Shure SE215 headphones review: Big sound, small package, just right price
The SE215 dominates the sub-$100 earphone price bracket.
Shure is not a mainstream brand name, because the manufacturer is more associated with audio gear that isn’t quite wallet-friendly. On the other hand, it is a favorite among the audiophile community because the company knows how to bring some kickin’ sound that is equally engaging as it is high quality.
As of late, Shure sought to reach out to more audio lovers by filling in its lower price gap. I reviewed the SRH145 on-ears not too long ago, which surprised me over how much they offer at $39. Shure has now provided us one of its entry-level earphones to review for you guys – the SE215.
The SE line of in-ears ranges from $50 all the way up to $1,000. But despite the price, Shure is very careful to give you the most for your money and not compromise on the audio enjoyment that it excels at. Let’s check out if the SE215 maintains that philosophy and delivers Shure’s awesome sound.
I wouldn’t necessarily call the SE215 a looker. Shure seems to rather focus on a design that’s functional than eye-pleasing. I’d agree with that from the perspective that in-ears aren’t really that noticeable when donned, especially compared over-ears.
Almost all of Shure’s SE earphones follow the same design – a jellybean-shaped chassis with a cable that is meant to route over your ears. Traditional earphones just have the cable fall in front of you.
Shure doesn’t just do this to stray from the herd, there’s a reason. When the cable goes around your ear it helps tremendously with microphonics (noise from the cable rubbing on you).
The chassis is a smooth, hard plastic that feels solid. It’s semi-transparent, so you can peak in and see the tiny micro driver that does the audio magic. The sound is fed into your ear via a stem that extends from the chassis. It’s angled just right, so that it aims directly at your eardrum.
Something you won’t find on earphones at this price point is removable cables. The fact that Shure uses the same design across all its models allows the manufacturer to keep some of these same benefits. The cable connects to the chassis via a MMCX connector. It’s a common standard along audio gear.
Here’s the kicker of this feature: If your cable fails (which isn’t uncommon), you can simply buy another and swap it out. This ability helps ensure that these headphones will be long-lived investment.
The cable that Shure includes is pretty standard – comprised of a black, smooth finish wrapping. There is a symmetrical Y-splitter down about 13″ from the earpieces, with a chin slider to help with cable movement. The cable is a bit thick from the splitter to the jack, but not stiff. The total cable length is 64″, and the headphone jack is right-angled
Lastly, included in the box is a soft, zipper carrying case. It has a little pocket on the inside for small accessories (like eartips) and a clip on the outside.
When talking about earphones, eartips are a sensitive subject. Manufacturers have a slightly different approach to try to capture a good fit among most people and transfer the exact sound signature that they hope to. Different eartips can significantly change the impact of certain elements in the sound. A good example is between silicone and foam tips. Silicone tips tend to promote bass while foam tips calm it. Additionally, passive isolation is different between materials. Foam tips excel with sound isolation.
Shure is generous when it comes to eartips. The SE215 packaging include three sizes of both silicone and foam tips, to suit your fancy.
I also have to mention that Shure’s signature black tips (dubbed Shure “Olives”) don’t really wear out in my use. Foam tips are generally prone to stop keeping their shape or eventually fall apart. That’s not so with the Olives in my lengthy experience with them.
If you haven’t worn earphones of this design, there is a slight learning curve. It isn’t just the typical stick-in and you’re done. You sorta need to position the earpiece, stick it in, and then fit the cable around your ear. It’s inconvenient at first, but eventually becomes second-nature.
You’ll realize after a while why many audio manufacturers these days choose this kind of design. Once donned, it’s a comfy and secure fit. And there’s almost no microphonics as you move around (because the noise gets dampened by your ear before it gets to your ear canal). Additionally, this design allows the user to covertly route the cable down their back if it’s preferred.
I would say that Shure could do better with the thicker “memory” wire that is on the portion of the cable that routes around the ear. The stiffness doesn’t let the user wrap the cable snugly around the ear. Instead, it awkwardly goes up and over. The stiffness does let up slightly over time though.
*For my sound trials, I used the LG V10 (HiFi SABRE 9018 DAC setting) and Tidal HiFi music samples.
Now we get to the meat of the review – the sound quality. I’ll jump right to it and say that Shure maintains its excellent audio prowess. These little guys sound spectacular for $99.
Talk about in your face. The mids are what it’s about in the sound signature. This means that guitar strums and vocals have a presence like they’re actually there. It also adds a fullness to the music that many headphone reproductions lack. Shure is not trying to bias out ear-candy, it wants to give you the full impact of the recording.
The bass is delicate while still being very relevant. In other words, it hits with plenty of strength, but I wouldn’t call this a basshead’s headphone. I could use a bit more sub-bass; it doesn’t go very deep. But the definition is thoughtful.
My opinion of the treble is almost exactly the same. It doesn’t hide, it’s very relevant in the overall sound, which is great. The whole sound signature is so balanced and cleanly delivered. But you can get nit-picky and say that the treble doesn’t extend as far as it could (higher pitches get rolled-off).
Depth is where I can hear compromise. While the sound reproduction sounds great, it could use extension to fill out the space, if you will. I’m talking about the capture of things like echoing or distances (be more 3D than 2D). The soundstage presentation of the SE215 isn’t wide and doesn’t give you a mental image of the how the sounds surround the space. And yes, earphones can do this, you just have to go up higher in the price chain. Shure isn’t going to give you all for $99, but I’m very satisfied with how much is there.
Shure has captured me with its sound, and I’m really glad that its making itself more accessible with an affordable price. The SE215 is able to show what the company is capable of. It is the baseline, which considerately starts off with the company’s quality audio reproduction and engaging sound signature.
The SE215 are no doubt one of the best earphones out there for $99. The fit, sound isolation, and removable cable push the value even further. If you’re considering stepping up your audio game, you need to think about these.
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