Shure SE535 vs. Shure SE425
Disclaimer: Due to these IEMs having the exact same design (except sonically, of course), I won’t be talking about how well they isolate or how comfortable they are. I’ll be strictly talking about how their sound signatures compare to each other.
Everyone knows Shure’s SE535, especially its freezer horror stories and the tips breaking off the main bodies. Most importantly however, the SE535 had an impressive spotlight on release and thus have a collaborate understanding of how it should sound like. Unfortunately, the SE425, which was announced at the same time as the SE535, received less attention as a result, which is a shame as the SE425 is revealed to be an absolutely capable IEM at its current price range.
When I first previewed the SE535 and SE425, deciding to eventually settle down on one of them, I ended up choosing the SE425 from my early impressions. In my opinion, the SE425 is a bit of an underdog – an IEM that missed the FOTM moment due to its bigger brother. In my first posts about the SE425, I actually said that the SE535 sounded more like a ‘side-grade’ than a proper upgrade to the SE425. The choice between the SE425 and SE535 seemed purely based on preferences – something that audio is really all about in the end.
However, is that really the case?
Now that I own both of them, this is something I hope to answer. My first impression of the SE535 is smooth mids with a decent amount of sparkle. But now I know that IEMs sound different when you are demoing in a store and when you are listening to them quietly at home.
The SE535 is undoubtedly the technically superior IEM among the two (and the whole line-up of XX5 products)… but should people looking for an upgrade from the SE425 be naturally looking at the SE535?
Hopefully, from my comparisons, along with exposures to the SE425, people that own the SE425 will be able to see what the SE535 could possibly offer them as well.
Both IEMs were subjected to a 100 hours burn-in through a playlist composed of pink, brown, and white noises and comparisons are made from a selection of music composing quality of 320 kbps and loseless. The SE425 is a little bit more ‘used’ due to longer ownership.
Street Price: $279 (Bought at $230)
Driver: Double BA
Impedance: 22 ohms at 1 kHz
Frequency Range: 20hz - 19khz
As first written, I thought that the SE425 can perhaps be called as mids focused. Mids, as expected of the Shure house signature, is very smooth – almost buttery smooth. While both bass and trebles are slightly rolled off on the top, the buttery smooth mids allow for any major details to pop out like a speck of ink on a piece of paper.
With the treble rolled off at the end, details will end up like a tease. You will know it is there, but handpicking and focusing on it will be utterly impossible. The ending result is similar to a strawberry cake – you’ll know that there are strawberries in the cake, but you can’t possibly focus on it without eating the cake (except for the strawberries that are used as a deco, of course!).
The same could be said with the bass. SE425 can be considered as bass light. While you’ll detect the beats and kicks, there won’t be enough sub-bass to make it a primary signature of the sound signature… but then if it is, it’ll probably not be a Shure IEM.
In the end, the current impression that the SE425 gives me is that it is one of the most laidback earphones that I have ever have the pleasure to own.
Due to its mids-focused signature, the SE425 lacks the crispiness to bring out certain timbres of the string instruments. Additionally, soundstage-wise, the mids are also more forward than any of the frequency range. The instruments – when listening to the SE425 – are almost considered as a bonus rather than an essential part of the music. Is that a bad thing? Not particularly if you are the type of person looking to just go with the flow of the music rather than being analytical; the SE425 does exactly that. The SE425 is an IEM that is best listened at low volume to just ride out the flow of the music.
Additionally, due to its sound signature, the SE425 is very forgiving. Excluding the muffled mids, poor quality tracks won’t crackle over the SE425. In fact, you might never notice the statics in the background with these earphones.
The SE425 also performs well without an amp. While it does gain a fuller sound signature through the Stepdance and an airy sound signature with the AlgoRhythm Solo, the SE425 is an entirely capable IEM by itself. It is extremely easy to drive the SE425 and an amp actually makes it difficult to precisely control the SE425’s volume output.
In short, the SE425 is an IEM with a very relaxing sound signature. While there are quite a few IEMs that share a mid-focused sound signature, the SE425 is, in my experience, the only one that has a laidback sound signature rather than an engaging sound signature. It has a forgiving and laidback nature that makes for an IEM that is generally easy to listen to in most occasions.
