Reviewed June 2011
Details: Shure’s previous flagship and one of the first triple-armature universal-fit earphones
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $449)
Specs: Driver: Triple BA | Imp: 36Ω | Sens: 119 dB | Freq: 18-19k Hz | Cable: 18″ I-plug + 3′ extension (I-plug) or 9″ extension (I-plug)
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock triple flanges, Shure Olives
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and triple-flange silicone tips, Olive foam tips (3 sizes), cleaning tool, over-the-ear cable guides, ¼” adapter, in-line attenuator, airline adapter, hard clamshell carrying case, 3′ extension cable, and 9″ extension cable
Build Quality (4/5) – The ergonomically-shaped housings of the SE530 are made out of shiny bronze-colored plastic. The nozzle is a separate piece (in contrast to the SE535) and the entire shell feels rather sturdy. Strain reliefs are extremely beefy and the modular cable is thicker than what’s found on most portable headphones. Early production SE530s are infamous for cable cracking issues
Isolation (4/5) – As with most ergo-fit monitors, the SE530 isolates quite a lot with longer tips such as the included triple-flanges
Microphonics (4.5/5) – The SE530 can only be worn cable-up and microphonics are nearly nonexistent
Comfort (4.5/5) – The rounded housings and over-the-ear fit of the SE530 make the earphones quite comfortable for prolonged use and the fit kit provides plenty of tip options. Size-wise the SE530 is similar to the W3 but longer, more shallowly angled nozzle should make the fit more universal. One annoyance is the modular cable, which is quite thick and can be unwieldy
Sound (8.9/10) – Introduced back in 2005 as the E500 (not to be confused with the E5), the SE530 became one of the very first triple-driver universal IEMs on the market. The monitor utilizes a two-way design with dual low drivers – a configuration still common today. Unlike a few of the other multi-armature flagships, however, the SE530 is a consumer-oriented earphone through and through. Whereas the Shure E4 I owned a long time ago was mid-centric and neutral almost to the point of blandness, the SE530 overflows with sonic flavor. Tuned for a warm and full-bodied sound, it shares individual characteristics with a number of high-end IEMs but mirrors none in full.
Contrary to what I expected based on the hundreds of SE530 references I’ve read over the years, the low end is well-extended and lacks any significant mid-bass emphasis. Test tones are easily audible below 25Hz but the earphone lacks power, detail, and definition at the lowest of lows, making the usable frequency range a little narrower. Outside of sub-bass frequencies, however, the SE530 yields little detail to the new crop of high-end monitors and usually remains competent and polite. The character of the low end is reminiscent of the Earsonics SM2 but with diminished overall quantity. It is thick, full, and slightly round of note, with good punch and definition. The response also picks up weight and becomes more authoritative towards the lower midrange. Like the SM2, the SE530 is a touch on the boomy side for an armature-based earphone with fairly flat response. The Westone 4, which isn’t a whole lot leaner than the SE530, sounds significantly quicker and tighter.
The mids of the SE530 are powerful and upfront but despite the midrange bias the earphones sound fairly balanced. In my book, the presentation qualifies as mid-centric rather than mid-forward. The midrange is lush and full-sounding. It manages to be warm without coming off significantly veiled, partly because there is no bass hump getting in the way. It is detailed, but not aggressively so. Expectedly, some texture and microdetail ends up being sacrificed for the smoothness – the SE530 sounds very liquid next to my CK10, 1964-T, and even TF10. More noticeable are the sacrifices in clarity and transparency – the SE530 can’t quite keep up with the newer triple- and quad-driver models on the market on either front. I’ve seen the term ‘fat’ tossed around and I think it more or less applies to the midrange of the SE530.
The treble transition is extremely smooth and the earphone drops off more gradually than I expected at the top. There is no doubt that the high end is rolled off but my testing shows that it drops 10dB maybe 1kHz earlier than the (decidedly trebly) CK10. From a frequency response perspective, 1kHz isn’t much and the SE530 actually seems to perform better than the newer SE535 when it comes to absolute extension. What’s missing is treble energy – while the earphone is extremely non-fatiguing and polite, it is also quite laid-back and lacking in air. The top end is not at all sparkly or edgy – not even close – which tends to accentuate the roll-off and – as with the poor note weight at the extreme low end – sacrifice some realism. While the Earsonics SM3 and UM3X can be accused of the same, they do have greater resolution, clarity, and detail to make up for it. On the upside, the SE530 is one of the most forgiving earphones I’ve ever heard when it comes to compressed or poorly-ripped audio – probably not much consolation for seasoned audiophiles but it does make the SE530 more suitable for beginners.
In addition to its performance at the limits of the frequency spectrum, I was slightly underwhelmed by the presentation of the SE530. The soundstage is a bit above average in size, with good width and depth, but the lack of crisp, well-defined treble cuts down on airiness and the sense of overall space. As a result, the earphone leans towards intimacy with the way it presents music and tends to underemphasize the size of its stage. Imaging is average – sufficient, but not nearly as impressive as with the UM3X or SM3. Positioning precision, similarly, lags behind the CK10 and Westone 4, but not for lack of dynamics. Rather, the mid-centric balance messes with positioning cues and causes certain things to sound out of place. In addition, the sound simply isn’t very well-separated – the SE530 sounds blended, almost like a dynamic-driver set – in stark contrast to something like the UM3X or CK10. Of course for those who complain about armatures sounding artificial and consider a track to be more than a sum of its parts, the presentation of the SE530 may actually be preferable. In addition, the laid-back top end contributes to the tone leaning towards the dark side of neutral – not terribly so, but more than most of the competition. The earphones are also quite sensitive and will hiss more with poorly-matched sources than the competition.
Value (7.5/10) – The Shure SE530 has been a staple of the audiophile market for the better part of the past decade. In that time it has been challenged by a number of newer designs but – thus far – has managed to maintain a loyal following. As an overall package, the SE530 is indeed impressive, especially considering its age. Early-production cable issues aside, the set is well-designed and user-friendly. The sound is mid-centric, warm, and polite – a signature still considered by many to be the audiophile ideal. Shure obviously thought the earphone aged well enough, admitting publically that sonic changes to the newer SE535 revision were kept to a minimum. What follows is a more personal question – why can’t I bring myself to like the sound? To me, the SE530 has a definite midrange bias while the bass and treble are merely decent. Granted, monitors such as the Earsonics SM3 and Westone UM3X have a different purpose and different signatures, as do the more V-shaped TF10 and W3, but all of these perform better across the spectrum as a whole than the SE530 does. The Shures lose additional points for questionable positioning precision and texturing. For a triple-driver setup, the SE530 simply runs out of steam too early when it comes to the finer points of audio reproduction and, while I appreciate the role of the earphone in shaping the high-end consumer IEM market, the SE530 is a difficult one to recommend in 2011.
Pros: Ergonomic; well-accessorized; lush and sweet sound
Cons: Modular cable can be unwieldy; not great at frequency range extremes; not very impressive on a technical level