I’ve been onboard with personal monitors since 1998 with my first Shure wireless system. The RF portion still sounds great today, but there is a real, significant difference in the monitors themselves. A limited frequency response and those disposable yellow foam fittings are passé; today’s market is abundant with high-fidelity choices.
I’ve progressed through the Shure E1, E2 and E3 monitors, so when I heard of a new four-model earphone line I investigated.
(The SE models reviewed here are intended for consumer use with portable music players, and are sold through consumer electronics retailers. Shure offers a distinct line of earphones dedicated to professional monitoring applications, the SCL models, which PAR will review in an upcoming issue. — Ed.)
(click thumbnail)Shure’s new SE Series covers a wide range of performance and price points. The SE110 is the lowest priced, with a single driver design (27 ohm, 22 Hz – 17.5 kHz, 113 dB SPL/mW). The SE310 represent a step-up in single-driver bass response with Shure’s “Tuned BassPort” technology (28 ohm, 22 Hz – 19 kHz, 111 dB SPL/mW). The SE420 utilizes Shure’s “Dual TruAcoustic Microspeaker” for more bottom end (22 ohm, 20 Hz – 19 kHz, 109 dB SPL/mW). Finally, the top of the line SE530 (formerly known as the E500PTH) employs three drivers: one tweeter and two woofers (36 ohm, 18 Hz – 19 kHz, 119 dB SPL/mW).
The entire line unveils some new features designed for convenience, but that also may appeal to frequent users. Each model now comes with an attached 18-inch cable instead of the typical four-foot cable, terminated with an 1/8-inch stereo mini-plug connector. A three-foot extension is also provided, with stereo 1/8-inch mini-plug connectors on each end (one male, one female).
Ear fittings are also new: a soft, compressible foam type, replacing the old, gaudy yellow foam ones (in three sizes), and soft, gray rubber ones (again in three sizes, and my favorite). The SE310, SE420 and 530 models also come with white, soft rubber, flanged fittings; one size fits all. They also come with an 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch stereo plug adapter, an inline volume control option and a dual mono-to-stereo airline audio adapter for use on international flights.
All models come with a handy earwax-removing loop. All also include a pocket-sized carrying case, a two-year limited warranty, and are available with a black finish.
Personal use, but also live, studio, project studio
Four models; one- to three-driver designs; unique Shure driver/tuned port technologies
SE110, $119.99; SE310, $299.99; SE420, $399.99; SE530, $499.99
Shure | 800-25-SHURE | www.shure.comI naturally started with the SE110; its bulbous shape, two-tone grey/white color and bulk got my attention. A tight fit may be the most important factor with a sound isolating earphone, but comfort comes in a close second, as physical ear fatigue is a major factor for long studio sessions or on-stage applications. I got a good fit and reasonable comfort with the SE110, despite its size, although it felt a little heavy. The pair had a decent amount of bass, but an understated top; the high-mids distorted at loud volumes. The sound was balanced and almost acceptable … but I changed my mind as I moved up the line.
The SE310 is entirely different, with a narrow and sleek design that is slightly longer than the SE110. TheSE310 has a silver/grey color scheme that is attractive, but the pieces really protrude out of the ear. However, the corresponding slimness made for lighter-weight and more comfort. Sonically, the SE310 represented a big jump up from the SE110, with noticeably more bottom end, flatter mids and smoother, more extended, high-end definition. At this point in the review, in retrospect, the SE110 seemed too narrow in bandwidth and not nearly clean enough. The SE310 sounded quite similar to my comparable single-driver E3, but the SE310 provided a little ultra-high end.
At first glance, the SE420 appeared to be a hybrid of the SE110 and SE310; it had the silver/grey color scheme, but a bulbous body slightly pinched in the area outside the ear. Upon insertion I realized that it was also contoured to more closely “parallel” the outer ear, achieving a much better look with a good bit more comfort, too. However, this better feel was dwarfed by the sonic changes, as the dual-driver difference was readily apparent. Real bottom was actually there — really there — giving kick drums, basses and synths those lower octaves I’m so used to hearing from my subwoofers. The top end is clean, but too understated, and there is a slight unevenness in the mids. At the crossover point (I suspect), there is a noticeable notch in frequency response that is acceptable, but will preclude the SE420 from serious mixing work. This lower midrange deficiency will not be a problem for most performers, who will surely drool over the ample bass, un-hyped top and nice dynamics — good for long term monitoring. Picky engineers, however, may feel otherwise.
- Broad range of prices and features
- Two models offer truly “professional grade” sound quality
- The SE530 is a top performer
- Entry model in the series, the SE110, is not suited for professional use
Shure offers professional sound for personal listening in the SE530.I had never used triple-driver earphones, so I curiously mounted theSE530, with its “pinched bulbous” design even larger than the SE420, and an unusual silver/gold metallic finish. Worries of a poor fit quickly dissipated as I realized that the SE530 is even more contoured, fit my ear with the most comfort, and offered the best look of any of the four models. It should be noted that all the SEs are designed for wearing with the wire tucked over and behind the ear, unlike some models that work well with wires hanging straight down from the ear (too messy and in the way for this user).
The SE530 offered stunning sonics with strong bass response, flat mids and the expected smooth, balanced top end. The SE530 was so flat that many users could use it for double-checking mixes without the fear of low-frequency room interaction. The best thing about the SE530 was its accurate mids, free of the irregularities of the SE110 or SE420, making the SE530 the most trustworthy earphone I had ever used. The SE530 did not have the tremendous bottom end of the SE420, but I didn’t miss it; the SE530 was quite deep, well extended and absent of unwanted hype.
I took the opportunity to compare the SE Series with the new Atrios model from IEM pioneers Future Sonics. With a single-driver design and mid-price point, the Atrios compare, most closely, to the SE310, but sounded most like the dual-driver SE420 in a number of ways. Both had thick, strong bass, but dull, un-extended top ends. True, the Atrios had flatter mids than the SE420, but also a bit of unpleasant high-mid distortion, as well. These careful comparisons really highlighted the achievements of the SE530, the only model that truly satisfied after such close inspection.
The new “extension wire” theme of the SE Series gave me mixed reactions; it seemed a little easier to deal with the shorter wires, but the molded connectors of the extensions added weight, bulk and yet another connection to possibly go wrong. I ended up thinking a 36-inch cable would be perfect (enough to reach a beltpack on most people without an extension), but it would have required long-term use to gauge the effectiveness of this feature. (According to Shure, the professional SCL models forego the modular-cable approach in favor of a fixed-length cable. — Ed.) The in-line volume control (optional in use) didn’t do much for me, as it was a little bulky, but it beat taking the monitors out for conversation.
With the advantage of hindsight, I’m not too fond of the SE110, which seemed sonically average and not as comfortable as many of their bargain-priced competitors. The SE310 represents the best value here, with good sound quality, good comfort and only the slight weaknesses of visible protrusion and modest bass. The SE420 gets very high marks for nice comfort, absolutely fantastic bass and detailed dynamics, marred only by that slight dip in the low-mids. The SE530 “gets the gold” with trustworthy frequency response, excellent comfort, and no drawbacks at all … other than a hefty price.
All things considered, I’d buy the SE530; whether spent in studio, on stage or just casual listening, life is too short for inadequate bass, bumpy mids or anything less than long-term comfort. It looks like Shure has retaken the lead in the race to fill your head with high-fidelity music, whether laying tracks, performing live or simply enjoying music.