Shure In-Ear Series SE215, SE315, SE425, and SE535

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Evolution is not like a car wash; it's not some process with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's messy; it makes mistakes; sometimes it moves in a particular direction; sometimes it just goes in circles refining things. Evolution doesn't really know where it's going until it gets there.

Since 1997 Shure has been evolving its line of in-ear headphones. It seems to me they've both run in circles on the ergonomics, and made a bee-line for good sound. Let me explain.

The Battle Ground
The struggle to make a great in-ear monitor has always boiled down to two things: better sound and better fit. Etymotic held the "better sound" spot for a long time, but their ergonomics were (and still are) in need of a little work. You see, Etymotic's ER4 headphones stick straight out of your ears, so you can't lie on your side in bed at night, and the cables stick out and tend to rub on things and whistle in the wind. They sound good, but cable noise can be a problem.

Shure, it seems to me, has really worked hard on figuring out the ergonomics as well as the sound as they evolved their line. The E1, co-developed with Westone, had all the ergonomic comforts of a Lego block. Then, in 2000 Shure introduced the E5, which, to the best of my knowledge, was the first universal-fit in-ear headphone that had a keeper on the cable. The intention here was to route the wires over the top of the ears and then slide the keeper up the cable to secure them at the back of the head.

When I first saw this idea I leapt for joy. I had grown tired of the cable noise problems with the Etymotic ER4, and thought that Shure's method for routing the cable over the ears was the way to go. There was virtually no cable noise, and you could lie on your side in bed with the E5. The only problem was they didn't sound as good to my ears.

A couple years later, the E2 came out with a few refinements: the shape had changed a bit to fit better in the concha of your ear (the little cup around the ear canal); and the cable exited the housing on an angle better matching the angle it needed to go to head up and around your ear. You'll notice on both those products in the photos to the right that the Shure logo is right side up when the cables are going up.

Then something odd happened in 2004, with the introduction of the E3 the sound got better, but the shape completely changed. The logo on the side of the headphones turned over; the nozzle exited the body of the headphones straighter; and the body went white. It was the era of the iPod and it seemed to me that Shure wanted to look cool and ride the wave, but it also seemed to me that they had thrown out the somewhat confusing concept of the cable going over the ears in favor of the more popularly palatable idea of little white earphones you could stick in your ears without thinking too much. Competition was heating up, and you can’t fault them for not wanting to look fugly in the face of it. I’m sure they sold a boatload of E3 cans, but I thought it was an step backward in the ergonomics at the time.

For the next few years Shure seemed to struggle with how to put in their earphones. The keeper remained on the cable, as did their instructions of how to put them on with cable routed over the ears, but they also included instructions on how to use them with cables dangling. The E4c appeared with the Shure logo first one way up, and then the other, and I remember having a chat with Shure representatives where they showed how swapping the left and right earpieces permitted a little better fit with cables dangling.

When the SE210 came out, they had solved the upside-down logo problem (sort of) by printing the logo both ways so it was visible right side up whichever way you put them in. But the other thing that happened was the body style started to change back into the more anatomically correct form factor for insertion with cables routed up and over the ears: the nozzle angled in to the ear canal more; the cable started to angle forward again; and the body of the housing started to fit into the concha more closely. It seems to me they had come to the conclusion that this was the best way to insert them, and that they were starting to make a stand.

Now, with the introduction of the latest SExx5 line of earphones, it seems they have come full circle and are advocating the up-and-over the ears method. I applaud them! The ergonomics of the current line of earphones is outstanding.

I’m going to get back to the Shure SE line in a moment, but I want to finish up my little rant first. You see, while they may have struggled through the thought process for all the world to see, Shure is also the only people (other than custom IEM makers) who’ve really worked hard on the problem. The Etymotic cans sound good, but they still stick straight out from your ears. Most everyone else out there is making in-ear headphones with bodies too large or anatomically incorrect to fit in your ears without discomfort or an insecure fit. The Monster Turbines are not only large, but are metal and heavy in your ear. The Denon in-ears are likewise heavy and large. The new Klipsch in-ears have a large body right at the entrance of the ear canal with ridges on it that hurt your ear after a while. The Woodees, Thinksound, V-moda, even some Sennheiser in-ear headphones seem quite uncomfortable and too large near the ear canal to seal well in the ear. The ubiquitous silicon rubber ball tip usually doesn’t insert far enough into the ear canal, and its shape tends to push it back out. It just doesn’t seem like anyone is really trying to work through the ergonomic issues of in-ear headphones … except Shure.

