Shure SE846 Review - What are the SE846?
I couldn't be more excited to do this review of the Shure SE846. Those of you who have followed the development of the site for the past few years will know that I have a major love of Shure earphones.
The company's E2C model was my first real step to a love of better in ear headphones. Then, many years later during my time Vjing in Japan, I used Shure's SRH440 as my workhorse for monitoring in the clubs. Still to this day I use the Shure SE215 (and previously the 210) as my go to earphones for the gym.
Where I wasn't completely enamoured with the Shure headphone brand though was with the higher end 5xx series. By the time I got deep enough into this murky headphone world it had seemed, that at the top end, the competition offered more, they had caught up, and ultimately I went for Phonak's incredible PFE232 and Earsonics SM2.
I liked the 5xx series, there was little to complain about but it just didn't quite hit the spot for me personally, the didn't stand out. Nowadays, given my lifestyle, work and so on I do most of my listening through custom monitors such as my Minerva Mi.Artist or UM Miracles but I was recently given a shot of the Shure SE846 for an extended loan and holy (expletive) this is one of the most incredible sounding in ear headphones you can buy.
Updated 22 March 2017: This article was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated. Long term impressions of the Shure SE846 are also available beneath the conclusion.
Update November 2018: Well another year has passed since writing the Shure SE846 review and a lot of people have been asking if they are still relevant today given the numerous companies competing for your attention at this price point. The simple answer is yes they are still one of the best in ear headphones on the market today and that is testament to how far ahead of the competition the 846 were when released. I still use them weekly and I have access to some of the best headphones in the world, I think that says a lot.
With regards to how the have held up over the 3+ years of ownership I have to say that the earpieces are damn near immaculate. I have to change out the cable out twice (A simple and inexpensive task) after getting it stuck in a car door as well as general wear and tear on another but other than that and buying new tips every now and again they have been completely hassle free and a joy to use.
Shure SE846 Review - Accessories - (10/10)
The accessories that come with the Shure SE846 box are plentiful and I think the sheer quantity can only be matched by what DUNU threw into their flagship DN2000. All of the included items are of incredible quality, these aren't just thrown in as an after thought, they are practical and will extend the life of your headphones. So whats in the box? best to list them...
-1 Replacement cable
-2 Cases / 1 small semi soft & 1 Pelican style hardcase
-1 Shure branded cleaning cloth
-2 Jacks - 1 Airplane & 1 1/4 inch converter
-1 Shirt clip
-A load of eartips in ever shape and material you can imagine
-1 Inline volume control unit
-1 nozzle removal tool for cleaning
That is pretty much everything you will ever need with a new set of headphones and I love the fact that Shure have gone ahead and thrown it all in the package instead of making you pay for it through the nose for it at a latter date.
Since this review was originally written I have had a lot of earphones to compare too and really only Dunu even come remotely close to Shure in terms of offering such a complete package.
Shure SE846 Review - This technology is incredible
The technology inside the Shure SE846 stems from Shure having a one of the biggest research and development budgets on the market. Unlike companies like Beats who throw their money at marketing budget, Shure actually develops their headphones and tends to let their products speak for themselves.
Its little wonder that the company is one of the most used for microphones and monitors from actual performing and studio artists who demand the best from their audio gear. That said what Shure have done with the SE846 is taken everything the know and thrown the kitchen sink at making the best in ear monitor they possibly can. Here is a very brief break down on how they attempted to achieve such lofty feats.
Well in a word, Bass. The focus on the development of the Shure SE846 seems to have revolved about the low end and how it effects the presentation of other frequencies. This is a common problem and on that is present on most in ear headphones due to limitations in physical size and traditional driver designs. Most companies will tend to go for a choice of Dynamic Driver or Balanced Armature when it comes to providing the engine for the sound reproduction but each has their own fallacies.
Usually a Dynamic can be tune either to the top or low end or even in the middle but rarely is it able to fully cover the full spectrum accurately, its almost a case of trying to do too much at the one time. Balanced Armature earphones are incredibly sensitive, they produce wonderfully detailed and accurate mids and highs but are often found to be lacking in the impact of the bass. Shure do something different, they use 4 of their own in house developed balanced armature drivers in the SE846.
