Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System

Rating:
4.75/5,
  1. bosiemoncrieff
    IEM King
    Written by bosiemoncrieff
    Published Apr 22, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Detail retrieval, neutrality, isolation, portability, transient response
    Cons - Genre constrained, unbalanced, imaging, soundstage, UI, KSE1200
    KSE 1500 Review


    I got into headphones because I wanted the most faithful, accurate rendering of my classical music collection. I listen 99%+ to classical music and opera. If these genres do not interest you, my review has little to offer.


    KSE1500, electrostatic IEMs with a dedicated amp/dac included, is my most expensive headphone purchase to date, though I bought it used (as I have done with HD800, K1000, HE-6, and I presume K3003i, as the AKG IEM came jankily sans case, sans filters—except the neutral—and sans tips—except the large. I got HD600 for about $230 as an Amazon warehouse deal. Without disclosing the exact terms of the sale, I will say that KSE1500 was a stretch even at the deep discount I was graciously afforded. To everyone else in my life, the cost was prima facie absurd. Although I cannot recommend KSE1500 at MSRP, neither can I recommend HD800, HE-6, or k3003i at their MSRP. Within an extremely luxurious hobby, I perhaps revert to my ethnic heritage and always seek out the best deal readily available.


    My review structure discloses my own preferences in others’ reviews: namely, that adjectives help less than comparisons and contrasts. I use HD800 because of its comparative ubiquity, as well as its similar desire to be uncolored and neutral. Both cans have been criticized for being harsh or sibilant under certain circumstances. HD800 is driven by Schiit Audio’s Mjolnir 2 with my Amperax 1968 Orange Globes. All of my headphones are driven by my Bifrost Multibit, and KSE1500 uses line in with -10db on the input pad. I’ve also experimented with -20db, but found the slightly blacker background usually not worth the tradeoff in dynamic range.


    As always, opinions are strictly my own, YMMV, and I may be biased because of the weather, how hungry I am, how many scotch mods I’ve had, etc.


    Pros:


    DETAIL RETRIEVAL: At first, I found KSE1500 overwhelming. I had the sensation of the headphones forcing details of the audio into my ear canals. It was almost paralyzing. I’m not prepared to say that it exceeds HD800 with an adequately driven chain. However, it seems clearly to equal it. Further, the details are pushed at you. HD800 presents the details, but they are not made as aggressively apparent as KSE1500. Shure has managed the incredible feat of making every instrument and voice clearly apparent. You can focus on any part of the whole with ease. In the Kleiber Tristan, the violins, celli, and basses were clearly distinct, each inhabiting their own space. At the climax (coitus interruptus) of the Liebesnacht, KSE1500 is a bustling flea market with eager merchants holding their wares outstretched.


    ISOLATION: As Jude made clear in his video review, the “up to -37db” is not loose advertising copy. I live on a busy street in San Francisco, my apartment very much overlooking the sidewalk. (Recently, road work caused my bed to vibrate.) With music playing at a low to moderate volume, traffic noise is inaudible. Even during pauses, plainly visible cars fifteen or twenty feet from me pass by as through in a silent film. For urban dwellers who demand summit-fi sound, KSE1500 is, to my mind, the best option available, easily beating out the AKG N90Q (which I’ve auditioned at length several times) on sound quality and isolation.


    Other cans have a much higher ambient noise floor, simply because of my location, and unless I relocate to a quieter residence (and put a greater distance between the refrigerator and my audio), this will be a stubborn advantage that HD800 &co will be unable to share.

    NEUTRALITY: KSE1500 is an neutral headphone; no part of the frequency spectrum stands out. This is another way of saying the headphone is “boring” and “lacking excitement.” One man’s neutrality is another man’s boredom.

    TRANSPARENCY: Until I lived with KSE1500, I didn't really appreciate how clean the sound of an electrostatic driver was. Yes, HD800 is a very moving, musical headphone. But it (and especially K1000) can distort—the K1000's rattle is infamous—and convey grain. Though KSE1500 will distort at extremely high volumes, at normal volumes, the sound is clean, polished, and immaculate. Electrostatic drivers have a reputation for being more transparent than their dynamic counterparts, and KSE1500 lives up to this reputation. It presents pure music; it does not editorialize. There is, in most dynamics (like k3003i), a degree of grain that you only notice when you hear a headphone that does away with it. The level of resolve is shocking; I find KSE1500 the most transparent headphone I own. Furthermore, the transparency is such that it requires at least a week of extended listening to appreciate. I realized instantly that it was very good, but I could not appreciate the degree to which it was startlingly transparent until I had racked up 20-30 hours of listening time.

    MUSICALITY: One owner describe the sound to me as “unmusical,” an assessment with which I strongly disagree. Without going into a long discussion of Toscanini and Furtwängler, I will say that technical excellence is not an indictment of one’s musicianship. I find KSE1500 highly satisfying musically. Still, its “special sauce” falls short of HD800 and especially K1000 in terms of musical involvement.

    ULTIMATE MOBILE RIG: Although it has a somewhat chunky iPod-sized amp, the mobility of electrostatic sound has shattered a barrier. It is quite easy to have both iPhone and ksa in one pocket, with the lightning cable connecting them, though deep pockets do improve the experience. While it’s less convenient than AirPods, I have used kse on the go both in my regular muni metro commute and traveling, and find the quality of music playback well worth the difficulty of taking photos and phone calls. I will take it and my AirPods to Europe; I no longer feel the need to bring my trusty Bose QC25 on the flight (and may sell them). The combination of isolation, SQ, and convenience is such that I have no qualms naming it the ultimate mobile rig, even if a mojo would improve it further.

    The case for the earphones has no space for the amp. The amp comes with a brown (brown!? ) leather carrying case, which is serviceable enough, but the two must travel separately.


    TREBLE: Sparkly, effortless, fully extended, and without a hint of sibilance or grain. Christina Deutekom’s O Zittre Nicht from Solti’s Zauberflöte is lovingly shaped and handed graciously to the listener by the superb electrostatic drivers. Her coloratura has a supremely quick transient response—faster, I gather, than you would ever hear it in an opera house or concert hall. The Sempre libera from Callas’s 1953 studio Traviata is exactly as harsh as the original sound, but no more. This is not, so to speak, the sepia sound of LCD-2 or HD650. HD800 has perhaps just the barest hint more sibilance, as in Anina’s confrontation with Otello just after he has murdered his wife in Karajan’s Berlin Otello (“Aprite! Aprite!”). At the very end of the track, I heard a touch more squeakiness from the soprano through HD800 than KSE1500, though I think it’s primarily the recording engineer’s fault. The floaty quality of some moments in Act 2, Scene 1, of the Kleiber studio Tristan is ably conveyed. The strings and women in particular.


