900?
First and foremost, the Sennheiser IE 900 is indulgent. If you think $1,299.95 is an obscene amount to pay for a single piece of audio gear, stop reading. No judgement. At the same time, the IE 900 is far from the most indulgent personal audio item you could buy; actually, it’s only upper mid-tier considering how many multiple-thousands you can spend on a pair of summit-fi IEMs or headphones. At this price point, however, Sennheiser set out to reach a pinnacle of fidelity and feel. And with the IE 900 you get what you pay for in design, build, and, above all else, a silky, sumptuous quality.
Physically, the IE 900 is somewhat of an outlier in expensive IEMs. Compared to so many high-end IEMs that beg forgiveness for absurdly bulky bodies shoving 9, 10, 11 tiny speakers into each ear, the IE 900 extracts the details with a single “extra wide band” dynamic driver per side. And a diminutive 7mm one at that. Sennheiser packs more average-sized 10mm drivers in an entry-level in-ear monitor system for bands it sells for $1,200 less. Sure, there are a few shiny pebbles like the Sennheiser IE 900 that I’ve experienced in the upper audiophile echelon—such as the beyerdynamic Xelento, HiFiMan RE2000, and Campfire Audio Vega—but using a single dynamic driver is the exception, not the rule. So let’s look at how something so compact conjures up such unabridged enjoyment.
The Sennheiser IE 900’s design
The IE 900 arrives in a box that isn’t far removed from the ones Sennheiser uses for its more affordable in-ear monitors (like the $299.95 IE 300, the IE 900’s little brother). The difference is there isn’t a plastic shelf hanger but, otherwise, it’s a rectangle with a model number and an image of the earphone. Competent, but not captivating.
The package does sport one buzzword: a Hi-Res Audio logo, which signifies that the Japan Audio Society has certified the IE 900 capable of reproducing frequencies up to 40 kHz. The IE 900’s frequency range is stated as 5 Hz to 48 kHz, so it exceeds the Hi-Res designation by a full 8 kHz. Of course, it also exceeds the average human’s hearing range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, so take the ultimate value of all that with a grain of salt.
Inside, two IE 900 earpieces nestle in molded foam along with a signed certificate of authenticity/quality-check for each hand-assembled-in-Germany unit. Each housing is CNC-milled from a single block of wear- and corrosion-resistant aluminum for a terraced chassis that looks both durable and delicate.
Lift up these anodized charms and you’ll find a compact zippered hard case, silicone and foam eartips (three sizes each), and three detachable cables. It’s worth noting that even though the cables use standard MMCX terminations, the connector’s length is atypical to fit into recessed sockets on the IE 900. Sennheiser says this is to improve durability but it also means MMCX cables from other IEMs or bespoke interconnect designers won’t work with the IE 900.
As well-engineered as the IE 900 housing looks from the outside, the build is even more meticulous on the inside. Helmholtz resonators. Acoustic vortex. Nothing I write can do a better job explaining these words (which sound like weapons a Bond villain might deploy) than what Sennheiser has already shared. The TL;DR version is that tiny chambers milled into the housing tame resonance peaks and smooth out tuning. And all the small details do make a huge difference.
Setting up the IE 900
The Sennheiser IE 900’s industrial aesthetic may fit in with iPhones, but its operation is a satisfyingly analog experience. First, you figure out what connection your device uses—standard 3.5mm, balanced 2.5mm, or balanced 4.4mm, nothing with mobile-device controls or other circuitry to pollute the signal chain. Then you attach that cable to the IE 900. Congrats, you’re halfway there.
All my listening was done through three devices: a MacBook Air M1’s headphone jack, a Lotoo PAW S1 USB DAC-amp, and an Astell&Kern KANN digital audio player. I used both balanced and unbalanced cables and played tracks from streaming services—including Spotify, Apple Music, and Qobuz—as well as song files of various resolutions ripped in MP3, AAC, and FLAC formats. In simplest terms, a balanced cable (which must be used with a similarly balanced source) has more conductors and can deliver more voltage while rejecting more noise. And audio shielded from more inference comes across as more evocative. The IE 900 sounds good anywhere but can sound great if you feed it a little power.
