CES: Shure Improves its Top-Tier In-Ear Headphones

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CES: Shure Improves its Top-Tier In-Ear Headphones

If asked, “what are the best in-ear headphones on today’s market?” a fair number of enthusiasts might have responded by naming one of Shure’s top-tier models: either the SE420 (a two-way design featuring separate, miniature woofer and tweeter drivers) or the SE530 (a two-way/three-driver design offering dual woofer drivers and a separate tweeter). Both products have, over time, won loyal followings among listeners who care deeply and passionately about sound quality. Given the strong and hard-won reputations both models have earned, one might expect them to continue to be sold as perpetual “evergreen” products—at least until something better comes along. Well, as it happens, that hypothetical “something better” has come along, in the form of updated and improved SE425 and SE535 models from Shure, which are slated to appear on the market in summer of 2010.

There’s an old adage that says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Mindful of this, Shure has wisely kept the driver elements of its new models largely the same as in their predecessors, while making two significant improvements in other areas. First, both the SE425 and SE535 come with beefier and much higher quality signal cables than were used in the original models. Having heard the beneficial effects such upgrades can bring to full-size over-the-ear headphones, we suspect this design change alone may give the new Shure in-ear ‘phones a substantially more open, detailed, and transparent sound.

But second, Shure has set up its new models so that the signal cables are, by design, detachable from the main headphone earpieces. Specifically, the signal cables, whose tips will be labeled with Left and Right-channel markings, are equipped with small, miniature gold-plated plugs that connect to matching gold-plated sockets embedded in the bodies of the headphone earpieces.

This arrangement offers several key benefits. First, the new Shures should be less susceptible to damage than traditional in-ear headphones, because a sharp tug on their cables will result only in the connector plugs pulling free from their sockets (with no harm done), rather than in broken signal wires. This is an important step forward, since a Shure spokesman advised AVguide that the overwhelming majority of so-called “headphone failures” are in fact attributable to damaged signal cables. But even in a worst-case scenario where signal cables do get damaged, the good news is that the new design allows users to buy affordable replacement cable sets, rather than having to purchase a whole new set of headphones.

One further benefit of the new design is that the SE425 and SE535 should be more comfortable to wear than their predecessors, because the headphone’s socket/plug connections will permit the headphone earpieces to swivel freely without twisting the signal cables in any way. All in all, the detachable signal-cable concept strikes us as a brilliant idea whose time has come.

The SE425, which a Shure spokesman described as having textbook “flat” frequency response, will have an MSRP of $299. The SE535, which offers slightly deeper and more powerful bass response, will have an MSRP of $499.

Watch for reviews of both models in Playback once the products are released.

For more information, visit: www.shure.com

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