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Shure KSE1200

  1. tjy00
    Music through a looking glass
    Written by tjy00
    Published Mar 5, 2019
    Pros - -Leaves most iems in the dust in terms of resolution and detail retrieval
    -Colorless signature suits well with different genres
    -Ergonomic design
    -More affordable
    Cons - -Housing build looks a little shoddy
    -still not cheap
    -Dedicated amp hinders portability
    -Lack of coloration makes it less musical
    The KSE1500 in-ear electrostatic earphone was a breakthrough product 3 years ago and occupies a top spot in the high end in-earphones market then.

    With the recent trend of price increase in the flagship iems (think obravo, vision ears, spiral ear) it might not occupy the top spot price wise but nothing has changed when you compare its performance and unique technology against these flagships.

    A new iteration, KSE1200 was introduced in 2018, which simplified the accompanying dac amp system by removing the dac component and comes with a 1/3 price reduction.

    Packaging and build
    Pretty decent, each part is placed in well-organized compartments, surrounding good protection.

    Accessories include the following:
    KSE1500 headphones
    KSE1200 amplifier,
    two 3.5 mm interconnect cables of 15.2 cm and 92 cm
    6.3 mm adapter
    headphone clip
    2 straps


    These earbuds are lightweight with an oval compact design that should fit well in the ear canal of average user. While its housing made of a transparent material (plastic?) does not really inspire much confidence in its durability. Overall I would consider the design pretty ergonomic and i experience no discomfort in my ear canal with long-term listening compared to most other iems.

    Most earphones in the market utilize 2 type of drivers, balanced armature or dynamic (voice coil) for reproduction of sound. These designs are easier to miniaturize for portable use and you can fit multiple drivers (eg 18 drivers in 64audio's U18t) into a earpiece. However, balanced armature designs are susceptible to distortion and noise due to crossovers from multiple drivers and phase shift etc. While dynamic drivers can cover broad ranges, they have less detail and speed compared to balanced armature counterparts.

    The principle of an electrostatic technology is relatively more complicated. It makes use of an electrostatic field composed of two conductive back plates and a diaphragm. The diaphragm centered between the electrostatic field is guided to vibrate by applying a charge between the conductive back plates. In theory, the directly transmission of applied electric energy signal into sound waves will result in audio with a high correlation to the original signal resulting in a more realistic presentation throughout the entire frequency range.
    What makes KSE1500/1200 a standout is that they feature a miniaturized form of this technology and is equipped with an ultra-light charged diaphragm suspended inches apart from the two conductive back plates surrounded by an electrostatic field. Because the diaphragm is extremely thin, it can be polarized by high DC voltage to vibrate rapidly and output high-fidelity audio.


    Another aspect of its design is its sound Isolating properties of up to 37 dB of ambient noise when fitted properly in the ear canal which is on par or better than custom iem.

    The earphones are attached to a special custom designed cable made from Kevlar that provides the isolation in each line for optimal transmission of signals from its headphone dedicated amplifier which you are pretty much confined to.

    The main difference between the KSE1200 and the KSE1500 is that the KSE1500 system is equipped with a DAC and extra eq options, while the KSE1200 is designed as a pure analog headphone amplifier.
    This means one has to use a DAP with a 3.5mm output for connection to transmit signal for playback with the KSE1200 amp. You can use the output from your phone but given the wide variety of DAPs available there really is no reason to do so.

    Sound impressions
    Listening is done mostly via output from Cayin n3 for portability. There is an upgrade in sound quality when I switch to Hugo2 but i find its not worth the trouble as the improvement is not as significant compared to my other iems.


    In general, KSE1200 has a well balanced neutral signature where no frequency is overly emphasized. Music is clear and pristine and every intricate detail is brought forward with its sheer resolving power. These really give me the impression that i am listening to music in a recording studio.

    The soundstage dimension is average, with about equal depth and width, though the height is excellent as expected with its strong treble performance.

    Some people consider the bass as its weakest area, due to its neutral setting with a lack of coloration. If you are a basshead, these are not going to satisfy you compared to a powerful bass of a dynamic driver But if you look at it from a reference perspective, they do pretty well in terms of quantity and balance.
    Percussion instruments are taunt and impactful with a slight subbass emphasis and ends with proper reverberation. Bass line contours are well defined while remaining clean with no bleeding. The most impressive aspect of the bass is the accuracy of its transient and precision of its timing which provides a well organised performance.

