Shure SE102 sound-isolating earphones
Shure quality without breaking the bank
So, the big question is: how do they sound? When compared to the iPod earphones, frankly anything sounds good, but we also have a pair of Shure's E4C earphones, which although now superseded, used to retail for around £229 and their astounding quality makes them a good benchmark.
One of the complaints about the E series was the lack of bass, partly due to the use of a single driver. Although the SE102s are also single-driver 'phones, their drivers are considerably larger than the ones in the E4Cs. Shure takes the view that sound reproduction should be as close to the studio as possible and this means not artificially boosting bass as many units do.
Good bass, good highs... but weak in the middle?
The upper end was responsive, but didn't show the clarity of the E4Cs, making it harder to pick out the various different frequencies with an almost distorted sound. The sound is very bright with any 's' sounds being exaggerated, yet with decent bass, which gives the impression of the middle frequencies being drowned out. We couldn't shake the feeling that the sound was incomplete.
The E4C sound is very forward and encapsulating – to the extent that if you closed your eyes, you could imagine the violin player in the corner of the room, or the guitarist soloing away right next to your face. The SE102s have a different sound, somewhat expanded and a little distant.
Comparing the SE102s to earphones that cost four times as much is a little unfair and you can only expect them to come out worse – which they do. But line them up against other earphone pairs in their class, and they impress - the overall quality is certainly better than any in-ear 'phone set we've tried. At forty quid, you can't go wrong - you'd be expected to pay close to £80 for similar quality from other manufacturers.