First post on Head-Fi, I joined solely to add my experience to this thread.
After about 10 years of faithful service, my Shure E5s finally had the cables break badly enough that I couldn't kludge a fix for them. I sent 'em back to Shure for an out-of-warranty replacement, along with my credit card info and a request for replacement with Bronze SE535s. To Shure's great credit, they processed the whole thing lightning quick, and I had a brand new set of IEMs, half price, in about a week. Sweet!
Now, I had read all the posts in here and begged Shure to send me the Red SE535LTDs... which they declined to do citing lack of stock and procedural problems. For a while I despaired that I would be losing soundstage and clarity. I considered selling the bronzes on ebay and buying reds, but then I stumbled across this post. Could it be true that merely swapping dampers would get me the same results without the shenanigans?
In short, hell yes!!!
Auditioning the range of Knowles dampers has been a mind-blowing experience and I STRONGLY recommend that all Shure (and Westone) users give this a shot. It's damn cheap and it is a fabulous way to tune the frequency range to your hearing style.
How I went about the whole process.
The day the IEMs arrived I put in an order on Mouser (www.mouser.com) for every Knowles damper they had in stock. A few notes for you all about to try this at home:
1. The Shure tube diameter accepts the ø2.08mm dampers. Ignore the 1.78mm and other sizes when you search mouser for Knowles dampers.
2. The costs reflect per-piece for individual dampers, not pairs. I ordered 3 of each color/resistance in case one busted during experimentation (a prescient move).
3. The orange dampers that are recommended above actually came in little plastic bins of 100pcs. So now I have 300 orange dampers. Weird, the others were singles. YMMV.
4. I could not find a removal tool anywhere and ended up using the wax loop as noted in posts above.
When I got the dampers in the mail I immediately set about removing the damper from the left in-ear so I could A:B it against the right with a fader. The stock damper refused to budge with my feeble prying and I ended up accidentally busting the damper. Once you punch through the stock damper mesh it's real easy to remove! This was disconcerting as a way to start, for sure. (That said, the stock damper is a plastic housing and has black fabric which looks way lower quality than the Knowles steel cans with colored mesh. Hopefully I would like the other options anyhow...)
Once I got the stock damper out, the new ones go in easily. The metal cans have a bit of a rolled lip that is much easier to "grab" with the wax loop (provided you put the filter-side in deep to leave the can edge accessible). This makes further modification much, much easier. Note I didn't push the damper all the way in past the barbs while auditioning, just flush with the plastic tube tips so I could put the olives back on.
Well in go the dampers, and out come the notes and the auditioning tracks. I listen to a lot of jazz, funk, and rock. My standard tracks are from MMW's studio albums where the dynamics and intricacy make for a challenge stage to reproduce authentically. Once I get the details sorted out on acoustic jazz I move to rock tracks where the overall dynamics can shine.
White / 680ohm:
This is supposed to be the "stock" damper, but I swear it sounds better than stock. This may the difference between the sensitivity of my ears, but the Knowles white sounded more responsive than stock across the entire spectrum. Highs, mids, and bass all sounded better defined and balanced. Volume seemed to notch up a bit too, which may contribute to the perception of the better response. Bass in particular is slightly warmer and more present, which fixes what seems like a bit of an anemic bass in the spankin' new SE535Vs. Stock dampers sound hollow and tinny by comparison.
Gray / 330ohm: (note, gray is actually kinda bluish)
This is supposedly equivalent to the damper in the Red/LTD edition. Indeed the soundstage with gray dampers is wider and more detailed. Clarity abounds, every note across the range sings out. Nothing is missing, everything is there, and it is TOO MUCH. For active listening it's great, astonishingly detailed, but at lower volumes and passive listening it's harsh and unrelenting. Not exactly sibiliant, nor even really super precise, it's just in your damn face. The cymbals are too close, the string buzz is too sharp, it just keep grabbing your attention. But at high volumes where you want to hear every single thing, this is amazing. Really, it's up to your taste, but I actually found it too analytical and lacking in the fullness of a more "colored" sound that pulls the lows up a bit and rolls off the sibilant notes a tad. One man's opinion...
