Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shure SE420 In Ear Monitors Review

Last year I did a review of headphones. One of those was the Shure SE310. The ante was upped one more with the SE420. The SE310 uses a single balanced armature driver, and they sounded great. But the SE420 uses two balanced armature drivers for a dedicated tweeter and woofer, and integrated crossover. Naturally when I was given the chance to check them out I jumped.

Going back to the May 2008 review, I compared the SE310’s to a pair of Sennheiser earbuds. Referencing back to the review, this is what I had to say about the SE310’s:

“I have used Sennheiser headphones for years due to their reputation of good sounding headphones and I am glad to see the quality has not changed. The $300 Shure’s are on a different level, and takes everything to a higher level. It is kind of like going from a good Dryer’s ice cream, to a shop that serves frozen custard – very smooth! At first I was struggling with the sound of the Shure’s. They sounded amazing, nice soundstage, excellent resolution, very clean sounding, but the sound was also something else that I couldn’t put my tongue on, until it came to me. They were so much smoother.”

So now the question is, how does the SE420’s sound compared to the SE310’s? I am the owner of a dedicated theater room. Not only do I like my movies, as an audiophile I also like good sounding music. For that reason the speakers I use are not just great for movies, but great for music as well. There have also been advances in MP3 player’s storage capacity, and lossless formats. With a large capacity player, you can take your CD’s with you in an uncompressed/lossless format. Now you just need some capable IEM’s.

Enter the ES420’s. The SE420’s did not take anything away from the SE310’s. The 420’s take the performance of the 310’s, and add to it for some phenomenal sound. I pulled out my iPod classic and started my listening. The iPod classic has plenty of space on it, so I can store my CD’s in lossless format. The 420’s made the most of it. I ran through a big chunk of my diverse collection for a bit of a warm-up, starting with some U2, Janet Jackson, acoustical Metallica, eventually getting to some of my favorites- Fresh Aire. It all sounded wonderfully. I heard the kind of sound I am used to hearing with my Fresh Aire….and then some.

But I wanted to focus on some new material. I found my Blue Smith album. Tommy Smith’s El Nino featured fresh sounding jazz, very clean and showed off the dynamics of the dual drivers of the SE420’s. It was very enjoyable. But then I was surprised. I went to the track Rain Dance. It was just a sax accompanied by a little percussion. But I was pleasantly surprised. The sound stage was huge! I loved the imaging. The resolution I heard from the instruments and the room acoustics was astonishing.

I ended up at some Junior Wells, “Why Are People Like That.” WOW! The piano sounded natural, the vocals were right on, and the percussion was clean. The sound stage was nice and big. But what really got me was the dynamics of the harmonica! WOW! I kept hitting repeat, and thinking…..why are people like that?! Junior if you’re reading, I’m a believer.

When I heard the 420’s have dual drivers, I could not help but think to myself if having dual drivers in IEM’s would really make a difference. To that my opinion is yes. If good sound is important to you and you are in the market for some good IEM’s, the Shure 420’s deserve to be on your short list. For more info and complete specs, check out Shure’s website at