Shure SE846 - The Cost of Three Dragons

Matt Engstrom finished a wee interview by backing Daenerys Targaryen. You don't have to press me hard to force an 'amen'. The others are just squabbling pretenders, armed with "should be's" and high hopes. Targaryens have got dragons. You can take that to the bank.

And while I durst not call Shure's competitors 'pretenders', it's meet to give credit where credit is due. Love them or hate them Shure have debuted firsts upon firsts in the earphone industry and their designs have pushed boundary after boundary. Sometimes, that boundary clinks like micro injected metal. Sometimes, it clinks like coin. 

I hear both in the SE846.

The Dragons
Make no mistake, this earphone isn't another 'not custom' universal earphone. It was designed from the ground up for exact replication. It's got parts that resemble engine blocks and complex bongs. When all is said and done, it packs an engineering orgasm of never-been-done-befores. At least another ounce of improvements are ticker-taped over the sheets.

The much-touted low-pass filter comprises ten layers of metal and spacer. The drivers are specifically tuned from the ground-up for the SE846. You won't find them anywhere else. The exchangeable filter system, too, is about as proprietary as it gets. 

Shure made absolutely certain that this earphone would make an impact. It's not even out yet and it has. The ~1.000$ USD price is equally dragon as its technological advancements. Shure's newest products have always commanded top dollars. Their E500 was the first commercially available three-driver two-way universal earphone. The 'E' could have stood in for $. In 2006,  500$ USD for a pair of universal earphones was unheard of. In 2013, universals from manufacturers all over the globe command prices of up to 3.000$. 

Unlike boutique designers such as Final Audio, Shure price things based on the technology crammed inside their products, the cost of production, and of course, the ostensible market. Let's call it fair.

Though, it may not seem like it.

As I mentioned above, the tech inside is brand new, proprietary stuff that is probably years ahead of the game. If it's worth it to you isn't really important. It's worth it to the industry. Earphones aren't a stagnant commodity. They evolve to fit different moulds. Currently, the emphasis on high-end portable audio is an an all-time high whose summit we won't see for a long time.

The problem Shure's latest faces is simple: hitherto >1.000$ USD universal earphones are either boutique luxuries, or they are custom spin offs. The former is unique in that performance isn't that important in the overall picture. The latter is unique in that it siphons popularity from already well-known custom models. Shure enter this market with a decidedly different product.

I think it will work out for them.

Sound
The sound of the SE846 is decidedly Shure. Low-end aside, mids are well-emphasised and detailed. The top end is smooth. Cymbal decay is fast, sibilance is for naught. Soundstage and stereo imaging have taken on a new facet since last time: width. There's bite in the guitars irrespective of the tube you choose. Exercising the regions of 1-8kHz is apter than you think.

The human voice tops out at around 4.000Hz. Theoretically to get a good reproduction of it, 8.000Hz is what you need. Guitars, drums, and most of the middle stuff you need to put together a good band is contained within those bounds. Sure, frequencies trip up beyond that. But the good stuff: your vocals and violins, cymbals largely stay within those bounds. Emphasising clarity and space within that range is something that isn't too hard to do with the SE846 kit. 

But Shure stick to their guns. Their high-end earphones have never been sibilant, nor etchy. The SE486 is never etchy. You won't get painful shivers in your ears no matter what filter you screw in. Trebleheads, the SE846 may not be for you. And that's okay. You've never been a Shure fan anyway. 

Interestingly, the SE846 sounds great with trance - and that despite kicking low-end arse. It's because of clarity. Honestly, this earphone's bass is something you won't forget. Ever. It's not the bass of a balanced armature earphone. It's got more low end kick than your JH16Pro - but here's the interesting bit: that bass is completely its own. We've all praised earphones that put out prodigious lows without muddling the mids and highs. But today, we'll have to re-analyse exactly what that means. There's nothing out there that really does what the SE846 does for the low end as an integral part musical gestalt. 

Throneward
Dig the entire package or pan it. It's your choice. But denying what Shure are capable of is ridiculous. Personally, borderline etchy treble is my game. And I could do with a big more edge in vocals. The SE846 may not be for me. Detailed, powerful bass - if kept in its place - is something I've craved, but - in light of demoing the SE846 - realised that my heretofore favourites do lack in key areas. Personal listening habits aside, I'm keen on this earphone.

The coming weeks and months will tell whether or not Shure's new masterpiece of micro injected metal will keep the throne. For now, it marches with the assurance of cutting edge technology and a proven track record of innovation. Of course, Shure's new designs are extremely robust - no more cracked backs or 145$ cable replacement operations. 

Dragons are key to the throne. Awe ensures its legacy. Be certain, Shure are praying for the later.

NOTE: Below, you will find pictures of Shure's recent press event in Tokyo. Mr. Engstrom and Mr. Sullivan performed their spiel in front of Japan's biggest wigs and nerdiest ears. It was a great time. Just check out Shure Japan's SE846 poster - what incredible product photography. 

The close ups were taken a day later at Shure's HQ. Unfortunately, I left the macro setup at home. Expect better pictures from fans in the coming days.