Details: Shure’s mid-range dynamic-driver earphone, featuring the same detachable cable system as the rest of the new lineup
MSRP: $99.99 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $99 from amazon.com; $50 more for Shure CBL-M+-K mic/remote accessory
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 20Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 22-17.5k Hz | Cable: 5.3’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Shure gray flex, Shure Olives
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (4/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), Olive foam tips (3 sizes), cleaning tool, and soft clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The design and build of the SE215 mimic Shure’s newly-redesigned flagship SE535. The plastic housings are complimented by a beefy detachable cable with a locking and swiveling connector
Isolation (4/5) – As with most ergo-fit monitors, the SE215 isolates a lot with the included Olive and flex sleeves and even more with aftermarket triple-flanges
Microphonics (4.5/5) – The SE215 can only be worn cable-up and microphonics are nearly nonexistent
Comfort (3.5/5) – While the SE215 is ergonomically-designed, fairly small, and quite lightweight, it suffers from the same issue as the SE535 to an even larger degree – the cable connectors are big, bulky, and angled too far forward for my liking and the memory helps make the earphones more difficult to position comfortably. I’m sure they will be comfortable for many but I find the fit awkward compared to the similarly-shaped Westone monitors
Sound (8/10) – Up until a recent month-long trial of the SE530 and SE535, my experience with Shure’s earphones was limited to the old SE115, E3, and E4C models, every single of one of which failed to impress when the time came to gauge sound quality against asking price. Shure’s aging mid-range models simply weren’t keeping up with products from many of the smaller Hi-Fi brands so well-liked around Head-Fi. With the dynamic microdriver used in the SE215, however, things are different – Shure has seemingly decided to attack the competition head-on. Of course, the engineers realized that the $100 SE215 is likely also going to be the model most popular in consumer-oriented retail environments and gave it an impressively consumer-friendly sound signature to boot.
Clearly emphasized over ‘flat’, the bass of the SE215 is powerful and carries good depth and detail. The older mid-range Shure models I’ve tried all yield to the SE215 in bass quantity and impact. Impact is plentiful on the whole, though the SE215 is not quite a bass monster. Compared to the Spider Realvoice, for example, the low end of the SE215 is a touch punchier and more detailed but less lush-sounding and liquid. The bass is quite well-controlled compared to bass-heavy competitors such as the Xears TD-III but sounds a bit flabby and slow next to more hi-fi sets such as the VSonic GR07 and Sunrise Xcape v1.
The midrange of the SE215 is slightly warm and a little dry. It is balanced well enough with the bass, avoiding the mid-forward presentation of Shure’s flagships. Compared to the Xears TD-III and N3i, too, the midrange of the SE215 lacks a bit of authority and forwardness. On the whole, it sounds smooth, textured, and detailed – definitely a strong suit of the earphone. The SE215 surpasses the Spider Realvoice in detail and can be compared favorably to the MEElec CC51, with the Shures coming across slightly thicker and less fluid and the CC51s sounding cleaner and crisper, but not as warm or fleshed-out. The upper midrange of the Shures reveals a bit of grain but nothing distracting or even unpleasant. Really, aside from the balance, the biggest concession of the SE215 to the top-tier SE535 is a complete lack of the open feel of the latter.
The lower treble of the SE215 is plentiful but the earphone rolls off slightly at the very top and runs out of steam even earlier than that – lack of upper-end resolution and refinement is slightly more noticeable than with the old SE530. Like the SE530, the SE215 lacks a bit of energy and sparkle and can sound dull with some material. What’s there, however, is clean and inoffensive, though the SE215 does lose more resolution still as things get busy. Sibilance and harshness are usually left out of the equation but the signature of the SE215 does seem to encourage higher-volume listening in order to extract all of the detail the earphones have to offer – a problem I don’t have with the similarly-priced HiFiMan and Sunrise in-ears.
The presentation of the SE215 is pleasant – reasonably wide and with a good overall sense of distance, space, and position. There is less depth and height to the stage than with the Spider Realvoice or Xears N3i but the presentation is generally good. The only real limiting factor is a perceived lack of air resulting from the laid-back treble and the subsequently underwhelming imaging. Still, instrument separation is decent and it is doubtful many will be disappointed with the presentation considering the price of the earphones.
Value (9/10) – Highly isolating for a dynamic-driver set and boasting a smooth and detailed sound signature with an emphasis on bass and mids, the Shure SE215 is poised to be a high-value in the consumer market. However, there are a few issues aside from the dullness of the signature that may make potential buyers wary. One is the unusually high defect rate with early-batch units – Shure doesn’t seem to have all of the bugs of the cable connectors worked out quite yet although complaints about the higher-end SE535, which uses the same connectors, seem far less common. The other caveat has to do with the ergonomics – the stiff memory wire and bulky connectors can get in the way of achieving the perfect fit. Anyone willing to look past these potential issues will be rewarded by a surprisingly competent brand-name earphone at a price that’s almost too reasonable.
Pros: High isolation, solid sound quality with consumer-friendly signature
Cons: Detachable cable can be unwieldy and may be uncomfortable for some users