Shure SE846 High-End In-Ear Headphone Synopsis

Shure SE846 headphones

This Synopsis

Shure is one of the biggest names in today’s headphone market, most notably for its acclaimed earphone or in-ear monitor (IEM) line. The company’s SE series ranges from the affordable (but still awesome) SE215 single dynamic earphone to the wallet-busting SE846 quad balanced armature (BA) flagship. This synopsis takes a look at the latter, which mastery has raked up a ton of fanfare over its running. Here is what you can expect from the SE846 if your curious ear gets the best of you.

The Rundown

Shure follows the same formula for all its SE in-ears: plastic (but robust) housing, over-the-ear design, and detachable cable. Starting from the single BA driver SE315, Shure adds another BA driver in each subsequent model, up to the four BA driver system in the SE846.

Shure SE846 headphones
SE846 components

Advantages

  • Functional and sturdy design
  • Cable detaches from earpieces
  • Passive isolation with foam tips is top-notch
  • Shure includes a bunch of different ear tips
  • Sound of the mid-range is magical
  • Subwoofer-like recreation in low-end
  • Physical changeable filters to tweak sound signature

Disadvantages

  • Plastic build doesn’t reflect high-end price
  • Shure’s stock cable leaves to be desired
  • Treble frequency rolls off too early
  • 9 ohm impedance is too sensitive for most players

What it’s like to use

Shure SE846 headphones
SE846 shown with balanced Impact Audio copper cable and Fiio X7 II player
  • Donning them is a process, but you get used to it. The steps:
    • Orient the ear hook so it will go over and around the back of your ear.
    • Squish the foam (if you’re using the foam tips) and immediately insert so that the foam will fill your ear canal appropriately.
    • Tidy the routing of the ear hooks around your ears.
  • The wear is immaculate. The earpieces stay secured in place (even if you pull on the cord) and there’s no microphonics whatsoever – great for working out.
  • That said, Shure’s stock cable needs improvement. The shrink-wrapping feels sub-par and the memory wire on the ear hooks is too thick – so it floats over the ear instead of tidily hugs it.
  • Fortunately, you’re not stuck with the stock cable. There are tons of third-party cables you can switch to. The detachable design also means that if the cable fails, you can replace it instead of tossing the headphones.
  • 9 ohm impedance is not reasonable for a portable headphone. With common players, like a phone or laptop, the SE846 can pick up some of the noise floor (depending how sensitive your ears are). Additionally, you can’t raise the volume much until it’s too loud. This isn’t good, because of the resolution loss at lower volume. You must be picky with your source with the SE846 (which involves a bit of research), or it won’t reach its potential. Low output impedance in the source is key.
  • Filters are not difficult to change, just need patience and a few minutes. Lower end sounds slightly fuller with warmer (black) filters but equally takes away from the treble. Brighter (white) filter are the opposite (a bit hollow-sounding in my opinion).
  • Sound signature of neutral (blue) filter are as follows:
    • Forward mid-range makes for a full, lively, and intimate (especially with vocals) experience. This is as close to replicating a stereo setup in an in-ear headphone as I’ve heard.
    • Mid-bass is stronger than sub-bass, but sub-bass is still delicious.
    • Soundstage is very wide for an earphone, but there’s definitely more width than height.
    • Treble is definitely the SE846‘s weak spot. Quality isn’t the issue, reach is (refer to graph below). Treble begins to drop off between 2-3kHz. This means you may miss upper-end detail and sparkle in higher-pitched instruments.
Shure SE846 headphones
Frequency response of the SE846 with all three filters – courtesy of HeadRoom

The Gallery

Final Thoughts

Current price on Amazon

The Shure SE846 is certainly not for the faint of heart. TBH, I wouldn’t recommend it for the beginner audiophile, unless you have high aspirations (and a healthy budget). Start with a mid-range model, like the SE535, RHA T20i, UE 900S, or Sennheiser IE 80 S and work up to it. Past this point, you should invest in a better source (either external DAC device or high-end audio player) to really get the benefit.

But if you know the ropes, then yes, I’d recommend the SE846 even at its exorbitant price tag. Its full and lively sound is unrivaled and its power sounds like a stereo system attached to your ears. This high-end earphone is for those mobile audiophiles who want fun as much as they do accuracy. If you’re more analytical in your listening or want a less picky high-end earphone, then we’d recommend the Sennheiser IE 800 instead when looking at universal IEMs.

Josh is so enthused about tech that he writes about it. After time at several tech publications, he launched The Synops - concise and quality gadget synopses with information that readers want to know and details they want to see. You can also follow him at on Twitter (@joshnor713) and Google+ (+JoshNoriega). Email any inquiries to josh@thesynops.com.

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