1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice

Shure KSE1200

  1. siruspan
    Shure KSE1200 Review
    Written by siruspan
    Published Jun 8, 2018
    Shure KSE1200 Review

    Note this is my first review written in english which is not my native language therefore please excuse all of the language errors which I'm sure are present in the text below.

    For more of my reviews please visit: http://www.audionervosa.pl/

    Closed electrostatic headphones? It has already been done!

    Stax SR-4070

    In-ear open back electrostatic headphones? It has already been done!

    Stax SRS-002

    How long does it take to construct something that has not been done yet? 8 years is the answer, as it took so much time Shure company to construct the first in-ear, closed back electrostatic headphones. In 2016, the KSE1500 headphones along with the portable amplifier the KSA1500 with DAC function were introduced with shocking price tag of 2999$. Just over two years later, a new set was presented, which includes the same KSE1500 headphones, this time in pair with the KSA1200 amplifier without the DAC function, which allowed to lower the price to 1999$. Because the common opinion about the built-in DAC is that it is average at best, it is not too much of a loss. In order to use the full potential of the headphones, it is definitely recommended to connect it via a line in input

    The headphones are quite ordinary in appearance and construction. No Ethiopian sheeps have lost their lives, and no Amazon tree has been cut down to justify their price. Surprisingly light, transparent, plastic domes practically the same as in the cheapest Shure models. The Kevlar braided and terminated with a 6-pin LEMO type plug cable is not detachable and it is quite heavy Interestingly, it has a round profile, and it is not a flat ribbon like in any other electrostatic headphones. An amplifier is required to operate the headphones. It is small, rounded aluminum box with a potentiometer to adjust the volume which also serves as a on/off switch. Sound sources can be connected only via a 3.5mm mini jack line in. Built-in battery allows up to 12 hours playtime.

    The set contains only standard accessories that you can expect from every "normal" headphones. There is no extravagance in this respect.​


    Electrostats - what's the big deal?

    Stax headphones are very close to my heart because to me they generate the most true to life sound. It seems to me that it is about their speed, resolution, lack of any barriers or veil and almost tangible contact with sounds. They are also very airy and ethereal so they do not get along best with heavier music where the guitar riffs sound a little bit too thin and they lack some attack. The bass in older models had a weak impact and it had such a strange feature that as you turned the volume up, the bass just went so far and stayed behind. The newer models of the sr-x07 series already have much better bass but they also let go some of this ethereal magic. Bass is also never thick, fat, soft and plush like it can be in dynamics headphones. Rather, it has always been of harder and firmer ones. Staxes are ultra smooth and basically eliminate all the sharpness and sibilization.

    KSE1500 are electrostatics, however, they let go this characteristic ethereal sound. Instead, we have an almost physically perceptible presence and weight of the sound and a really solid, predatory even attack. They demand attention, they order to stop other activities and focus on music. They are neither warm nor cold, neither light nor dark. I would define their character as transparent-neutral with a properly boosted bass to match modern music. They are also very dependent on the nature of the recording, accompanying equipment, as well as cables and tips. They are simply transparent and therefore every smallest change is felt.They can be both cooler, harder and impulsive as well as more delicate, softer and warmer but they are always musical and extremely engaging. They do not perform magic tricks, do not pose and do not interpret the recording in their own way. Due to this lack of colourisation, a very desirable feeling was achieved where the equipment literally disappears. What remains is music. Music that flows through the body and soul without any barriers in an emotionally moving way.

    Base quantity for electrostats is surprisingly substantial, and its character is somewhere between electrostatic and dynamic. There is not enough of it to call them bass heavy, but you can not call them neutral in this regard. There is a lot more of it than in Etymoticach er4xr for example and has a fuller character and a larger kick. We have a dynamic impact and just a little bit of softness but also electrostatic compactness, culture and speed. Bass vibrations are so suggestive that I often forget that it's just headphones and not speakers and I do not have to turn the volume down because I do not bother anyone.

