If you read my recent Sound Advice editorial, you’ll know that wearing earphones and listening to music while you’re cycling is, quite simply, insane. However, I wouldn’t dream of setting foot in the gym without music to motivate me, and I don’t want to compromise on sound quality while I’m pounding the treadmill or spinning those pedals. So, while the Radiopaq dots that Sandra looked at recently represent an unashamedly budget option, I’m jumping to the other end of the spectrum with the Shure SE535 noise isolating earphones.
The Shure SE535s have a lot to live up to, since the SE530 earphones are legendary among audio aficionados. The triple driver design of the SE530s gave them a level of sound quality that was unparalleled, so it’s good to see that the changes that Shure has made in the SE535s are subtle, but nonetheless welcome.
Like the SE530s before them, the Shure SE535 earphones use a triple driver configuration. Inside each earphone are three MicroDrivers – there’s one tweeter which looks after high frequencies, while lower frequencies are routed to the twin woofers. Obviously there’s a crossover also built into each earphone to ensure that everything is routed correctly and that the sound remains cohesive.
Now, the Shure SE530s are the earphones that I carry with me at all times because they are simply the best in-ear sound solution available. In fact the SE530s sound so good, that I wasn’t convinced that Shure would be able to improve on its established halo product. But as I’ve already mentioned, the improvements that the SE535s bring to the table are subtle, and don’t all hinge on sound quality anyway.
Putting sound quality to one side, the most obvious and most welcome improvement that the SE535s bring is the cable management. I needed to have my SE530s replaced after several years of use because the cables frayed and split a few centimetres out from the earphones themselves. I mentioned to Shure at the time that it seemed odd to have to replace such an expensive pair of earphones, simply because the cables had worn out.
It’s therefore good to see that Shure has listened to the feedback of customers like me and not just addressed this problem, but completely resolved it. Shure has made the cables removable on the SE535s, so now, if your cable wears out, you can simple buy a new one, without having to worry about replacing the earphones themselves.
As well as being removable, the cables and earphones implement a 360 degree swivel functionality when they’re connected, which makes it incredibly easy to angle and route the cable around your ear. The fact that the cables can swivel while connected to the SE535s also means that there’s less tugging on the earphone itself, even if you’re being quite active.
Shure has also changed the shape of the earphone casing, while also increasing its size slightly. I was initially worried about the larger casing when I first tried preproduction versions of the SE535s while at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year. However, surprisingly, the SE535s actually fit in my ears even better than the SE530s, while the slightly large casing size means that even more ambient noise is blocked out.
The new cable system also makes the SE535s far more suited to running and gym work. I’ve used the SE535s while pounding around my local park and on a treadmill in my gym and not once did they fall out of my ears. In fact, these earphones managed to stay completely planted no matter what I was doing, and even when I snagged the cable a couple of times, the earphones stayed intact, with the cable just swivelling over the top of my ear.
There’s also almost no hint of cable slap while you’re running, as long as you run the cable inside your shirt. The cable itself is also very long – 162cm to be precise – so you also need to stow any excess cable inside a pocket or waistband. Of course how much excess cable you’re left with will depend entirely on how tall you are.
Another big plus point when you’re exercising, is that the SE535s seal in your ear canals very convincingly, especially if you use the foam tips. This means that even if you start dripping with sweat, it shouldn’t end up running into your ears and pooling around the earphones – never a pleasant situation!
How do they sound?
In a word, amazing!
It’s hard to believe that Shure has managed to improve on the sound quality offered by the SE530s, but that’s exactly what it has done. That said, the improvement is a very subtle one, so anyone who already has a pair of SE530s shouldn’t expect to be blown away by comparison. But as someone who has listened to a pair of SE530s most days for well over two years, the improvement is definitely there and it’s welcome.
The discernible difference comes in the shape of high-end clarity, which isn’t an area where I ever thought the SE530s underperformed. However, the SE535s somehow manage to bring out the most delicate effects and tones, no matter what else is going on. And if you turn to anything acoustic or even acapella, you’ll be stunned by the level of detail that the SE535s reproduce, perhaps even bringing to the surface sounds that you’d never noticed were there, even in familiar music.