    BASS: There exists no electrostatic headphone that will satisfy someone who demands a sound signature with deafening, bloated, bass. The Orpheus and its successor are the most transparent sound I have ever heard, and the SR-007 is warmer than average, but TH900 has skills that are simply not reproducible with an e-stat diaphragm. That said, KSE extends down to a purported 10hz, and contains a warmth that I do not perceive with HD800, a slightly more clinical-sounding headphone. Though the bass is not excessive, nor is it, to my ears, inadequate to the least degree. It is tight, clear, and fast. In orchestral recordings, like the 1977 Karajan recording of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, the bassi and celli undergird the sound with muscular clarity. The strength of their presence is palpably greater than HD800, and occasionally makes me turn my head, as it has been with HD800 that I’ve gotten to know much of my library.


    TRANSIENT RESPONSE: One of the hallmarks of electrostatic headphones is their speed. KSE1500 does not disappoint; its transient response is extremely fast. Although HD800 may have a slightly slower, more natural transient response, KSE comes within spitting distance of technical perfection; comparison with SR-009 is entirely appropriate. In particular…


    PIANO: Solo piano is a difficult sound to reproduce. All too often, the treble is sibilant and the bass is muddied. My godmother hates listening to piano for this reason, referring to it with contempt as the “bangity bang and tinkly tinkly.” In my experience, KSE1500 reproduces the sound more transparently than HD800, HD600, or HE-6. The lower register of the piano is clearer than in most concert halls, though hearing some of the internal piano mechanisms interacting is an almost shocking intimacy to be able to hear (for instance, in the first movement of Gilels’s “Cuckoo” sonata). HD800 sounds a little too big by comparison, and the treble is harsher.


    KSA 1500: The included DAC/amp gets some grief for being chunkier than a simple 3.5mm headphone jack. That it is, however, the battery lasts 7-10 hours depending on DAC use. I’m glad they didn’t make it any thinner—battery life would have been compromised. Speaking of which, you get a DAC for free no you don’t have to pay! And it’s a pretty solid DAC! It includes several EQ settings. Note that these are digital EQ. If you use them with the analog line in, you will convert the signal to digital, EQ, and then convert to analog, defeating the purpose of your external DAC. However, occasionally when the unit is plugged in and charging, there is a loud buzzing. This is not usually the case. Shure include a nice complement of cables for connecting to all your devices.


    Cons:


    OMNOMNOM: Chewing noise is unpleasantly apparent with these in—put your fingers in your ears and hum to get an idea what I mean. All IEMs that block the ear canal do this—one reason I prefer AirPods for watching HBO Now and eating dinner. Also, the lightest touch to the cable with one’s fingers or anything else (turning your head so it brushes against your shirt collar) is audible in the ear canals. Even swallowing is rather loud. This is the price you pay for non-ANC isolation: the disturbances from outside are attenuated and those from your person are accentuated. (Even, sigh, breathing.)


    GENRE CONSTRAINED: The perennial pro of e-stats is that they are super revealing, and their perennial con is that they don’t slam like a red-blooded dynamic headphone. You can turn the volume up to the point of danger, but though they reach way down and way up, they withhold a certain satisfaction that dynamic headphones provide for most of the popular genres. Thankfully, for classical music, this loss is insignificant; the Si pel ciel from Karajan’s Vienna Otello is thrilling, if slightly less thrilling than on the boomier HD800. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You” is clearer than I’ve ever heard it, but too sterile to enjoy. Katy Perry’s “Roar” is somewhat better, however.


    UNBALANCED: There is no option for balanced line input—only 3.5mm.


    SOUNDSTAGE: All IEMs suffer in terms of soundstage vis-a-vis full-size, open-back headphones. As with isolation, it is somewhat built into the form factor. This is not the widest soundstage one could desire, or perhaps the deepest, but each instrument’s location is defined and the sum total coherent. The Dies Irae from Hickox’s recording of Verdi’s Requiem with the London Symphony had a degree of punch but the large choral opening was not as well-laid-out as with HD800.


    IMAGING: KSE1500 has an average imaging ability; this is another feature of being an IEM (and indeed being an electrostat) where full-size dynamic drivers tend to pull ahead. HD800 and K1000 both feature far more razor-sharp imaging.


    KSA’s UI: Though easy enough to learn to navigate, the low-resolution LCD display, scroll wheel, and buttons are very “1990s Sony.” It’s not immediately intuitive and somewhat ugly, though I imagine it uses as little power as possible. It is, at the very least, utilitarian, though a little odd on a $3,000 unit.


    BORING: As honest and transparent as KSE1500 is, there are moments when I crave an emotive, mid-centric coloration of the sound. For moments like that, HD600 is just what the doctor ordered. That said, the mids of KSE are not sucked out in the least. They are simply not emphasized.


    FEELS CHEAP: The plastic housing for the earphones, while excellent functionally, lacks the premium feel of the stainless steel k3003i. Seekers of audiophile jewelry should look elsewhere.

    CABLE FINICKY DAC: I’ve used the dac on the go with Shure’s own lightning to micro usb cable. Although it stutters occasionally with my iPhone 6+ and iPad Air 2, especially under load, it’s pretty solid, and sounds quite good. I’ve attempted to use usb A to micro usb cables with my personal MacBook Pro and work MacBook Air, and each and every attempt has been an abject failure. The dac stutters about once per second. I have three or four, from monoprice, and they all have this problem.

    On the Fence:



    NATURAL?: Although the sound is neutral, transparent, and conveys enormous detail, I find it does not replicate the sound in the chamber and “kleine zaal” as readily as HD600, or in the concert hall as readily as HD800 or especially K1000. We did not evolve to listen while having our ear canals blocked to the exterior world. At some point, you can’t beat physics, though you can come extremely close.

    TIPS: The unit comes with a wide variety of tips—silicone (schiit), yellow foam (schiit), triple flange (dangerously long for my ear canals, though extremely isolating), and black foam (fantastic). Though they feel somewhat cheap, they work very well with the unit. However, you have to compress them with your fingers like an earplug, insert them, and hold them in place as they expand to fill your ear. This makes rapid a/bing difficult. For long listening sessions, however, it’s not an issue (though keep reading for what is).


    COMFORT: IEMs are much more personal than full-size cans. I had to trim the ‘corner’ of the black foam tip for my right ear, so it was less of a right angle and more of a curve; it had been irritating it. They feel better now, though after about an hour, the right side is still uncomfortable. I would be interested in getting custom molds for them.


    CABLE: The kevlar cable from the KSA1500 to the Y-split is fantastic. The more traditionally sheathed cable above the Y-split is only average (and a little cheap-feeling for the price), but requires the user to curl it up and behind the ear (like most of Shure’s headphones). This was unusual for me, and requires an extra moment upon insertion and removal, but is a secure hold.


    PRICE?: $3,000 is a lot to ask for a headphone. Some would say especially so for an IEM. I’m not sure I buy that: miniaturization is hard, and Apple charges more volumetrically for their iPhones than their iPads by a good margin. Getting a dime-sized diaphragm to produce summit-fi sound is not an easy achievement, and I view the isolation as a further significant benefit. It is only half the price of Susvara, a can which for classical music is not, to my ears, appreciably superior. Also, Shure include a superb amplifier and a DAC that I a/b’d with my Bifrost Multibit and was unable to distinguish blindly. (I will let that testimony stand without editorial.) So while I absolutely encourage the reader to search out the used market aggressively, for cans, amp, and DAC (and a bunch of cables and tips), this price is not unreasonable.

