Sunday, 12 June 2011

Shure SE215 Review

Shure SE215 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First Impressions: The box is clearly much smaller than the old SE210 box but that’s hardly important. That I do notice and is more important is the case. Shure have decided to give the 215 the soft pouch like case rather than the hard oval one that came with the 210. I can see some preferring this move as the oval one is rather large but personally I would rather have the hard case. The buds themselves however look fab, these ones are in black but it’s not an opaque black, it’s translucent. So you can still see the innards and the driver enclosure in there. You won’t notice this from any distance but up close its tre pretty.

Oh also, no modular cable. I know you can now remove the cables and that’s a good thing but I’d still like the cable to be modular so I can add in phone adapters or the PTH device. (Seriously Shure, it’s a fantastic device but holy crap is it huge. Pretty please make a new smaller one, thanks)

First listen and they sound not bad. I’d been listening to the 210 before hand so I’d instantly hear the differences between them. From what I’d read id been expecting lots more bass but I can’t so I heard it, yes it moved more air but I was anticipating lots, lots more. Also I wasn’t picking up the Shure mids but they were right out the box and dynamic so maybe a little burn in will help them come out.


Source 1G iPod Shuffle with and without a 75 ohm adapter added

Lows: I had expected vast abundance from what I had read but that wasn’t exactly what I got. Now in comparison to the 210 they replace though there is a significant difference. The 210 was pretty famous for being bass light, certainly I don’t think that’s an accusation that shall be levelled at the 215 anytime soon. Having a listen to The Beautiful South’s “Your Father And I” the difference between the two is vast, truly vast. Big, abundant, powerful, air moving lows as only a dynamic really ever can do and the 215 does it masterfully. Honestly though I must say I’m disappointed. It’s not because there is anything wrong with the lows, far from it, it’s that Shure is offering something I can find all over the place. It feels as though Shure has decided to offer a “consumer” orientated sound and while that’s fine, it isn’t the “Shure House Sound.” God I moan a lot, is it maybe unfair of me to pick on Sure for that? It probably is.

So if we forget it’s a Shure then, the bass here is plentiful, well controlled, abundant and versatile. It has no problem doing deep and smooth or doing fast and punchy. It’s really very good at everything and because it’s sealed it really can impact with a ferocity that its price suggests it shouldn’t be able to. That it’s done by a big name brand too is surprising. It’s just not at all what I want from a Shure though.


Mids: For those who have read a few of my reviews will probably know I love mids, you nail them right (PL-50) and I’ll pretty much gush about how much I love it. This being a Shure you might think “oh well he’s going to just love it” and that’s what I’d expect too. But......... it just isn’t really a Shure. I want those upfront mids, clear and belting out above everything else and here they just don’t. Again I can’t say they do anything wrong because they don’t. But they are just so in line with everything else that I can’t help but feel cheated. Like being told you’re going to your favourite restaurant for dinner then find they have fired the chef and changed the menu. Sure the food is still good but not what it was you wanted and that’s how I feel here.

Okay, I’m going to try and be objective. Quantity wise, like I said they are pretty balanced and occasionally take second place behind the lows but that’s not often and is song dependant. Should you listen to something mid heavy then they are bathe clean and clear. Tonally they do ever so slightly tend towards the rich and liquid side of things. It is ever so slightly though. Zee Avi’s “I Am Me Once More” sounds fantastic but tonally you can tell she is getting shifted that little bit down and having a little air sucked out of the performance. It’s not terrible at all but if it’s entirely airy, light mids you want then the 215 maybe a touch thick for you. Artists like Kate Nash though may benefit slightly as she tends to be rather airy. Quality wise I really can’t fault or anything lacking either. The presentation though does obscure thing a tiny touch but that’s what thickness and richness does. I must admit if I wasn’t whining that the mids don’t stand out more that i really do enjoy them.


