I am thrilled to be writing a review of the Shure SE846-CL Professional Sound Isolating Earphones. If you’ve been following the evolution of the site over the past few years, you probably already know that I have a serious obsession with Shure headphones.
The E2C model is what introduced me to the world of high-quality in-ear headphones. Later, when I was Vjing in Japan, I relied on Shure’s SRH440 as my go-to club monitor. The Shure SE215 (and the 210) are the only earbuds I’ve ever used when working out.
However, the 5xx range of Shure headphones is where I found myself least enthusiastic about the brand. While exploring the murky world of headphones, I eventually settled on the incredible Phonak PFE232 and the Earsonics SM2.
The 5xx series was entertaining and I had few complaints, but it didn’t really do anything special for me. Recently I was given a shot at the Shure SE846 for an extended loan, and holy (expletive) this is one of the most incredible sounding in-ear headphones you can buy, and I usually listen through custom monitors like my Minerva Mi. Artist or UM Miracles due to my lifestyle, work, and other factors.
A lot of people have been wondering if the Shure SE846 are still worth considering after all these years, what with all the other options out there at the same price point. Because they were so far ahead of the competition when they were first debuted, the 846 are still among the best in-ear headphones available today. When you consider that I have access to some of the best headphones in the world, the fact that I still use them on a weekly basis speaks volumes.
After seven years of use, I can confidently claim that the earbuds look and sound as good as new. Other than the occasional need to replace the tips and a cable that got jammed in a car door, using these tools has been a pleasure and a breeze. Changing the cable is a simple and affordable procedure.
1. Review of the SHURE SE846 Accessories
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The Shure SE846 package comes with a ton of extras, and I’ve only seen a more extensive collection of extras with DUNU’s flagship DN2000. Everything that’s provided is of the highest quality and isn’t put in as an afterthought; it’s designed to help you use and care for your headphones for as long as possible. What exactly do you have inside this box? It might be helpful to make a list of them.
- 1 Adapter cable replacement
- 2 Cases, 1 tiny semi-soft and 1 Pelican-style hardcase
- One cloth for cleaning your Shure headphones.
- 1 Airplane jack and 1 1/4-inch adapter jack
- Tee-shirt snipe: -1
- A vast assortment of ear plugs made of any and all imaginable materials
- Adjustable in-line volume controller -1
- 1 Nozzle Cleaning Removal Instrument
That’s pretty much everything you’ll need with a new pair of headphones, and I really appreciate that Shure included it everything in the bundle rather than charging exorbitant prices for it separately.
A lot of other earbuds have come and gone since I first wrote this review, but only Dunu comes close to matching what Shure provides.
Review of the SHURE SE846: Amazing Technology
The innovation included within the Shure SE846 is the result of one of the industry’s largest R&D budgets. Rather than spending more on advertising like Beats, Shure invests in research and development for each new line of headphones.
Artists that perform live or record in a studio regularly utilize products from this brand because they know they will provide the highest quality sound possible on the microphones and monitors they use. Having said that, Shure has taken everything they know and thrown it towards developing the greatest in-ear monitor possible, resulting in the SE846. Here is a quick summary of their efforts to accomplish such great things.
To put it briefly: Bass. The low end and its effect on the Shure SE846’s presentation of higher frequencies appears to have been a primary focus during its development. Due to size and design constraints, this is an issue with the vast majority of in-ear headphones. When it comes to the mechanism behind the sound reproduction, most manufacturers will choose between a Dynamic Driver or a Balanced Armature, although both have their drawbacks.
Typically, a Dynamic can be fine-tuned to emphasize either the high or low frequencies or the medium range, but it is unusual for it to do both well. The mids and highs from a pair of Balanced Armature earphones sound amazingly realistic and precise, although the bass can often feel lacking. To set the SE846 apart, Shure uses four balanced armature drivers that were designed and built entirely within the company’s own offices.