    For the Money: B+

    KSE1200 UPDATE (with some thoughts on form factor): Shure has just announced a $2,000 version of the KSE1500 without the digital section (that is, the ADC, DAC, and digital EQ). It's slightly smaller and boasts better battery life (12 hours). It is sonically identical to the current line-in (with the very small caveat that the input pad now only has 0 and -10db options, no -20db). I am delighted that they have been able to bring to market the same great sound quality at 2/3 the price. Yes, it is extremely expensive compared to AirPods. However, it is now $500 *less* than Audeze's LCDi4, Jude's other favorite flagship IEM. It is the same price as LCD-3, which (to my ears) it outclasses significantly in detail retrieval, transparency, neutrality, and overall musicality. It is $1000 less than HE-1000. It is $2,000 less than LCD-4. It is $4,000 less than Susvara. It is $53,000 less than HE-1.

    And it includes the amp!

    Their decision to cut the digital section makes sense, as the impression of the community has been negative to lukewarm. I like it well enough, but would certainly not pay $1,000 for it, as Shure apparently thinks it is worth. My preference would be to load some Chord code onto a chip, give it a better industrial design (Chord is *not* my reference point there), and charge a cool $2,500. I'm on the fence about DAP functionality. If it has a top-flight mobile DAC included (chord or Schiit), a USB-C input and cables to connect to phones and laptops, I don't see the need for DAP inclusion, as it would only add weight and people already carry their music library with them. However, that's another device charge to worry about, so perhaps having an internal 256GB SSD or whatever to load up with music (or a micro SD card slot) would help.

    As it is, I can't recommend buying KSE1500 new unless you absolutely need mobile electrostatic sound and cannot accommodate a chord mojo. I have some difficulty thinking about use case here—the word "mobile" is too vague to nail down a specific use case. I have yet to listen to it on the go (partly because of its price, partly because I don't have a lightning to microUSB cable). It seems, in the vein of the Woo WA8, to want to be "coffee shop ready" but not quite "walking around town ready." Update: I bought the lightning cable, and they’re great for walking around.

    If you see it for under $2,400 used, however, I think it remains a better value than KSE1200. I'm also interested to see how far used KSE1200 prices will fall in a year's time. My bet is $1200. (My own use case has the line-in plugged into an 18' extension cable for my Bifrost Multibit and the amp in my pocket. In my studio, I keep the amp in my pocket as I walk around making food and so on.)

    The interesting thing here is that KSE1200 makes no effort at all to become more mobile than its older brother. It is clearly less mobile. DAC technology is hard, and Shure seems to be telling us that their best move is making a more aggressive play into the desktop and "coffee shop" summit-fi market, and deemphasizing truly on-the-go use cases until they have a DAC (or a DAC partnership) that they can be proud of.

    KSE1200, for the money: A
      eio, praetor47, csglinux and 16 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. eio
      Just upgraded from SE846 to KSE1500 after reading your review. You nailed it. Love the KSE1500. Thanks.
      eio, Jun 20, 2018
      bosiemoncrieff likes this.
    3. bosiemoncrieff
      Now that I’ve lived with a lightning to microUSB cable I need to update this. I just spent an hour listening to Schumann and wandering the Amsterdam canals. It’s super portable.
      bosiemoncrieff, Jun 20, 2018
    4. bosiemoncrieff
      Updated portability section, now calling it the ultimate mobile rig. Also added some dac cable woes.
      bosiemoncrieff, Jun 22, 2018
  2. BasilFawlty
    Best headphones I have ever used
    Written by BasilFawlty
    Published May 16, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - You do not get tired listening to them, Long battery time, excellent support, fantastic neutral sound,
    Cons - Does not work well with iPhone 7 (popping sound), Instruction for setting the EQ nonexistensting. Better Manual would be appreciated
    Listened to the at Axpona in Chicago and decided to buy them. Must say that the first impression is not fantastic. Came from "bass heavy" SE846 and these KSE1500 is less bass heavy but much more neutral and really reflects the music 100%.

    I get tired after listening to the SE846 longer than 2 hrs but the 1500 I can listen to for 3-4 hours and I just realize how much more detailed they are.

    Specially listen to Jahres Köln concert - new things that I have never heard before shows up.

    Pitty that many iPhone 7´s have problem with external DAC and especially KSE1500. But to get away from it I use Cebntrance fantastic HiFi-M8.

    So at first you think they are a bit too neutral but after 30 minutes you will just love them!

    They are also smaller and easier to fit in your ear than the SE846.
      yvfed1 likes this.
  3. tassardar
    The Prince of Neutral
    Written by tassardar
    Published Jan 31, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Neutral, Extended Treble, Fast Transient Response, Very good Separation, Great built in equalizer, Feels Right, Vocals
    Cons - Neutral, Bass lacks quantity and impact. Soundstage not the widest, Lacks character/Wow factor

    Shures KSE1500
     
    DSC04721.jpg
     
     
    The KSE1500 is world first In Ear Isolated Electrostat. Its not the first portable or earphone electrostat but definitely the first isolated one. Coming in at USD$2999, it cost a lot for in-ear monitor. The biggest question is: IS IT WORTH IT?
     
    Packaging:
     
    The KSE1500 comes with everything and the kitchen sink.  The main unit and earphones, 5 Cables, wall charger, cleaning cloth, case  for both the amp/dac unit and the earphones. Theres really nothing to complain about what is given except Shures should have just design a special pelican case that can hold both the amp and earphone together with a custom partitioned foam.
     
    Quality:
     
    The amp/dac is really well built. Comes with its very own LCD screen that’s clear and bright even in the day. The amp is solidly built. The connectors used for the Shures are LEMO 0B connectors. This are dust proof connectors that can survive quite some abuse and cost a good amount too. The earphones themselves have non replaceable cables. At first I thought it may be a problem but looking at the connectors, the kevlar cables, the thickness of them, I think its not going to give way anytime. Which brings to the final buds themselves. I wonder what Shures was thinking cause sadly the buds looks and feels cheap. The left and right buds moldings are actually slightly different, with one side have fine lines on it while the other can be seen with the driver touching the outer shell. To summarise, the buds don’t look like they are worthy of a 1k IEM and this is a $2999 system. The buds are fully sealed and very light so I doubt they will get damage but definitely the premium feel could have been achieved just to pamper the buyer.
     
    Usage and Comfort:
     
    The connection is straight forward as the connectors are grooved. The connector is well secured and cannot be pulled apart without releasing the catch. The amp operation initially can be awkward and requires some help or the manual to understand the basic usage.  Once you get pass that stage, its straight forward. The LCD shows the input volumes and aim is to keep them from clipping. The screen also shows the volume which can be changed by the knob on the top left of the amp.  The knob is nice but the steps are quite sad. Shures actually thought 25 steps are enough for volume.
     
    The amp has some additional function. It has a build in equalizer that actually works with minimum distortion to the sound. I use it quite often to get the music taste I want which I will touch on in the later sound quality section. The equalizer is a 4 point parametric with various choices and +-6DB setting. It has 5 build in presets and 4 additional user defined ones. Sadly you cant rename them so memorisation of which setting you did up will be needed.
     
