Shure – SE420 review

superb but expensive noise-cancelling earphones
Photo of Shure – SE420

So, how much would you pay for good headphones? In fact, scratch that: how much are you willing to stump up for astoundingly good noise-cancelling headphones that offer real comfort and quite brilliant sound quality?

Shure hopes the answer lies around the £250 mark, as that’s the asking price for this SE420 set. They’re not the most economical in the Shure range – the impressive SE210 and SE310s can be had for a reasonable amount less – but they do come up trumps where performance is concerned. They also put all but one or two similar products firmly in the shade.

Shure’s background lies in the in-ear units deployed by on-stage musicians, and the first thing that hit us was the comfort of the SE420s when inserted into our lug-holes. We’ve used such in-ear devices before and had to stop after half an hour due to discomfort. Yet we easily got past three hours and counting in one session with the SE420s and still weren’t particularly troubled.

We found that the modular cable system that Shure employs doesn’t offer quite the same level of comfort, but it still wasn’t really a problem and it does open up a couple of extra connection options.

But it’s the audio that matters, and it’s in audio reproduction that these earphones really score. We tried the SE420s primarily with non-compressed music, employing a mixture of classical, rock and subtle jazz, and were genuinely taken aback by the sound quality.

Much of this is down to the dual drivers within each of the earphones, one handling high and the other handling low frequencies. It’s a brilliantly implemented system and means that the SE420s were able to cope superbly well with a real range of material.

From deep bass to discreet notes, there’s a real distinction to the sound quality on offer here, with no hint of distortion at normal playback levels. In fact, we had to crank the volume up to disturbing levels before the output quality even began to distort a minute amount.

We should also mention the noise-cancelling qualities, which eradicate all but the most demanding background activity. The SE420s are, we confess, the reason for many a missed phone call.

The quality of these earphones really isn’t in question, then. But that price tag is an insurmountable hurdle to a good many people, humble IT reviewers included. Yet they offer such a radical improvement over the comparably poor earphones provided with most modern-day digital media devices, and they have such a compelling mix of comfort and performance, that they’re still nonetheless worthy of our recommendation. A treat, perhaps, but a very, very luxurious one.

Company: Shure

Contact: 020 8808 2222

For anyone who takes their audio really seriously, Shure's SE420s are, frankly, superb. They're also very expensive. But they're still worth having a chat with the bank manager about...