SE215 earphones introduce casual users to studio-quality sound

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The SE215 is an earphone born of the rapidly blurring line between professional and upmarket personal audio gear, clearly destined for the stage by design, but also available at a very accessible price, typically $90-$100, and easily found at popular shopping destinations like Best Buy, Guitar Center, Amazon, and B&H Photo.

Now, to anyone who isn’t really “into” audio gear the way I am, that might seem like a good chunk of change just for a pair of headphones, but this one in particular gives you two enormous benefits that more than justify the price tag, especially in comparison to the recent wave of overpriced, cheaply built, and poor-sounding “fashion” headphones that currently exercise a low-quality stranglehold on the industry.

The first is sound quality. The SE215 offers an enormous jump in sound quality from most popular consumer brands of earphones like Sony, Skullcandy, Coby, Phillips, and those hundreds of no-name OEM brands that most people find themselves throwing $10 or $20 down the drain for when their current pair wears out.

Which brings me to the second, and perhaps most important factor, that justifies the price of these earphones: durability. Most people I know who use earphones spend between $40-$100 every year replacing old, worn-out headphones that have a short, or broken cables, or cracked housing, mostly because that’s what they’ve come to expect as “normal.” They don’t really bother to question why these cheapies that break after 2-6 months of normal use cost them $20 every time the last pair break.

What’s worse is that some people actually keep buying the same brands, even with these durability issues, because they get used to the sound of one earphone and don’t want to risk not liking something new. Well, what if you could have the same great sound for years to come, and potentially never have to buy another pair of headphones or earphones again?

The SE215 features replaceable cables, a common feature on earphones in the $300-$1,000 range, and while the thick, Kevlar-reinforced ones from Shure run about $50 a set, they use a style of coaxial connector that is fast becoming the industry standard, and quality replacements are available for under $30. That means that by shelling out a little extra cash once, you can have a pair of earphones that will really last a long time (I’ve had my pair for 4 years and they’re still going strong, a friend even uses my original cable on his pair), has cables that can be replaced for about the same price as a new pair of cheap earphones, and sounds leaps and bounds better.

Speaking of sound, you’re probably asking yourself at this point, how much better are they really? Well, if you’ve heard headphones from Beats or Bose, you already know how much better sound can get with a rich tonality and a bit of extra bass. If you’re lucky, you’ve heard sets from upmarket and professional-oriented companies like Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic; their pricier sets from $100 and up will really give you a taste of what your money can buy in terms of detail and technicality. The SE215 gives a balance of these two approaches: it sports a sound that is what audiophiles and music industry folks would call “consumer friendly,” meaning it has a good bass punch and the kind of full, lush sound that captivates those who are new to higher-end audio at first listen.

Bass notes are not overwhelming like they can be with Beats or Bose and don’t cover up or prevent you from hearing the rest of the music. But they are still strong and forward and really engaging to listen to.

The SE215 also outdoes every-day headphones by quite a bit in terms of accuracy and realism, portraying a musical soundscape that is much more detailed than most consumer-oriented headphones. This allows you to experience the depth and nuance of music that is simply lost in translation with most headphones.

It’s midrange, the portion of music containing vocals and most musical instruments, is full, forward, and detailed, meaning that individual plucks on guitar strings are easily audible, even in fast-paced music, instead of being mushed together as they can sometimes sound on cheaper gear.

If you've tried listening to your iPod on one of these, with the standard iPod earphones, then you know how inadequate those 'phones are. (Photo by Tim Forkes)
If you’ve tried listening to your iPod on one of these, with the standard iPod earphones, then you know how inadequate those ‘phones are.
(Photo by Tim Forkes)

You can also really hear the resonance and intimate vibrations of vocals coming in over background music; if you’re new to good headphones, it will feel almost like the musician is right there with you in the room.

The benefits don’t stop there, though. Ever tried riding public transit with a pair of cheap headphones? If you have, you know that you get more road and engine noise than music. Not with the SE215: with their silicon tips and ear-filling design, they block about as much noise as professional grade earplugs, offering over 30dB of noise attenuation.

They also come standard with memory wire and a huge selection of silicon and foam ear tips to ensure that just about anyone can get a good fit; I will advise that they are a bit on the larger side, as far as earphones go, but they should fit most people comfortably.

If you’re uncertain about how large your ears are, Amazon and Best Buy both have excellent and flexible return policies. They tend to fit most users very snugly, and in combination with the over-ear wear style and memory wire, this makes them a great companion at the gym, too.

If you are a rabid smartphone user (like me), you might also consider the extra $50 for their iPhone or smartphone compatible mic cables.

All in all, for around $100, the SE215 is one of the best deals in entry-level audio — period. While it has the detail and clarity to be used as an on-stage monitor for musicians on a budget, it is also a first-class personal earphone that competes with more expensive products in both sound and durability.

Its a bit of an investment for those who aren’t used to spending extra on headphones, but many people will be shocked at how sturdy and well-crafted they are compared to typical earphones, and subsequently thrilled with how long they last, and how much money and hassle they save over time, not to mention the great sound.