    The other options are setting of input volume reduction especially for high output dacs like the chord or AK players. The last item in the menu is the utilities to set things such as charge while using, battery report, lcd brightness.
     
    The earbuds are easy to fit and comfortable. Being a 1 driver earbud, its small, light and can fit into most ears. The recommended were the foam tips and base on my personal usage its true. It also removes the most ambient noise. Shures claim 37 db reduction and I don’t think its that far off, definitely a better fit then my Lyras with complys.
     
    The amp unit comes with a leather pouch and like every other amp you can choose to strap it to your player. The pouch has the ability to hook the amp through a belt or bag which is a nice touch but that will need a long interconnect cable which Shures actually provided (there is a shot 20cm and a long 1m long one)
     
    DSC04724.jpg
     
     
    Sound quality:
     
    For 3k USD it should sound like the best ever thing right? The answer to this: Subjective.
     
    To start off I need a disclaimer, I never tried Layla. I tried most things below 2k USD, anywhere from the Shures SE215 to the UM Legend and JH Roxxane. So where do the Shures stand?
     
    Compared to most earphones below the 1k USD, there is no fight. From the 1-2k USD mark, preference and genre of music plays a very large part to where the Shures stand. So lets start with the basic parameters of treble, vocals, bass, and sound stage followed by the characteristic of the sound which will cover the rest.
     
    Track origin:
     
    Liberi Fatali: Distance World from Final Fantasy
    Hello: Adele 25
    Powder Snow: Suara
    Sometime When we Touch: Susan Wong
    Hotel California: Eagles, Hell Freezes Over
    Gate:: Kisada Kyodan and The Rockets
     
    Treble: Very good extension and smooth. The bells in Powder Snow can be heard very clearly with the “Ting” that’s extremely realistic. This is one of the greatest magic in KSE1500, guitars, bells, violins, all sound extremely realistic with almost no coloration. Its like hearing the real instruments themselves with great realism. Theres no harshness in the treble though some may find it bright as its reproduces everything. Also due to the treble extension and prominence, it adds a effect of airyiness in the sound which I will elaborate in the later section.
     
    Vocals: Vocals are very strong. Both for female and male, they sound just right with a lot of air and smoothness. I especially love female vocals by Susan Wong and Suara on the KSE1500. Adele sounds magical too especially on the track Hello. The vocals are a little laid back by default compared to say my Lyra or UM Mage.  They have a smoothness that’s unmatched on any IEM I tried so far.
     
    Bass: This is where the KSE1500 is both good and bad. The bass is tight, fast  and punchy when needed. However it lacks the slam and the boom. You will not get the shake in the ear feeling that some of the BA or Dynamic can give you. You also cant get the boom and decay like those of the Dynamic similar to the Lyra. What you get is extremely tight bass with no delay. This does mean it comes and go really fast, does not affect any other sound in the spectrum and respond very well to tracks that have a lot of fast beat. The KSE1500 do go deep, but you wont get the rumble like a dynamic  IEM. If you want the impact, rumble and the boom, get something else.  Else the KSE1500 is just right.
     
    Soundstage: The KSE1500 has a soundstage that’s wide but not the widest of IEM. I couldn't put a finger on the exact size but it’s a IEM scale sound stage so don’t expect open can stax like stage. It does have very good separation and depth.  The requirement though is you must get the best sealing else things start getting muddle up which is the case with silicon tips I tried initially.
     
    Characteristic: The KSE1500 is extremely neutral. High clarity, High details, everything just feels right, nothing feels overly emphasized as a whole. This lead to a sound that’s soo clean that sterile maybe the word to use. Its transient response is fast, nothing gets muddle up even in the most complex track with bass and guitar all mixed together. I quote a friend: “Listening to the KSE1500 feels like listening to the pure music in a sound proof room”. There is no distortion, no coloration, just pure music that feels like how it originally is.  Which lead to the biggest issue of the KSE1500: ITS BORING! In a recent gathering of 8 of my friends, some audiophile and some casual listeners, those that did not like it biggest complain was its just boring after a while. The sound feels in your face,:clear and correct with no wow or spectacular factor.  This can be rectified in EQ, my favourtie being the vocal boost, to bring the qualities that you prefer up front. The KSE1500 equalizer is very good,  almost no distortion and the earphones respond very well to them. Somethings can never be rectified such as a warmness of sound and increasing the bass impact, at least not with the build in EQ or those on most devices.
     
    Value:
     
    How can we be talking about value for the world most expensive IEM? Or is it really? $2999 you are getting a earphone AND a amp/dac. Now lets look at top of the range IEM such as the Siren series on Nobel K10, couple them with a decent amp and you will probably break the $2999 mark easily. Lets not forget the KSE1500 is working at 100% potential due to a whole system design while for most IEM, you will probably need to hunt for the most synergy amp which can cost anywhere from few hundreds to thousands. You also get a DAC which may not be the greatest but definitely a step up from your mobile phones and entry DAPS.
     
    DSC04726.jpg
     
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So where does all this leave the KSE1500. Is it the GREATEST? The answer for me is YES, a true TOTL, flaghip of flagships. But to many others it will be no. Its probably 1-2k good but 3k probably not unless you are into its sound signature. The KSE1500 excels in clarity, detail, transcient response, and seperation. Bass is good but probably not the quantity some wants them to be. Nethier is its soundstage the widest ever. So before you make a purchase on the KSE1500 or any othe TOTL iem, make sure you can audition it or comes with a return policy.
     
    And for me, Im loving it everyday more then the previous. It has reached a point that my HE500 no longer sounds right and my Lyra is actually muddy even through a Chord Mojo.
     
     
     
     

      yvfed1, landroni, H20Fidelity and 4 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. tassardar
      I don't notice significant burn in. Unless the burn in is really quick I don't feel it.

      And thanks for catching my error haha. Writing at 2am is not a good idea
      tassardar, Jan 31, 2016
    3. catalystcc
      As a owner of Chord Hugo and IE800 which I'm quite happy with, do u think it's a worth an upgrade to Shure KSE1500. Or may be the Noble K10 would be just as good for an upgrade.
      catalystcc, Feb 1, 2016
    4. tassardar
      Hmm between the ie800 and kse1500, it's definitely an upgrade but there's also a change of signature to something less warm more neutral. The improvement is something that even the chord Hugo cannot close. Plugging the Hugo into the kse1500 on the other hand is mixed based on forum response. It can become too sterile for many though you get lots of detail and air.

