Shure SE535 Review

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Shure SE535
Reviewed June 2011

Details: Shure’s latest flagship utilizing three armatures in a dual-low, single-high configuration
MSRP: $549.99 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $435 from amazon.com; $50 more for Shure CBL-M+-K mic/remote accessory
Specs: Driver: Triple BA | Imp: 36Ω | Sens: 119 dB | Freq: 18-19k Hz | Cable: 5.3′ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock triple flanges, Shure Olives, Earsonics bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (5/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and triple-flange silicone tips, Olive foam tips (3 sizes), porous yellow foam tips, cleaning tool, ¼” adapter, in-line attenuator, airline adapter, and hard clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – With the SE535, Shure has beefed up the construction of the flagship earphone, integrating the nozzle into the housing molds and foregoing the modular cable for a detachable single-piece design. The housings are now less rounded in shape and available in two colors. The cable connectors use a locking and swiveling design akin to that found on some customs but seems to suffer from an unusally high defect/failure rate so far. Strain reliefs are again extremely beefy and the cable is much thicker than average. One interesting issue is with the cable cinch – while it may loosen up over time, it was extremely difficult to move on the test unit
Isolation (4/5) – As with most ergo-fit monitors, the SE535 isolates quite a lot with longer tips such as the included triple-flanges
Microphonics (4.5/5) – The SE535 can only be worn cable-up and microphonics are nearly nonexistent
Comfort (4/5) – With the SE530 as a starting point, it is difficult to imagine the SE535 being an improvement on the comfort front. Indeed, it isn’t – though the cable itself is lighter without the modular split halfway down, the connectors are big, bulky, and angled too far forward for my liking. The addition of a memory wire section doesn’t help either – the entire setup makes the earphones more difficult to position and causes the angular housings to press against my ears

Sound (9/10) – The Shure SE535 replaces the aging SE530 – an earphone that, despite its unique and audiophile-friendly sound signature, certainly is not without flaws – as the company’s flagship. Admitting as much but downplaying the extent of the revision, Shure has gone on record commenting that while the core hardware of the earphone is unchanged, modifications to the housing have positively affected the treble and presentation of the earphones. Personally, I think the improvements go a little further than that, but then again the original SE530 failed impress me in any major way to begin with.

The low end is where the SE535 differs least from the previous model. The bass is flat and well-extended. Test tones are easily audible below 25Hz but power, detail, and definition are lacking at the lowest of lows. Bass detail is good and the low end lacks generally in neither control nor quantity. The bass is still punchy, full, and slightly round of note, but seemingly less so with the SE535 – the newer model sounds tighter and cleaner with quicker attack and decay compared to its predecessor. Other than a tiny bit of speed and recovery, the SE535 is mostly identical to the SE530 at the low end.

The midrange remains the focus of the presentation with the SE535. It retains the power and authority of the SE530 but sounds slightly less forward, mainly due to the greater treble presence. Despite a slight reduction in note thickness, the mids are still lush and full. Warmth is reduced slightly compared to the SE530 – the newer model is clearly the more neutral-sounding of the two. Detail levels are good but the detailing is not at all aggressive. Texture and microdetail levels lag behind many other BA-based earphones and even the dynamic-driver Sony EX1000 and JVC FX700. Clarity and transparency, similarly, are not strong suits of the SE535 next to the some of the other monitors in the price bracket.

The top end is where the SE535 deviates most from its predecessor – the treble is more prominent in the overall soundscape of the newer earphone. Strictly-speaking, there is still a similar amount of high frequency roll-off to the SE530 but the response stays stronger and cleaner right up to the roll-off point. Most of the differences between the two models stem from this minor change – the SE535 sounds a bit cooler, slightly less mid-centric, and a touch leaner than the SE530. It also carries more air and, unlike the SE530, can make claims to sonic balance. The overall amount of treble energy is a bit more realistic though the earphones are still quite polite and non-fatiguing. They are also a touch more critical of poor rips and recordings than the SE530.

The second area of “official” improvement is the presentation. I found myself slightly underwhelmed by the sizeable-yet-intimate presentation of the SE530. The extra air of the SE535 helps the earphone make better use of the sonic space and even the instrument separation seems (very slightly) improved. Overall soundstage size is still slightly above average, imaging is good, and the dynamic range is impressive. Clearly an improvement over the SE530 in my book but not one significant enough to warrant an upgrade for most current SE530 owners.

