Shure SE215: The Starting Point

Shure SE215 - photo courtesy of shure.comSince my goal with this blog is to document the bargains and giant-killers coming out China, I think it’s important to set a baseline. Something to compare the low priced Chi Fi offerings to. My favorite IEMs over the last few years have been the Shure SE215, so it’s as good a place as any to start.

I’m not going to delve into packaging or accessories since I bought them several years ago at Fry’s, but I will comment on the durability and build quality. These are a very strongly built IEM. The cord is a thick rubber, and it’s detachable so you can order a replacement if anything should happen to it. In the four years I’ve had them, I haven’t had a single problem. The rubber is still intact, no cracking or crumbling. The rollable foam ear plugs still have plenty of spring and work just fine.

The SE215s use and around-the-ear style fit, requiring the cord to be wrapped up and around, rather than hanging down. They also use a compressing foam tip, you need to roll it and insert it, like a noise-protection ear plug. This results in outstanding sound isolation, making them great for travel but you need to be careful if you’re out running or cycling, you absolutely won’t hear car horns, sirens, etc. Despite the size and somewhat fussy fit, they’re actually quite comfortable, I can even lay on my side and not feel much pressure on the ear. The downside is that if you’re in a setting where people will be interrupting you, it’s a bit of a pain to remove and reinsert them.

I want to state right off the bat that I’m no audiophile, just someone who enjoys music and wants it to sound good. I don’t hold to the belief that a completely neutral headphone is the best. Sound is highly subjective, not just in preference but also in perception. I listen to a variety of styles, mostly on Spotify and my own mp3 and FLAC collection straight out of a Dell XPS13 laptop or OnePlus One phone.

Listening notes:
Take The Power Back – Rage Against The Machine
The opening bass drum has a satisfying thump and the bass guitar has a satisfying plunk. Vocals and guitar work are strong and clear. However, the cymbals near the end could be brighter.

Killer Queen – Queen
This song is a real showcase of vocal and guitar overdubbing that the SE215s handle well. The drums aren’t as prominent as the RATM song but they can be felt in a tasteful way. The multiple guitar tracks are all distinct and clear and don’t blend together. Once again, the highs aren’t quite there, lacking just a little sparkle and clarity.

Dance Of The Yi People – Liu Fang
This is traditional Chinese folk music, played on a pipa, a sort of Chinese lute. The track features some extremely fast picking as well as lower drone notes. The SE215s really shine on this track, every note is clear and well defined, as is the faint sound of the musician’s breathing in the silent passages.

Axel F – Harold Faltermeyer
Synths are clear and bright. Bass notes have a slight thump, drums have a nice snap. The clicking sounds are sharp and dance around clearly. While this song has some high notes it doesn’t really have the kind of ringing sounds from cymbals or a triangle so the lack of sparkle isn’t as noticeable.

Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week) – Frank Sinatra (FLAC)
The opening horn blast is loud and brassy but the individual notes are still discernible, they don’t blend into a smeared mess. This is one song where slightly rolled off highs might be a good thing, those horns could blow out an eardrum. Frank’s vocals sound great here, front and center and easily separated from the many instruments chugging away.

The Shure SE215s are a solid performer at $99 retail. The overall sound is well rounded, with a pleasing combination of slight bass boost and roll off in the highs. I can and have used them for hours at a time, and the sound isolation is outstanding. They aren’t the absolute pinnacle of IEM design but they set a high mark for our Chi Fi competitors. We’ll see if they can measure up.