      Now regarding the k10, I'm not sure since at where I am, only the savant series could be audition and they are definitely no match for the kse1500. A friend of mine did comment he preferred the k10 sound signature after trying out both.
      tassardar, Feb 1, 2016
  4. audionewbi
    Shure KSE1500, a revolutionary approach in its class
    Written by audionewbi
    Published Jan 27, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Transparent, zero-fatigue, EQ friendly
    Cons - Cost, all or nothing approach due to the system dedicated amp,

    1 Introduction

    Shure arguably is the only brand that is well known amongst the professional consumers as well as the audio enthusiast for well over a decade and it is for a good reason. To me Shure really begun to be known to the so called audiophile world with the release of SE846, some might argue that honor is bestowed upon SE530 and SE535 but to me SE846 marked the era that Shure should be proud of, the era where Shure tried to do things differently.
    While the rest of the market focus remains on increasing driver numbers in order to in large improve bass/midrange Shure focused on how to do the same thing arguably with more coherence without increasing the driver numbers and they implemented a low-pass filter in the SE846 and instantly it was a hit. SE846 was sold out for weeks in Japan and it has always gotten a very popular respond from the massdrop community whenever it appears on the audiophile section. 
    And than came the KSE1500. AnakChan described KSE1500 as a revolutionary product and I strongly agree with him and I could not find a better way to describe Shures KSE design approach.
    As stated before the current trend in high end IEM design is to find a way to stuff more drivers inside the acrylic shell and when that has reached its limit to the point that is physically impossible to stuff more drivers without them looking like the two pin sticking out of the head of Frankenstein the other focus is shifted on offering fancy art work to make those larger things look more appealing, which to me is a great idea as after all we are paying for a very personal product which resembles the shape of our ear, I see no harm in that however I believe end of the day what counts first and foremost is how it sounds and I rather pay more for sound than anything else. 
     
    To me more drivers don’t always translate to better sound, I experienced this with quiet a few product, rather few too many. One can only push an old technology so much and so much innovation can be achieved based on the same driver and driver combinations. It is like trying to over clock a Pentium 4, an over clocked pentium 4 it is still a pentium 4 and against i7 generation it is just an old technology.

    In order to take the next step a new approach is required and to me in large Shure approach in the KSE1500 clearly is an indicator of that.
    The following is going to be my personal review complied over the short period of time I have owned the KSE, I will periodically update the review as I see required.
     

    1.1 Brief history

     
    Electrostatic headphone aren’t a young thing, the one that really started making an important impact on music reproduction have been around since the 60s, beginning with the SR-1 produced by the Japanese mastermind of of the electrostatic technology STAX. Arguably STAX  paved the path for the development of a very limited yet immensely important number of headphones, to name a few SR009 and Orpheus.
    The technology in large, or at least the one that mattered for the head-fi hobbyist remained in the hand of STAX, for a very long time until Senheisser decided to prove what their engineers are capable of and as a result they commissioned their engineer to design a so called statement product, a thing that is based on the ‘money is no object’, they named it Orpheus.  Orpheus was one of a kind and Senheisser did not venture into that territory for two and half decade. There is only one way to look at it in my view and that is no matter how good a dynamic driver is designed and no matter by whom end of the day if you want the very best the technology to use  in terms of developing the best headphone one can possibly built the design has to implement an electrostatic driver. This is why despite their expertise in dynamic driver Senheisser next flaghsip product is also another electrostatic design, the HE1060.
     
    I don’t want to bore you on how electrostatic work, or to but it more specifically I am not going to pretend on knowing how it works, for a very concise read I highly recommend the Martin Logan ELS101 guide, http://www.martinlogan.com/learn/electrostatic-speakers.php
     
     

    1.2 What is my background?

     
    I believe it is important to know a little bit of the reviewer’s preference and background and know what kind of sound signature they like. This way you can perhaps spot any possible biases their preference can bring into the review written by them. 
     
    I got into the head-fi hobby back in 2006 when I just finished high school and I was about to start my undergraduate degree. The need of a good isolating IEM made me search the web and I eventually found out about the ER4S. I got into head-fi when I started searching for an amplifier for the ER4S. Despite me wanting to purchase the Xin reference or  the minibox E+ I ended up getting Fiio E7 which kept me happy for an year. The next purchases were hm601 and hm801. hm801 pushed me into this hobby greatly. And now this hobby is no longer a hobby, it is an obsession, a drug and in a sense has formed a small portion of my quest into dealing with my existential crisis (or at least that is what I call it). 
     
    I always thought there will never be a true all in one product that one can purchase and remain happy, there is no such thing as ones preferred sound signature tends to change with age and as we loss our hearing, also with age. To me the key is keeping a set of product with a contrasting sound signature. And to a certain extend that mentality has remain intake after owning the KSE1500. However if I was to say if there was ever a product worthy of making anyone happy it would be the KSE1500. Its tranparency and its ability to respond well with EQ allows it to be tailoring for a wide sound signature. I am going bit off topic so in short my prefeered sound is anything that is not too V shaped. I appreciate a good warm sound without a sacrifice in treble detail.
     
     

    1.3 What defines a good sound, should I sell my kidney for it?

     
    What constitute a good sound? The simple answer is whatever works for you but statistically speaking however there seems to be an answer. The science of head-fi, that is the science concerning the sound produced by headphone/inner ear monitors is young compared to to the science and research put into loud speakers. The issue that we face is we know what makes for a good sound when it comes to loud speakers, at least we are confident enough to know what makes a good sound for a larger portion of the market, however the sound science discussion when it comes to headphone and of course for the case of IEM is almost non-existent (at least for IEM).
     
    There are people like Dr Sean Olive from harman audio who have started doing research into headphone sound, and companies like golden ears who believe best sound is what is closes to neutral.
    According to Dr Olive headphone listeners tend to prefer less bass compared to similar sound coming from a loud speakers. This is in large due to the fact that when it comes to headphone and IEM keeping a good bass responses is much easier compared to a large room where bass largely linked to the room and how well it is treated. 
     
    While the research continues and in large it appears that those research are rooted in loudspeakers research there appears to be a few similiarity between what make a good sound in both headphone and loud speakers. It appears in both method of sound reproduction transparent sound holds an important status.  When it comes to what constitutes a good sound reproduction of the music as recorded by the artist in an studio the argument is anything that is able to color the sound less than the original recording and is able to produce the detail without masking them, no matter how faint those details are.
    The argument is not whether the item makes the music engaging but whether the sound produced remains true to how the music sounds from the original source file. 
    There are people like Dr. Floyd Toole who arguably the god father of Loudspeaker design standard who believe we can never reproduce a live recording true to how it sounded in the concert hall and we should give up trying to mimic it, there is just simply no substitute to live performance. However to him the important aspect of a loud-speaker which can be translate to the headphone world, at least for recording engineers is a set of neutral recording instruments. 
     
    KSE1500 sound signature is non-existent, perhaps it is the closest thing to the neutral sound Dr Toole is referring to: something that is not having any particular peak, excessive focus on any particular focus on any particular frequency range and is able to reproduce the detail within the music track with minimum loss. 
     

    1.4 General comment regarding packaging, accessories and ergonomics

     
    Packaging: The packaging includes all that one needs to get started listening to music. It comes with all set of tips from Shure for one to test and figure out which works for them. I would have liked to see a hardcase large enough to accomodate both the IEM and amplifier together.
     
