Tuesday, 28th December 2010

Real or Fake: Sennheiser IE 7 s

When you have a certain taste in music, you develop quite an ear for it. And at that point you find yourself hating poor quality equipment, which inevitably means you’re doomed for the rest of your life in spending quite a lot of money.

As a result of my Shure earphones going walkabout, it was time for a replacement and after doing my research and a sound test, I settled upon the Sennheiser IE 7s. Not really being able to afford the IE 8s and having asked a few people in the know they said the difference was so negligible it didnt justify the price difference.

The Sennheiser IE 7s have a RRP of £170, but with a bit of shopping online and special offers you can get them for a shade over £100. However, taking a little look on ebay I found a series of new or nearly new IE7s at around the £65 mark. I found one with a good (200+) seller rating with no complaints in the last 12 months and thought €œwhy not?€, clicked the buy it now and waited the 5 days for delivery.

Now let this be a lesson to us all.

If something looks too good to be true it often is.

First, the packing was not what I was expecting from a manufacturer such as Sennheiser. The packaging was almost falling off the side of the box, in fact the wrapper around the sides had only a small piece (1cm^2) double sided tape holding it place. This was easily removed (by accident when removing the contents of the box)

Fake: labeling band

When I opened the box, the top plastic cover was torn and frayed.

Fake: plastic cover

Suspicion was first aroused when the box contained no instruction manual in any language. From an international company like Sennheiser I was expecting at least the usual 7 languages. But then on closer inspection, half of the pack seemed to be missing. The side of the box clearly states (as does the Sennheiser website) that the box should contained

  • Ergonomic ear-canel phones
  • Deluxe protective case
  • Ear-fit-set (S/M/L single rib, S/M/L double rib and S/L foam buds)
  • Earhook
  • Cleaning tool
  • Cable clip.

However, all I had were the phones, 5 of the 8 pairs of ear-fit-set buds (no foam) and earhooks

Fake: all accessories

Fake: full tear down

This in itself wasnt enough for me to actually worry. If the earphones were of the quality, then this could have been just a bad box on Sennheiser’s part. Or at least that is what I was telling myself.

When I plugged them in and fired them up, I was horribly disappointed. There was no sound stage, tin-y midrange, complete lack of bass, and shriek-y treble. All-in-all, it sounded like I was listening to a 1 watt speaker on the back of a mobile phone. Certainly not well over £100 worth of professional audio.

It was at this point I hit youtube.com for an unboxing (or review) video to see what the packaging should look like and head-fi.org to look for similar problems. It quickly became, very, VERY apparent. That these were being returned.

The return claim was filed with ebay in under 20 minutes of the package being opened. When I contacted the seller, saying that these were very obviously fake, he said that he’d opened the other boxes he’d had from the same supplier (that he was selling new and unopened?) and they were fine and sounded good.

When I insisted upon the refund (under the Long Distance Selling Goods act) he said to send them back, but not before offering half of my money back if I kept them. No doubt sign of a fake pair. After this saga, I just ordered a pair off of Amazon for £105 and they turned up the next day. So here’s what to look for in a real pair:

Real: box

The box is solid, and the packaging fits tight to the box (as you’d expect for a wrap-around sticker, not a seperate piece of plastic).

Real: side box

Here on the real box it also finishes before the top side. On the fake, it wrapped around and stuck together on the top side.

Real: flap

The top is fitted with a magnet on the real box to keep the lid closed. This magnet is set into the box, the fake box had a rim that simply fell out upon opening. Note also the picture of the headphones on the front cover are made of a separate piece of card and are raised and curved (embossed). The €œlifelike sound€ text is also slightly raised, the rest of text is printed normally.

Real: Back

Turning the box over. The real one was a €œTrue Sennheiser Sound€ hologram sticker next to the diagram of the 3.5 mm jack plug. Also the plastic band needs to be cut (but this was true on my fakes as well).

Internal packaging is a major give away:

Fake: inlay

No protrusions to hold the spare ear-buds in place (which I thought was very annoying at the time as I opened the box and decorated my desk with them)

Fake: inlay

No Sennheiser label on the end.

Fake: inlay (back side)

Looking at the back of the inlay, there is no clips for the cleaning tool, and no compartment for the silicon beads (moisture remover for transport), as this is just cheap extruded plastic. By comparison, here’s the real one:

Real: inlay (front side)

Note the bud holders. The IE7 label is facing up. And the piece of plastic that slides up to your face is right in the middle next to the buds, not wrapped in the coil.

Real: inlay (back side)

The back shows just how it should be with compartment and cleaning tool. Underneath the inlay is a separate layer for the protective case. This was missing completely in the fakes, the real ones, have all the accessories inside this case.

Real: under inlay

Real: accessories

Finally, the earphones themselves are a give away. The jack plug, on the back should have a Sennheiser logo, my fake ones didnt, better fakes may have an attempt at the logo (apologies for the crap focus on the camera at close range).

Real: back of jack

Finally. On the fakes the left and right markings were both printed and faced the same way (ie down to the ear bud). On the real ones, there are two markings. One (printed) on the ear bud casing with the text down to the ear bud, the second is on the cable terminal and is recessed into the plastic at right angles to the other marking and is not printed.

For higher res photos see my flickr

About Morgan Bye

Scientist, programmer and all around techie