Way back in 2007, we reviewed the extremely classy, supremely gorgeous Shure SE530 noise-isolating headphones. By golly, did we love 'em. Now Shure's unleashed the SE535s, high-end sound-isolating earbuds that will set you back £450. That's right: four hundred and fifty of your finest sterling. The main improvement over the SE530s is the detachable cable for each earbud, which makes replacing the cables dead simple. But is that enough to keep Shure's earphones on top of the audio pile?
Shure hasn't missed a single trick when it comes to the SE535s' sound quality. These are the best sound-isolating headphones we've ever heard, with only the SE530s able to compete in terms of raw clarity.
There are three separate drivers tucked away inside the SE535s' plastic housing -- two woofers and one tweeter -- and Shure collectively calls them a 'triple high-definition microdriver'. We can forgive that ridiculous name because, whatever black magic Shure has employed to get those three drivers singing in beautiful unison, it's really paid off.
In terms of the low end, the SE535s don't offer the kind of artificially pumped-up, thumping bass that we so often hear from lesser in-ear models. Rather the emphasis is on a natural, faithful reproduction of the original recording. Listening to the Prodigy's Hot Ride, we found the SE535s to be more than capable of delivering a sharp, bassy kick to the bonce. The loose, crunchy bass line in the first 30 seconds of the song was reproduced with astounding clarity, rather than being transformed into an amorphous blob of low-end noise.
Later in the track, when a whole host of extra instruments are introduced -- all fuzzily mixed and distorted at the point of recording -- the 535s were able to keep each one separate, without the sounds bleeding into each other.
Tweeter to beat
The tweeter does a really impressive job of feeding through crystal-clear high tones, and the SE535s manage to keep the tinkly stuff sounding distinct, which adds to the overall breadth of sound. Listening to Freezepop's Less Talk, More Rokk, we were able to pick out otherwise undetectable hi-hats, and even noticed a few cymbal trills we hadn't heard before. There are few things more satisfying than hearing something new in one of your favourite tracks.
The SE535s really perform when the volume is cranked up. With inferior headphones, we'd find parts of the mix distorting or ballooning out of control, but the SE535s kept a tight rein on things and, even when the music was really blaring, we never lost track of the mix's individual components. Neither did we notice any distortion.
The final aspect of the SE535s' sound quality that really blew us away was their ability to create a broad sound stage. Listening to Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie, we were impressed by the perceived distance between the instruments. If you wanted a really wide sound stage, you'd have to opt for some on-ear headphones -- preferably open-backed to let the sound really bounce around. But, if you did that, you wouldn't get the benefit of the SE535s' sound-isolation capability.
The SE535s come with different sleeves of all shapes and sizes for the earpieces, including two types of rubber sleeves, and two types of foam sleeves. With a choice like that, you'll almost certainly find a comfortable set, and, so long as you ensure the earbuds form a decent seal with your lugholes, you'll find the earphones' sound-isolation capability to be excellent. Even with our music playing at a moderate volume, we could barely hear our colleagues blabber. Be careful though -- a fire alarm went off during our testing and it was barely audible.
Detachable cables lead into each earbud. One benefit of this is that it's dead simple to replace a cable if one should break. In our experience, it's always the cabling that's the weak point, so it's good to know you won't have to replace the pricey earbuds themselves if a cable snaps.
To get these headphones on, you'll need to loop them around the top of your ear and give them a quick twist. That's a pretty tricky manoeuvre -- at least at first -- and we have to say that it's not the easiest job in the world to get the 535s on and off in a hurry. Still, we got used to the procedure within a few hours. To help you out, the first few inches of cable are made of bendy wire that'll stay in the position you leave it in. Once these earbuds are in, they're very comfortable -- we had them in for a whole day without any discomfort or itching.
Included in the box is an optional volume-control remote, a 3.5-to-6.3mm adaptor, an airline adaptor and a carry case.
We reckon the Shure SE535s are the best sound-isolating headphones on the market. They're extremely pricey but they're absolutely worth the money for audiophiles. If you're strapped for cash, you might consider chasing down a pair of the older SE530s, which are now available for around £250. But the replaceable cable that comes with the SE535s could very well save your bacon if you happen to run afoul of some scissors.
These headphones have a clear, natural tone. If you prefer plenty of bass, we'd recommend you check out the Sennheiser IE 8s, which are so bassy that they might just blow your face off. In a good way.
Edited by Charles Kloet