So, I’m here to rave about Shure’s evolution and having the courage to swim against the tide of “me too” in-ear headphones out there. The iPod created a flood of interest in in-ear headphones, the response from most manufacturers seems a lot more like “let’s make ear jewelery” than “let’s help people connect with their music.” Shure, on the other hand, stuck to their knitting and kept refining their idea of how an in-ear headphone should work, and with this new line nailed it.

NICE JOB, SHURE!!!
Let's take a closer look at the line.

Company Info
Shure Incorporated
5800 West Touhy Avenue
Niles, IL
info@shure.com
(847) 600-2000
Article Contents
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Comments
maverickronin's picture
Westone!

You left out Westone in the first half. They make their universals in the same basic shape as Shure.

Also, I think the new xx5 series is a step backwards in ergonomics. They've got too many corners and edges. I tried the 535s and while they sounded better than the 530s I kept the 530s because they were more comfortable. The 530s are rounded all over and the nozzle is a a generous angle to the main body. The 535s push a corner against my outer ear, which keeps the nozzle from entering my ear canal straight on and requires me to use a larger and more uncomfortable tip to get a decent seal.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Ahhh...
... Westone! Right you are. I've not found them to sound as good as the Shure products in the past, but it's been a while so I should look into it again. Thanks for the reminder.

And thanks for the comments on fit. One of the tricky things is the number of different shapes of ears out there.

maverickronin's picture
Westone Products

The new Westone 4 is supposed to be pretty good but I haven't heard it yet.

I really liked the ES5 demo at last the CanJam too, but that's not really in the same category.

Leaffan's picture
Great write up Tyll. I've

Great write up Tyll. I've been a huge fan of Shure IEMs (own/owned SE110, SE115, SE210, SE310, SE530 and SE535). I still have my SE535s and slightly prefer the more neutral presentation of the Westone 4s.

I am surprised at just how the SE215s have changed over the bass lite to missing SE210s. Well done Shure.

3DPRO's picture
SE215

I was thinking about the SE215 graph and this showed up. Big thanks to you, Tyll!

Great mini review. you completely sold me to it! Tongue

Edit: btw, Tyll. Any suggestion on the tips for SExx5 series?

mward's picture
Transfer function?

Tyll—do you have to use a different head-related transfer function for IEMs than for other types of headphones due to the fact that IEMs bypass the pinna of the ear and also can shorten the length of the ear canal? (Or am I just misunderstanding the purpose of the HRTF?) If not, would you explain why? Thanks!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Sweet!
Great question! Not one that's easy to answer, though.

The thing that's hard to get a grip on is the fact that there's no such thing as an agreed upon "flat." What I'm really trying to do is create a database of measurements that can be compared one against another. So, for that purpose, what I want to do is use the same HRTF on everything, which will give you measurements where if something measures with more bass, then it has more bass when you hear it.

But technically you are correct, if I was trying to get measurements where I was trying with absolute accuracy to get the difference between the sound on an IEM and the sound you hear from a pair of ideal speakers, then I would have to use a different HRTF. But I don't have an HRTF calibration curve for speakers.

One way of looking at it is that I should just take the raw data and show that only. When we get to the point that we can compare on headphone agains another, it will make no difference if you used the raw data or HRTF compensated data. The HRTF compensation is just to get it close to "flat" so that when you look at a curve it isn't a roller coaster.

Personally, I think over time we will be able to create an empirically derived subjective HRTF. I'd like to develop a way for people to create their own HRTF to apply to the raw data as we develop the on-line measurement display tool. Over time, as people play with it and make their own HRTF curve, they'll talk about amongst each other and we may collectively zero in on an acceptable HRTF to replace the "independant of direction" HRTF. One that will make the graph look flatter when the headphones sound flat.

If we manage to pull that off, I'll write an AES paper. :)

mward's picture
Thanks!

I guess my question was more complicated than I realized. Thanks for addressing it—I think I sort of understand. I'll have to think about this some more. But it sounds like as things are now, the HRTF you're using gives a more accurate picture of what full-size headphones sound like than what IEMs sound like, at least for frequencies above a certain point? Not trying to start a debate here, just trying to get the best possible understanding of what's going on Smile

I like the idea of coming up with a personalized HRTF. At that point raw data would be useful. But currently, I definitely think that using the HRTF you're using, flaws aside, presents a clearer picture of headphone performance than just posting the raw measurements.

