Last year, BASS! came to mind as I bopped away to New Order and John Denver at Shure’s Japan HQ. I changed the filters once or twice, but to be honest, didn’t listen carefully after that. The first impression of BASS! never left – and with little time to explore, I was after sussing the most immediate impressions.
When the loaner came in from Shure Japan, I followed a now-familiar routine: unpack, fire a few review shots, then pop on the Shure olives. The first pair I bought in 2006 still works. I trust the olives. But, for narrow ear canals, the olives can mush sound into a darker, thicker shape. What once went boom rittle, boom rittle, goes BOOM riddle BOOM riddle. Some midrange detail is lost.
I’ve had a few Headfi folk tell me that olives don’t affect the sound. I assume that they have ample space in their canals.
The olives also block sound like mad. I find they rub my ears wrong. That’s just my thing. So while the yellow foams don’t last as long, they fit me, my listening preferences, and this review, better. So, from here on out, all impressions will be written from the vantage of ears plugged with Shure’s excellent, if short-lived yellow foams.
One thing to state from the first is that the SE846 isn’t a detail monster in the way that detail monsters often are perceived. It doesn’t turn high-voiced singers or cymbals into scratchy, itchy messes. Rather, it keeps great energy and space whilst not skewing the range. Two years ago, FitEar debuted the ToGo!334 which sported a titanium high-frequency sound tube. Today, metal is used only in the sound tubes of certain high-end earphones. Because of advantages in sound, and build quality, tomorrow it may become ubiquitous. The SE846’s sound tube is metal. I believe that it helps the earphone uphold great detail in the upper midrange and highs.
The SE846 bites most in the electric guitar range, and renders live performances with a good chaos that fits the atmosphere, but obviates the worst feedback and venue effects. Upper midrange detail retrieval is ahead of FitEar’s ToGo!334, and while it provides a different timbre, is similar to the more appropriately voiced Parterre. Where it excels past Parterre is in spatial positioning. The SE846 places instruments perfectly. Never do hi-end details bleed together, and always they are presented wide.
In some ways, what suffers most is midrange elements that are just shy of vocals and just outside the range of of the bass. By no means recessed, midrange elements lack the same liquidy sound of the Jerry Harvey Audio Roxanne. To be honest, I think Shure’s presentation is better suited to a wide range of music. Hard midrange elements remain hard. The high-end is detailed and spacious, but not overly energetic.
But the real talk on the town is the SE846’s bass. And it is incredible. At first I thought it was excessive. Again, that was with the olive tips hammered into my tight ear canals and a mere twenty minutes’ listening to spare. With the yellow foams fitted, that simply wasn’t the case. Instead, detailed, deep base lines push at high sound pressures, but never bloom or explode out of their bounds. The SE846 really kicks out low detail and nothing but. It is incredible. While sound pressure below 50Hz is nominal at the ear, above that it yawns with power. Like its high range, bass detail is spacious and detailed. Versus the JHA Roxanne, it is slightly more silver-edged- if harder, if you will. Overall sound pressure is similar, but top-edged details stand further out. This detail will appeal to dance fans, to fans of live music, and to fans speed.
But the SE846 offers up something else, and that is an excellent filter system. It is nothing like the easy-to-lose, easily-destroyed filter system of many of its competitors. The SE846’s filter system is as well designed as the earphone itself. The filters fit into the metal sound tube, are colour-coded, and lock into place under an excellent helicoid screw drive. The bad news is that it takes minutes, not seconds, to change filters. Because they are locked into place, removing the filters without first taking off the ear pieces is impossible. And even Shure’s olives are subject to wear and tear. Frequent filter changers will go through ear pieces faster than a Pachinko Parlour fan through vomit-coloured balls.
But the filters offer real, easily-discernible differences. And each alternative filter is skewed, one to treble, and one to less treble. The overall effect is the loss, or gain, of edge. To be honest, I’m a fan of the stock filters, which offer the best balance over the entire frequency. But guilty pleasures exist, and if you are guilty of loving treble-tipped music, or bass-dripping boom boom goodness, Shure have an out for you. And it is designed far, far better than the competition.
It continues on page 3!