The team, directed by product manager Sean Sullivan, was able to use separate drivers for each frequency, resulting in a crisp, clear sound. Although this is practiced by competing brands (particularly in the multi-driver bespoke sector), I have yet to encounter a universal earphone that successfully employs this technique.
The above-mentioned crossover design, in addition to the earphones’ changeable low pass filters, is responsible for this, as the user can adjust the sound to their liking. One of the many things that made Phonak’s earbuds so adaptable was its interchangeable filters. However, Shure makes excellent use of it to portray bass in a way I haven’t experienced in an in-ear headphone before; at times, I could have sworn I was listening through my full-size Final Audio Pandora Hope VI.
All of it is impressive from a technological sense, but it’s even more so when viewed in the physical world. It’s easy to see that the housings make excellent use of the area they’re given, and they look very sweet doing it.
Review on the Design and Construction of the Shure SE846
The fact that they are Shure earphones makes me certain that they will continue to function long after cheaper models have sputtered, coughed, and given up the ghost. If you’re looking for a reliable pair of headphones, go no further than today’s Shure models. These headphones are the stage monitor equivalent of the legendary Technics 1210 turntables, and they’ll keep on rockin’ for years and years.
I’ve been using the Shure SE215 at the gym for over two years now with no complaints, and the SE846 seems to be an amplified version of that design. Nothing about the earphone rattles or feels cheap.
The cable is top-notch in every way; it is sturdy, has professionally fabricated strain reliefs, and uses bespoke jack plugs. The hue is spot-on, and it looks great with the transparent earpieces. It’s worth noting that the firm caught flak for its cables snapping about a half decade ago or so (my own SE310 died from this issue), but boy, did they redeem themselves with this one. Since the wire is worn over the ear, listeners won’t have to worry about microphonics, and they’ll be relieved to learn that the little spring prevents the cables from getting tangled.
If we focus on the earbuds themselves, we see that they are very stylish. It’s obvious that the designers were inspired by the SE215, SE315, SE420, etc., and that’s why they’ve continued using the same basic shapes for the SE846, yet these headphones manage to seem even more refined and robust.
These headphones look so sleek because, like the custom monitors I use, they have see-through housings that reveal their inner workings. It’s visually interesting, and I appreciate that Shure labeled the frequency range covered by each driver and numbered the balanced armatures (1-4).
Since the SE846’s primary selling point is its sound, the engine was designed with functionality in mind and ends up looking and functioning as though it were intended from the start. The case serves as the system’s beating heart and, like the engines in high-end hypercars, is on full display for all to see. Maybe there’s something alluring about engineering.
OPINION ON THE SOUND QUALITY OF THE SHURE SE846
The sound is the most crucial aspect of any piece of audio equipment, and ever since I put the SE846 in my ears, I have been unable to suppress a goofy grin. In my opinion, these in-ear universal earphones are the pinnacle of in-ear listening devices, easily holding their own against full-size orphodynamic headphones.
It’s one of the only pairs of headphones I’ve tried where I forgot I was listening through headphones. The enormous soundstage and vast separation between instruments is the feature that stands out the most. Some binaural recordings were truly mind-blowing, with crashing cymbals, snares, and kick drums in the rear and soaring vocals in the front. There were string instruments on the left and trumpets on the right, and it was a joy to take in the sight.
There is barely any overlap or bleed between frequencies, and each one is nearly excellent on its own. Mids were delivered with just the right amount of warmth and personal detail to draw you in and keep you interested in the music you’re listening to. The best male and female vocals I’ve heard from a universal earphone were reproduced by these.
My favorite singer, Diana Krall, managed to avoid any sibilance in her upper midrange, sounding both intimate and strong depending on the song. In particular, the male voices in acoustic and country music seemed more like they were being performed in front of you. By far, Ludovico Einaudi’s “High Heels” was my favorite song. I was disoriented when it started playing, and I must have listened to it over and over again for twenty minutes. The Shure SE846’s dark backdrop presentation allows notes to float through the sound space unobstructed, while the mic’s detail recovery enables you to pick up the action of dampening pedals, creating a stunningly intimate performance.
