The In-Ear Headphone Face-Off Page 2


Shure SE210

Overall Rank : 6th

John Sciacca Ranking: 4

The SE210's "install" in your ear differently than others in the group, designed for the cord to loop over your ears. Once you get used to this and set the phones properly, they block out a tremendous amount of outside noise, allowing you to listen at lower volumes. They also fit very tightly into my ears, making them slightly less comfortable for extended sessions, but I never worried about them slipping out, which was a fair trade-off for me.

These phones sounded laid back, not really providing any real aural excitement. While the sound was smooth, even and balanced, there was no real life to the music. Without a lot of depth at the low end or detail at the highs, sounds just felt kind of flat an "eh." They also produced more "in the head" sound compared to the other models that delivered a wider soundstage. For their superior noise isolation and tighter fit, I ranked them better than the Denon's even though I thought the Denon's sounded better. Ultimately they just didn't deliver the detail and sonic enjoyment as the other phones in the group.

Brent Butterworth Ranking: 6

The SE20's design shows that Shure's not content to follow the path most traveled. The SE210 can be inserted so the cable hangs down as it does with other earphones, or so that the cable extends upward and hooks over your ear. I tried both positions, but the latter drove me crazy. I'm not hip to what these crazy kids are doing nowadays, but does anyone really wear earphones like that? Either way, the SE210 stuck uncomfortably out of my ears, and I couldn't get it to seat so that it felt secure in my ears.

I found it extremely difficult to remove the earpieces, and almost as difficult to put new ones on. It's so hard, I worried that I might break the little plastic tube onto which the earpieces fit.

The SE210 exhibited extreme frequency response errors. Vocalists literally sounded as if they were singing through megaphones. The sound was thin and bassless. The deep bass notes that begin James "Blood" Ulmer's rendition of "Dimples" made the SE210 distort badly. Although this is a challenging passage, none of the other earphones I tested had a problem with it. I checked to make sure all the plugs were inserted correctly, and that my iPod wasn't set to some weird EQ curve, but everything seemed in order except the sound of the SE210.

I feel the same way about the SE210 as I do about tattoos. I guess they might be cool for some people, but I can't understand why anyone would want them.

Leslie Shapiro Ranking: 5

The SE210's were oddly heavy, and they provided decent isolation that was most affected by earcup material. The soft foam lacked bass, the plastic triple-flanged was very uncomfortable and impossible for me to get to stay in, and therefore, the sound was very thin. Once the rubber inserts were used, the sound was most accurate and natural. However, trying to get these to stay in position was difficult. Only by holding the headphones could I get anything approaching a decent sound quality.

There was a very unnatural sound to male vocals - pulled back and lacking focus. In fact, anything panned to the center of the mix lacked image focus. Overall, the SE210 had a lackluster, muddy sound. The acoustic piano in Five For Fighting's "World" had a resonance that was very unnatural.

Mike Gaughn Ranking: 5

Since I had little trouble getting a good fit with most of these earbud pairs, I concentrated mainly on their sonics. My most brutal torture track was Ray Charles' "It Makes No Difference Now," off the 1995 Steve Hoffman-remastered DCC release of Charles' Greatest Country and Western Hits. This track features extremely realistic and detailed vocals and piano with an equally you-are-there brass-and-winds section that goes triple-forte, with a jolt, about 2/3s of the way into the track. Not quite as grueling, but almost as revealing, were Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Insensatez" (off the Lost Highway soundtrack CD), with its crucial but subtle percussion hits, airy flute tones, upfront cellos, and wide-open soundstage, and Cake's "Frank Sinatra"(off Fashion Nugget), which opens with clacking drum sticks, super-resonant drum hits, and a filtered vocal floating above a meandering organ and clattering junk-yard-metal guitars.

The buds that fell into Slots 2 through 5 fell there pretty tightly, meaning that you could pretty much shuffle that ranking around, depending on how much emphasis you wanted to put on this or that piece of praise or blame. Translation: All four pairs performed similarly well and, while none of them equaled my No. 1 pick, I wouldn't have felt like it was any great hardship to use any of them as my everyday pair. I had no problem getting the Shure's to fit snugly. Sonically, they were a bit hard and trebly on "It Makes No Difference Now," and the bass wasn't as full and present as it should have been. They proved similarly bass-shy on "Insensatez," but didn't sound all that bad on "Frank Sinatra." The opening drum hits didn't sound natural, though-the resonance of the snare-drum wires, for instance, was completely MIA. The bass was decent enough, but it was much more forward here than it was on the Charles and Jobim tracks.