Value (8/10) – Though the market as a whole has changed drastically, high-end in-ear earphone hardware has seen little innovation in the past few years. Whereas UE has responded with drastic price cuts, Shure, Earsonics, and Etymotic Reseach seem bent on revising their products to maintain a higher price point. In the case of the SE530/SE535, the changes touch mostly on construction and performance. The build quality has undergone the largest improvement, with the modular cable dropped in favor of a fully detachable system. Unfortunately, the bulky cable connectors can make it slightly more difficult to achieve a comfortable fit with the earphone. The sound quality, too, has been improved but the changes are far from drastic. Shure managed to bring the signature closer to ‘balanced’, with improvements to the treble response affecting the rest of the spectrum in minor ways. The SE535 is, on the whole, a better earphone than the SE530, but sets such as the Westone 4 are quick to point out its remaining deficiencies. The new version, therefore, is not a must-have upgrade for SE530 owners but those buying a Shure product now will clearly be better off with the SE535.

Pros: Top-notch build quality, well-accessorized, performance improved over SE530
Cons: Detachable cable can be unwieldy


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

38 Comments

  1. Anirban Dutta on

    Can you please do a comparison between rhat20i and shure se 535.
    And which one would be a better buy?
    I njoy good bass and i listen to quite a variety of music.
    Thank you in advance

    • ljokerl on

      They sound very different and aren’t really direct competitors so it depends on what you want. The SE535 is quite balanced, so it’ll have flatter/less emphasized bass, much smoother treble, and more mids than the T20i. T20i is a lot bassier (even without the +bass filters) and more v-shaped in terms of frequency response. If you like enhanced bass, SE535 is generally not a great choice while the T20 will deliver. If you want maximum fidelity, the SE535 is better.

      • Anirban Dutta on

        Thank you. Its my first buy for high end ear phones and i am looking for a warm rich sound. Your answer was very helpful

  2. Milad on

    hello Joker,
    i can’t decide between SE535, Etymotic ER-4 SR or XR. i am not very base fan. any suggest for 500 dollar IEM?
    thank you.

    • Milad on

      base fan=bass Fan
      mostly lessen progressiv rock(Pink Floyd)

      • ljokerl on

        Unfortunately I haven’t tried the new versions of the ER4 that you mention, but as a fan of neutral sound I’ve always picked the older ER4S over the SE530/SE535.

  3. tom backhouse on

    Hi Joker
    First post & bit of a noob but hoping you can help me out. I have just returned some se425’s as was so dissapointed in the sound quality. they sounded very harsh & shrill to me & also sounded very muddy. not the detailed sound I’d heard about in so many reviews. I have some se535’s on the way but thinking of cancelling them & going for soemthing different. I’m looking for a sound signature similar say to a fidelio x2 but in a small portable form, I know these are a big open over the ear cans but its the best way I can describe what kind of sound I am looking for on the move. Hope you can help in some way.
    kind regards
    TommyB

    • ljokerl on

      Sorry, I don’t have a Fidelio X2 so I’m not sure what type of sound it offers. I’m not a big fan of the SE425 but I don’t know if I’d call it muddy. Typically the only earphones that sound “clearer” are brighter sets, which have a strong chance of sounding (comparatively) more harsh and shrill than a Shure model. But again it’s hard to say what the issue you had was without being familiar with the X2 and with only one data point in the form of the not-so-amazing SE425. Could have a been a poor fit/seal in the ear, a defective unit, or just a poor sound tuning match for your ears.

      • tom backhouse on

        Hi Joker
        thanks do much for the swift reply, sorry I meant to say fidelio L2 rather than X2, Id say its quite a warm sounding headphone but these se425’s sounded too harsh to me, I didnt have it very loud & the treble nearly melted my ear drums. I have tried some flare R2s’s which sounded much better, I may even keep these ones! I have a pair of se535’s sat here but I have not opened yet & a pair of RHA T20’s on the way to test. I did try the T20i’s in the apple store but it was so busy in there & the buds I tried them with didnt give a good seal. I only tried with the reference filter & while it sounded pretty crystal clear it also was a bit tinnny sounding. The listening environment was very poor though along with the seal I got from the buds I tried them with.So currently sticking with the flares so far, how do you think they compare to the 535’s & T20’s???

        • ljokerl on

          I’ve never tried a Flare Audio product, but if they sound best to you then they are definitely the ones I’d stick with.

          • Thomas Backhouse on

            Hi Joker
            I ended up going with some RHA T20’s in the end as the sound quality was up another few notches compared to the flares. Sent the flares back & agonised about sending the shure se535’s back but did end up sending back in the end but did not test them. I couldnt see the shures being that much better in all honesty, or are they?????

            • ljokerl on

              I wouldn’t worry about it – if you like the T20 chances are you won’t be too impressed with the SE535 (and vice versa). They’re just tuned very differently from each other.

