Shure may have vacated the phono cartridge category where it had some excellent products for many years, but it is pushing rather hard with its second generation products in the headphone and earphone verticals. Introduced today for $899.95 USD, the Shure SE846 Gen 2 Sound Isolating Earphones are an update to the original SE846 which debuted in 2013. The longevity and popularity of the original Shure SE846 with audiophiles, musicians, and the pro audio world is a rather strong endorsement.
What made the SE846 unique was the modular design, comfort level, and its adaptability. Three interchangeable nozzles (also called filters) were included with the original model; listeners could change the sonic signature from balanced (blue) to warm (black) or bright (white) depending on their personal preferences.
The new Shure SE846 Gen 2 adds a fourth sonic signature nozzle that listeners can identify as the “extended” filter (red).
The color coding is merely for recognition during installation. Each nozzle change requires manual installation with a special tool (included) and should only take a few minutes.
The Shure SE846 Gen 2 is being offered in two new metallic colors; Jade and Graphite, along with an updated Clear model. The addition of the “extended” sound filter is the main technical difference.
From a design and engineering perspective, the Shure SE846 Gen 2 are the same earphones; Shure has made them backward compatible with all of the existing SE846 accessories including the Shure True Wireless Adapter Gen 2 ($189) which converts the SE846 Gen 2 into wireless earphones.
After a decade of use, it is fair to say that the Shure SE846 have delivered on their promise of longevity, durability, and excellent sound quality. Headphones and earphones have become disposable and how many consumers can honestly state that they are still listening to the same pair of headphones or earphones they purchased over a decade ago?
There was nothing average about the SE846 when they launched, and that has kept them in the ears of a lot of consumers and musicians who paid a substantial amount of money for them at the time; and this was well before the Head-Fi crowd were paying $1,000 to $3,000 for the current crop of high-end headphones and IEMs.
Shure has been in the business since 1925 — how many other companies in the microphone/headphone categories have been around for almost 100 years?
97 years of innovation and building products for consumers that last and deliver superior performance should inspire confidence when considering a product like the Shure SE846 Gen 2 Earphones.
Shure’s products can be found in recording studios, broadcast booths, conference rooms, synagogues, churches, mosques, and on live stages around the globe; the products have always been designed for working musicians and broadcast professionals who require durability, adaptability, and the highest possible level of sound quality.
Looking back after nearly a decade of use, it is quite clear to me why the investment has paid off; the fit has always been excellent and it was essential that they could be worn for hours by almost anyone.
This was important to me because I keep them in my gig bag and have often lent them out to other musicians when they had issues with their own earphones or forgot them.
Fit and durability are important but the most critical factor on stage is isolation. When using the Comply foam tips, the passive isolation reduces outside noise by nearly 24dB — not quite the 30dB of CIEMs but enough to work well on stage all the same.
But what about sound quality?
Musicians have very different requirements on a live stage in comparison to audiophiles sitting at home on the sofa listening to music alone in a quiet room. Aside from the isolation that they require, musicians need to be able to focus on specific parts of the sound and the Shure have a reputation for doing those things better than most.
A lot of beginners start out with the SE215 ($99) and work their way up to the SE425 ($269) or SE535 ($449) models which are not inexpensive. The $899 USD asking price when they first launched was considered a small fortune back then, but with custom IEMs in 2022 selling for as much as $3,000 USD — the new Shure SE846 Gen 2 are a rather competitive bargain.
Shure offered us an early look at the SE846 Gen 2 and provided us with an exclusive review sample of the earphones.
The $899 USD asking price is significant because Shure could have charged more and the market would have found that to be reasonable considering inflation, supply chain issues, and the current prices for really high-end IEMs.
The supplied kit provides everything that one would need to keep these working for many years to come; carrying case, 4 sets of tuning filters, a tool for changing filters, spare tuning filters storage tube, 3.5mm cable with shirt clip, 6.35mm adapter, 6 different styles of tips (12 pairs total), and the manuals.
What has changed is the colors with the new generation available in jade, graphite, and clear finishes. The jade and graphite models have an anodized aluminum outer shell and a clear inner shell that shows off the drivers. The original SE846 were available in either a clear or metallic finish, so the new designs offer a rather nice mixture of both.
My review pair came in jade which looks like a metallic hunter green with the Shure logo in a subdued gray across the mid-section of the shell. The clear under belly has “846” embossed in the shell. There is a metal block that sits inside the forward portion of the inner shell and allows the nozzle retaining plate to screw into the metal rather than relying on the plastic.
The nozzles are long and narrow so tips from other IEMs are unlikely to fit; Shure and Comply do offer a wide range of replacement tips that will work perfectly.
Shure have also decided not to change the cable attachment; an mmcx port can still be found atop the ear shell. The cable is the same as the original with memory wire hooks and a heavy black coating that has proven to be quite durable. The hooks could be somewhat tighter around the ear but they are quite useable and extremely durable.
Internally, the same four balanced armature drivers custom tuned by Shure for the SE846 are utilized. Shure has always been tight lipped about exactly which drivers are used and what tweaks were made as Shure engineers have spent thousands of hours perfecting their products and Shure isn’t sharing any of that with the competition.
