The Shure SE535 earphones are a study in contrasts between frustration and nirvana. Boy, this wide-open gap in opinion is going to need some explaining.
Shure is one of the better known headphone/earphone companies around, so when they announce a new model, it’s news. A few months ago, they introduced the SE535, which replaces the SE530 model. The 530 has long been – and still is – a favorite among Shure fans and has become one of those earphones that others are judged against. Shure could have stopped there and many customers would have been okay with that. But they didn’t. They set out to improve an already iconic model. Did they succeed?
As a triple-armature design with one tweeter and two woofers, The 535s differ from some other triple armature models that are a tweeter/mid/woofer configuration. What Shure’s approach accomplishes is an increase in bass for a warmer, less analytical sound, something armatures can be infamous for.
The bronze colored (also available in clear) 535s arrived with Shure’s smooth, black, proprietary foam tips attached. I had trouble getting a good seal with them, so I opted for the supplied bright yellow “rougher” foam tips (boy, are they ugly). That’s when I ran into the frustration. The original tips felt like they were super-glued on. I twisted and pulled the tips with no luck. I just could not remove them. Since the shell is made of plastic and the sound tubes are on the thin side, I was worried that I might break them. A tech-support person at Shure suggested I put the earphones in a plastic zippered freezer bag and place them in the freezer overnight. I kid you not. So I did. The next morning, the tips twisted off with not much effort. Now, should I really have to do that with a $500 pair of earphones? Once I had the tips replaced though, I was able to get the correct seal with the yellow foam tips.
Even with the use of the yellow tips, the 535s were not as comfortable for me as I had hoped when listening for extended periods. The sound tubes on the shells are pretty long, which can be good and bad. Good, because you can get a killer seal – the only way to get good bass – and bad because well, they go very deep into your ear and while that doesn’t bother me, it can be off-putting for some people. They weren’t uncomfortable, but sometimes I listen to music for 6-8 hours straight and comfort became an issue over those longer listening times.
I really like the fact that the cables snap-on/off, which means that if anything happens to the cables, just replace ‘em. After snapping and unsnapping the connections when I first received the 535s, I couldn’t imagine why everyone wasn’t doing detachable cables. It seems like a no-brainer. The gold-plated cable plug swivels 360° at the connection point which makes for a better fit. This design requires that you wrap the cable over and behind your ear. An added benefit of placing the cable behind the ear is that it cuts down on microphonics, an audibly distracting thumping from tapping or rubbing against the cable.
Befitting earphones in this price range, the 535s come with a slew of accessories. There are many tips available in varying sizes, shapes and materials. Also included is a strong, zippered carrying case, a 1/4” plug adapter, volume control extension, and an airline adapter for travelers. It all comes neatly packed in a black and silver brushed-aluminum box.
The cables come with what Shure calls a Wireform Fit. Basically, the wire that wraps behind the ear has built-in memory, which can make fitting easier. Frankly, I’m not crazy about it. For one, the cable is thick and the wireform makes it even thicker. Plus, I never could get it to shape to my ear completely. It always felt like it wasn’t going to stay in place. I found out that Shure makes a thinner cable (without Wireform Fit) and when asked, they were gracious enough to send it to me. I much prefer this thinner version. It may not be as durable in the long run but I think it’s a big improvement. I just wish Shure included this thinner cable in its packaging.
Since the 535s concentrate on the bass with two woofers, I decided to see what that sounds like. I began with the Jimi Hendrix song (and album title) “Are You Experienced?” Even though this is a 40+ year old recording, it still holds up in the remastered version. Noel Redding’s bass playing is prominent, but not in an overbearing way. The bass just rounds out this psychedelic masterpiece without becoming overbearing.
“Aerial” from Kate Bush’s latest album of the same name couldn’t be a more different recording. Bush’s high register vocals are in complete contrast to a thumping bass line that I can feel as well as hear. However, as powerful as it is, it never distorts. It remains tight and fast. My car speakers can’t handle this song, so it’s good to be able to hear exactly what Kate Bush intended.
Bass guitar, drums and synth are the main instruments in the Simple Minds’ song, “Seeing Out the Angel” from “Sons and Fascination.” The 535s allow the minor chords to accentuate Derek Forbe’s static bass plucking. You can hear his fingers cleanly snap the strings with no muddiness or echo. If you like bass, you should love this song. The 535s exhibit detail that is simply astounding.
Apart from some minor comfort and cable thickness issues, the Shure SE535 earphones are a step up from the 530s with their detachable cables and a warm sound that still keeps its sharp edge without harshness.
So if you can stomach the high price and are looking for an audible step up, the Shure SE535s sound like nirvana and there’s a lot of the fun in trying to find what’s been hiding in your music.