And of course, this doesn't just matter for measuring headphones, but also for things like the Smyth Research Realiser A8 that KR reviewed for Stereophile.

Thanks again for the response, this is a really interesting thought exercise in exactly what the ideal goal is for headphone performance, speaker performance, etc., and how to evaluate how close various transducers get to meeting that goal.

Hope you have more to say on this in the future.

yuriv's picture
Which tips for those measurements?

Using the default silicone tips with various Shure IEMs, I hear a spike between 7-10kHz, depending on the insertion depth. Perhaps it's the result of a half-wavelength resonance. Depending on where that peak happens, it can sound very harsh as it's at least 7.5dB louder than the response at surrounding frequencies.

The supplied black "olive" foam tips seem to tame those peaks. I hear a smoother response with test tones, and (to me at least) good recordings sound more realistic. Comply foam sometimes does a better job. Maybe it's like having acoustic treatments in a room. Like bass traps, foam tips lessen the effect of room modes and standing waves. It would be interesting to see measurements for the various tips.

Also, if you have any of the old Shure models still lying around and have measurements for them please post. How does old (E1-E5) compare with new?

Thank you for supplying very useful information. Great blog!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I used the black olives ...
... for the testing. I've not noticed much difference in FR measurements between tips, but maybe I should try harder to notice. I'll jot that down as a good idea for an article, thanks. I don't think HeadRoom has any of the old ones. I'll check.
David S.'s picture
Classical Music Listening

Hi.

Would the SE315 be a worthwhile step up from the SE215 good choice for classical music?

Do you have another suggestion in the $150 - $200 range?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I really liked the Audeo
I really liked the Audeo Perfect Fit. very clean. Would be good for classical, I think.
David S.'s picture
Classical Music Listening

Thanks for the suggestion.

skiten's picture
215 vs 315

found a pretty good deal on the 315 and have been disappointed in the past with the $100 price point earphones - Klipsh and older model Shure. Would you recommend the 315 over the 215 for a cost difference of $85-90? My primary use is on commercial flights weekly, I listen to a wide variety of music.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'd suggest the Spider
I'd suggest the Spider Realvoice for a warm sound, or the Audeo PFE for a clear and neutral bass.
FrimanizzlE's picture
SQ SE215....?

Hi

I resently bought a pair of SE215 based on your review, because I dont have any real experience with IEM and needed a pair for running and training at the gym.
I must say, that I do not agree on the SQ at all. They sound thin and edgy. Subjectively I would say that they have no real bass output below 100Hz!
I´m pretty sure that the seal is quite well, as the isolate extremely well, så that might not be the problem with the bass.
I´m using them with my iPod Touch 4g. playing only FLAC-files via FLAC-player, so the source should be okay....?

I´m confused because I totally agree with you regarding the Sony MDR zx700 wich I also own and love with my iPod. The SQ are worlds apart, but the pricerange is quite similar.
Do I demand too much from these IEM´s, and is it not realistic to ecspect more in this pricerange....?

BTW: will you do a review of Sony MDR ZX1000? I totally love the 700´s in everything they do at the price. Isolation, SQ, comfort, durability, everything is top notch, so I´m wondering what to ecspect from the pricyer top model...?

Best regards, and thank you for a excellent site!!!

/Frimanizzle:-)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Something's wrong.
Those headphones have big bass. If they sound "thin and edgy" you either don't have a good seal, or you have fakes. Sorry.
Rob-T's picture
Same problem here

Hi. First of all i love your reviews. Nice to know there's someone so specialized in headphones. 

Today i received my Shure SE215 and right at first listening i was dissapointed. There was no bass almost at all they sounded like average IEMs from cellphones. I used to have Sony MDR-EX35LP. They were so good for 20$, that i bought onother pair after i lost first ones. They had nice deep bass. Have you ever tested them? The SE215 sound so bad compared to MDR-EX35LP: no sound stage, highs are diminished when listening cymbals from metal songs, and the bass is like lightly scratching my eardrum. Is there actually a burn in rule for headphones? Maybe after some hours of listening they will sound better?

I was expected to be amazed by 125$ headphones...they should sound at least 2 times better than the EX35LPs. Also they sound louder than 35LP. 35LP has 16 Ohms, while SE215 have 20 Ohms. That doesn't makes sense, right? Frequency response of 35LP is better: 6-23,000Hz, could that be the problem?