      • Dexter on

        Sorry to disturb you joker, how does the im02 compare against the se535?Most importantly, which one do you prefer.Thanks in advance

        • ljokerl on

          They’re pretty similar in performance, hard to say I prefer one to the other. The IM02 is a little darker and has slightly better deep bass presence, SE535 is a little softer on sub-bass and just more laid-back overall. If it was my money I think I’d go for the IM02 nine out of the ten times with the price gap as it is. If they were the same price it’d be closer to 50/50.

  4. Michael on

    How does the 535 compare to shure 435? I listen to the 846 and 535 briefly and what I could remember they weren’t huge difference also the B and O h3 was better then the 535. What type of songs would fit the 435 would kpop work?

    • ljokerl on

      If you mean the 425, it’s been a long time since I’ve tried it and for the price I didn’t like it that much. I think it’s less warm than the SE535 and not as unique, if that makes sense. It may be better if you’re looking for a flat/neutral IEM but then you have lots of other options that don’t cost as much, such as the Audio-Technica IM02.

  5. snowy150 on

    Hi Joker,

    Thanks for the great site – very useful.

    I’ve had the SE535s for about two and a half years. Unfortunately recently they got a bit wet and haven’t been the same since. I’m looking to replace them, and have found them a little cool and the soundstage a little small for my liking.

    What would you recommend that has a bit more warmth and richness, without losing any of the soundstage (or even gaining a bit)? Price-wise, anything up to around $500 works, though it doesn’t have to be that expensive.

    Appreciate your advice,
    snowy150

    • ljokerl on

      Kind of tough to do so since the SE535 is already warmer than your average high-end BA earphone and has a wider-than-average soundstage as well. The one thing that comes to mind immediately is the EarSonics Velvet but that’s over $500. Under $500, the EarSonics SM64, EarSonics SM3v2, or Westone UM3X may be good options as far as “proper” in-ear monitors go. The SM3v2 and UM3X will be warmest out of these three; the SM64 will have the widest soundstage. However, the SM3v2 and UM3X, while not particularly “wide” in the conventional sense, have very good imaging, which may be enough to overcome the issues you had with the SE535.

      If you don’t mind losing the isolation you can also consider the Sennheiser IE80, which has a very wide soundstage for an IEM, and can sound quite warm (the bass on it is adjustable). If you’d rather keep the isolation but don’t mind losing the ergonomic/over-the-ear form factor, the Yamaha EPH-100 can be a very good alternative to the IE80 – slightly smaller soundstage, but better bass quality and overall value for money. There’s also the Sony XBA-H3, which is tuned similarly, but with that you get neither the isolation nor the musician’s monitor form factor. It sounds great, though.

      • snowy150 on

        Thanks for your advice Joker.

        I ended up getting the EarSonics SM64. First impressions are that they have a more realistic sound overall and are more engaging. There’s less emphasis on the mids, so they sound a bit cooler. The sound is also more spacious than the Shure SE535s.

        Some further thoughts in case anyone else wants a comparison between SE535s and SM64s: I’ve found that the SM64s have slightly stronger bass presence (just the right level; the SE535’s bass always seemed a bit lacking). To my ears, the mids from the SE535s appear much closer to the listener than the treble and bass, which is good for acoustic music but can make instruments seem more cramped when listening to orchestral music or similar.

        With the mids in the SM64s soundng further away from the listener, the soundstage seems a little wider, and I’m finding they give a much greater sense of depth than the SE535s – instruments sound as though they are distributed over a greater range of distances from the listener. I think the comparatively less-prominent mids also allow more detail to come through. The overall result is a more engaging sound in my opinion.

        • ljokerl on

          Thanks very much for posting this – may come very handy for someone faced with a similar dilemma. Glad you’re enjoying the Earsonics!

  6. Atsa on

    I have been using the SE215 for a while now and I love it. I am looking for an upgrade since it just broke out of the warranty. 535 is a little bit out of my price range though, how does 425 or 315 compare to 215 or 535?

    • ljokerl on

      The SE215 doesn’t really sound like the more upmarket Shure models – the SE315, 425, 535 – those are all significantly more neutral. Unfortunately my experience with the middle models is extremely limited and while I like the SE535, I also think there are very good values for that type of balanced but slightly warm sound outside of Shure – for instance the Aurisonics Rockets and Sony MDR-7550, which cost $250 or so.

      If I were you’d I’d start with figuring out what you’re after in terms of sound – whether you’re interested in moving in a more accurate and neutral direction from your SE215, or you want something equally smooth and bassy, or you’re looking for more liveliness and excitement in the form of brighter treble (the SE215 is not exactly tops for treble presence), and so on.

