Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shure SE215 earphone home user review

After doing some research (A Guide to Some Great Sounding In-Ear Monitors $50 - $100), I finally decided to get the TDK E950 earphone from Amazon. At that point of time, the earphone was cost about AUD 60 including shipping to Australia, which I find it's a bargain. However, after waiting for a month and the parcel still haven't appeared on my doorstep, I decided to get a refund from Amazon, which they happy to do so.

So, a month has past for trying to get a high quality earphone and started to get impatient, I went to place an order on the Shure SE215 from AddictedToAudio. The price I found was reasonable (AUD 107 with free express shipping in Australia) and to my surprise, the parcel arrived the next day in good condition (Highly recommend to buy from them if the price is right).

After listening couple of days of music for months, in summary I am very satisfied with Shure SE215 but reserved some points before recommending it for home users. Below are my findings for this earphone (as always, not much about sound quality description like an audiophile).

Pros
  1. Amazing vocal and detail sound. Music sounds what they should be. I can hear the squeaking sound from the piano which I never heard before (Birdy - Skinny Love) and there is clear instrument separation in the music. SE215 picks up some extra detail which I never heard before. Simply amazing. Update: After 6 months of listening, the soundstage seems to open up and improve sound imaging and overall experience.
  2. Build quality and style is very good. Cable is chunky and able to take a beating. The Y splitter feels durable and not easy to break. The earphone housing is made of translucent plastic, which looks cool on the ear and not too catchy. Believe me, I got a few eyes turning my way because of the Shure.
  3. Good in-ear comfort. I only have minor ear irritation after an hour of listening. The foam tips really work well and better than silicon tips. Update: After 2 months of listening, I found that when wearing the Shure and slightly pull the earphone away from ear while the tip still intact in ear canal make the best comfort for me. The earphone plastic does not play nice with my ear and I'm wearing it like the earphone housing hook on my ear rather than sitting in my ear, which cut down the irritation more for long hour listening. However, the 3rd month, the rounded silicon ear tips work better in terms of comfort (for longer hour listening) compared foam tips but loses little in noise isolation. Anyway, in terms of sound, not too much of difference between foam and silicon. Update: The fourth month, the silicon tip still irritates my after long hour listening and I decided to get the comply tip T-100, which suppose to increase the comfort. After I got them from the mail, to get them fit comfortably in my ear takes some patients. But once I get it right, it feels like nothing attached to my ear. Recommended but lots of patients required. 
  4. Great noise isolation allows to listen at low volume. Outside noise is reduced a lot more than my stock earphone and this helps a lot on the music listening experience. Awesome. Update: After months of listening on public transport (noisy morning trains and buses), the isolation work so well that I love the Shure on the isolation more than its sound quality (check the cons below). Absurd, yes.
  5. No sound equalizer is required (almost). There is enough bass, vocal and detail. I find the music might need a little bit more bass for certain songs (techno, dance, electronic) but generally (vocal, instrumental, pop, rock) it works alright without equalization.
  6. A small zip lock pouch and different size of ear tips included. Great for keeping the earphone in a case for travel and different ear tips (soft foam and silicon) for small to large ears .
  7. Sound characteristic is different from general earphone. There is a sense of space in the music that produce good listening experience. Maybe it's the clear music instrument separation that makes a feel of space but it's not like listening in a hall with a stage. However, I have been listening to generic earphone and headphone for years where music felt close to my ears (and I enjoy it), the new sensation feels kinda weird at first.
  8. Cable length (~162cm / 62" inch) long enough to connect music player in a backpack and it's replaceable. I put this as a pro as I usually connect the Shure to my tablet and then, I throw it into my backpack. I find it very handy because of the long cable. However, for those who listen from smartphoneprotable/ player and then put them into pants/jeans pocket, the cable might be too long for some. For me, it's always better to have a long cable rather than a short one. Beside that, if the cable wore out, it can be replaced especially for those who are not willing to spend more to replace the earphone.
Cons
  1. Putting on/taking off the earphone is tricky. Because the earphone is designed for the cable to hang over the ears and putting/taking them on/off takes a little more effort. Furthermore, getting the tip to play nicely with the ears might take a while to get them right. For those who impatient or frequently taking on/off their due to environment (e.g. workplace) might be better off with a headphone or earbud (e.g. IPhone Earbud).
  2. No microphone and buttons for accepting calls. However, the cable can be changed with the microphone cable accessories from Shure but that's going to cost another AUD 70. I will wait for the stock cable to wear out before upgrading the cable. Furthermore, the cable length is a bit long (162cm) but manageable for portable use.
  3. 3.5 mm plug does not fit well with phone protective case. The plug is chunky and I carved out a bit on my phone silicon case just to make way for the plug to attach perfectly with the phone. Problem solved. However, for people who has a hard plastic phone case, it might be a problem.
  4. The bass is not booming enough for Basshead. I have the Koss Portapro and a stock earphone SonyEricsson which has booming bass. Shure SE215 does have bass (solid) but it was not much of a feel (no boom, maybe more burn-in required but from internet sources there is not much of a difference in sound change after burn-in for more than 100 hours.). Anyway, without the booming bass, the sound becomes very detail and bass sounded far behind the stage. For those who like bass guitar in certain songs, it might be a let down. In addition, pushing up the volume might bring the bass back but I'm a low volume listener so, my bad. More update: After 6 months of listening, bass still remain the same but soundstage improved. I added a headphone amp in my portable player setup and  it improved the soundstage even further but did not change the bass (lack of boom) sound. Nevertheless, the bass quality is still solid and punchy.
  5. Price is a bit high for casual listeners. AUD 107 is a bit steep in my opinion. I would expect the budget for home listeners would be around AUD 50 - 80 for a good quality earphone. However, for greater isolation (especially for train commuter) and  detail sound, I find it's worth it but won't recommend to listeners on a very tight budget.
Finally, I would recommend Shure SE215 for people who hear their music in high quality format (e.g. Flac, Ape) and would like to take a step forward on the music listening experience (Not so great for Basshead, but for vocal, instrumental and jazz, the sound is amazing). Furthermore, they are made for travel and high noise isolation especially public commuters (Highly highly recommended for people who take the noisy morning trains/buses because the Shure isolate noise very well!). Stock earphone and Koss Portapro are fun to listen to with their booming bass but Shure SE215 brings out extra detail of the music. Recommended for people enjoys more detail than bass and looking very high isolation earphone.

Other similar priced earphone to consider:
TDK IE800
TDK BA200
Hifiman RE-400
VSonic VSD1/VSD1S

Update 29/06/14: After abusing the Shure for more than a year (I use it almost everyday travelling to work and back) and happy to report that this earphone is still going strong. I found some articles reported that there are some issue with the cable connector that caused silent to one earpiece. What I did was pull out the cable from the earpiece and give it a wipe (exterior metal plate only) with a dry tissue. It seems that there is dirt trapped on the connector that blocking up the metal conductor and hence silent the sound. After that, it doesn't happen again.