Shure has been involved with the creation and production of music since 1925, but the reason it is still around while most of its competitors from that era have vanished is Shure’s ability to stay current with new offerings. In the headphone category Shure recently launched a new model, the KSE1200. It joins the KSE1500 in Shure’s electrostatic, in-ear line-up. Priced at £1,769, the KSE1200 is £820 less than the KSE1500 and differs from the KSE1500 because the KSE1200 is a strictly analogue device that lacks the KSE1500’s digital inputs and DAC conversion circuitry. The earphones themselves and the amplifier technology used to drive them are identical on both models. For anyone who already owns a good portable player and/or portable DAC the KSE1200 could very well be a more attractive and cost-effective option than the KSE1500.
The KSE1200 electrostatic in-ear system consists of not only the in-ear capsules containing the electrostatic elements, but also a special amplifier that supplies not only the power to energize the electrostatic elements but also a volume control for the amplification of the electrostatic elements. The amplifier has provisions for a mini-jack stereo analogue input that can be attached to any device with an analogue output, be it a fixed-level source, such as a DAC, or the variable output from a portable player or smartphone.
Accessories included with the KSE1200 include two cables with 3.5mm plugs (one 15.2 cm long, the other 92 cm long), a 6.3mm adapter, a cable clip, and two security bands for attaching the KSE-1200 amplifier unit to a smartphone. KSE1200’s rechargeable Li-ion battery is capable of 12-hour battery life and a recharge time of 3 hours using a 1A charger.
I used the KSE1200 with a wide variety of devices, including an iPhone SE, Astell&Kern Activa, Fiio M11, Sony NW-WM1Z, Focal Arche, Sony TA-ZH1ES, and Mytek Manhattan II. With an adjustable gain range of -40 dB to +60 dB and a maximum published SPL at 1kHz with 3% TMD of 113 dB, the KSE1200 system could in every case be adjusted for optimal output levels. Generally, I found that with variable output level source devices, turning the KSE1200 amplifier just above halfway up permitted the KSE1200 system to achieve comfortable volume levels.