The original SE530 was often quite rightly praised for its smoothness and neutrality, but even in its heyday it was possible to find in-ear headphones such as the Etymotics ER-4P that seemed to edge out the then top-of-the-line of Shure ‘phones in terms of sonic purity, focus and clarity. With the SE535, however, that “purity/clarity gap” has essentially been closed (and then some). Without losing any of the strengths that made the SE530 so good, the SE535 now reproduces high-frequency harmonic information and treble transient and textural details much more effectively, yet without—and this is the real stroke of genius here—sounding overtly bright in any way.
Rather than going for a huge increase in treble output, which could easily have done more harm than good, Shure wisely opted to go for a judicious, incremental improvement in the SE535—essentially taking what was already a very strong design and making it better. I think many listeners will appreciate the “first, do no harm” decisions that Shure’s engineers have made in creating the SE535.
While fans of detail and definition might, and I admit I am one, might still wish for a bit more transient speed, more tightly defined treble textures, and even greater high-frequency extension, the fact is that the new SE535 offers significantly expanded performance envelopes in all three areas, so that to go further might be to risk taking things over the top.
To appreciate the SE535’s overall balance and smooth frequency response, listen to it on a wide-range orchestral piece such as the Gordon Getty’s “Plump Jack Overture” from Orchestral Works by Gordon Getty [Sir Neville Mariner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Pentatone SACD]. This composition is roughly twelve minutes long, but in that brief span of time it provides a delightful and quite athletic orchestral workout that is a tough test for any headphone. The “Plump Jack Overture” (the title is an allusion to the Shakespearian character Falstaff) starts with an abrupt series of concert bass drum thwacks counterbalanced with low brass and low woodwind outbursts, with angular string passages adding commentary up above. The opening section is a real head-turner provided your headphones are up to the task, which the SE535’s most certainly are.
First, they do of fine job of capturing the weight and slam of the massive bass drum thwacks without breaking a sweat. Next, they do an unusually convincing job with the low brass and low woodwind instruments—instruments that pose problems for many headphones, some of which have trouble rendering their deep, throaty, full-bodied sonorities. But instead, the SE535 seemed almost to revel in handling the sound of these instruments, giving them the full, rich, round tonality they require.
But apart from handling these “power” instruments well, the SE535 can turn on a dime to exhibit great clarity and delicacy when required. At one point, for example, Getty’s dramatic orchestration calls for a simple chime to sound, and the SE535’s nailed its ringing overtones with a just-right touch of lingering shimmer that seems to float on the air for a delicious few seconds. Similarly, the SE535’s showed real finesse later in the overture as they caught the incisive yet never edgy or strident sound of rapid violin bowing changes, and the delicate ripple of trilled flute passages.
My point is that the SE535 is a very well-rounded performer that is rarely if ever caught off guard, whether the music calls for big explosive dynamics, powerful yet also tuneful mid- and low-frequency sounds, or delicate treble details. This refined, “do-all” quality is a big part of the appeal of Shure’s new flagship model.
Let me compare the SE535 versus two of its closest competitors: the Monster Turbine Pro Copper Edition and Sennheiser IE 8.
Shure SE535 vs. Monster Cable Turbine Pro Copper Edition