I guess they are fake but i find it hard to believe since  they were delivered from a respected German musical equipment store: Thomann. You can be tricked by legal stores too?

Libertyyne's picture
Thank you tyll for the great

Thank you tyll for the great review and history. Although my knowledge may be limited, I have only owned one pair of Shure 210s, and avoided using my friends 530's out of fear that they might ruin my expectations of the 210's i did have, but i agree with the ergonomic design thesis you have laid out. I find that the foam olives are amazing in terms of how they deliever bass and how well they isolate sound. I have recently just purchased a set of 215's after loosing my 210's. The fit is newer to me since im used to the 210 insertion method. I was just wondering what your thoughts were in regards to the new dynamic drivers on the 215's and how they compare to the 210. I loved the balanced sound of the 210's and the armature driver it had. Bass was not a problem for me( side note it was amazing to realize with my first set of of iems how different bitrates can really impact the listening experience- which is probably not noticeable on 20 dollar earphones.) I am still playing around with my 215's trying to get a better fit, but I havent been wowed with them yet like i had with my 210's. I am not sure if burn in is a real thing so thats a different debate to be had... any how do you think i should step up to the 315's (from my understanding the only old difference was a tuned bassport on the 310 vs 210) I wonder if the dynamic driver with added bass reduces the difference between the two.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'm sorry but I have little
I'm sorry but I have little experience with the 210 and don't remember much about it. I think I actually like the 215 better than the 315, but price is dialed in there. You might want to try the Spider realvoice.
13mh13's picture
E2s = good; E500, SE530 = yuck! and $$$

I have the E2Cs, which (not sure was noted above) are DYNAMICS. Dunno which Shure's before/since are dyn's. Anyway, the E2s are uncomfortable but they sound decent. Can't say that for 500/530. Nail on chalkboard sound (which I didn't realize until I had listening exp. with several other IEMs under my belt) is my overall opinion. They are isolating and quite comfortable ... FWIW.

The 500's cable fell apart after only a few mos. Shure replaced with new 530s (at least they have a good warranty!) but those 530s cable fell apart within 9 mos. Sigh. Shure replaced again (free), but by this time, I had acquired MUCH better IEMs (like Senn IE8).

...and about my last pair of SE530's ... cables have been goin' strong for over 3 yrs. Somethin' about STAYIN' in their clamshell container ALL THE TIME makes 'em ... uh ... "durable"!

EDIT: The E2's cable fell apart, too, but I never got around to returning it, because that's about the time I got my 1st 500. The cable of the E2 is thick/heavy and SEEMS completely diff. mtrl/design than 500/530. Poor QC all the way is the only thing I can figure!

ivanmatthewson's picture
Motorcycling

How do these fit under a motorcycle helmet?

Mohammed's picture
Hi mate, Thanks for this

Hi mate,

Thanks for this quick review, but i got a question hope u answer it in details. I got the Monster Turbine Coppers and using the conical shape ear tips solved the prob for me. Now im thinking of new ones maybe the shure se535 to be used beside the turbines, but my ques is do they really sound different from the turbines that's worth buying them? let's say a real difference in an 320kb quality audio file?

andyj34's picture
Shure SE-535

Like yourself I've bought the Shure SE-110, which introduced me to true noise-isolation, proceeded to the Shure SE-420 (which unfortunately broke last week and the two year warranty has expired) and finally reaching audio nirvana with the Shure SE-535.

Using the Shure SE-420 and Shure SE-535 there is no requirement to alter the EQ setting on my IPOD as it's simply not needed. The bass is deep, fast with a smooth clear mid-range and treble. I'm not a bass-loving junkie but a good deep bass that marries with mid-range and treble is important, a warm sound, if you like.

However, the Shure range are easily broken or after a year or so, music can only be heard from one ear-piece.

What on-ear headphones can you suggest I try (or recommend) which has a similar sound to the Shure SE-535? My music source is the Apple IPOD 160Gb classic with most of my music encoded at 320kbps, which is mainly used for my daily commute to work and the gym.

I listen to artists such as Eryah Badu, Joss Stone, Quantic, Rage Against the Machine with Jazz thrown in for good measure.

I was thinking about the AKG 450?

Any suggestions?

whotookmynick's picture
Klipsch S4...?????

