Pros: Good clean delivery of mids
Cons: Highs are not as well extended as they could be
Shure is definitely up there if you’re shopping around for high performance in-ear-monitors (IEM’s). Aside from the consumer oriented SE115’s, pretty much all of the new SE range caters for clear, true-to-studio and balanced audio fit for even the pickiest of audiophiles, but with the slightest bit of sparkle and low end goodness of the modern audio preference that consumers crave. The SE315’s are no exception. In the grand scheme of Shure’s SE range, the SE315’s sit toward the lower end with a price of £189.99 and is the lowest priced of Shure’s Balanced Armature IEM lineup. On paper, the SE315’s look a little anaemic compared to its more expensive siblings, the SE425 and SE535’s with only one driver to speak of. A “Tuned BassPort” is incorporated however which should redeem it from the traditionally tinny sound that balanced armature drivers tend to produce (though balanced armatures don’t move a lot of air, so I’m not entirely how this “BassPort” works).
Ok, so this isn’t important in the grande scheme of things, but this is an “in-depth” review, so why not? The Shure SE315’s packaging definitely makes what at first seems like a very insignificant product look like a masterpiece. On the practical side of things though, taking the actual IEM’s out requires nothing more than a sturdy pair of hands. There is no dodgy vacuum wrapped plastic or seals to deal with like we find on so many other items of packaging. In fact, I managed to get these out of the box and in my ears in less than 5 minutes. Result!
Those familiar to Shure’s IEM’s would feel right at home with these, however, those coming from IEM’s which hang straight down from the ear may find these a little alien. Shure IEM’s are designed to be worn with the cable running up and over the ear. While it was possible to wear the previous models with the cable running straight down, the new SE315’s simply cannot be worn like this. Not that you would want to anyway; cable microphonics (a fancy way of saying “cable thump”) is greatly reduced when the cable is worn up and over the ear. Cable noise is still present though, and really, the only way to avoid this issue is to wear it under an item of clothing or with a clip etc (a clip is not included in the box).
Cabling isn’t usually a very exciting factor with IEM’s, though with the SE315 (and the rest of the SE line apart from the SE115’s), the cable can be detached from the driver units. Using a special connection which clicks into place and rotates, you can simply replace the cable instead of the entire set should something go wrong. Not that you would want to do such a thing very often; replacement cables cost anywhere from £45, a price which many would probably spend on a new pair of IEM’s. To Shure’s credit however, the cable is extremely well made with a meshy kevlar material covering it and satisfyingly chunky cable protectors at the joints. The cable is also angled at the 3.5mm jack which should prevent it from splitting.
That’s what you would be paying £45 to replace.
Comparing these directly to the SE535’s, the SE315’s seem to fit in the outer ear more easily. The fit isn’t as snug though like it is on the SE535’s, as the driver tapers in slightly towards the tip. Compared to other IEM’s on the market such as the Etymotic HF3’s or Apple In-Ears, the 315’s are much larger and weightier, although their outer-ear design makes them comfortable to wear. Apart from the cable over your ear, it is easy to forget you’re even wearing them.
Shure includes a “Fit-Kit” which includes tips of different materials to give the best fit. For sheer convenience, silicone or rubber tips are great, however they provide a very weak seal. Foam tips (of either the black variety or the yellow ones) provide a much better seal, however they also make putting the IEM’s on a lengthy process. Triple Flange tips are also included, and while they provide a good seal once inserted, they are hit and miss at times.
Quite a decent selection of tips. Cleaning tool is also included to remove that gooey stuff that builds up on your IEM’s after they’ve been in your ears.
The one gripe I have always had with Shure IEM’s was the fact that it takes a while to put them on. If you’re using foam tips, you have to pre-squish them after which you have a 10 second window to stick the things in your ear. The cable would then run over your ear and even after this, it takes about 20 seconds for the foam to expand and a proper seal to be created. It’s an ordeal which can become very annoying in the morning or after you take them out to talk to someone.
That fit took 3 minutes at the very least.
“Wire-form” is included in the first few inches of the cable to aid shaping around the ear.
Right, so we have established that they take ages to put on; was it worth it? Short answer is definitely! Burning in isn’t generally required for balanced armature drivers so you could start enjoying your music right out of the box.
Shure’s signature sound has always been balanced and accurate, and the SE315’s deliver. Bass was tight and controlled without any of that distorted thumpy mess you find on lower end sets, and mids were delivered in a clean manner. Tracks with a lot going on in the mid-range still sounded especially clear for a pair of single drivers. Acoustic material are where these IEM’s perform at their best, with the single balanced armature driver texturing individual notes in such a precise way, making you feel as if you were in the studio where it was recorded. It is not to say that these IEM’s don’t perform with other music genres, as they provide just enough low end oomph to drive a drum and bass track smoothly along. Colouring is not an issue here, as you will hear everything in the way it was mastered to sound by the studio, as well as compression imperfections in the encoding process.
Just for fun, I played a 128Kbps track on these earphones and the difference between this and Lossless tracks I normally test IEM’s with was astounding. I would go as far as to say that the SE315’s manage to reproduce clearly the compression artefacts that comes with dodgy encodes and the effect was very pronounced. While these aren’t the IEM’s which would benefit much from a dedicated portable amp, they should still be fed Lossless, or 320Kbps from a decent source at the very least. They may be £189.99, but they don’t work miracles.
If I had to gripe about these IEM’s, then treble would be where I find a problem. While tracks were still bright, they seemed to lack some of the high end goodness you would find in the Etymotic HF3’s. This was mainly a problem in acoustic material where the sharp higher frequencies from the album “Take Off Your Colours” by YouMeAtSix were somewhat hard to come by. While this isn’t a “problem” for a pair of consumer earphones, it is definitely something to take into consideration when shopping around for a high end pair of IEM’s. If you’re a fan of bright treble, then the SE425’s or HF3’s would be a better choice.
On a serious health note, Shure IEM’s require very little current to drive them. With a good seal and volume at about half on an iPhone, these IEM’s kicked out a lot of sound and on a MacBook Pro, the volume only needed to be on four bars before things got a bit deafening. This isn’t where the problem lies though; while Shure claims that it’s IEM’s perform better at low volumes, many say that bass response seems better at higher volumes, and it is very easy to turn these up dangerously high to get the low end goodness going, damaging your hearing in the process. A volume limit is definitely something to actually use here, and as with any pair of balanced armature IEM’s, a good seal is essential. As a rule of thumb, try a different tip before turning up the volume if you find bass lacking.