    Midrange is weighty, not light but also not thick. In the first row, full of details, textures, reverbs. You can almost see dust particles in the vibrations of the air around the strings of Jesse Cook's guitar and the women's vocals are incredibly suggestive. If I listen to Alanis Morisette or Janis Ian, I have the impression that apart from sound I can see the facial expressions of their faces. For example, in Janis Ian's recording - "All Roads to The River" which I know very well I picked up very small change in the voice in 2: 40s during the last repetition of the chorus - Janis smiled at someone in the recording studio. You can call me a freak but I'm telling You that when I was listening to the KSE1500, I "saw" the vocalist smiling! Out of this world!​

    The high tones are as stretched as possible. Cymbals and bells beautifully tick in the first row, however, do not have smooth and softened characteristics. If something is sharp or sibilizes, we will hear it. What's interesting here again, electrostatic technology flexes muscles because these sharpness is never annoying. I hear that the producer did not do a good job and left sibilization in the recording, but it does not bother me. I can compare it to applying a hand to a flame at exactly the same distance where I can feel the heat but it is not physical pain yet. They are completely fatigue free even during longer sessions. Personally, I listen to an average of 3-5 hours a day and I never have enough of them.

    The dynamics heightened by very good isolation make an electrifying impression. The quietest sounds are still perfectly audible and you can catch even the smallest nuances, while at the moment in which the sound gradually builds up each layer seems to be the last one but no, the sound is still climbing up and finally almost gives us heart attack with full vengeance of sound waves. The album of Man of Steel - Hans Zimmer is something wonderful, at times the drama is almost frighteningly realistic.​

    The separation is brilliant but would like to have even more space and more air between the instruments. Soundstage is very big for an IEM, and almost like in open back headphones, although still bested by for example Sennheiser HD800 or Beyerdynamic T1. The sheer size, scale and scope of the instruments however is exactly as in full-size headphones.

    The KSE1500 is, in my opinion, exceptionally gentle with poor recordings considering their superb resolution, detail, speed and extended top. Yes, they show what does not sound like it should, but they never punish us with harshness, thin sound or lack of musicality. I found myself drumming the rhytm of the music all the time, which is not so obvious in the equipment that offers such a technically perfect sound. Often, in very detailed headphones, good performances sound great while weak ones sound simply lifeless or even sharply. Here, the weaker recordings still sound very good while the good ones sound simply spectacular. Shure produced something really unusual because KSE1500 is the equipment on which we can bite into the texture of the recording, but we will never get burned from it. Such an example from my life: on the album Chaos AD - Sepultura there is only one audiophile song called "Kaiowas" where the rest has neither audiophile arrangements nor realizations. I wanted to listen to this one song on KSE1500 but it ended up that I listened to the whole album twice, once after another because I had never heard it in such high quality and still so full of energy. I will add that this is one of my favorite albums for some 20 years now.​

    7.jpg 8.jpg 9.jpg
    I planned to write down detailed comparisons to other headphonesthat I own (such as Campfire Vega, Etymotic er4xr, Etymotic er4pt, Massdrop Plus, Sony EX800st, Beyerdynamic T1, Beyerdynamic dt150), but at every head to head confrontation i realized it's just not makes sense. KSE1500 are faster, more detailed, more direct, more tangible, more holographic, and above all more real than anything I've heard so far. Every headphones that I compare to them seems to me to be veiled, rounded, incomplete. I have the impression of participating in a concert, during which someone has asked me to go out and I can still hear music seemingly still very clearly, but it is only a distant echo and an incomplete picture. In this pursuit of technical perfection, however, I never have the impression that anything is excessively strained, on the contrary it feels calm and composed as if the transducer itself was able to transmit much more but it's simpy not needed at this time.
    You can not ignore the price tag. Yes, the KSE1200 set is 1000$ cheaper, offering the same sound quality as the KSE1500, but it's hard to call it a bargain for in-ear headphones. If, however, we take the sound quality offered and the fact that they are a unique portable, closed back electrostatic headphones, it starts to have a bit more sense. I have no intention of convincing anyone that they offer good value for money. Whether it is worth buying them depends on, if you are able or you simply want to allocate such a large amount for a sound reproducing equipment. My personal opinion is that the shocking price is matched by the level of sound quality offered by KSE1500.

    Shure KSE1500 offer spectacular and captivating real sound while being extremely transparent and musical at the same time. Such high fidelity combined with isolation makes the listening an almost mystical experience. I would like to recommend it to everyone, but I realize how big the price barrier is so I just recommend them to anyone who can afford them. Keep in mind that the electrostatic sound expands the horizons to what is physically possible and when you once hear it can't be unheard, and nothing will sound the same anymore.​
      szore, jeffhawke, waveSounds and 20 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. qafro
      Good review but I've got the KSE1500 with the poor DAC - awesome SQ
      qafro, Jun 11, 2018
    3. Peddler
      Nice review. Don't worry about your English - it's probably better than mine.
      Peddler, Jun 17, 2018
    4. szore
      You sold me!
      szore, Nov 29, 2018