The Klipsch S4 are a higly regarded IEM's.
i read that they compare to the Shure SE315 while they cost
less than half.
Would you please comment on these headphones Tyll?
thing is that i have them, and im very pleased with the sound,
but i find them to be too intrusive...too deep into the ear canal.
i used to have a cheap Sennheiser cx300 before, which were very comfy but not half as good sounding.
im looking for something that is both comfortable (not too intrusive) and both good sounding.
thanks!!!

johthor's picture
SE 215

Thanks to your excellent review of the Shure IEMs I bought my first pair of "decent" in ear monitors the Shure 215.  I thoroughly enjoy these great sounding little bundle of joys.  I use them at least 4 hours a day when I am out and about out of an Ipod Classic 80GB/JDSLabs C421.  They provide outstanding isolation and rival the sound of some of my midfi headphones I use at home.  For me the black shiny foam tips are so comfortable that I rarely feel them after the first five minutes.  They are a little tricky to get a good fit if you are not used to IEMs, but your excellent tutorial was a huge help.  Thank you Tyll for turning me on to these great sounding little gems.

old joe's picture
IEM's for live band

I am struggling to figure out what IEM's to buy. I play drums in an up and coming band so I don't have the money to throw at professional molded IEMs and have been looking at the 215's or 315's and the etymotic hf5's. I run a click track and backing tracks through my IEM's and monitor my drums, guitar, bass, and vocals so I need the whole spectrum. What do you recommend?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Depends

The 315 would be better for intelligibility, but the 215 is more fun to listen to.  The 315 is a little lean in the bass, but it's very clear. The 215 is a warmer sounding headphone and a good listen, but it might not have the clarity for your click tracks.  Both are good cans in their own way.

cj1bug's picture
Custom fit

Im looking into buying a pair of the 215's, but i was hooked on buying the mc5 series from etymotic with the custom fit tips

Is it possible to get custom fit tips made for the se215's like the etymotic custom fit?

thesubaruguru's picture
FR curves

My background is solely with loudspeakers, of which I've limited experience in design, inc voicing via subtle crossover adjustments.

So IEMs are alien to me.

Looking at your Shure curves, I'm curious if you normalized them at 800-1k, or that they simply have identical response there?  If so, it seems that the 215, being a full +8 dB in the bottom octave, must sound completely different from its brethren...and maybe very bloated, as it rolls off quickly with a very strong negative spectral tilt.

My ref system phones are Senn HD600, so I guess I'm searching for a perceived response that is comparably natural, coherent, detailed, and reasonably extended.  My ref speakers are Verity Audio Parsifal Encores through Pass Labs and Electrocompaniet CDP, FWIW.)

IEMs would initially be mostly for bedtime FM use, where comfort (even against a pillow) and an extremely open response, especially at lower volumes, is available. Source is simply a clean Sangean FM.

My current baseline is the cheap UE200, which I must say have a surprisingly smooth mid, and are comfy; but they have little dynamic range, crapping out on mid-level transients. So I'm tempted by its better brethren (UE600 or 700), maybe the Grado 8, and certainly these latest Shures.

Initial analysis of the curves indeed precludes the unflat 315 and seemingly-bloated 215, but I can't discern whether the SLIGHTLY lower low bass response of the 425, and its "flatter" low treble is actually "better" than the softer low treble but more linear (analytical?) highest octave of the 535? There's simply too much noise in these non-flat curves for me to sift through. (When tweaking crossovers I used to simply calculate "difference" curves, thereby making crossover parts values' adjustments much easier.)

Perhaps it's useful to note that I prefer the HD600 to the less-musical HD650. Is an SE425/SE535 comparison analogous, in that the 425 may be easier to live with as it may be less analytical, and therefore more tolerant of the flawed source material? Late-night source material will be almost always acoustic classical and jazz, so timbral honesty, rez, and clean transients are paramount....

I've been reading profusely the past week or so, and am both surprised at the lack of uniform standards for both frequency response (although I understand how daunting such a consensus-reaching might be), and the ridiculous lack of consistency in sonic descriptions I've read. It would behoove the "head-wearing" transducer crowd to perhaps adopt some of the language established by audiophiles over many years to describe acoustic performance (the tremendous variation of response sensitivity of human ears notwithstanding).

I laud the efforts of those who are trying to rationalize the field, but it's a remarkably noisy forest. Maybe just the signs of a young industry with little standardized references nor sturdy language definitions?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ern