Gadget Review: Shure SE110 Headphones

Much to my surprise, last week I won a brand new pair of Shure in-ear headphones from This is a new gadget/all-things electronic site that does the blog thing, but also adds a lot of comparison charts and reviews to the mix. It’s more robust than most blogs, but still starting out. I guess to add to the buzz they started some giveaways and my entry for the Shures won out.

They wanted people to write in what they would listen to with the headphones. Here’s my winning response.

Well since I didn't win a new iPod nano....I'll be using these with my 30GB Brown Brick Zune which is slowly fading on me but is still a decent gadget. I actually own Shure's previous generation in-ear headphones and think they're pretty good, but not excellent. These look like they'd be more comfortable because they don't have the over the ear design which is a pain for those who wear glasses like me. The sound quality on the old pair is fantastic though. They're very close to knocking out as much outside noise as sound isolating phones but not completely. Still, they're a lot easier to pack for a flight than a big bulky hardcase like the Bose sets I've tried. BTW on the MP3 vs WAv etc, if you encode MP3s at 320kbs there is very little chance you will notice a difference between CDs, no matter what phones you're rocking.

Well, I figured I’d write a little review of these new phones. Check it out below.

My overall impression is they are slightly better than the last generation with a sound like you would expect from studio monitor speakers. The SE110s are definitely easier to get in your ear too. You still have to pull up on your ear to get the proper suction-like fit, similar to earplugs at a concert. This is what keeps outside noises out, unlike artificially created quiet from noise-cancelling phones.

And indeed, the SE110s don’t need to be wrapped around your ear. I had them hanging down this morning under my wool cap while riding the train. I detail the sound of the two pairs, old and new, below on specific tunes.

The set comes with a number of options for the tips that go in the ear, from a squishable, earplug-like foam that creeped me out and got a little gunky, to all kinds of sizes of squishy rubber I preferred.

My only gripe with the set is that you can hear when the cords are moving. It’s an echo-like noise that will annoy runners for sure. On my brief walk this a.m. they weren’t so bad.

I prefer sound-canceling phones because they don’t put the stress on my ears like these do, but for public transit and other times when over the ear phones can’t do, these are excellent. I don’t understand how so many people on my train are wearing the standard iPod phones they get with their players. Especially on a noisy train. I was rocking out without having to turn up the volume. These other folks will be deaf.

Listening notes

Nine Inch Nails, The Collector

  • Old Shures: Good vocal separation, good guitar sounds, mediocre instrument separation.

  • New Shures: Almost exactly the same sound as the old ones early on. But separate instruments sound more distinct, especially guitars.

Ted Leo, Colleen

  • New: Vocals are nice and vibrant yet on equal footing with instruments. There are guitars I’ve never heard before on the song. Not a lot of warmth though. And it doesn’t sound like a garage rock track either, too sterile. Lead guitar sounds much more prominent.

  • Old: listened to this pair second. It does sound a bit more flat. The vocals are definitely not as in front as with the new pair. The guitars stereo effect is more present here. But when the chorus comes in it isn’t as dynamic nor as loud. (volume setting the same). The lead guitar does not sound nearly as interesting.

Faith No More, Collision

  • Old: Good mix for something heavier. Drums sound really muddy though. Vocals definitely not in front. It is a pretty dynamic song, yet it doesn’t sound like it here.

  • New: Definitely not loud enough. I wanted to pump up the volume right away. I had the setting low enough that it wouldn’t overwhelm my ears over a long period of listening. Vocals still don’t sound great. Maybe it’s the production. Drums do sound better though.

Comatose, Pearl Jam

  • New: Well I had to listen to a Pearl Jam track. The studio track has a lot of guitars going on, and the appropriate ones play in the correct ear. Not as much separation as I’d like early on, but then the two guitars really become distinct after the first verse. This is not a vocal star for Vedder, so his gritty pipes are a bit lost amid the guitars, but that’s ok. Drums are almost non-existent though. Could be the production. Guitars really sound good.

  • Old: Listened second again. Sounds louder. The guitars do not sound as good. More of a mix rather than separation. It’s really a subjective thing. The vocals are much more present than the newer set.

The Shins, A Comet Appears

  • Old: Sounds nice and lovely but there isn’t much vibrancy to the music. At this stage I’d say the difference isn’t that the old pair is muddy or anything, but that it doesn’t act as a monitor-like headset like the new pair.

  • New: If the song sounded quiet on the old phones, it’s really low here. I’d guess you need a full notch up on the volume meter to get the same level of sound. I was on level 6 out of 20 on the Zune. But the instruments just sound so much better on the new phones on this track, while on the others you couldn’t tell as much. The sound is clearer for sure.

Songs that also stood out with new phones:
Consoler of the Lonely, The Raconteurs
A Corner, John Frusciante
Couch T-Bone, Brad