      • crazywipe on

        I checked on Innerfidelity and I found that the Dunu Titan 5, incredibly, has the same Frequency response than the se215, just a touch more bass. It’s pretty incredible how they are matched!

  7. Kneat63 on

    Hey Joker,
    Another newbie here seeking your wisdom and guidance. I have been using Klipsch i7 for the past year but the left ear recently went out (seems to be a recurring issue with Klipsch) and I am currently seeking a replacement universal. I have come to really enjoy the overall signature of the i7’s, and would like an IEM that combines its better qualities (relatively balanced with a hint of warmth, forward mids with excellent detail on vocals and a shimmery quality, integrated and articulate highs) while adding slightly more thickness and bass. I also find that the i7 can edge into sibilance on occasion and would not mind slightly backing off on the high end as long as it doesn’t detract from vocal clarity.

    I am currently considering SE525, AF180, ATH-CK10 (may be too flat), and W40 (may be too warm). Any thoughts on these or others that would align with my preferences? Thanks for your help.

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I’m nor familiar with the Klipsch i7 but from what you’re describing I definitely wouldn’t go with the CK10.

      I’d be looking at the SE535, AF180, and maybe EarSonics SM64 (warmth is closer to W40, but it has very good bass impact compared to the flatter SE535/AF180 and is less dark than W40) or StageDiver SD-2 (nice bass and thickness, but lacks in the way of shimmery highs). None of these can be accused of being sibilant, though unfortunately I can’t say how they compare to the Klipsch in that regard. The SE535 and AF180 tend to be pretty flat, so the Klipsch you’ve been using would have to have very little bass for either of them to be an an increase in bass quantity, but I guess anything is possible. It would help if you tried out even one of these somehow, but recommending semi-blindly I’d go with the AF180 – it’s the most well-rounded of the bunch in regards to your desired qualities.

  8. Kassim on

    Your observations and analysis of the SE535s are absolutely spot on. Great review. Kudos! This is going to veer off topic, but I would also like to know what you think of the UE Reference Monitors.

  9. karen on

    Hi!!

    I’ve owned and tried on a couple of IEMs in the past and would like to know how does the bass sound like on the SE535 compared to SE215, VSONIC GR07 BE and the RHA MA750. Thanks!!

    • ljokerl on

      The SE535 has very flat and linear bass compared to all of those. Bass quantity will be lower but the bass quality of the SE535 is very hard to fault until you get down to the sub-bass region, where it runs out of steam. The MA750 especially will sound bloated in comparison, but the SE215 and GR07 BE also won’t be quite as tight and refined as the SE535.

  10. Michael on

    are the shure ever worth getting? you seemed to not like them

    • ljokerl on

      Sure, there’s quite a few instances in which I’ve recommended these. Usually they involve some combination of ergonomic housings, detachable cables, and this type of smooth, level, slightly midrange-focused sound. No better alternatives for someone who prioritizes all those things.

  11. SpaghettiMeatballs on

    Hello joker! I recently heard the se535s, and I really liked it’s sound signature. Unfortunately I don’t have the money to purchase them, what other iems do you recommend under $200 that have a similar sound signature?

    • ljokerl on

      My first choice would be a TDK BA200. They can be hard to find these days but are fantastic for the price. If you can’t get your hands on one, the HiFiMan RE-400 is the next best thing. Under $100, you could go with the Ultimate Ears 600 or Creative Aurvana In-Ear 3.

      • Ofer on

        Hi Joker

        Thank for all the awesome reviews !

        You’ve given the SE535 and the RE-400 the same rating for sound (9.0).
        Would you say that the SE535 is better than the RE-400? (soundwise)

        Bigger Soundstage? Sweeter midrange?

        • ljokerl on

          The SE535 may be marginally better than the RE-400 but I felt like they were on a similar performance level in the grand scheme of things. Soundstage and midrange would be two areas where the SE535 has a small advantage. Bass tone and treble quality, on the other hand, would go to the RE-400.

          • Ofer on

            Thanks, Joker!

  12. newmann on

    Hello!)

    Could you compare the sound signature of SE535, W4R and Sony Ex-1000?
    What about bass quantity, and which is the closest in sq to MA-750?

    Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      None of them really resemble the MA750, which is bassy, warm, and a little v-shaped. The SE535 is a tiny bit warm but overall it is balanced, with mild roll-off up top. The W4 has a little more mid-bass impact and extends a little better up top. The EX1000 has bass quantity similar to the W4 but overall is brighter, more spacious, and somewhat harsher.

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