Urban pop and dance music has always put a strong emphasis on bass, and the SE215s are certainly up to the task of delivering it. For rock and pop lovers the SE215 may possess just the right amount of bass fundamentals. But for classical and jazz music listeners the bass may be a bit too prominent in the SE215’s overall harmonic balance. Also, at higher volumes this plethora of bass begins to obscure and overpower some musical details.
The midrange through the SE215 earphones is smooth with an absence of noticeable spikes and peaks, but it is slightly reticent compared to the bass response. Music tends to be a bit more polite with slightly less in the way of midrange dynamics and punch compared to the Shure SE530s or even the Ultimate Ears UE200 earphones.
The SE215s create a decent soundstage with reasonable image specificity, but the edges that define where one instrument ends and another begins are not as well delineated as through the Shure SE530s or Grado SR80s. As the SE215s get louder, their soundstage specificity becomes less tidy and instruments’ locations begin to homogenize more than with the other phones.
Due to the combination of their comfortable fit and slightly darker than neutral harmonic balance, the SE215 are a very low fatigue earphone. I could wear them for hours without the slightest need to remove them to give my ears a rest. But it’s vitally important to follow Shure’s fit instructions—the cables must go over the top of your ears and behind your head. If you try to wear them so the cables go straight down not only will the phones fit badly, they probably won’t even stay in your ears. Worn properly, the SE215 are one of the most comfortable earphones I’ve tried for long listening sessions.
Listening to the Beatles “Here Comes The Sun” from Abbey Road [EMI], I couldn’t help but notice the rambunctious electric bass as heard through the SE215 earphones. Yes, if you enjoy following bass lines the SE215 earphones are going to make you smile. Paul’s bass lines on “Because” are so big, fat, round and juicy.
On the sublime “Aerial Boundaries” from guitarist Michael Hedges’ album of the same name [Windham Hill], the SE215s did an excellent job of preserving the recording’s reverberance and expanding sonic envelope. The sound was still a smidgen dark, with the upper harmonics of the guitar’s attack muted slightly. Even so, Hedge’s string slaps were dynamic, though I missed that last dab of upper frequency brilliance.
Consider this product if:
• You like a warm sound with a big, powerful bass.
• You plan on giving your earphones heavy or active use and therefore prefer models with a detachable/user-replaceable cord.
• You prefer earphones with signal cables that go behind your ears.
Look further if:
• You prefer a headphone with a drier, more neutral harmonic presentation.
• You prefer a small footprint earphone with a within-the-ear canal fit (although the SE215 can serve in this capacity depending on which ear tips you choose).
• You don’t like to wear earphones with the signal cables routed up and over your ears and behind your head (some listeners have a distinct preference for one cable-routing scheme over the other).
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced earphones)
• Tonal Balance: 7
• Frequency Extremes: 8 (Bass)/6 (Treble)
• Clarity: 7
• Dynamics: 7
• Comfort/Fit: 8
• Sensitivity: 7
• Value: 9
Few, if any, manufacturers have had more experience designing and building headphones than Shure. The mid-priced SE215 shows they’ve been learning from their experience. Implementing a removable and replaceable cord and including an eminently usable rugged cloth case with an earphone that retails for less than $100 demonstrates Shure’s commitment to deliver superior value. With six ear tip options, the SE215 strives to deliver an ideal fit—comfortable but with good isolation. Most users will find one of Shure’s optional tips will do the job nicely.
The Shure SE215 earphones deliver a lot of bang for slightly under $100. They’re the least expensive earphones on the market with a removable and user-replaceable cord. Combine that with Shure’s two-year warranty and you have an earphone you’ll be able to keep for a while. That’s value.