What we do know is that there are a pair of low-frequency drivers, a single midrange, and a single high-frequency driver with a three-way crossover. The patented low pass filter creates a 4 foot long channel for the sound to pass through similar to the function of a ported subwoofer. For a quad driver design, the SE846 Gen 2 is very compact.
Product Manager, Sean Sullivan, was responsible for the original Shure SE846, and is now the Associate Director for Wired Products. We recently sat down with Sean Sullivan and Steve Marek, Senior Product Management Specialist, and talked with them about the updates to the SE846, Shure’s position in the headphone and earphone industry, and what the company is working on in terms of future products. Listen to our podcast with Shure here.
When asked about the addition of the new filter, Sullivan discussed the process he and his team went through in designing the original filters that shipped with the SE846.
The very first iteration of what would become the SE846 had only the bright filter; which according to Sullivan, “sounded great with about 80% of music they tried, but was a bit harsh with the other 20%.”
They next developed the warm filter which sounded great with the remaining 20% but also created a somewhat veiled sounding presentation that impacted everything else.
The SE846 was scheduled for release with only 2 filters but 6 weeks before launch, the engineers realized that a “balanced” filter was necessary that offered a more neutral sounding presentation and that become the stock filter.
The SE846 Gen 2 ships with a fourth filter (extended) with a red shell (the original filters were white, black, and blue), and the new model will ship with the extended filter installed by default.
Shure’s statement on this new filter claims that “the new extended sound signature directly addresses customer requests, improving high-frequency extension, with a more targeted contour in the frequency response (4kHz – 12kHz) that increases imaging clarity and adds a desirable airy quality to the audio.”
The new filter will fit the original SE846, but Shure is not offering the individual filter for sale at this point. We will update this review if that situation changes.
Having reviewed the original SE846 and wireless adapter, my time with the earphones was spent listening to the 4 filters and comparing the SE846 Gen 2 to the original and some other high-end IEMs in my collection.
With the new extended filters already pre-installed, it was quite obvious that the SE846 Gen 2 deliver more impact and definition in the low end. The impact was certainly equal to my older pair of SE846s, but there was a noticeable uptick in definition, speed, and texture.
The mid bass performance of the original SE846 was very good; quick, detailed, and quite resolute. The new SE846 Gen 2 delivers the same level of performance and does not follow the current market trend of elevated bass and bleed into the lower midrange.
When big hits happen you know it, but during quieter moments that same bass blends into the mix without calling attention to itself. While the bass doesn’t have the impact of something like Empire Ear’s Weapon 9 Dynamic Driver, it delivers more than enough impact and the roll-off is close to 30Hz.
The midrange performance of the SE846 was always very good and the new model does not deviate from that trend. The lower midrange is very well detailed, and male vocals have very good weight and accurate sounding timbre.
Guitar notes are quite accurate sounding and are delivered with some edge; there is a modest level of decay that one can hear as well which only adds to the accuracy of the sound.
Lower strings have excellent presence and color and I found myself quite engaged listening to classical and jazz.
The midrange is moved slightly forward with the extended filter because there is greater emphasis in the 1kHz to 4kHz range; the violin has greater presence and comes across as more accurate sounding. Female vocals benefitted from the filter with an enhanced degree of transparency and accuracy, but they are also pushed forward in the mix.
The overall sound is more engaging and my preference when listening to most music at work; the balanced filter still remains my preference for any critical listening.
The lower treble is also pushed slightly forward resulting in more perceived detail and a bit better percussion snap. Higher strings have more texture as a result of the lift as well.
The treble falls back above 7.5kHz, which helps keep the sound from becoming fatiguing or harsh. Based on my measurements, the roll-off is somewhere above the limits of my hearing around 14.5kHz.
The soundstage is quite good for a closed IEM with impressive depth and an enhanced sense of width and height. This is augmented by above average instrument and stereo separation which helps place every musician in the orchestra in their proper spot.
The imaging is greatly improved on the SE846 Gen 2; the “donut” hole that I noticed more than a few times on the original model where sounds seemed to vanish as they moved across the soundstage has been filled. It was an odd experience on specific tracks with my own pair and it’s clear that Shure’s engineers noticed that issue as well and fixed it.
10 years is an eternity for any product. In the headphone category, brands refresh their lineup every single year in some cases, and that certainly makes the Shure SE846 feel rather long in the tooth.
The reality is that the SE846 Gen 2 are some of the best universal fit IEMs you can buy for the money right now and they will outlast multiple generations of DAPs and smart phones.
Shure didn’t have to update the SE846 but they chose to create a new filter that works extremely well and they didn’t cut corners due to increased production costs and pass that expenditure on to consumers.
The Shure SE846 Gen 2 has a more modern looking finish and the build quality is still rather exceptional. These are worth every cent and should make you question why other high-end IEMs are so expensive — we doubt that any of them will last as long.
Where to buy:
- $999 at Shure.com with TWS Adapter Gen 2 ($189 separately)