Highs: This is Shure traditional “problem area” in that they roll the highs off. I have never seen this as a problem of failing but an acoustic choice intended to aid in avoiding listening fatigue. If you are using Shures as monitors and your listening to them all day everyday then trust me, crisp exciting treble will ravage your ears. Since Shure has pretty much thrown the monitor notion out the window with these they aren’t locked into that. Also BA’s normally have trouble at the very top end, they just can’t extend far and again it’s better to roll them off before they crap out than to push them to the edge. Again this isn’t an issue as the 215 has a dynamic driver at its heart. Soooooooo are they treble happy? No. So it’s nice to see Shure haven’t totally about turned in tuning these, but there is a touch more treble than the 210 and it also stands out a little more because the mids are no longer out in front. The main improvement though is that dynamic drivers just deal with highs better than BA do. Dynamics can extent further, more easily and when they begin to lose it they do it gently and gradually become a smear. When Balanced Armature’s got pushed to far they break up in a gritty, edgy, coarse cacophony that is easily picked out. Dynamics just get increasingly less clear and fuzzy.

So how good are they? Good but not excellent. If you are a big lover of treble happy crispy crispiness then these are going to be the one for you. Frankly at this price point I really wouldn’t expect treble excellence and most certainly not with the low end that the 215 has. So Shure being an old hand an making IEM’s does what you have to do and rolls those highs off in a smooth and controlled fashion. It’s done with the skill of an old master getting just enough edge in the lower and mid treble range to let you know exactly what’s going on but they sloping away as the range rises to mask the things it cannot do. I think this is how it really ought to be done as nothing bothers me more than bright edgy treble getting gritty and harsh. Kudos here then. Still treble monsters these most certainly are not and you can get better treble without looking spectacularly hard.


Soundstage: Well much bigger than its elder sibling the 210 but middling more than large. All perfectly reasonable if you ask me but very much middling, to maybe slightly small. Still it’s not the upfront intimacy of the old 210 which I kinda liked. Separation is middlingly decent too, it not wowing me but then its richer, thicker sound isn’t likely to give vast instrument separation.

Fit: Hmm, you I have the 210 and the E3 (the one the 210 replaced) and for me fit has diminished with each step. Not a huge leap but it’s there; the memory wire in particular just would not get tight enough to stay on my right ear. Are my ears freakishly small? I think not. It’s not like they were terrible but the increase in the angle of the nozzle too wasn’t helping, seriously Shure, go back to the E3 enclosure.

Comfort: Much like the fit, it was okay but a slight step down from its predecessors, the nozzle angle is too high for me then the cable angle too aims itself back into my head rather than out in front round my ears. They never melted away. The quantity of air they move too was an issue, they being in a sealed enclosure I must say after listening all day I did find it a little tiring. Still this isn’t something that bothers most people.


Cable: Well it’s not modular and that’s all I can complain about. It’s an excellent cable and a clear step up from the one on the 210, this one is still thick but it’s very soft and flexible. Shure has also gone back to the right angled jack rather than the straight end found on the 0 ending ones. It too feels very solid and is all of the very highest build quality.

Microphonics: Erm none.

Amped/Unamped: All the usual differences but nothing that made me think oh wow. What however may make a big difference is that they are really quite insensitive. What I mean by that is if you want to make these go loud you had better not have a crappy weedy player crippled by the French and their stupid loudness law. Now my little 1G Shuffle could of course power these to stupendous levels of volume but it’s a pint sized marvel. So if you have a quiet player then you may want a little amp. Oh and adding impedance was welcomed by these too particularly in the highs but many players will have trouble powering that combo. Still adding an ety impedance adapter is my favourite enhancement.

Isolation: Here should be where I moan and bitch that it’s a dynamic so it should be vented blah blah blah. Don’t ask me how but these pull off the same trick that the Etymotic mc3/5 manage and stick a dynamic driver in place of a BA and yet you would never know it. No driver flex and no air pressure issues that bother me so. Accordingly they are perfectly sealed like all other Shure’s and they isolate just the same. Well maybe a touch less as they sit far more shallow than the 210 or the super deep E3. Still you really aren’t going to get better for isolation is general other than by moving to Etymotic. Its first class stuff and I’d be happy to fly wherever with a pair of these to hand.


Value: This is the make or break bit isn’t it, should you actually part with money for a pair. First off I’m going to say if you are looking for the Shure “House Sound” then don’t. These are not Shures, they just happen to have their name on them. However if you’re sitting looking for a big bass, good all rounder and that isolates then OMFG yes this is what you want. The isolation is great and no driver flex or air pressure issues, so for all intents it behaves like a BA till you listen to it. Nothing else can do this.

