Shure provides an elegant and high-performance solution for a crowded in-ear headphone market. Words by Alex Wilson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Finding the right pair of earphones for the job can be a tricky proposition, and we’re increasingly needing them in all walks of life. Whether it’s enjoying your favourite tracks, appreciating hi-fi sound or rocking them onstage,
we need our buds to jack all trades.
Shure’s SE215 In-Ear Headphones offer high‑performance sound at a midrange price. And while they were designed for the stage, with the BT2 Communication Cable they can now pull double duties as excellent leisure earbuds when you go about your day. Podcasts in the streets, monitor mixes in the sheets!
TINY BUT MIGHTY
Let’s start with the SE215s, which have been around for a bit and are still going strong. They’ll be a good step up from your stock earbuds without burning a hole in your pocket. For a start, they are actually in-ear headphones rather than earbuds. In-ear headphones travel deeper into the ear canal, providing better isolation and sound quality.
The drivers are housed outside the ear, and each side is connected to the audio source using a detachable Shure cable. The stock one that ships with the SE215s ends in a standard 3.5-millimetre headphone jack. It doesn’t have any inline controls, but this is appropriate for a cable intended for live sound applications.
The SE215s sound above average, though they aren’t exactly mindblowing. The frequency response is clear and neutral, without a strong preference towards bass or treble. They also avoid the two major pitfalls of small headphones: the top-end is detailed without being harsh, and there’s perceptible and pleasing dynamics in the lows.
The earpieces feel smaller than they look, and are cleverly suspended from above the ear to resist gravity’s pull. Earpiece fit is a highly subjective topic. This (very finnicky) reviewer found the SE215s to land in the ballpark of comfort as his custom-molded in‑ears, which cost about eight times as much.
The firm fit, fine sound quality and small portable profile of the SE215 make it an excellent choice for a musician that needs earbuds for live music applications. They are a reliable, affordable set of buds if you are working a gig onstage of side‑of‑stage. If you have no need for or budget to afford expensive custom molds, these guys will be decent replacements and will serve you well.
ON THE RUN
With the addition of the BT2 Communication Cable, you can be far more mobile. The purpose of the BT2 seems to be to transform these live performance‑style in‑ears into a consumer‑grade audio product. The BT2 would be unlikely to perform in a live sound situation – the inherent latency in Bluetooth makes it unsuitable for applications where fast response is paramount.
However, Bluetooth 5.0 excels in daily life. Rather than be physically tethered to a phone in your pocket or a bodypack on your belt, you can now operate your music hands-free. There’s inline controls, with a built-in mic for voice controlling your device or talking on the phone.
The cable is weighted by a small, yet hefty plastic battery with a clip. It attaches comfortably to clothing, and despite looking a bit unwieldy, it actually contributes ergonomically, providing an extra anchor point for the earpieces during motion. I trialled the BT2s on trains, buses, footpaths, the gym and my living room couch and in all situations, they felt discreet and comfy.
The BT2 can provide between eight and ten hours of playback on a full charge, which is very respectable for a Bluetooth 5.0 device. The Bluetooth reception itself was reliable and uninterrupted – a noticeable improvement from the earlier BT1 cable. I would have preferred a more up-to-date charging mechanism than micro‑USB, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Additionally, the BT2 provides support for multiple audio codecs, including Qualcomm aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, and SBC for superior digital audio reproduction. The unit’s Bluetooth 5.0 architecture is also backward compatible and will integrate with all Bluetooth sources.
Additionally, the BT2 is compatible with all Shure detachable earphones with MMCX cable connectivity. This might also be a good point to stipulate one final bonus of the modular design of Shure units. Cables are highly susceptible to wear and damage. By making them replaceable, Shure are not only offering versatility, but also a cheap repair solution should your cable die.
THE BOTTOM LINE
To buy both the SE215s and the BT2 will set you back just under $400. This seems like a big spend for such an unassuming product, and is a decent whack of money by any standard.
The key consideration here is versatility. With the SE215s, their stock cable and the BT2’s extra functionality, you have all your bases covered for in-ear sound as a musician and a listener. In that sense, they are providing quality sound in a range of applications at a moderate price. For a punter with a mild budget, they could be the perfect fit.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• In-ear sound isolation
• Eight-to-ten hours of Bluetooth playback
• Support for multiple audio codecs
• Inline controls and mic
• Bluetooth 5.0 with backwards compatibility
• Above-average sound quality
• Versatile and modular design
• Excellent price point
• Outdated charging cable
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