Shure SE310 In-Ear Headphones

I picked up some Shure SE310 in-ear headphones when I was in San Francisco back at the start of the year, and never blogged about them. Better late than never, here are some thoughts.
Shure Se310 300X250 S

The good:

  • They sound incredible. It’s stunning how clear music sounds, and how much bass they kick out.
  • They block out the outside world. Completely. I’m typing this while listening to music at a fairly low volume, in a quiet room, and I can’t hear my fingers at all. I wore them on the plane on the way home from San Francisco, and they blocked out the sound of the jet engine very effectively.
  • You can listen at a much lower volume, because you’re not fighting the ambient sound around you. Ambient sound is blocked by the shape of the headphones, so all that’s going in your ear is what the headphones themselves are putting there. This is probably better for your ears if you spend a lot of time with headphones on.
  • I find myself hearing new things in songs I’ve listened to for years.

The bad:

  • They’re hard to get in right. In-ear headphones depend on creating a seal in your ear. With a good seal, the headphones can move a small amount of air to make the sound it needs to make. Without a good seal, the bass that the headphones are generating just gets lost. When I first tried these on, I thought they were broken – but after a lot of playing with the myriad options Shure supplies for trying to get them to fit well in your ears, I found both a set of tip that works for me, and a process for getting them in my ears, that gives me good sound every time.
  • In-ear headphones create a tiny soundstage inside your head. The audio cues that help your brain provide stereo separation aren’t there, so while music can still sound wide it doesn’t feel wide. It’s hard to describe, but it does take away from the music somewhat.
  • Thinking of wearing these at work to block out the ambient sounds around you? Sure, they’ll do that, but when someone wants to get your attention, they’ll need to hit you over the head to get it. And you’ll never get the phone again.
  • The other drawback to wearing to wearing them at work is that when you do get interrupted, you have to go through the process of putting them back in every time.
    • Don’t wear these things when biking, driving, or doing anything near cars. Seriously.
  • I find myself hearing MP3 artifacts I’ve never noticed before.

The weird:

  • Don’t try eating while you’re wearing these things. You can hear noises that happen inside your head, and surprisingly loudly. I guess vibrations that happen in your head while you’re eating normally just go out your ear canal, but now that that’s blocked, you hear them. You can’t hear a jet engine outside your head, but eating potato chips will drown out any music you’re listening to.

That’s about it. I find myself using them on occasion – and I still find it a real treat when I do – but I do most of my listening at work, and the drawbacks make them somewhat impractical there.