When a company creates a product that's sufficiently remarkable to garner a spot among CNET's testing equipment, chances are that's a good place to look for further quality products. Such is the case with Shure, whose E4c earbuds quickly become our headphone of choice for MP3 player audio testing. Actually, the entire E series is impressive, which is why the company didn't stray far from that blueprint when it created its new Sound Isolating line, the SE series. In fact, the Shure SE530, the $500 pair that is the subject of this review, is nearly identical to its predecessor, the E500PTH.
There's not much about the Shure SE530 model that provokes complaint, but if there's one thing we're not that keen on it's the rather large earbuds--they tend to stick out of the ear quite a bit. Of course, we also realize that this is necessary to cram in three drivers: each bud has what Shure calls a Triple TruAcoustic MicroSpeaker that consists of two woofers and one tweeter. Though they are large, the 'buds are sleek-looking, decked out in a gunmetal, chromelike finish. And while they may protrude a bit from some ears, no one should have a problem getting a proper, sealed fit. Shure includes a plethora of eartips: three sizes (S, M, L) of silicone sleeves, one set of triple flange fittings, and--our favorite--four sets of molded, black foam tips (also in varying sizes). Since the foam sleeves are nearly identical to traditional earplugs, it's easy to get a comfortable fit.
As is traditionally the case with Shure earphones, the SE530s have a thick, durable cable--black, in this case. Unlike the E series before it, though, the cable for the SE models is modular. An initial Y cable (18 inches long) terminates in a gold plug and allows the headphones to be used "as is" with an MP3 player carried in a shirt pocket or worn clipped to a bag strap. Shure also includes two extender cables to help with length adjustment: one short (9 inches) and one long (36 inches). When we had both connected, we could comfortably listen to music coming through the computer, which is stationed on the floor under the desk. Shure includes a few other useful extras that one would expect from a high-end package. There's an inline volume control, an airplane adapter, a quarter-inch adapter (for at-home use), a hard-shell carrying case, and the necessary-but-gross earwax cleaning pick.
Of course, the star of the show with the Shure SE530s is sound quality, which we expect to be stellar in a $500 pair of earphones. These 'buds definitely live up to their lofty price point. In fact, our listening tests inspired frequent bouts of desk dancing, much to the amusement of neighboring editors. The Shure SE530s sound fantastic, pure and simple, but where to begin? First, the 'buds offer excellent passive-noise isolation, assuming you achieve a proper seal with the ear, which shouldn't be a problem given the aforementioned array of fittings. The seal also allows for deep, tight bass response--it's enveloping without being overwhelming, and there's no distortion. The highs are sparkly, and music overall has impressive clarity--even during frantic hard rock riffs, we could pick out the varying sounds. Detail is certainly not lost to these 'phones, either. You can even hear a chair squeak in the recording of Jamie Cullum's "Photograph."
With headphones that sound this fantastic, it's tough--if not impossible--to decipher which genres really shine. Everything sounds good, but techno and electronica sound phenomenal. During Robert Miles' "In My Dreams," we were transported, surrounded by speakers. Of course--with any earbuds--you're not going to get sound as open as with full-size headphones or external speakers, but the Shure SE530s do an admirable job of opening the experience.