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: Buy 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