Using independent drivers allowed the team, led by product manager Sean Sullivan, to deliver each frequency via its own driver in order to create a clear and clean sound. Its something that other companies also do (especially in the multi driver custom market) but I haven't heard anything yet from a universal earphone that implements it so well.
This it has be mentioned can be attributed to the above crossover design working in tandem with the variable low pass filters with the earphones that allow one to fine tune the sound to their preference. Adjustable filters are a big deal, it is one of the things that made Phonaks earphones such a versatile piece of kit. Shure uses it though to present the bass in a way that I haven't quite heard before in an in ear and there are times that I could swear I was listening on my full size Final Audio Pandora Hope VI.
Its all very impressive from a technical point but even more so when you look at it from a physical standpoint. Just take a look inside and you can see that there is barely any unused space inside the housings... not to mention that it makes them look cool as all get out.
Shure SE846 Review - Design and Build
Well, they are Shure earphones so I would bet my ass that these earphones will keep working long after other sets have spluttered coughed and ultimately crapped out on me. Think of modern Shure earphones as the gold standard when it comes to robust design to me they are the to stage monitors what the Technics 1210's were to turntables the just keep going and going..... and when a cable goes (as this is usually the first thing that goes on any headphone) you just pop it off and stick in the spare.
As mentioned above I use the Shure SE215 for the gym and have done so for the past 2+ years without ever an issue and the SE846 seem like Shure have take that sort of design and stuck it on steroids. There is not a creak or flimsy feeling piece anywhere on the earphone.
The cable is simply amazing it feels robust with well made strain reliefs and custom jack points. The colour is on point and it matches the clear earpieces well. It should be noted that the reason the cable is so awesome is that the around half a decade or more ago the company took some flack for having cracking issues on its cables (my own se310 died from this issue), boy have they redeemed themselves with this one. The cable goes over the ear so there are no micro phonics when listening on the go and its people will also be glad to hear its next to impossible to tangle them up to a spaghetti junction of criss crossed cabling due to the slight spring.
Now as for the earpieces themselves, these are seriously cool looking earphones. Clearly the designers have chosen to stick with the similar designs from the se215, se315, se420 etc but the SE846 feel even more refined and somehow even more solid than their predecessors.
What makes these earphones so good looking is the same reason I take all my custom monitors in clear or transparent housings, that you can see the internal workings of the device. It gives you a lot to look at, and I love how Shure have numbered each balanced armature 1-4 as well as etching the frequency response that each driver covers.
Its a function first design second that works incredibly well because at the end of the day the focus on the SE846 is the sound and to get that sound they created that engine. Think of the casing like the engines on high end hyper cars, they are the heartbeat of the system and are visible from the outside thus becoming an integral part of the aesthetic. Perhaps engineering is sexy.... kind of.
Shure SE846 Review - Sound Quality
Of course the most important part of any audio gear is of course the sound and from the very first moment I put the SE846 in my ears I have barley been able to keep this stupid grin of my face. These are without a doubt the rolls royce of in ear universal earphones so much so that they even manage to compete with full size orthodynamic headphones I have heard.
Its one of the first earphones that I have listened to that didn't feel like I was just listening to.... well earphones. Most prominent is the monumental soundstage and grand spacing between different instruments that results in a fully out of head aural experience. On some binaural recordings it was simply jaw dropping, cymbals, snares and kick drums would crash in the back, the vocals rise up in the front. There were strings to the left, trumpets to the right, its just such a fun experience to behold.
Every frequency remains damm near perfect in its own right and there is nary a hint of overlap bleed between them. Mids were presented with intimate detail and with ideal warmth that draws you in and engages you with your music. Male and female vocals were simply put the best I have heard from an earphone in the universal category.
Diana Krall, a favourite of mine, was both intimate and powerful depending on the song and there was never a hint of upper mid sibilance. Male vocals especially from acoustic and country came across even better with the sense that the artist was performing right in front of you. The most outstanding track that I listened to was Ludovico Einaudi - High Heels. I got lost when it came on and i ended up playing in on repeat for roughly half an hour. The intimacy of the performance blows you away and the Shure SE846's black background presentation allows notes to float through the sound space uninterrupted whilst the detail retrieval allows you to pick up the action of dampening pedals.
