Review: Shure’s SE530 headphones and faith restored

se530shures.jpg

Let me start this review with the conclusion: Shure’s SE530s are solid high-end performers that will satisfy anyone who likes clear acoustics and strong highs and lows.

Whew! I feel better. I’ve been riddled with guilt since posting my disappointment in Shure’s SE310s. The SE530 is the most expensive model in my roster and, at $549, I was pretty much expecting greatness.Happily, I got it, in many ways. The SE530 passes all the stress tests: clear sound reproduction at high volumes; good bass and overall dynamics at low levels; solid noise isolation, even on a plane; comfortable earbuds; and a load of optional cords, cushions and add-ons for the headphone completist. As mentioned in the review of the Etymotic ER-4 microPro, excellence is all but expected at this price category, and the SE530 delivers.

Shure has given these headphones a distinct personality, far different from the ER-4 or anything by Sennheiser, which we’ll be reviewing next. These are rumbling, pumping, crashing headphones. Kiss, Queens of the Stone Age, Lady GaGa, Calle Ocho: booming bass and crunching guitars are the SE530′s sweet spot. High-end treble is sharp and prominent; bass lines and drum riffs arrive with gusto.

What these headphones are not is warm. Jazz and midrange-heavy music don’t envelop the listener like they do in some other brands’ headphones. Shure has EQ’d the SE530 for stronger, noisier genres than that. I heartily recommend them for rock, metal, industrial, dance, hip-hop and the like. String quartets, not so much.

As noted above, the Shures come with foam ear cushions that are comfortable to wear and provide great noise reduction. Combined with their well-calibrated low-volume output, they’re perfect for travel and office environments. They also have a variety of silicone ear buds that are less intrusive on the wearer’s ears.

Interestingly, with all this quality headgear comes a minimum of fuss. The SE530′s packaging was appropriately deluxe, but the carrying case and cords are rather unassuming. There’s nothing in the usable pieces that screams, “I paid a lot more for my headphones than I did for my mp3 player.” They’re no-nonsense headphones that simply pump out good audio.

Thanks, Shure! My faith is restored. I am once again enjoying Shure’s headphones and have resumed waxing nostalgic about my E3cs. The SE530s are great headphones that provide great fun.

Product Page [Shure]

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11 Responses to Review: Shure’s SE530 headphones and faith restored

  1. Blue says:

    How about some reviews of earbuds that us mere mortals might actually buy?

  2. Charlie Stross says:

    You can pick them up for a good bit less than $500 if you look around.

    (I did.)

    My personal preference? For listening pleasure, the SE530s can’t be beat — but the SE420s are two thirds the price and 95-98% the sound quality. They also weigh less. The SE530s are the size of macadamia nuts and you need to loop the cord over your ears to hold them in place. My left macadamia nut eventually contracted a bad case of damaged insulation on the cord, and while I’ve patched it with electrician’s tape, I’m not keen on wearing it out and about. Whereas the SE420s have good enough sound quality, (especially in a noisy environment), weigh less, and are a lot less prone to accidental damage.

  3. Pete says:

    I guess there can’t be many more headphone reviews in the pipeline – they’re running out of high-end headphones!

  4. Eicos says:

    It’s one thing to write tongue-in-cheek reviews of luxury goods. But keep your audience in mind.

  5. dculberson says:

    I think most of us could buy $500 earbuds, but choose not to. It’s a question of niches.

  6. markfrei says:

    Well $500 is list. Go Amazon – they are <60% of that price.

    I’ve had these for a while now and completely love them. I love them for flying and my morning train ride, but they are also amazing for monitoring what audio I’m recording in noisy environments.

  7. AirPillo says:

    It would be hard for most people to justify spending $500 on something that is so easily lost or damaged.

  8. David Wertheimer says:

    We’ve been steadily increasing the price points all summer. If you look back at the reviews, the first few were all around $150 suggested retail and likely sell for less. This series focuses on noise-isolating and noise-canceling headphones, which don’t have much of a market under $100.

  9. Matthew Walton says:

    I’ve been using Shure kit almost since I discovered there were better headphones than the ones that came with my iPod. Started off with a set of Sony canalphones, but then moved on to Shure E2cs. They were fantastic (or so I thought) but the big thick silicone sleeves they came with weren’t the most comfortable to wear for long periods, and although the cable was big and tough they eventually succumbed to an internal breach at the jack plug end of the cable.

    So I got some E3cs, which by that time were the same price I originally paid for my E2cs. They were much lighter, much more comfortable (very light, flexible sleeves), and very noticeably better sound quality. Unfortunately they succumbed to an internal breach near the right earphone, leaving it intermittent. I’ve kept them – I use them for monitoring when I’m recording, because I don’t record in stereo, and they’re light enough that I can happily sing with them in, hear myself through them and get a good idea what I actually sound like.

    I replaced those for daily music use with some SE210s. Overall I’m most pleased with these – they seem a bit tougher around the earpieces than the E3cs, so I’m hopeful they’re going to last substantially longer. I’ve had one fault – a jack plug end internal cable break again – but because these come with a two-part cord, I just bought a new bottom bit for £3. It’s actually a Sony extension cable, but the low-profile connector on that actually fits into my iPod better (due to the case I’ve got, the Shure non-L-shaped one got a lot of abuse, which is presumably why it broke). They sit comfortably in my ears, and operate clearly at very low volume levels, blocking out the noise of my large open plan office for hours at a time when I need to get into a coding bubble. They make a competent job of most of my music which ranges from rock to pop to classical to baroque to folk to renaissance to crazy weird stuff. I do have one album which suffers from a lot of clipping and distortion. I haven’t yet conducted enough experiments to know if I can blame that on the iPod or the headphones though – the same encoded file plays through my PS3 and living room amp perfectly, so I know it’s not that. I hope it’s not the headphones though, I wouldn’t like to think they couldn’t cope with something as simple as six-part all-female vocal harmony.

  10. anon says:

    Recommend any particular earphones for string quartets?

  11. strider_mt2k says:

    I have a complete mental disconnect when I read about 500 dollar earbuds for mp3 players.

    If you have that kind of scratch for these things then you are quite fortunate.

    For that price I’d expect “great fun” for at least four hours.

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