     
     
    PICTURE1.jpg
    Source: Shure Asia
     
     
    Ergonomics: My main issue  is how the cable is in the lower half, after the Y-splitter. This is where perhaps I would have liked the cable to be a flat cable. The cables passed the the Y-splitter seem to be individually meshed and than wrapped together inside a larger meshing. As a result they freely twist and slide over each other and the fabric that is enclosing them can twist and look messy.
     
    PICTURE2A.jpg PICTURE2B.jpg
     
     
     
    The cable is microphonic, even with the shirt clip. It can be loud and audible if the music is quiet. I find having the cable go behind my head and using the chin-slide snugly fitted behind my head reduces the microphonic by 80%.
     

    2 Testing methodology

    Below I have outlined the methods I privately use when I am testing new gears for my own collection. It is in no way perfect but I hope it shine some lights on how I came about writing this review. 

     

    2.1 Find a set of test track:I have chosen 9 test track of which 6 are I am familiar with and 3 I have not listened to before. The logic for this is to reduce the bias of knowing what I am about to hear. In another word the music that I am familiar with are used for testing how good is the IEM is in reproducing those details I am familiar with of and the philosophy behind unfamiliar music is to see how much detail and information I am about to hear in this new music, they are just random music. 

     
    Track list:artist/album/Title:Reason for track selection
    • Keith Jarret/The Koln Concert/Part 1: Excellent micro detail, piano note that sound lively and 3D. Very good for testing atmosphere/ambience
    • Michael Brook/Coblat Blue/Shona Bridge: Very good for testing mid-bass, treble and overall air between different sound. Can some unbalance with most IEM (overly bass oriented). 
    • Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble/When Strangers meet/Mongolian Traditional Long Song: A great track to test the for sibilance in human vocal and the 3-6 kHz
    • Donald Byrd/Free form/Night flower: Random track
    • Coldplay/Parachutes uk edition/Yellow: A highly compressed, that almost most gear present as merely a vocal presented with other noises mashed up together. Few IEM are able to give some air and make this music sound less confused when it comes to inner ear sound.
    • Jackson, Hazeltine, Reedus, Gill/Sugar Hill/Things Ain't What They Used To Be: Random track
    • Various/Color of sound/Persimmon: Used for testing ambience, micro details, instrument placement. 
    • Armin van Buuren/A state of trance 2012/J'ai Envie De Toi: Random track
    • Various/Sounds inquiry/Being a person like him: Live piano harmonics, with certain item sound flat and with very few it can sound alive. 
     
     

    2.2 Finding set of IEM:What is the point of a review if you are not going to compare it against its competition but than again I have nothing in the same technology class as the KSE. Despite this I have selected the following gears to to do my review and I have include the reason why I have chosen these IEMs. 

    1. Kaede II: Imaging, bass decay
    2. FAD VI: Euphonic midrange
    3. EX-1000: Soundstage/transparency
    4. CK100PRO: Bass detail
    5. AKT8iE: Bass detail/speed/decay/midrange resolution
     

    2.3 Method: I will perform a direct A/B which has been widely use and supported in loud-speaker research.

     

    2.4 Terminology:To reduce any confusion the audio terminology i will be referring to is the one found on stereophile website prepared by J. Gordon Holt. This terminology has been widely used in this hobby and to reduce any bias I will do my best to use the terms as closely as I can based on that list.  Were I feel I disagree with those definition I will point out my disagreement and reasoning behind it. 

     

    3 Sound impression

     

    3.1 Just an idea where I am going with this review; the so called TLDR

     
    If one has the patient to read all the  top of the top of the line(TOTL) IEM reviews it shouldn’t be hard to notice a trend and that trend is the reviews all seem to indicate that in large all TOTL IEM possess a distinct sound signature. For example warm lower-mid (JH audio IEM, including Layla), neutral to warm in the case of Adel A12, even the infamous UERM seems to possess a certain sound characteristic despite of its neutral oriented design mentality.
    Rarely do we see the term transparent be use for what it is; in large transparency normally associated with any reproduction of sound that is free from any thing that alters the sound from the original mastering source. Listening to KSE1500 and comparing it with other IEM and to various music made me realise that KSE1500 has no tonality of its own, perhaps if we are to define what a neutral sound can be like from and IEM it is to be based around what KSE1500. To this day the neutral IEM I have listen to sounded either lean or bright. Those who had the luxury to compared the HD800 and SR009 side by side should have an easy time understanding what I mean. To me HD800 is in large a good representative of a neutral analytical and SR009 is the best of what understood a transparent sound is. Sometimes when it comes to SR009 we hear complains that it sound lean, that is perhaps because it does not like to colour the midrange where the bulk of the sound “thickness’ come from. 
    To me a neutral sounding IEM can make a warmer recording sound neutral whereas the strength of a transparent source is to expose the warmth of the recording as naturally as it can and that is an important distinction I make between this two similar natured terms.
     
    I think it is important to note that KSE1500 transparency will not win anyone over on the first listen, the same way SR009 probably is not going to win anyone over in a direct comparison beside the HD800. On a particular occasion I was testing the HD800, TH900 and SR009, the mentality I had was something like this: well SR009 is out of my price range however it is said to be the ultimate headphone and I must try it where as the TH900 and HD800 are in my budget. I ended up getting the TH900 which is no doubt the more coloured of the three. So in short winning people upon first listen is normally the job that is reserved for coloured IEM.
     
    KSE1500 requires a long listening and those who appreciate the approach of letting the music do the colouring should rather fall for the KSE quickly. Those who also generally like the alter the sound using various EQ setting should be right in home using the PMEQ feature of KSE amp module. In larger the DAC used inside the KSE module did the job. Certainly Chord Mojo did much better than the internal DDAC but have you seen how much messy it gets if you want to go down that path?
     
    PICTURE3A.jpg PICTURE3B.jpg PICTURE3D.jpg
     
     
     

    3.2 Sound impression: How does it stack against the competition?

     
    What a difference a day makes and I am not talking about the burn in phenomena (which to me had no effect on KSE1500) but more along the line of how my perception of this device changed in a matter of using it for almost a day. To be more precise around 8 hours of listening time is where I realised KSE1500 is a truly revolutionary product, there is that word again.
    I remember listening to this IEM for the first time when they just arrived and with the first few track I truly was craving for that warmer sound or a little more treble detail but something about the ambience kept me wanting to keep on listening. The ambience presentation reminded me of the few headphone that i always loved to have, the HD800 and SR009. 
     
    The first word that comes to my mind when listen to the KSE1500 setup, regardless of the source I am using is how transparent the sound is. KSE1500 transparency comes in two folds, first is its ability to be transparent of the analog signal that is feeding its analog input and second it is transparent of the files mastering/mixing. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will be proven over time and in large to the personal preference of the individual listening but the sound that comes out of KSE1500 is rich in detail. 
     
    Detailing of a sound normally described in two manners:
     
    • Macro-detail: Normally deals with sound reproduction as a whole, involving with imaging and in general the spatial presentation of sound.
    • Micro-detail: The small nuance in sound, such as a faint cough of a member of audience in a live recording, it relates to focusing of sound, that is ‘the ability to hear the brief moments of silence between the musical impulses in reproduced sound.’
     
