Purists might not like it, but mobile phones and MP3 players are converging at a record pace. Even reputable professional audio companies are starting to take notice, as evidenced by Shure's latest personal earphone offering, the SE102 MPA. The $99 sound isolating set comes bundled with an extension cable with an inline mic and call button, so it's designed to play nice with your iPhone or other music phone. The SE102s aren't the best Shure earbuds we've laid ears on--the type and number of ear fittings is limited and audio is a bit brittle at times--but they're still a big improvement over the sets that come with most music mobiles.
The Shure SE102 MPA earphones are fairly standard in design. Each black earpiece is bulbous and conical with an angled arm that fits into the ear. Shure includes four sets of silicone ear tips--one small, two medium, and one large--but no flanged or foam set, which prevented us from getting a completely secure fit. We really had to shove them in our ear to hear any bass and as the ear pieces are fairly large, this did not make for a particularly comfortable experience. Also, the apertures of the arms are a bit larger than other SE models, so you can't use any of the tips designed for other Shure sets. Still, those with average-to-large ears shouldn't have too much trouble. When you're not wearing the earphones, you can store them in the soft travel pouch included in the box.
The SE102's cord style is typical of the SE line. The initial 18-inch Y-cable terminates in a 3.5mm gold-plated straight plug with the dual-band design accepted by the majority of MP3 players. (Each band outputs a channel--left or right--combined for stereo audio.) Shure then includes a 3-foot extender cable--a necessity for any listening scenario where you're not wearing your device around your neck or carrying it in a shirt pocket. As the SE102 MPA's name suggest, the extender is a music phone adapter with an inline mic and call answer/end button. The MPA terminates in another gold-plated straight plug, this one with a triple band design--the extra one is for the input from the mic. (Note that triple-banded plugs won't work properly with many standard MP3 players.)
Calls taken through the Shure SE102 sound quite good on both ends, as well they should given the wired design. Music audio quality is also good, for the most part. The SE102s provide a nice thump on the low-end, but only if you can get a really good seal with the ear. In fact, we noticed some distortion on one bass-heavy track, so they may be a bit too heavy at times. Also, some fast electronic and alternative can have a tendency to come across slightly brittle and harsh, but some may find the extra crispness at the high-end appealing. In general, though, audio has a nice, balanced response across all genres. Music sounds clear and solid overall, though not as stunning as with higher-end Shure SE models. Still, the SE102 earphones are on par with other $100 sets.