When you buy an MP3 player, the first thing you should do is upgrade your headphones. A £20 pair of Sennheisers will transform your audio experience. But a £400 pair of Shures? Who in their right mind would pay more for their earphones than they’d spent on their 80GB iPod?
The answer is simple: someone who values sound quality more than cash. Shure’s audio products have long been the choice of professional performers, but only recently have we mortals been able to enjoy the stunning clarity of the E-series earphones.
By sitting deep in your ear canal, they cut out all background noise and deliver pure music direct to your brain without the need for noise-cancelling electronics. But the tight design has meant that previous Shures produced little in the way of bass. Which is why the new top-of-the-range Shures incorporate three drivers, leaving no inch of your music undiscovered.
The band inside your head
What is astonishing about the SE530s (formerly – and more catchily – known as the E500s) is their clarity and perfect balance. Even when the bass is rumbling you can still hear fingers moving up the fretboard. And while the best open-backed headphones put you in the middle of a room of musicians, these Shures make it feel like the band is actually playing inside your skull.
It’s a wonderful – if occasionally claustrophobic – experience. You're guaranteed to discover new sounds in your favourite tracks, and you simply won’t have the option of letting a song become background noise – even the weakest album filler is rendered involving.
Shure's new sculpted foam earpieces help the earphones stay in place even when you're on the move, and the design means you can loop the wires around the back of your ears, cutting down on wire flappage and ensuring your sonic enjoyment isn't ruined by the sound of rubbing cables.
Downsides? Well, the bulky in-line ‘push to hear’ unit is utterly pointless – isn't it easier (and more polite) to take the earphone out if someone’s talking to you? Fortunately, you can unplug the push-to-hear electronics, and the E530s will soon be available at a discounted price without them. And on the the plus side, the modular cable system means you’ll be able to plug in a microphone when the iPhone arrives.
Aside from the price, it's hard to find fault with the SE530s. In fact, we’ve never heard a better pair of earphones. Be warned, though – their astounding clarity means you'll hear the difference between highly compressed MP3 tracks and lossless files. You might find yourself yearning for the quality of portable CD player – but a better idea would to be to make sure you always rip CDs at 256kbps or above, and buy downloads from high-res stores like Bleep.com.