|Shure brought its latest and greatest audio gear to Las Vegas this week for CES, including the high-end SE846 earphones that arrived in 2013. Wading through a myriad of new audio products at the expo, we weren't expecting to find anything that would really knock our socks off. Trying to remain optimistic, we made sure to try on the SE846 and hear if it is worth its $1000 price tag.
We already had respect for Shure products, which tend to be well-engineered and optimized for acoustic quality rather than "lifestyle" aesthetics, so we expected the SE846 to be good. But as audio equipment goes, we expected them to be marginally better than some of the best offerings in the $300-500 range.
Like many other high-end earphones, the SE846 integrates multiple drivers. Shure claims it has created the only "true subwoofer" for an in-canal bud, layering tiny laser-welded panels to create a four-inch acoustic pathway for a low-end rolloff that begins around 75Hz.
The terms "acoustic pathway" are commonly used to reference gimmicks rather than true innovations, and marketing that focuses on bass typically means the buyer can expect artificially elevated low-end response that bumps-with more distortion. When we played a few Joss Stone tracks, we immediately realized that our eye-rolling was inappropriate. Moving on to bass-heavy Crystal Method, we really knew that Shure had delivered. The bass quality was unlike anything we've experienced from an in-canal earphone, reminding us of a well-tuned, well-placed subwoofer in a home-theater system.
We only tried the neutral filters, but the SE846 can be outfitted with swappable "cool" or "warm" filters to customize the response curve. The company also provides a wide range of eartips, including rubber flanges and memory foam, enabling a comfortable fit for a wide range of ear canals. Some earphone audiophiles uphold custom-molded fitment as the best of the best, but we prefer the black rounded-foam tips for the best isolation.
Obviously a $1000 pair of earphones is not for everyone, but it is one of the rare products that has made us question our own perception of "how much is too much?" Hopefully the acoustic-chamber technology featured in the SE846 will make its way down the product line. We might have to wait a while, however; a Shure engineer told us the complexity of the laser-welding process, performed by one uniquely-skilled tradesman, still remains expensive.