More was to come the second on my second day of testing out the Shure's and that was with upping the tempo a bit to test out the bass. A combination of Rap, Psytrance, EBM (ElectroBodyMusic) and Chillstep was on tap to make me fall further for these pricey earphones.
Infected Mushroom's - Vicious Delicious album was on deck to provide the first full album experience with the SE846, an album I favour for testing due to its wide variety of genres within single tracks, there's elements of vocals, rock, rap, trance. It took about 30 seconds into the track Artillery to know that there was now nothing the SE846 couldn't handle. The complex range of the song with high pitched vocals leading into crunching electric guitars layered over the top of deep bass drops which would vibrate your eardrum as if you managed to shove a 12 inch sub in you ear never ever tripped itself up by becoming muffled or congested.
Detail in the low end was incredible at displaying different textures for double bass to clean electronic induced slams but ultimately its the impact and depth of extension that is going to leave you with a smile as wide as The Joker.
In case you want to see graphs and measurements of the Shure SE846 check out Goldenears.
Whats Not To Like about the SE846?
You can probably tell by now that there is very little I don't like. Out of the literally hundreds of universal earphones I have listened to the Shure SE846 are one of the best in ear headphones I have used to date. They are incredibly well researched, tested and constructed.
Shure's after Care service for me has always been one of the best. The sound is second to none, and I really mean that, apart from maybe Final Audio's FI-BA-SS there is nothing that even comes close in my mind. But.....and its a big 'ol but. The price. RRP has come down in the past year but make no mistake these are still a very expensive set of earphones.
Obviously this will be a barrier of entry to some but when you look at the SE846 against the prices of some high end custom in ear monitors and other luxury goods its not actually that bad. I don't think twice about dropping $1000 on a Camera, TV, Bike and to get the performance I want and I spend infinitely more time listening to music than playing with those toys so why not go all out on the audio. Simply put If you have the money grab a set and grab them asap, you know you will eventually work your way up to buying them eventually after much deliberation and procrastination.
Shure SE846 Review - The Final Word
Sadly my time with the SE846 earphones is up and whilst I sit writing the final part of this review they sit beside me in their pelican case waiting to be collected by their owner who has no doubt been missing them.
The question now is whether or not I invest in them myself? The answer? I'm not quite sure. I certainly want them, the issue is when would I get to use them enough to warrant the purchase, at home I use my Kingsound or Stax Electrostatic Headphones, In office the FAD Pandora and everything in between is commuting or gym where a custom excels at isolation (though I take the Shure over my UM miracles for sound).
If I had none of the above I would be on them in seconds. Then that brings me to another point on why I do want them and that is to use them as my reference set to compare all other Universals to in future reviews as well as a set that I can take along to meet ups and industry events (Such as High End in Munich next week) and let other enthusiasts demo my setup. Either way, if you are looking for a set of universal earphones that are, in my opinion, the best on the market today, then look no further, the Shure SE846 are the current end game set.
Update 1 - 07/04/2016: Well what do you know its been 5 or so months since I wrote the review of the SE846 and surprise surprise I now own a pair. I managed to pick a set up a few months ago and now feel able to put pen to paper on what makes them one of the best in-ear headphones on the market right now.
The sound is such that they make most of my other earphones sound rather inadequate I am enjoying them particularly for rock and other high paced and detailed music but have noticed that with a bit of brain burn the are near perfect for modern electronic music.
Build wise they still look brand new, seriously you could put them back in the box and I wouldn't know they have been used on a near daily basis. Are they still the best in ear headphones? Yes and no. They are one of the best earphones for sure but I would also put the Campfire Audio Lyra on a par with them (although they are very different - Campfire Audio Lyra Review) and of course I am still a big fan on customs. One thing is for certain and that is that the SE846 remain a current TOTL endgame IEM.
Update 2 - 22/02/2017
It has been a couple of years now since I originally published this article and thought it was time for another update on how my Shure SE846 have been performing. I still own and use them regularly and they remain a foundation of my rotation of in ear headphones. A lot of competitors have hit the market since and yet the SE846 remain one of the best perfoming IEM's on the market.
I have replaced 1 cable and the second continues to go strong. They housing as mentioned from the previous update remains in tip-top shape and my long term view is that the SE846 will require very little babying.