Brown / 1000 ohm:
Oh there's the bass, I didn't really see you there before. The highs are still clear but the harshness is gone, the fullness is opening up. At high volumes the bass starts to get a bit pushy, but at regular listening volumes it's much better balanced to my ear than the white setup. You can push the volume a bit more without having the high end get piercing. This is nicely warmed up from stock without losing too much presence or soundstage. Really, really nice. (Jumping ahead, the brown ones are what I settled on. Love 'em!)
Green / 1500 ohm: Backordered! No notes on this one yet. (notes made in separate listening session)
Thumping bass but with comparatively little sacrifice of soundstage, though details are certainly getting lost behind the thicker low end. These are heavier and less crystalline than the browns, but not exactly muddy. Not bad, really, but the greens really pull back from that mid-forward Shure sound to crank up the bass. Fun, but way too colored to be my stock, go-to setup (if you need more bass, maybe try EQ, hmm?). The highs are still there, but they're taking a distinctly backseat to the bass and you need to strain a bit too much to hear the details. An acceptable setup, but not for me as it's way too bass-forward and clarity is compromised.
Red / 2200 ohm:
Whoa Mr Bass, back up a little. This is a super fat sound for sure. Volume is starting to roll off a bit compared to stock. Punching up the volume really brings out details in the bass and low-mids that you cannot hear with stock / white dampers before the treble pushes you away. Bass lovers will adore red dampers, but for me it's starting to get slightly muddy and a bit washed out. There is zero sibilance any more, which is nice 'cuz I hate that ssssss on cymbals, but there's to much being lost on the high end. I picked up these triple drivers to hear the whole range, thank you, and these are starting to push details out in the service of a colored, warm sound. Not for me, but still pretty fun.
Orange / 3300 ohm:
Super bassy, verging on muddy. Volume is really starting to roll back and need to be pushed. This does make the IEM a bit less hyper-responsive, which I guess is nice for using with normal electronics, but where the hell are my mids and highs? After a decade of using Shures these just sound waaaay too fat. Am I to understand that Westone listeners hear this sound signature all the time? If so, count me amongst the Shure faithful. Anyhow, even the lows are starting to get mushy from the over-emphasized bass.
Yellow / 4700 ohm:
Terribly bass heavy and quiet. The trajectory was obvious, but for science I gave these a close listen. Or, at least, I tried. The detail is just gone, everything is thumping mud.
After Yellow I went back and auditioned white, gray, and brown again. I still found the grays insanely responsive and detailed, but it's just too much high-end detail and piercing response for my day-to-day listening. Whites sounded great, nice and "flat" to my ear but lacking in punch and fun. That classic Shure sound where the bass feels behind the rest of the tone. Brown, however, was delightful.
At regular listening volumes the Brown just sounds silky smooth, bringing out all the *musical* details without letting the other incidental details get in the way of the experience. The brushed cymbals can still show every bristle, but it's not so damn emphasized as it is with the grays. The buzz of fingertips on round-wound strings is there to show you the recording is good, but it doesn't dominate. The bass is pulled up and rounds out the soundstage with a bit more punch and fullness. Sound is slightly warmer and less clinical. Rock tracks absolutely soar compared to the lower resistance dampers. Acoustic jazz is not as precise, but it's more fun.
The slightly dipped mids just make this the sound I've always wanted in an IEM. I LOVE this sound right now. In time I may decide it's still too bass-forward and I'll switch back to white dampers but for now I'm rockin' out on the Brown Note!
No matter what, though, I'd consider any of the brand-name Knowles dampers to be an upgrade over stock. For about $10 to audition every single damper with spare to keep in stock, you could not possibly find a better value for an IEM upgrade and tuning.
Amazing, simply and truly mind-blowing.
Here are a few of the key links, reposted for convenience.
Happy damper swapping, all, and thanks for populating such a wonderful resource here on Head-Fi. As a long-time lurker it's been a great tool to pull from, leading me to things like this lovely thread!
Edited by davee5 - 9/3/13 at 9:58am