Yes, this is a review of the Shure SE215 in-ear headphones, or in-ear monitors (IEM), but it’s also a story of terrific customer service that’s indicative of long-term thinking on the part of Shure. Before I dive into the Shure’s, I’ll give a bit of background of my musical preferences and what I’m looking for in headphones. I like clean natural sound. I typically avoid using equalizers and like my experience to be close to the natural sound of what’s produced. I typically listen to classical, jazz, folk and pop, but my musical taste are fairly eclectic and across the board. Throw in a little R & B and dubstep over the top of Lindsay Sterling and you have it. So while I want to sense the thump in Bruno Mars’ Grenade I want to hear clarity in Anne Akiko Meyer’s playing of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I hate bass emphasis especially if it results in muddy sound. I also want to note that I’m no audio expert, 80% of my listening is done on my smartphone (Nokia Lumia 920) and I probably spend as much or more time listening to audio books on the Audible app as I do listening to music. Most of my music is streamed from Beats Music service at 320 kbs or downloaded from Amazon at 256 kps vbr. If it’s local, it’s encoded either at 320 kps MP3 or vbr 320 kps WMA. Classical and Jazz usually get the lossless treatment, mostly wma lossless or FLAC. All of this is to say, this is real world listening, mostly using my smartphone in a normal, active life. So while I’m serious about music, you could even say passionate, I’m not a hard-core audiophile who worries if his cables touch the carpet.
I’m a big fan of Grado headphones and of the sound stage open air headphones provide; I first grew to appreciate this sound with a Sennheiser headset geared for gaming. I have a pair of Grado SR80s that I love. However they work best where you have a relatively quiet environment where you stay put. These are largish, on-the-ear headphones that are not particularly conducive to mobility and activity. For those times where I don’t want to leak sound (listening in bed while reading so as not to bother my wife), I want to block out sound (preferring passive blocking over noise-cancelling to enhance audio fidelity), or I need to move around a lot, I used a pair of Klipsch S4is. The Klipsch remain one of the best choices at their price point (between $50 – $60 on Amazon). They do a nice job of sound isolation, are warm but not too bass oriented and do reasonably well at mids and highs. I recently lost a pair (and have previously broken another set), so I took the opportunity to try the Shure SE215’s. These are entry-level audiophile in-ear headphones that typically run $100. So this is the other thing about my preference – bang for the buck is important. That’s not to say cheapest, but good at the lowest price I can pay. Grado SR60s have been famous for the faithful, flat response sound they produce for the price ($80) and with the SR80s producing a slight warmer yet still faithful sound at $100, they’re another great choice if you have some more money to spend (and they’re able to benefit from a headphone amp more than the SR60s). Now this isn’t to say if someone gave me a pair of Grado PS1000e or even RS1e, I’d turn him down. Anyone? I believe the Shure 215’s fit this model of bang for the buck for in-ear headphones for reasons I outline below. What I really love about the SE215s
- Great sound. You would be hard pressed to get warm but natural (relatively flat response) sound out of an in-ear headphone at this price; Shure pulls it off. Are there flatter responses? Yes, my Grado’s for example. But I don’t think, like many reviewers do, that the bass is over-emphasized. (Here’s a good, balanced review that think bass is emphasized over flat). But I’m not sure there’s a better overall sound at this price for IEM.
- Great sound isolation. I have 3 teenage boys (as well as a much quieter daughter off at college) so you understand that my house is not quiet and I’m rarely simply sitting focused on music and nothing else nearly as frequently as I would like. I can be in the den working at my desk which is in the same open space as the TV (whose sound is traveling through some Warfdale Diamond speakers with a Monoprice sub-woofer and some supporting satellites speakers, so not tiny sound). Even without music, I hear little of the TV with the Shure’s in. I don’t notice it at all with music playing.
- Great ergonomics. These headphones are like the in-ear monitors you see performers wear (ala X Factor). They are essentially flush with your ear instead of sticking out. If you happen to listen to music or an audiobook while lying down, you don’t have a piece of equipment trying to embed in your skull when you’re on your side when wearing the Shure’s. This also helps with a good seal for the sound isolation.
- The cable can be detached from the actual headphones. So if it becomes damaged (see aforementioned activity whilst wearing the headphones), it may be replaced separately. That’s fairly typical at this price point, but not universal. Also, very little cable thump. This is an issue the Klipsch’s suffered from.
What am I less fond of?
It’s a bit of pain to get the headphones on and off. While this issue is mitigated with time through simply getting better at it and the cable connectors begin to form to your use, it’s still more effort than, e.g., the Klipsch. This is the price you pay for this form factor of IEM. For me, it’s a worthwhile price.
Here’s a good description of the fit from InnerFidelity Is there better sound available? Of course, Try the Shure SE535s, but that’s also another $400 over the SE215s. The bottom-line is that for my application (isolate sound, be mobile and faithful sound reproduction), I think the SE215s are hard to beat for the price.
Customer Service Great sound matching my needs isn’t the end of the story. About 3 weeks into owning the Shure’s, the right channel seemed to periodically not work. My first worry was the jack on my phone, but other headphone use determined that it was the Shure’s. It went quickly from periodic to consistently no sound produced on the right channel. I looked up how to handle a warranty claim on the web. As long as you have your receipt that shows they were purchased in the last two years, it is easy-peasy to handle a claim. There is no need to get authorization, simply mail the package (with tracking) and they take care of it. So there is this bummer: I hate to be out of my new headphones and it’s not lovely that they failed so soon (but better than 2 1/2 years in). Shure was kind enough to send a whole, new replacement. The whole process, from my mailing to receiving the new phones in my hot little hands took 5 business days. Wow, seriously thanks Shure. Now, that my friends, is service. No questions asked, just take care of the customer. I love the headphones, but now I also love the company. Poor customer service would have had just the opposite affect – even if I like the headphones, I wouldn’t buy any more if the service was bad. I doubt I will ever buy any other IEMs. I might have experimented with, for example, HiFiMan RE-400 Waterlines down the line. Now, unless an issue arises in the future, I’m good with Shure for IEMs. That’s the power of good customer service. So, for any of you running a business, I encourage you to not to skimp on customer service. Here’s to happy listening and great customer service. Nice work Shure.