    To me the macro-detail of KSE1500 is going to fall in the realm of inner-ear monitors (IEM), that is it will not be able to have an airy sound as something like the AKG K812 however that is not to say that it will not be able to present spatial cues. To my ears the instrument placement of KSE1500 is among the best I have heard in both the headphone and IEM world. It is able to best the closed back headphone I have heard, T5p, LCD XC, TH900 or at least be as equally good if not better. It is able to give enough room, or ‘air’ between each instrument in a larger symphony works to keep the sound open, which can be problem for almost all IEM, in particular the one that completely design to seal inside the ear canal. 
    KSE1500 is capable of presenting the micro-detail like nothing I own before. Some might consider this presentation as a little excessive, excessive to the point that they might consider it analytical. Now my definition of analytical is something that is treble emphasised with sacrifice to lower-end detail. However as I found out in the course of writing this review my definition of analytical based on the current convention is incorrect as according to the general definition of the term analytical refer to an over-excess of detail.
    To me this makes no sense, how can you have an over-excess of detail? Detail is detail, if it is present in the sound track it should be heard.
    I find the level of detail that KSE1500  easy to the ears and my brain, it is like giving more data to my brain to reduce its guessing game, I feel much less fatigue when I listen to KSE1500 compared to all the IEM I mentioned above. 
     
    If I was to focus more on the strength of KSE1500 after its ability to extract and renders a natural ambiance of the music the other strength of it is in the bass quality and speed. According to Dr Toole during the loud speakers testing the general bass production results in 30% of the final score of how a listener rates a speaker. Bass reproduction can make or break a product. It is the slower frequency of the sound, take longer to get to the ear and it has a longer impact on our senses, both aurally and physically. 
     
    To me KSE1500 has the bass quality of a dynamic driver with the speed of a balance armature driver with zero loss in coherency.
     
    In order to perhaps produce a better idea of how KSE1500 is I am going to now compare it to the IEM listed perviously using the test tracks mentioned earlier
     
    KSE1500 vs FAD VI:
    I choice FAD VI as to me this is truly an IEM that will sound good out of anything. It has a very nicely midrange oriented sound with a delicate yet present treble that is never fatiguing. However it is heavily coloured and it distorted so easily in the music that seems to push the treble louder than usual. This IEM will make the KSE sound lean.  
    Comparing the KSE to FAD VI the obvious thing that stand out is how little micro-detail is presented in FAD VI. The VI is about the macro-detail and the human vocal, mostly suitable for vocal jazz and recording of similar nature. 
    Once someone listen to KSE and transition to the FAD VI and its lack of micro detail can create ear fatigue rather easily. 
     
    PICTURE4A.jpg
     
     
    KSE1500 vs CK100Pro:
    Those who know me from the forum know I rate the CK100Pro highly. It is perhaps the most favourite balance armature that I ever listened and owned and I tried some really nice IEM much more costly. To me the treble detail of the two are similar. However where they differ and to me quiet significantly is with how they present those details. The 100Pro are much more sensitive and picky on good recording and can sound excessively bright on bad one. For instance on track 3 of the list the 42-56 second region all sounded sibilant on the 100Pro to the point of me requiring to reduce the volume way down. However with KSE I knew the female vocal is quiet energetic however the reproduction was much more tolerable. 
     
    In summary CK100pro will not be a good all rounder, KSE1500 does what 100Pro does with much more ease but on those few occasion 100pro is as capable. 
     
    PICTURE5.jpg
     
     
    KSE1500 vs EX1000:
    Lets get one thing out of the way EX1000 has the best ergonomics in any IEM I have tried, period. Also soundstage wise EX1000 is much wider than KSE1500, so it should be as it has an air ventilation at the back of its housing. To me micro details are on the same level. Tracks 7 which have a very large 3D sound, excellent ambiance sound and instrument placement is rendered great on both IEM. Also the microdetails that I am familiar with on track 1, Keith Jarret Koln concert are easily audible on both IEM albeit EX1000 requires a quiet room whereas KSE1500 can do that almost anywhere.
     
    Now where EX1000 falls behind is on faster bass. Modern music like track 5 and track 8 KSE1500 is about the only IEM which is able to give some air to the highly compressed and centre focused sound of these tracks. On EX1000 the music is just bright, piercing bright. 
     
    On track 2 the presentation of EX1000 is too forward and treble has a distorted appearance in a similar manner as of FAD VI.
     
    In short EX-1000 requires the right music to sound perfect and with the right music it is as good as KSE1500 or even for some better due to a wider more open sound. To be more exact any solo piano presentation will do just fine with EX1000 but play some coldplay you will not be able to finish the entire album.
     
    PICTURE6.jpg
     
     
    KSE1500 vs Kaede II:
    To me Kaede II is a more matured EX1000 with more extension on on bass and treble. Arguably at times the coherency of Kaede II might feel a touch less coherent than EX1000 but in large it has a better texture and timber. 
    Compare to Kaede to me KSE comes across as less engaging due to the Kaedes more energetic tuning.  The same goes with the bass which might be a little mid bass elevated on the Kaede but not to a level that is unbearable. 
    In summary the things that shine on EX1000 becomes perfect on Kaede II. Music like track 6 sound identical on both KSE and Kaede or better say the different aren’t enough to make the listener pick one IEM over another. But music like track 4 perhaps makes the Kaede II a better choice due to the nature of its sound. Track 4 is a classical Jazz with a presentation of your typical trumpet, drums, piano mixture, all typically a treble oriented sound which favours the more energetic treble presentation of Kaede II. However when one performs at lower volume listening test to me KSE texture and balance wins over Kaede II, Kaede requires a louder volume to sound its best.
    So in summary kaede II could better be suitable for those audiophile recorded albums, piano and jazz but when it comes to faster modern music, the more compressed one KSE1500 wins by a large margin. KSE wins in ergonomic, noise isolation and overall linearity and speed where as Kaede is truly a product that require a noise free place, it is not something you can plug and enjoy in a noisy environment. It is almost a lot more fragile than the KSE.
     
    PICTURE7B.jpg
     
    KSE1500 vs AKT8iE:
    AKT8iE is the fastest dynamic driver I have tried, it does well with fast hitting bass however where it suffers is on most classical music due to its more forward sound signature. It is perhaps the most forward sounding IEM in the entire list. It does not have a particular bright frequency spot but it does come close, or tangentially close to sounding a little hot. It has great potential with most vocal, cello or small jazz ensemble but with larger more complex works it can sound a little congested. It does well with tracks 1, 2and 6 but suffers in terms of producing the micro detail as effortlessly as KSE1500. It also just like Kaede requires a louder listening in order for the T8iE to sound its best which can cause fatigue quicker than the wonderfully linear sounding KSE1500.
     