I was looking at some other things commented about these and there was a little surprise at where these have been priced and I must say I agree. In the last few years the Far East has been hammering big names like Shure (read my PL-50 review) and while this wasn’t exactly where I was expecting Shure to go they have priced these well below what I would expect from them. I expect the big name western company with the vast distribution network to charge a premium. That was always how it went, xyz is good sounding but for the same money you can getter something better from some company in the Far East you have never heard of. These you can buy in high street shops. While you can get as good a sound for the same money you really are paying no premium whatsoever for buying a premium name brand. I think Shure have priced this extremely aggressively and if you want its sound signature then it’s amazing value. Even more so if you value buying that premium trusted brand.


Conclusion: I find myself on one hand loving the 215, and thinking “oh holy crap Shure are on the war path with this one.” If you have read it in my PL-50 review where I gushed my enthusiasm all over the page for its lush midcentric Shure sound I had said it would decimate Shures low end sales. The 215 has gone for a completely different sound, no more midcentric sound, thin time they have gone for a radically more mainstream sound (which personally I don’t love) significantly cranking up the bass and dialling up the treble a touch too. It’s got a sound that will instantly be likable to most people and certainly much more so to the masses than the 210 was. The 210 was for so long the entry Shure so people would think “oooh I want something of quality, I’ve heard of Shure, I’ll get one of these.” They would buy it, then wretch in horror at the lack of forceful overpowering bass that their ears where so accustomed to hearing. There shalln’t be any of that here, I’m not saying they are bass monsters but they are much more bassy than most stuff in this quality range. That they have the fancy premium brand name too is just icing on the cake. Like I said in pure sound quality terms these are nothing special but these do have a couple of killer attributes.

The biggest reason to get these is that they manage the impossibly hard combination of bassy and isolating. Okay so it’s not hard to do, you just use multiple BA drivers and voila. Only trouble there is that tends not to be cheap so usually you get bassy dynamics than are reasonable costing but then they make isolation sacrifices and often have driver flex and air pressure trouble. Shure have managed to avoid all of those troubles and made something you just can’t get anywhere else. A big, bassy, dynamic that isolates very well and without issue. If you want big bass and isolation at this sort of price then there is no competition whatsoever for the 215. None. (If you think otherwise by all means please let me know.)


If we ignore for a moment that special attribute then on sound alone, the 215 is nothing special, it’s certainly very good sounding for the money but there are a few makes that can do just as well but they haven’t got a name yet. They aren’t found in high street shops, they don’t have that brand recognition, they don’t have the public confidence and presence that a company like Sure does. As a consumer you expect to pay a bit for that name on that’s a choice you make because you feel more confident, that name equals quality in your mind. Shure is a brand like that, it’s known for being a premium high end brand and as such I really would expect these to have a bit of that premium and I don’t think they do. They are priced very, very aggressively in my opinion. The bass and isolation is a killer combo in itself but the price and quality for a big brand name is going to steal some sales back from recent rivals.

So did I love the SE215? No, it was too bassy for me it. I feel it should have been given a completely new name as calling it SE215 makes it sound like it’s a tweaked SE210 which was just a tweaked E3 since renamed SCL3. Shure has a history of its updates being just tiny adjustments and that in not what we have in the SE215. It is nothing like its predecessor. It’s not really like anything actually. I’ve never heard a sealed, properly sealed IEM that can move air like it can. If you want a dynamic you have to at least vent it a tiny bit and even then you get tons of air pressure issues, those are just the rules. So if you want bass that’s sealed you have to use lots of drivers but even then they don’t move air like a dynamic can. The SE215 somehow manages to steal the attributes it wants and ignores what it doesn’t. It’s not playing fair and its competition, well I’m not sure it has any. Really if you want bassy, isolating and none of the pain it usually brings this is it, there is just nothing else like it. In fact I may have to ask if I can keep them!

1 comment:

  1. Have you had any issues with the detachable cables? I've been reading the reviews on Amazon and many of them complain about the sound cutting out and having to adjust the cable constantly to get a good connection between the earpiece and the cable. Many of them claim that after just a month of use they have this issue.