Street Price: $389 (Bought at $370)
Driver: Triple BA
Impedance: 36 ohms at 1 kHz
Frequency Range: 18hz - 19khz
As the flagship of the Shure’s IEM product line, it will of course share Shure’s mid-centric house signature; the SE535 exhibits the same smooth mids that the SE425 proudly possess. The SE535 also exhibits a far better extension on both ends of the frequency range than the SE425. Both bass and trebles are more forward comparatively to the SE425, which pronounced a mid-centric presentation. In the SE535, the sound presentation is more balanced over the range rather than SE425’s almost ‘single-minded’ focus on the mids.
As a result, in my experience, the SE535 has a better sub-bass that resulted into the lower sound spectrum having a more realistic timbre. On the other end of the spectrum, details are more fleshed out than the SE425 – the eloquence of a musician’s fingers tapping on his string instruments is present and the vocals is breathier due to its treble extension.
Additionally, the soundstage is also slightly wider with the SE535 – creating an ‘airier’ sound signature. As a result, the SE535 also boast a better instrumental separation than the SE425.
Due to its balanced nature, the SE535 is also far more compatible to a larger range of genre. In fact, so far I haven’t seen the SE535 performing inadequately. This of course spoken in terms of the SE535 being an IEM in an overall perspective. There are other technically top-tier IEMs that perform certain genres (like trance) better than the SE535... but that is another topic for another thread.
However, despite of the differences in technical performance, I’d say the SE535 and the SE425 actually share more similarity than differences as I had first suspected. The first sign of this is that, in my humble opinion, the SE535 and the SE425 both do their best in ballads due to their smooth sound signatures. Additionally, despite having a better extension on both bass and treble ends, the SE535’s sound signature can still be considered as ‘laidback’ in comparison to the other ‘top-tier’ mid-centric earphones I have heard. It just that in direct comparison, the SE535 is more engaging than the SE425 due to its more balanced nature.
After two weeks of purely listening to the SE535 (after 100 hours of supposed burn-in) and a week on rotating between the two, I realized that I would have settled down on the SE535 if I wasn’t looking for a sound signature that is ‘drastically’ different from my DBA-02 and Etymotic’s ER4.
The SE535 is a very suitable upgrade from the SE425 if one found that the SE425 is far too laidback or too lacking of sparkle or booms. The technically superior SE535 does a fantastic job in extending on SE425’s weaknesses while maintaining Shure’s buttery smooth mids.
However, due to this extension, the SE535 is comparatively more engaging and livelier than the SE425. It is also noticeably less mid-centric than the SE425. So, those that are hoping to maintain a mid-centric sound signature might want to look elsewhere – however those that want to maintain the laidback mid-centric sound signature might have found an upgrade dead end with the SE425.
In my current experience, I have yet to find another IEM that delivers the same signature in the level of performance as the SE425 does. While the SE535 does an excellent job in maintaining a stance between being analytic and musical, the SE425 is solely musical. There is nothing to be analytic about in regards to the SE425. Looking at the SE425 as an analytical IEM is just setting it up to disappoint. However, if you look at it as an IEM that is to be listened musically, the SE425 is impressive.
In the end, it came to how I had originally described the two IEMs. In between the driver wars, the terminology of ‘flagship’ being flung around and all the comparison reviews, I think it is easy to forget that ‘flagship’ does not necessarily mean better for you sonically. It does mean superior technical performances, but ‘superior technical performance’ hardly means anything if you are not enjoying your music.
During the time when SE535 was burning in, I was listening to the SE425. I was thinking that I will put these up to the For Sale Forum if I ended up enjoying the SE535 far more than I do with the SE425. However, whenever I look back at the SE425 from the SE535, I am still impressed by it even though it isn’t technically superior. The SE425 just offers such a great change of pace to me – whenever I just want to listen to the music instead of ripping my musical tracks apart. These are the IEMs I use whenever I need my attention focused elsewhere – when I am going to the gym, writing a report for my work, etc – with no compromise to the musical quality.
Besides, one’s gotta listen to music while having a headache as well, right?
Edited by MaxwellDemon - 5/12/11 at 5:44am