Once you’ve got your source and cable selected, you should experiment with eartips until you find ones that give you a consistent seal. This is a must for proper bass response. I recommend humming until the sound is totally inside your head, then act like you’re yawning; if the tone remains stable, you know the seal is good. So, IEM in your ears, you can now curl the flexible memory wire hooks over the top of your ears, pull the slider up the wire to cut down on cable movement, and hit play.
A pro tip
Before you invest in lots of easily lost silicone and foam baubles in search of the perfect fit and frequency response, there is a lifehack from the IE 900 manual (because, let’s face it, no one actually reads IEM instructions): The stock tips lock onto a small lip on the IE 900’s tube via two grooves inside the stem and you can simulate short and long nozzle lengths based on which one you pick. Choose shorter and sounds appear more explosive. Opt for longer and sounds appear more expansive. Personally, I found the shorter setting and going down a size from my typical eartips helped the IE 900 settle at the right depth in my ear.
At only 4 grams an earpiece with an ergonomic build, the IE 900 is among the most comfortable IEMs I’ve used, including ones custom-molded to my ear canals. Once the IE 900 took up residency in my ears I forgot about its bearing and just appreciated its presence. I’ve listened to it for hours without noticing any irritation in or around my ears. If these IEMs are a pop song, it’s catchy bangers like Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” anthemic belters like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” not annoying earworms like “Baby Shark.”
The Sennheiser IE 900’s sound quality
Is there anything more buoyantly menacing than the bassline of “Angel” by Massive Attack? The opening cut on the Bristol trip-hop group’s 1998 masterpiece Mezzanine—and a showcase for the powerful voice of reggae legend Horace Andy—“Angel” is a corrugated membrane coursing with energy. There are undeniable chemical reactions in its folds. There’s a chemical reaction in you when you hear it unfold. Listening to it through the IE 900, it starts an unadulterated group hug in my brain between adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. Great audio gear can trigger something physiological as much as psychological, a mind and body high.
Coming down from the rush for a minute, I’d describe the IE 900’s bass as articulate. No matter if the bass is acoustic or electronic, it has a lot to say and does so with clear pronunciation. Low end can go slightly north of neutral if a track demands it, producing plenty of sub-bass rumble, but it’s never exaggerated. I listen to a lot of metal (black, blackened, death, doom), and the IE 900 had zero stumbles with the authoritative brutality of the genre. Kick drums are never mushy, never monolithic—this is bass that’s impactful without being disruptive.
The midrange comes across as equally natural. Compared to the bass it’s flatter but never thin. It’s fluid but never smearing. There is a slight rise in the upper mids, so vocals stride effortlessly to the forefront. The Cigarettes After Sex dream-pop reinvention of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You” is simultaneously spacious and intimate. You can pick out every billow of reverb. Guitars, meanwhile, bite but don’t antagonize. “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead both soars and softens when called for.
Highs, meanwhile, sizzle without being too hot. A mid-treble peak around 8 kHz toes the entryway to raspy sibilance but never fully crosses the threshold. There’s just a refined balance of energy and extension. While an occasional cymbal may get splashy, the IE 900’s sparkle is something you appreciate on percussive workouts like Underworld’s “Pearl’s Girl” that are splattered with oblique embellishments.
From detail retrieval to decay, the IE 900 never got congested no matter what genre I threw at it. It’s not that the IE 900 was forgiving of any faults, it just wasn’t judgemental. For musing-first listeners, they’re resolving AF. For music-first listeners, they just kick ass.
So, who should buy the Sennheiser IE 900?
If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably because you’re on the search for some end-game audio gear that’s coherent, transportive, addictive. This Sennheiser in-ear monitor can be that and more. Closet basshead that also craves accuracy? This Sennheiser in-ear monitor has you covered. The IE 900 pulls off something that seems easy but is actually extremely difficult: it makes you forget it’s there. Instead of being an analytical monster that has you mentally scrutinizing every frequency range like some kind of holographic cross-sections, the IE 900 offers up uncut sensation. Occasionally I mused on how a single driver never stumbled over complex passages, but I never got distracted from the musicality. If you’ve tethered to some unobtanium cables and find Sennheiser’s plastic-sheathed stock options too constricting, avoid this set. But if you’ve got the budget for an intricately machined, pleasure-prioritizing in-ear monitor, keep it simple and get the Sennheiser IE 900.