When we reviewed the Shure SE535 in-ear headphones, they nearly melted our inner ears with their creamy combination of rich, powerful bass and crystal-clear high tones. They're headphone perfection, but even now they'll probably set you back around £340. The SE425s, meanwhile, can be yours for just £225 or thereabouts -- but are they better value than the SE535s?
The SE425s bring some of the cooler features that the SE535s introduced, namely detachable cabling. This is such a good idea, the mind boggles as to why this feature isn't standard on all headphones, of all shapes and sizes. When headphones break (and headphones will break) it's often the cabling around the jack or the earbuds that gives in first -- fraying and wearing down until the sound finally stops flowing.
With replaceable cabling, the earbuds themselves can be salvaged if the cable should throw in the towel. This could extend the life of the 425s significantly, though it's worth noting that any damage to the actual buds will likely prove terminal.
It also means you can attach the iPod and iPhone cable Shure also sells, which has a remote that lets you control playback if you're using an iPod, and take calls using a built-in microphone if you're using an iPhone. We've tested it, and it works well.
The 425s attach to your skull by looping over the top of your ear, like ones you might see a professional musician use. There's a malleable section of cabling near the top of the 'buds that you can shape to fit the tops of your lugs, then you lasso 'em round and squish the tips into your ears, forming a tight, sound-isolating seal.
There's a decent selection of different tips included in the box -- several sizes of foam and rubber buds, as well as a flanged set. We recommend experimenting to find the most comfortable fit, though we noticed it was actually rather tough to remove the foam tips from the earbuds, and we were a little concerned that we'd snap them with the force needed to pry them apart. Be careful.
Not everyone will like hooping the 425s around their ears, but we quickly got used to it, and were satisfied with the comfortable fit it affords. You won't feel these headphones dragging themselves out your ears, they'll take longer to work themselves loose and -- because the cable is held securely -- you won't get so much distracting noise as the cable bumps against stuff.
In the box you'll also find a 3.5/6.3mm adaptor and a travel case.
So how do the 425s sound? The first thing we noted was an impressive clarity in the high end. We soon started noticing detail in tracks we hadn't observed before -- a tiny touch of reverb over vocal tracks, an intake of breath, or a hissing cymbal. Listening to Close to the Edge by Yes, we impressed by the crispness of every cymbal hit.
At the other end of the spectrum, they're also impressive -- the bassline in Warren G's This DJ rumbles through with a deep, heavy punch. We've heard slightly tighter, clearer bass from other headphones (the SE535s spring to mind), but we reckon this is low-end response in line with the price.
In our opinion the mid-tones aren't quite as clear and separated from the rest of the mix as they are with some high-end headphones. We noticed on some rock tracks like Bad Religion's Fields of Mars that the vocal track didn't sound so clear, and was lost among the distorted guitars. Generally speaking, vocals aren't as laser-precise as they are on the SE535s.
While sound quality is very good overall, the SE425s don't cope brilliantly at high volumes, and you'll find things sound sweetest with the dial cranked up to middling levels.
Living in the shadow
When we reviewed the SE420s, we said they sounded good, but that it was worth saving up a few more weeks and nabbing the then-top of the range SE530s. Change those zeroes to fives and wind the clock forward a few years, and our feelings haven't changed much.
If you can find the extra hundred or so quid from somewhere, the SE535s offer fantastic audio quality that outstrips these still-brilliant earphones. The SE425s are great, but are destined to live in the shadow of their magnificent older brother.
The Shure SE425s sound brilliant, and will probably blow your mind if you've only ever tried budget or bundled headphones before. The detachable cable might just save your bacon too.
Still, there are a couple of sonic niggles that will probably grate on detail-hungry audiophiles, so if at all possible, we'd recommend the near-flawless Shure SE535s, if your budget can stretch that far.
If it doesn't, be sure to also investigate the marvellous Klipsch Image X10i headphones, which come with an in-line remote for controlling music and taking calls.
Edited by Nick Hide