This review is for the sort of folks that aren't self-proclaimed audiophiles. I'm sure if you found yourself here, you probably aren't one as there are several fact-laden reviews out there for the audio purists out there. Hopefully, this review will help the general consumer out in the world of high end headphones.
Recommend this product?
The SE535 are the most expensive in-ear headphones available from Shure and is priced at $550 MSRP. After some research I ventured to try several in-ear options; the two I kept finding around a price range I was willing to pay were always between the Westone 4R and the Shure SE535. Both similarly priced, but each have different characteristics to their respective sound profile.
To set up my basal range for my audio experience, I previously owned a second hand pair of Shure E2's from a buddy. I absolutely loved these, and used them extensively for travelling, working out, and on my runs. The quality of these alone are phenomenal, and I honestly thought any step above these headphones would only be incremental. Over time, I decided upon Shure based on previous experience, recommendation and the overall package they brought compared to the Westone 4Rs.
Design and Build
The aesthetics and build quality of the Shure 535s are outstanding. If you are unfamiliar, these in-ear headphones and all that Shure offers are designed to be worn over the ear and pushed in; letting any slack fall behind the ear and either across the chest or back. You may have see this on touring musicians or newscasters on TV. This factor alone may turn most off, as a lot of users dislike this method of listening as the comfort is on a case by case basis. Having previously owned in-ears, I was very comfortable with these and found no problems whatsoever (even with hours of listening daily).
The plastic casing that houses the internals is bronze-brown (clear on the other model) and is very solid with the brand and model etched in and painted. I found this to be great, since my previous Shure in-ears had the name rubbed off after years of use. Since these are recessed, I feel that the durability of these is much better. Compared to Apple earbuds, 535s are much larger due to the 3 separate drivers (1 dedicated tweeter and 2 woofers) that have to be encased. However, in comparison to my older E2s, these are actually slightly smaller and more ergonomic resulting in a much more comfortable fit.
The Kevlar lined cable is extremely sturdy and the last 2 inches near the connection point to the headphones themselves is wrapped in memory material. This allows the loop that goes around the ear to stay. This may seem unnecessary but having used this in-ear method before, getting the cable to loop around and stay was extremely difficult in previous models. This allows the headphones to be put on much quicker, and get very snug in high-movement activities. In addition, the socket that the cable connects to allows for the headphone to swivel. This allows the bud to “float” freely and allow it to sit easier in varying ear sizes.
The most important part of this review, as this should be the reason why you are dropping half a grand on headphones. After 6 months of heavy listening daily, I feel that I have a solid grip on the quality these buds produce. For reference, I was using 320kbps/lossless music format and cross testing with several models using the same music. I used every single type of ear-bud tip that Shure gave in the “fit-kit” and ended up using the Triple-Flange with the smallest tip and stalk cut off.
Using a plethora of genres (rock, classical, folk, electronic, and acoustic), the 535s shined in all of them. Shure’s signature sound is very well pronounced mids and solid bass. While not skull-shattering like Dr. Dre Beats, the lows are very tight and accurate. You can easily distinguish instruments and the sound never gets muddled where certain tracks would present in my E2s. The 535s shine the most in the mids; never sharp or in your face but very smooth and clean. Almost sparkly in nature, the mids are so pleasant to listen to. The highs do tend to roll off, but nothing that is detrimental to the sound quality. Mind you, all of these testings were done through Spotify high quality and an iPod. Consequently, these headphones are very easily driven (not requiring separate amplification) and present fantastic quality even at low volumes.
Drum snares are sharp, bass is tight, vocals are cleanly distinguished and everything is presented in a pleasant way. In comparison to the Westone 4Rs, these were “fun” to listen to. While the 4Rs are more analytical, the sound almost felt lifeless. The Shures were bright and while some accuracy may have been sacrificed, the enjoyment was much better in the 535s than the 4Rs. For the audio purists, this may be awful tradeoff, but I honestly enjoy the 535s much more than the 4Rs.
The soundstage is outstanding to the point that you could pick where instruments and vocals were coming from (especially from well-mixed live tracks). The audio experience is almost “out of head”, where it is presented to you rather than stuck within ones head.
As far as sound isolation, depending on the various tips and seal, they are fantastic. I’ve flown a few round-trips with these across the Atlantic, and they’ve allowed me to enjoy peace with commotion and crying babies. You will not be able to carry conversations with these on, and if you are engrossed in what you are listening to, you will not be able to hear anyone. If you run or bike in these, be especially careful, as the isolation these provide is unbelievable. I’ve used Bose QC15s, and I prefer passive isolation over Bose’s active noise cancellation. The sound waves the Bose emits to cancel ambient noise diminishes the quality of the music, and I personally cannot stand the blatant hiss.
Accessories and Final Thoughts
The accessories are plentiful. It comes with a hard shell nylon zip case, “fit-kit” with several sizes or buds, quarter-inch adapter, and airline adaptor. I doubt one will find trouble finding a good tip, but this is extremely important if you are to get great quality. If one doesn’t get a good seal, these will appear no better than default iPod headphones. The packaging itself is actually very nice, all neatly placed inside a metal box with the related documentation.
Overall, I highly recommend personally testing several buds. If you made it this far into the review, you obviously want to make good use of your money. In-ears and premium audio equipment are a minefield and the best way to decipher it is to just test them. If you are like me, I wanted to get a pair of universal fit in-ears first before venturing into the custom-molded world. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend the 535s. Audio quality is highly subjective, but if you enjoy high quality music and want to hear the most nuanced parts of your favorite music, the 535s are very good. Wonderful isolation, great instrument separation, and very pleasant presentation over a broad range of music.
Read all comments (4)