Shure SE420 full review

We raved about Shure’s in-ear e500 heaphones last year, praising them as “personal audio transformed” – although this transformation cost over £400. We missed them when we had to give them back, so we were pleased to learn that Shure has developed the range. The e500 headphones have been rebranded as the SE530 (and repriced at £329) and three lower-priced models have been introduced, the SE210, SE310 and SE420, with prices starting at £99.99.

The company claims its new family of headphones offers a wider frequency range and better sound detail as you move up the line - claims that seem to stand up to the test. As well as offering pleasing sound reproduction, all four sets are sound-isolating headphones, capable of effectively blocking out background noise.

The model below the SE530, the SE420, costs £249. The main difference between this model and its higher-priced sibling is the presence of fewer drivers in the earpieces - there are two in the SE420, three in the SE530.

Shure calls its two-driver system ‘Dual TruAcoustic’. It consists of a tiny tweeter and woofer in each earpiece, with an electronic device (the internal crossover) inside the earpieces dividing the audio into separate streams. There’s a bass/low frequency stream for the bass driver, which is optimised for this, and mid-range and higher frequencies dispatched to the tweeter, which is smaller and more responsive to transient sound.

It’s a trade off. As mentioned, the more expensive SE530s have two woofers working together to
reproduce bass and lower mid-range signals, while the tweeter handles the rest. The loss of that third driver does make a difference to what you’ll hear when using the SE420s, but while the high-end set is outstanding, this lower-priced model is still excellent. You can expect to enjoy great bass, sensitive treble and realistic high-pitch sounds.

The headphones use a type of speaker in which the diaphragm is moved by a small drive pin, a balanced armature speaker. This technology responds quickly to changes in signal and offers better detail than dynamic speakers. They work best with a noise-cancelling seal.

You won’t want to listen to your iPod at maximum volume with any of Shure’s new headphones, because each model is highly effective at both blocking out external sound and ensuring the music you’re listening to doesn’t leak outside your ear canal. The technology was originally created for the monitor headphones used by musicians during live performances, so it’s highly effective at blocking out loud background noise. The upshot of this is that if you pump up the volume too high you’ll damage your hearing - and with such excellent reproduction at low volumes the perceived music playback is loud enough and crystal clear.

We found the SE420s capable of delivering an immersive sound experience comparable to that we loved when testing the SE530s. For £80 less they offer one of the most high-quality sound playbacks we’ve experienced across a wide sound stage. The built-in crossover system does a great job of ensuring the drivers work together for clear and distinct sound reproduction across the spectrum. Because the headphones are also noise-cancelling (or sound-isolating, as Shure terms it) they create an intimate sound. Without any background noise it’s just you and your music, played at such high-quality you’ll hear details in songs you may never before have picked up using the headphones supplied with your iPod.

Alongside the headphones, the package also includes an oval zip-up black carrying case, an airline adaptor, volume control and a three-foot (91cm) cable that extends the length of the headphones. You also get three pairs (small, medium and large) of soft flex sleeves, three pairs of foam sleeves, and a pair of triple-flange sleeves. You can choose to use whichever pair of sleeves you find most comfortable for your ears, though we found removing and replacing the sleeves quite tricky. Unlike many in-ear headphones we found this set very comfortable to wear, slipping tightly into your ear and remaining firmly in place. The jack connectors on the headphones and associated cables are gold-plated for the best possible sound.

One downside is that the headphone cable isn’t long enough to use with an iPod unless you also use the included extension cable, which leaves far too much unnecessary cable length. However, you’ll need the extension cable if you want to use Shure’s Push-To-Talk accessory for the headphones, a small device with its own tiny microphone that lets you listen to external sound at the touch of a button.

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