     
     
    PICTURE8C.jpg
     

     4 Source test for KSE1500

    This to me was the hardest part of the test. Below is the list of products and a general summary of how each performed:
     
    1. Calyx M:preferred overall source due to the its warmer sound and UI. If UI do not matter it has the same overall tonality as Venturecraft Valoq. Alongside with Mojo I consider these three pairing on par on most ground. Mojo offered more fine tuning, a little more better midrange. If I was to be perfectly honest Mojo sounds much better than all gears paired below but I cannot say whether for most it will be enough considering how poorly it stacks. 
    2. Venturecraft Valoq: refer to calyx M
    3. AK120: Lean, neutral and at times little more treble oriented, similar to the DD socket one albeit less bright. In terms of detail I could not hear any more or less detail compared to A16 walkman which was a bit of a surprise for me. A16 walkman produce the same level of micro/macro detail and perhaps a better overall experience due to a considerable more superior UI.
    4. Lotoo Paw Gold: Neutral, very detail sound. Can come across as cold for some listeners. It offered the same level of detail as HUGO but HUGO had more warmth. Same soundstage perhaps the largest alongside HUGO perhaps due to its lack of warmth.
    5. Chord HUGO: This was perhaps the  largest disappointment. Not that it sound bad, no in fact it sounded fine. I was expecting for sound to scale more. The  colder sound of Hugo compared to calyx M, Mojo perhaps makes it little less favourable pairing with KSE1500. I have heard HUGO sound much better, to me some of the magic of HUGO is lost in KSE1500, where is that wide soundstage? What causes it I do not know.
    6. Chord Mojo: Refer to calyx M.
    7. Shanling M3: Similar sound as DD socket 1, more detail than AK120. Issue is that it can clip the audio and you are required to reduce the input gain setting on the KSE1500 to fix this. In general this pairing cannot be faulted if one wishes for a more detailed pairing but not as warm sounding as calyx M. 
    8. DD Socket 1: Refer to M3
    9. Colorfy C4: The sound was too bright, lacked detail and I do not recommend it
    10. Sony NWZ-A16 walkman: refer to AK!20
    11. xDuoo X3: To me this pairing also was another surprise just like the A16 walkman. This little thing was able to perform in the same league as the AK120, M3 and better than the C4. In terms of stacking this was the second best best stacking after the A16 walkman
     
    So what causes all this mix result? It makes me just feel that perhaps while KSE1500 been a transparent IEM at end of the day it is a closed back IEM. This means in larger it can only sound as open as an IEM and therefore when paired with HUGO which has the potential to sound more open with other gear the pairing will cause a disappointment for those who are very familiar with what HUGO has to offer.
     
    I think the strength of KSE is in its ability to effortlessly extract detail from any analog signal that it is paired with. With certain pairing like Lotoo PAW Gold one might get more detail from the sound source but is it enough to warrant dropping the internal DAC and sacrifice on portability? That is for you to decide but to me the internal DAC or the unit as a complete package can perform as good as AK120, xDuoo x3 andA16 pairing. 
     
    If one doesn’t care about how it stacks and want the best Chord mojo and Chord Hugo offers the best source. However the warmer tonality of Mojo to me outshines chord HUGO.
     
     
    PICTURE9B.jpg PICTURE9E.jpg PICTURE9D.jpg
     
    Top to bottom: Sony NWZA16, Chord mojo, AK120,SKE1500, Lotoo Paw Gold, Venturecraft Valoq, Shanling M3, DD socket , Colorfly C4, Chord HUGO.
     
    PICTURE9A.jpg
    Top row, left to right: DD socket 1, Chord HUGO, colorfly C4, Venturecraft Valoq
    Bottom raw, left to right: Shanling M3, KSE1500, Lotoo Paw Gold, AK120, Sony NWZ A16
     

    5 Conclusion: The difficulty of testing the performance of a transparent sound and the future wishes I have for KSE1500

    As mentioned before a transparent sound is one that simply has no particular characteristic of its own. The role of a transparent sound is to try to as realistically produce the sound of the analog signal that it is feed. If I was to describe KSE1500 using three word it would be transparent, non fatiguing. 
    So how can an IEM that has no sound of its own be described, that is the million dollar question. KSE is able to reproduce nicely mastered track as good as any other TOTL headphone and what makes KSE special is in how it deals with the more compressed music.  It is able to somehow better present those compressed sound by bringing about a little more breathing room which results in a better reproduction of music to the end user. 
     
    Will KSE be an endgame unit? I do not see a reason for it not to be so but in reality I think the safer answer is no. Just with all things the key is variety. Transparent sound sometimes can do with a bit of extra warmth which perhaps the sound track lacks and this is in large why high end loud speakers owners pair their solid state fancy mono-blocks amps with tube preamps and various EQing hardware. The beauty of transparent IEM is the ability for the end users to have more of control on fine tuning of the sound.
     
    What I like to see in the future is more accessories from Shure and more collaboration from them with the third party designers. As stated before pairing with Chord Hugo which is a proven product over at head-fi made me wonder perhaps the reason why the pairing with Hugo did not yield in a better production could be because of the nature of the IEM itself however there is no reason for me not to assume perhaps the amp might be creating a bottle neck. As there was no other way for me to test this assumption so till we can test the KSE IEM with some after market amp it will remain only an assumption. 
    Perhaps Shure can produce a new amp model with a larger battery life or better with a model using a more an up-to-date DAC chip. Not known the DAC chip is one thing, knowing that it is an older model chip would naturally make the market which is craving for the most up to date design a little uneasy. After all we are paying for revolutionary design, why go with an arguably outdated DAC?
     
    What I like to see in the future is Shure collaboration with various DAP/amp makers. For instances AK and JH audio collaboration resulted in creations of a number of product that are received quiet favourably.  On head-fi Fiio rep Joe Blogg showed that Fiio is interested in producing an amp module for their flagship DAP Fiio X7. I don’t now about you guys but that idea is truly exciting, it fits this revolutionary product. It would be the first truly portable electrostatic setup that requires nothing but a DAP to power it and playback music all in one unit.
     
    Partnership with amazing electrostatic amp makers like cavalli audio and headampcan only create more attention with a positive long term impact. The idea of selling the IEM alone and giving the end user the freedom to pick and choice their own package could be more liberating. But that can only be possible if the after market is willing to endorse the KSE IEM unit which I think will come down to Shure interest to work with the after market movement.
     
    One can only remain hopeful and of course it goes without saying my review is strongly my own view, you can only decide for yourself.
     
    Disclosure: This unit was a paid unit, I in no way or shape Am endorsed by any company or anyone. 
     
     
     
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    1. View previous replies...
    2. landroni
      Can the KSE1500 be used with a Stax amp? Or with ANY other existing electrostatic amp? 
       
      landroni, Jun 26, 2016
    3. jrfmd
      I rank my earphones kse 1500>utopia>lLCD4>HD800. The trick (for me) was to use the CP240 ear inserts because when I want more warmth I just lightly press them into my ears and voila. When I want a more realistic tone I let go. I personallyn find that, after a while I start finding flaws in the musical tones and need a short change with this pressure technique and then I can go back to "real".
      jrfmd, Apr 23, 2018
    4. jrfmd
      3d is different than the HD800 because the HD 800 is a "mid-hall" sound and the KSE is more a conductor's podium sound (kse 1500 has instruments with much more body than the HD800 or any earphone -- not quite as much as a speaker setup using SET amps. )
      jrfmd, Apr 23, 2018