Review: Shure Sound Isolating Earphones (SE Series)

Katherine Hannaford Headphones / Earphones

shure_se_series_sound_isolating_earphones.jpgIt can be a minefield choosing between headphones, with so many brands touting fantastic reputations around the market, but at least Shure can be one name you can count on for quality.

Each set of the SE Series, from the low-end £99 set to the golden globules of the £329.99 top-of-the-range pair, is crafted along the same lines. Inconspicuous buds end in an angled, padded tube designed to fit smoothly and comfortably into the ear canal (see a close up in our video review).

In a previous video review Alex and I discussed the false representation many audio companies give in regards to noise-cancelling quality. The SE series remains honest, and doesn’t claim to reduce sound, instead simply ‘deadening’ any sound interference by placing the speaker directly into the ear and using the spongy padding, which expands out, to firmly wedge into the ear canal, blocking out noise. Any worries you have about potential damage to hearing can be erased by the lowering of the volume.

Be prepared to use some elbow-grease when inserting the earphones, however. The process involves squeezing in the spongy padding, pushing the bud into your ear gently but firmly, and then the sponge is allowed to expand to fit the space. The more expensive pairs actually come with a slightly different smooth rubber mushroom-shaped fitting, making it easier to fit in.

If when inserted, you can still hear outside noise, chances are you probably haven’t inserted them correctly, and you should have another go. There is a certain sense in which the limited range of sound leaves you with the distinct impression you’re wading along the bottom of a fish tank, but you’ll grow accustomed to it and not want to give them up, as they simply sound too good.

When not being used, the ‘phones nestle in a handy, sturdy and attractive zip-up oval case. Earbud sponges are replaceable, so you can keep your spares in here too.

So, do they really block outside noise? When I was testing them, almost 80% of background noise – I tried them predominantly on the good ol’ London bus system – was deadened. I could listen to the Jesus and Mary Chain in peace, without Surrey-ites braying into my ear about their latest ugly Chelsea Tractor acquisition. Admittedly the sound on my iPod was around 30% lower than it normally is, but it’s a small price to pay for blocking out the hoity-toity locals. Expensive, yes. But worth the money? Oh, absolutely.


Shure Sound Isolating Earphones (SE)

By Katherine Hannaford | May 29th, 2007