But none of that astounding clarity comes at the expense of the low frequency effects, with the SE535s pushing out easily as much bass as their predecessors. Of course no set of earphones with twin woofers built into them should ever have a problem injecting bass into your head, but as always with Shure, it’s the way in which everything remains totally cohesive that impresses. You’re never left thinking that the high and low frequencies are separated, it all just comes together to create a truly beautiful sound.
The thing that you need to remember about high-end earphones like the SE535s, is that if you listen to poorly encoded digital music, it will highlight that poor quality. To get the best out of earphones like these, you really need to be encoding your music at the highest possible bit rate, and if you have enough space on your player, a lossless codec would be the ideal.
What’s in the box?
The most important part of the equation is obviously the pair of SE535 earphones, and they look great, far better than the outgoing SE530s. The new design has an almost industrial look about it that makes you think professional monitor rather than consumer earphones. The pro monitor image is compounded by the fact that you can get the SE535s in the bronze colour that I have in front of me, but also in a clear finish that shows the internal electronics to all and sundry.
As well as the earphones and their 162cm detachable cable, you get a few other goodies. There’s a zip up carry case, which is robust enough to protect your precious earphones. You also get an in-line volume control, a full-size headphone adapter and a two pin adapter for use on an aeroplane.
There’s a generous array of tips provided, to ensure that you’ll get the perfect fit no matter what type of ears you have. There are silicone tips in small, medium and large sizes, as well as Shure’s excellent soft foam sleeves, also in three sizes. You also get a pair of harder yellow foam sleeves and a set of triple flange sleeves, although I’ve never met anyone who finds the latter comfortable.
Lastly, there’s a tool to clean earwax from the earphone ports – I know it doesn’t sound pleasant, but it’s always best to have the right tool for the job. One option that’s sadly not in the box, but will be handy for anyone that uses a smartphone, is a replacement cable with in-line controls and a microphone, thus turning the SE535s into the best sounding hands-free kit on the market.
The Shure SE535s are, in my opinion, the best in-ear listening devices that money can buy. Okay, some may argue that there are custom moulded reference monitors that sound better, but then you’re moving into the realms of professional sound studio equipment. For an out of the box, fits anyone experience, there simply isn’t another set of earphones that can hold a candle to the SE535s.
But it’s the cable management that really sets the SE535s above the SE530s. The fact that the cables are now detachable means that you’re not going to have to replace some very expensive earphones because the wiring wears out. Also, the swivel connector means that it’s far easier to route the cable around your ear, and there’s also far less tugging at the earphone if the cable pulls or gets snagged.
It’s this improved cable management that makes the SE535s far better suited to gym work than the SE530s. In fact I almost never used my SE530s while training, but since receiving the SE535s I’ve used nothing else. And having sound quality this good while you’re negotiating the endless monotony of a treadmill or stationary bike is definitely a huge bonus. Oh, and the superb noise isolation means that you can block out the invariably awful music blaring out of the gym sound system.
Of course this kind of design, technology and sound quality doesn’t come cheap, and many will see the SE535’s SRP of £469 as astronomical. However, I can’t stress enough just how impressive these units are, and if you’re serious about your personal audio, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth.
You really have to look at your digital music collection to decide whether the SE535s would be a sound (sorry) investment. If most of your music is encoded at, say, 128 or 192kbps MP3, then there’s very little point in investing in earphones such as these. But if you’ve encoded all your music at 320kbps mp3, or better still, in FLAC or another lossless codec, then you’re probably the kind of person who would see a set of earphones like this as the perfect companion.
- Class leading sound quality
- Triple driver setup
- Low frequencies expertly handled
- Superb high-end clarity
- Detachable cable
- Swivel cable connector for easy cable routing
- Very effecting noise isolation
- Extremely comfortable
- Plethora of bundled tips to ensure a perfect fit
- Zip up carry pouch
- Aeroplane and full size headphone adapters
- Inline volume control
- Excellent cable management makes the SE535s a great training partner
- Very expensive