Top positive review
Perfectly balanced audio bliss
3 August 2018
This is a long review but to spend this amount on in-ear headphones you must be pretty committed, right? I've broken it into sections so if you just want to know how they sound then skip ahead to The Sound part.
The Shure SE535 have been my commuting buddies for 5 hours a day over the last 7 or 8 years. Recently though one earpiece failed so I had the choice of going for the same or upgrading to the SE846. I'm an audiophile. That means I'm unable to resist the upgrade bug, so naturally I had to go for these.
At first I thought something else had been delivered, as the box felt far too heavy to be headphones. Inside the (double layered) outer box is a sturdy crush-proof, waterproof plastic storage box, or 'Road Case' as Shure call it. It's this that makes up most of the weight, but also supplied is a smaller travel case, spare cable, multiple different types and sizes of earpiece, volume attenuator, full size headphone jack adaptor and tool to change the filters (more on that in a while). It's a lot of stuff but packaged in a way that befits the price. The only thing that feels a little cheap is the small travel case, which has a metal plate on the top etched with the Shure logo. The edges of this piece of metal are quite sharp, even running your finger over the logo. A small thing for sure but out of place with the quality of the rest of the product.
The important bits
The earphones are wrapped around a soft holder, the clear edition that I ordered coming with a transparent cable. The earpieces feel re-assuringly solid but well machined. They came already fitted with my preferred earpieces, the black squashy olives. I find that these give a much better fit in my ear, which is crucial to the sound quality. There are yellow foam, grey rubber and white flanges also supplied if you prefer these. Taking the earpiece off reveals a metal nozzle - plastic on the lower price 535s - surrounded by a metal collar. A key supplied can be used to loosen and remove this collar, followed by the nozzle. Inserted in this is a filter that adjusts the character of the sound. Unscrew the metal container attached to the key and there are two other pairs of filters. It's difficult to equate the cost of these with the tiny size but the transparent exterior at least allows you to see the complex array of tiny components and wiring.
Over the years I've become accustomed to the sound of the SE535 compared to over-ear headphones. The differences are detail extraction and breadth of sound. IEMs produce far more detail in recordings but can't compete in the depth of bass. The SE846 boasts to provide true subwoofer performance, but can it... Firstly, to achieve any bass with IEMs you MUST, repeat MUST, get a good connection inside the ear. This is why finding the best type of earpiece is absolutely critical. The squashy black 'olives' are the best, in my experience, but you need to find the right size. Too small and you won't get a good seal, too big and they'll squeeze out again.
Inserting them properly is important and you can find videos on YouTube on how to do this. It might seem fiddly but hey if you spent this much you might as well invest a minute or so in putting them in properly. Squeeze the earpiece gently and then insert it, holding the top of your ear up and out as you do. Then hold in place for a few seconds while the olive expands and fits tightly. TIP - I have dry skin in my ears and have to moisturise them - I've found that Aveeno moisturising lotion (once dried!) helps to stop the olive slipping out and gives a better seal.
I left the fitted filters in place (for a 'balanced' sound) and then let them run in for a few hours before trying out in anger. Initially I found them a little sharp in the treble, but this toned down after running in. Initial impressions were a huge amount of detail, more so than the SE535. Nirvana for an audiophile is hearing something you've never heard before in a recording, and I did, in the Jayhawks 'Bad Time' with percussion in the right channel I'd never noticed before. More importantly there was a weight to the sound that had always been missing from the SE535. The tone was still a tad bright for my tastes so I replaced the filters with the 'warm' versions.
This was much more like it, the overall effect was quite subtle but smoother and generally more 'hi-fi'. Some might say vinyl-like in it's balanced tones. A word on the bass. It really is well integrated into the sound, which means it benefits the music rather than being something that jumps out on it's own. It's really detailed and tuneful too, so you can tell the difference between bass guitar, upright bass and synthesised bass. It is very extended when required though. I played Thundercat's Drunk album and there is a low end extension that IEMs just don't normally have.
The best way I can put it is this: on the way home the other night I was listening to Si Cranstoun's 'Dance For Evermore' and - to the good-natured amusement of people opposite - not only tapping my foot, but bopping from one buttock to the other with a smile on my face. Since getting these I've had the most fun playing music for a long time.
Testing was with a range of different devices: an iPhone with Cyrus Soundkey DAC, iPad and MacBook Pro/Audirvana with Chord Mojo DAC. The better the components, the better they sound.