Ever since reading Nik Fletcher’s review of the Shure E2C earphones last year I’ve had Shure kit on my mental “would really like some of those” wishlist. I now have a lovely set of Shure SE210 earphones.
I use my iPod nano a lot, but it is well-known that the Apple earbuds are not the best. I’ve previously thought about some good noise-cancelling headphones, but in most cases those aren’t especially portable as they cover the ears and require batteries to power the noise cancellation. When I read Nik’s review I thought the sound-isolation seemed like an interesting idea, but I wasn’t sure how well it would work
The sound-isolation is achieved by the earbuds having foam or rubber sleeves that act like earplugs and block out the external noise. By default the SE210s come fitted with foam sleeves (picture here), which should be rolled between the fingers before you put them into the ears, where they expand to a neat fit. If the foam ones don’t suit, the box contains four alternative sets of sleeves which may fit better, and a cleaning tool for hooking out any dirt from inside the canal of the earphone sleeve. It’s quite an odd experience at first, since it does feel like you are wearing earplugs and yet able to hear the music… but the sound-isolation is great – people working in the same room as me will attest that it is now harder to catch my attention aurally! Another side effect is that I’m actually using a much, much lower volume setting on my iPod than I used to… I barely have to have any volume at all. As I type this I’m listening to iTunes on the MacBook and the volume is on the lowest possible setting, but it’s entirely comfortable and I can’t hear the click of the keys as I type. The only downside is that it can be a bit fiddly to put them on, especially since Shure recommend having the earphones curled around the ear.
The quality of the audio from the earphones themselves is excellent. With the Apple iPod earbuds it was frequently a little tinny and lacking in depth. The SE210s deliver a lot richer sound with clear bass (although I tend to select the Bass Booster EQ setting on the iPod). Select a multi-layered track like Coldplay’s Speed of Sound – which I also note tends to be be loaded on the iPods in Apple stores, which usually have high-end Bose noise-cancelling headphones attached – and I can hear a lot of texture and detail, and pick out the individual tracks in the mix. As Nik says, there’s a danger of becoming an audio snob with these.
The SE210s also come with an extension cable (the earphones themselves are on a foot-long “stub” of a cable so it’s lucky that the extension cable is in the box), and a carry case. All in all, quite a nice package. Worth a look if you want to upgrade your sound but continue to have portable earphones. Oh, I’d avoid getting them from the Apple store, since they seem to only be available at list price… the price is more reasonable (although still expensive as in-ear headphones got, but these are good quality) elsewhere such as Amazon.