One of the more exciting portable products at the show was of course the £2199 ($2999) Shure KSE1500, which is nothing short of a technological marvel. The fact this was developed is pretty astounding and I cannot commend Shure enough for making an electrostatic IEM in the form that we know IEM’s to be most ergonomic and usable, not like the Stax that were open and had a headband type contraption on them. These are made for daily tasks and transport, the Stax were not!
Shure refer to the product as an Electrostatic Earphone System as it consists of the earphone itself as well as a USB DAC/electrostatic energiser, capable of 24 bit/ 96 kHz conversion rate over the USB input. There is 5 stock EQ’s to choose from as well as 4 user defined sound sig’s. The DAC/Amp itself is well finished and I think the form factor is really good, especially with the integrated volume knob. The earphones themselves are clearly a Shure product, their oh-so successful and very comfortable design remains which I am very pleased about! The clear plastic shell does look a little ‘less premium’ than I would have liked for a product of this cost (although underneath this shell it is black aluminium), the RHA T20i are an example of a lower cost product that offers a greater level of quality in the housing. Campfire Audio are also doing great things with earphone housings right now. Worth noting is that the cables are not removable, but that is not out of theme for this type of product.
Before I give a few words about how these sounded, it’s worth mentioning that Shure had a really nicely arranged stand with the earphones on one side and the headphones hanging on the wall of the other side. They had set out a decent seating area too, for discussions as well as more comfortable listening positions. My favourite non-audio addition to their booth was the fridge full of Shure branded cold coffees which kept us going on more than one occasion during the show! It certainly gave us a reason to go and have one more listen at their stand.
They guy we got chatting to said these were a reference sounding earphone when in reality what I think he was getting at is that they weren’t as bass heavy as the SE846! They are still a warm earphone as far as we are concerned but it’s not quite the same balanced armature warmth we are used to these days. In truth these are able to offer some of the positives of electrostats without the thin, brittle nature occasionally associated with the technology. While they are warm, they are detailed, very coherent, refined and able to be very delicate when needed. It was clear from their sound they weren’t just another hybrid or multi driver earphone. In the short listen I got they sounded pretty good indeed, something I would love to get my hands on for a full test because while they sounded alright in show conditions, it would be great to see what they are really capable of, and if they can even start justifying that HUGE price tag!
Once again big congratulations to Shure for making this product a reality! They said how they don’t see how this one will ever make them money after so much development but I hugely respect them for making it happen!