Pros: Instrument separation, sound stage, smooth & liquid sound
Cons: Price, can be sibilant with poorly mastered recordings
I've now finished getting used to these so the full review is complete and the score is accurate. Continue on past the review for a short tale about getting used to these phones... I hope you'll stick with me and I hope that this tale helps in the discovery process of new headphones or earphones.
Many people will balk at the price of the Shure's and I nearly did too, but I'm glad I went ahead. I have jumped straight from Re0s to the red 535s so I can't provide a comparison with other IEMs in between. No doubt there is some level of dimishing returns at play when you spend $450 on IEMs, but I bought these as much for their design as for their sound.
Audio Quality - Balanced awesomeness. Yep, that's pretty much it. They do everything like they should without colour or emphasis. The stock cable leads to a slight mid-range focus, but it's not major like I've heard of some other Shures. I have added the aftermarket Baldur Mk2 cable and it completely counters this emphasis and balances the sound beautifully.
With the Baldur cable, the Reds are clean, super detailed and balanced. Their sensitivity is quite awesome and you'll be hearing things that you never knew were in a recording and you'll be able to place exactly where they're happening. The texturing and clarity is truly amazing.
Bass is balanced and full without emphasis. Plenty of body, good attack when necessary and no bloat or boom. With amplification, the attack gets even better.
Because of their sensitivity, the Reds can tend to sibilance on poor sources (recordings, rips, etc.), but they are not a sibiliant or harsh phone. They will only give you what's already there in the recording or source.
Note: despite using balance armatures, the Reds do require burn-in. Chatting with a number of other head-fi'ers has confirmed that a number of us have noticed underwhelming sound and a pretty nasty top-end before allowing time to burn-in.
Design & Comfort - I love the look and fit of these. They never come loose, they create no wind noise and they look great too! The stock cable creates absolutely no microphonics. The upgrade to the Baldur cable does bring with it some very mild microphonics, but not enough to worry about.
The 535 series are all designed for over-ear cable management. Initially, it took me some time to get used to fitting them in my ears and guiding the cable correctly over my ear, but I soon got the memory cable adjusted to suit my ears and have never looked back. They are very comfortable phones.
The Reds come with heaps of tip options and will suit almost everyone. I have struggled a bit with the standard tips because I have very small ear canals. The smallest silicone tips provided by Shure were almost the right size, but seemed to add some strange resonance at around 10kHz. A fellow head-fi'er, spkrs01, was kind enough to supply me with some Sony hybrid tips and with a bit of modification they now fit perfectly and sound better than any other options.
Isolation is truly superb. With music playing I can hear absolutely nothing from the outside world. Without music on, everything is a mild murmur. These are great for loud environments such as public transport, planes, etc.
Overall I would guess that there might be a better IEM out there, but it'll be by tiny margins when compared to the Reds. They are subtle, detailed and beautifully under control. I'd highly recommend them.
I have owned a pair of Re0 IEMs for a couple of years and really loved their detail and balance. Unfortunately, they developed a loose connection in the right phone and had to be replaced.
After a lot of reading (and limited options in Australia without buying online and having things shipped), I decided on the 535 Reds because of their flatter bass response and musical presentation (according to what I'd read).
Update 1: 15th February 2012
Running them from my Cowon X7 with no EQ / BBE, etc. I was far from blown away on first listen. I found the sound was still a bit to creamy and thick for my liking and there was a harshness around 6kHz (based on some quick EQ testing), but figured I'd give them a chance...
Next, I plugged them into my Creative X-Fi HD USB sound card and discovered their impressive texturing and detail. A track from Jimi Hendrix' "Blues" album blew my mind with the textures of the bass and guitars, but I still wasn't sold - impressed in one area of excellence, but not sold overall.
Flipping and flopping back and forth between my X7 and computer (X-Fi USB) with FLAC files all the way I tried to find something to really love about the red 535s and then it happened...
While focussing on some emails, I turned down the volume on the X7 and magic happened... the "Reds" sounded better at lower volume!? No, not because I couldn't hear them anymore! I think I was so used to the volume levels required to drive my other phones that I set the starting volume a bit high for the Reds. The Reds are very easy to drive and were obviously providing a higher level of volume than I'm used to, but their clean, smooth style meant the sound wasn't uncomfortable to my ears.
When volume is set too loud, our ears react to protect our hearing and I think I was just on the borderline of that reaction. Not enough to notice any discomfort, but enough that my ears weren't relaxed and able to soak in the sound.
Suddenly, with the lower volume, I was noticing textures and details that were subtle and unobtrusive, but undoubtedly present. String sections had presence, acoustic guitars had resonance and character, and the overall experience was lush, but not too thick as it previously seemed.
As I mentioned earlier, I had been concerned about a subtle harshness in some treble notes from the Reds, but this too was gone with the lower volume - perhaps confirming my thoughts that I'd had them too loud and not even realised. Maybe they're so good that they sounded better than average when too loud!?
I've only just made this discovery so I'm excited to continue listening at lower levels and see if the magic continues. I'll report more soon and write a proper review once I give them a fair chance at proper volume and as my ears adjust to a different sound signature...
Update 2: 18th February 2012 (4 days in)
I've had much more time with my Reds now and I can honestly and definitely say that they do benefit from burn-in. The differences I'm hearing could not be solely from my ears adapting to the sound style. The harshness has completely subsided and the soundstage has opened up.
As my ears have adjusted, I am now hearing more and more subtle details throughout the music. This could also be due to burn-in.
I recall reading someone else's review (I'm sorry that I can't credit the writer as I don't remember who it was) which said the 535s seemed agile enough to reproduce multiple songs at once and I tend to agree. They seem completely composed and in control. It's actually a hard trait to describe, but they just don't seem to break a sweat no matter what I throw at them.
My next update will come some time next week when I add a custom cable to my Reds. Fellow Head-Fi-er, spkrs01, has been extremely helpful in helping me to source the best possible cable to link my Reds to my Cowon X7 player. Next week I'll finalise the full review and a discussion of the changes resulting from a custom cable.
Update 3: 3rd March 2012 (17 days in)
Thanks to spkrs01 I now have a perfect cable for the Reds. The cable is the Baldur Mk2 dual strand version (there are quad strand versions available).
With the new cable attached, the staging and separation of the Reds is hugley improved. The sound has more air and better balance between the bass, mids and treble. The sound just seems more open and returning to the stock cable, the sound seems almost strangled (relatively speaking).
The Bladur cable does create very mild microphonics so the stock cable would be better for any significant activity, but the Baldur is perfect for basic working and walking.
For some reason I have had troubles with my ears reacting negatively to the sound of the Reds, but this may be due to a cable fault that was causing unbalanced sound. Since fixing the cable, my ears are still a bit sensitive, but I'm relaxing into the sound more and thoroughly enjoying what I'm hearing.
The key here is to give your ears time to adjust. If you have new phones with a significantly different signature to your normal tastes, start at low volume and gradually increase as your ears adapt.