On the second day of my Shure headphone evaluation, I sped things up a little to check out the bass. I was prepared to deepen my attachment to these costly headphones with a playlist that included Rap, Psytrance, EBM (electronic body music), and Chillstep.
One of my favorite albums to use for testing purposes is Infected Mushroom’s Vicious Delicious, as it features aspects of vocals, rock, rap, and trance over a wide range of genres within individual tracks. Not even 30 seconds into Artillery did I realize that there was nothing the SE846 couldn’t handle. The song’s intricate range, which begins with high-pitched vocals and transitions through crunching electric guitars and deep bass drops that would vibrate your eardrum if you managed to cram a 12-inch sub in your ear, never once stumbled due to becoming muffled or clogged.
While the low end’s attention to detail was impressive, showing off everything from double bass to clean, electronically generated slams, it’s the latter’s impact and depth of extension that will leave you grinning like The Joker.
It’s hard to find fault with the SE846.
I think it’s quite clear by now that I don’t have many dislikes. The Shure SE846 are among the greatest in-ear headphones I have used, and I have tried hundreds of different models. They have been meticulously planned, examined, and built.
The support I’ve received from Shure after making a purchase has always been excellent. The sound is second to none, and I really mean that other from maybe Final Audio’s FI-BA-SS there is nothing that even comes close in my mind. However, and this is a huge however,…. What it costs to get this done. Although the price has dropped over the past year, these are still not cheap headphones.
This will be a deterrent for some, but when compared to the cost of high-end custom in-ear monitors or other luxury items, the SE846’s pricing isn’t that awful. Spending a thousand dollars on a camera, television, or bicycle to get the performance I want is no big deal to me, but I listen to music far more often than I do any of those other things. If you can afford them, buy them immediately rather than putting off the purchase until later.
The Last Word on the SHURE SE846
Unfortunately, my time with the SE846 earphones has come to an end, and as I sit here writing the final section of this review, the headphones sit beside me in their pelican bag, waiting to be collected by their owner, who has no doubt missed them.
Now the question is whether or not I should put my own money into them. Do you know what it is? In all honesty, I have my doubts. It’s not that I don’t want them; the question is when I’d use them often enough to justify the price tag. At home, I listen with my Kingsound or Stax Electrostatic Headphones, at work with my FAD Pandora, and in the between, I use my custom headphones for the gym or the commute (though I take the Shure over my UM miracles for sound).
I’d be all over them in a heartbeat if I didn’t have the aforementioned. Another reason I want them is so that I can use them as a benchmark against which I can judge the performance of other Universals in future reviews, and so that I can bring them with me to industry events (like High End in Munich next week) to show off my system to fellow audiophiles. Anyhow, the Shure SE846 are the current gold standard in universal earphones, so there’s no need to search any farther.
One More Update – July 4, 2016: Approximately five months have passed since I published my evaluation of the SE846, and, lo and behold, I now proudly possess a pair of my own. I bought a pair a few months ago and finally feel prepared to put pen to paper to explain why they are among the greatest in-ear headphones available today.
I’m liking them, especially for rock and other fast, detailed music, and have discovered that, with a little brain burn, they’re nearly perfect for today’s electronic music. The sound is such that they make most of my other headphones feel fairly inadequate.
In terms of construction, they appear as good as new; truly, you could repack them in the original box and I wouldn’t notice any difference. Do they still reign as the finest earbuds available? Somewhat, but not entirely. Of course, I am still a huge admirer of custom earphones, but I would rank these alongside the Campfire Audio Lyra (despite their vast differences – Campfire Audio Lyra Review) as two of the greatest earphones available. Without a doubt, the SE846 is still a top-tier IEM in the present state of the game in terms of throughput.