When Shure announced an "entry-level" headphone coming in at a realistic price point we admittedly got rather excited. But can these headphones perform to the standards set by their premium brethren?
Out of the box you can’t help but notice the similarities to the high-end models of Shure headphones which will please those who want that Shure factor, but without breaking the bank. You get the two-piece construction, dividing into the earphones themselves and the main length of cable. This approach might be a little chunky for those looking for straight-up headphone replacements, but will appeal to those who want to add these to a mobile phone and retain the microphone dongle, such as that offered by Sony Ericsson.
The first thing you’ll notice about the cable is just how solid it feels. It has a decent weight to it which does a good job of convincing that you’ve bought into something special. Gold plugs lovingly adorn the ends, connecting to the earphones.
As these are Shure headphones you have to do the Shure thing, that is loop the cabling around the top of your ear. The body of the earphones sit in your outer ear, whilst the rubber plug fit firmly into your ear canal. You’ll find several different sizes in the box to cater for different size of lug hole. A little tweaking will find the optimal position for comfort and sound and if you are new to Shure headphones there is no need to worry about this method of wearing them as it is perfectly comfortable.
As noise isolating headphones a good fit is essential and we found that they do live up to their claims of block distracting external noise so you can focus on the music. Looping the cable over the ears also helps to reduce cable noise that is common with this type of headphone. Occasionally you’ll feel a pull as you move your head around, but overall there is no problem.
So with the headphones fitting well and that external noise minimised, the sound is fantastic, right? Well not really. It comes as something as a surprise that you almost instantly notice something is missing. Yes, the sound is good and clean, but there seems to be a real lack of bass. By way of a sanity check we compared the SE102 against a pair of SE420 earphones and gave them over to a full-time Shure user, who was surprised to say the least.
The big problem is bass delivery. Across a range of music we found that the bass was lacking, meaning you had to employ the equaliser to try and lift the bass up. The mid and high ranges are well represented and when you are sitting waiting for that bass to appear and sweep you away, it just doesn’t happen, which is a disappointment.
Putting the bass to one side, you do get a good clean sound from the SE102. But for us, without the support of bass, things sounds a little flat overall.
All other aspects to the SE102 make it look like and feel like a premium product: the ear rubber options, the neat storage sack and the overall build quality are all good.
Now let’s be fair about this: they sound good, certainly much better than bundled headphones in most phone or MP3 player packets. They are leagues ahead of your standard iPod headphones so worthy of consideration if you are looking to upgrade your listening experience, but if you listen to a lot of music that depends on bass, you will be disappointed.
At this price point there are some contenders worthy of consideration, such as the Philips SHE9800, and the Shure SE102, whilst giving a fair showing for themselves, don’t quite provide that Legendary Performance.
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