    The noise isolation properties of KSE together with a dark background from low distortion greatly benefits vocal performance. Once again mid signature are neutral in positioning and relatively colorless. There is no audible distortion or vocal coloration (nasal, chesty, boxy) in the mids which are quite prevalent in many BA iems. The emphasis is on vocal articulation rather than depth and power, so if there is sibilance in a track, you will hear it. Personally, I wouldn't classify these mids as musical or emotional but they do have a pure and sometimes raw quality that you dont hear often as a result of its transparency and resolving power.

    Treble seems to be the slightly more prominent frequency but it never spits hot. Instruments such as high hats,chimes are rich with details and spatial cues. These highs seem to penetrate every nook and cranny in the recording to reveal all the micro details in the music. Transients are crisp with no spikiness and has an agility BA iems cannot match. All in all, this is a revealing treble I can enjoy with minimal fatigue.

    With the advent of new iems utilizing elctrostatic technology how does the old dog compare to the new kids on the bloc?

    Jomo trinity stainless steel
    Sound stage is wider and deeper in the jomo model but i find the background darker with kse. The trademarks of its dynamic driver for bass are there with a more powerful and weighted rumble, but the bass does not have the precision and definition of kse especially with faster percussion tracks. Mids is where I find the most difference while both have good resolution and detail, trinity sound more dished/hollow compared with kse and not as coherent. Treblewise, kse presents more detail and speed in its transients while trinty ops for a more controlled and grounded treble that has good detail retrieval as well but is not as revealing.

    Fitear EST
    Fitear is the first company to adopt electrostats from sonion in their products. Soundstage width feels relatively similar, though depth and height is more with kse. Its signature is warm with an emphasis in its midrange which is more emotional. I would not have guessed that it contains an electrostat driver based on the smooth treble tuning. Both treble/bass detail retrival and speed falls behind kse, but its mids have good linearity with more body and warmness which i feel express emotions in music better compared with kse.

    I tried them sometime ago, so these impression might not be acurrate. Bass from its 13MM Graphene dynamic driver has good impact and is pretty clean, though not alot of extension or rumble. The mids more forward and warm with slightly more body, though i hear a dip in the uppermids. The treble notes produced from its tweeter hits hard and fast in their transients with relatively good extension but its tonality is too sharp to sound accurate compared with kse.

    AAW canary
    Canary boasts a wider and deeper soundstage with a dark background and excellent imaging. Its isobaric subwoofer produces a deeper bass rumble that spreads more naturally compared to typical dynamic drivers which are more concentrated in impact. However its hits are not as defined or precise as KSE. Mids are warm with more body and forwardness, though not as linear with an upper mids dip. Its treble has a darker tilt, not as airy or having much sparkle. Overall quite different when compared with kse.

    The new KSE1200 brings the top performance of KSE1500 to a wider audience with its relatively more affordable pricing. It might not sound musical or emotional with its colorless signature that take some getting used to, but on the upside it boast an uncanny ability to transit between different genres with ease and just reveal the music as it truly is.
      named name, vmk, szore and 4 others like this.
    1. bosiemoncrieff
      A very fair review.
      bosiemoncrieff, Mar 9, 2019
    2. masterpfa
      Thank you for your review. I have owned these for 9+ months and are my go to choice over ear or IEM. The only restrictions if wanting to travel light could be the size, but considering DAP/DAC of choice is the Chord Mojo/Poly not too much a concern
      masterpfa, Mar 12, 2019
  2. 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.​

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    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.​
    1. View previous replies...
    2. szore
      You sold me!
      szore, Nov 29, 2018
    3. masterpfa
      Thank you for your detailed review, I already own these, but I always like to read other peoples perception. Had you not mentioned English was not your mother tongue I would never have known.
      masterpfa, Mar 12, 2019
    4. narnos
      Excellent review, I went to listen to these after reading this and the headphones are superb. Not sure how I feel about carrying around a separate amp though, that part is a deal breaker for me.
      narnos, Oct 30, 2019