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Shure SE846: "True Subwoofers" inside - [Review] 🇬🇧

Prolog:

Dies ist meine englischsprachige Übersetzung des Reviews, das ich meinem Shure SE846 einst widmete: http://kopfhoerer-lounge.blogspot.de/2015/07/se846.html


Preamble:

This is basically a translation with some additions and little changes of my German review (http://kopfhoerer-lounge.blogspot.de/2015/07/se846.html) which I did about a year ago, because I decided that as I have some spare time at the moment, I could spend it to take a few new pictures (sorry for the cellphone’s image quality though and the lousy background, I just couldn’t remove the wrinkles from the pleather, no matter how hard I tried) in addition to my old ones and translate plus (re-) write the text.

The SE846 was purchased by me from Thomann.de new for €969.



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With the SE846, Shure heads into a somewhat new direction and has designed and manufactured all drivers for their €1000 quad-BA flagship in house, including the “special” woofers which for the first time in an IEM are designed after the (more or less) well-known transmission line (TML) principle that can be found in some loudspeaker designs.
The SE846 uses four Balanced Armature drivers per side which are connected in 3-way configuration by the crossover, with two of the drivers being the TML woofers.
Just as already known from other IEM manufacturers, Shure offers its clients to tune the sound with the help of three included acoustic filter tubes that are located in the removable bore.


Technical specifications:

MSRP: €999/$999
Drivers: 4, Balanced Armature
Crossover: 3 ways
Sensitivity: 114 dB SPL/mW
Frequency Range: 15 Hz – 20 kHz
Cables: detachable, MMCX connectors (2 cables: 46” and 64”)


Delivery Content:

So, what do we get?
The first thing you will see is a well-sealed black paper wrapper that features a large picture of the SE846’s right ear-piece on its front and back.
Breaking the firm seals, inside is a black box with a matte-black soft-touch rubber-like surface, sporting a silver (metal?) Shure logo on the top and glossy black SE846 lettering on the front side which features a magnetic lid and can be folded up.
The lid’s inside features a sticker with the serial number (which is by the way also on the black wrapper), a safety instructions sticker and a description of the “subwoofer” drivers on a pocket that includes the instruction manual – really nice.
Inside of that black box is also an elongated, transparent case, manufactured by s3cases and with a carrying strap plus a silver Shure logo on the upper lid. Personally, I don’t really see any real benefit in this transparent case for me as it is not padded on the inside, but it looks really nice and gives you that premium feel.
Inside are a nice black microfiber cleaning cloth with a large white Shure logo, the IEMs, the two cables (each being different in length), an airplane adapter, a cable clip, a 6.35 to 3.5 mm stereo adapter, the damping adapter with included volume dial, a really nice square carrying case with a pocket on the inside (offering room for the included threaded metallic cylinder which features a tool for removing the IEMs’ nozzles and contains the interchangeable tuning filters) as well as a nice outer metal top-plate with milled Shure logo and last but not least a large selection of ear-tips (one pair of white triple-flange tips, one pair of yellow sponge tips with integrated cerumen mesh filter, four pairs of foam tips with integrated cerumen mesh filter in three sizes, three pairs of differently sized silicone tips).






Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

The IEMs have got transparent bodies that let you see the four BA drivers (the tweeter even features a cute little Shure logo, and the tube network in front of it an SE846 label) and the crossover, which is really nice to see and visually pleasing. Even if the coloured versions of the SE846 would have been available back then when I bought mine, I’d still have gone with the transparent in-ears.
The nozzle and threaded collar that holds it in place are made of metal – using the tool for unscrewing the collar, one can remove the nozzle and swap the acoustic filter tube that sits in it.
Everything looks and feels very sturdily made, plus the whole bodies appear even a bit better manufactured than the SE425s’ which are already excellently built.
What I really like is that not only the cables feature small coloured dots for easy side recognition, but also that the right earpiece’s frame on the inside that holds the drivers in place is red and easily visible.

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The cables and IEMs are equipped with coaxial MMCX connectors and the cable has got excellent strain relief and a good chin-slider. It looks basically like SE425’s cable, but is silver instead of black and the twisted cable cores on the inside are coated by a silver and copper coloured mesh, wherefore flexibility is not as good as the black version’s. I’ve seen some people complaining about the cable, but I personally find it more than flexible enough and I really don’t really have anything to criticise about it.




Comfort, Isolation:

Like the huge majority of IEMs in this price range the SE846 is supposed to be worn with the cables around the ears, which is anyway my preferred wearing style as well.
Microphonics are close to zero.



The bodies are larger and bulkier than Shure’s lower-priced IEMs, however they should still fit most people and ergonomics are excellent – but I with my large auricles have almost never comfort issues with IEMs anyway.

Provided you manage to get a good fit and seal, isolation is sublime, just like with most other closed-body IEMs and Shure’s lower-range in-ear models.

Sound:

As I own these for quite some time, I have used them with different source devices, however my favourite are my iBasso DX90, LH Labs Geek Out IEM 100 and gain-reduced Leckerton UHA-6S.MKII.

Just as with about all of my IEMs, I use the SE846 with the included silicone tips (large grey single-flange tips), as foam tips and I aren’t the best friends (they often reduce treble and make bass appear less arid, even if positioned correctly).

Music source are mainly my CDs which I ripped in Foobar 2k and store in FLAC format, but I also have a couple of Hi-Res and DSD albums and recordings. For more intense testing and the purpose of this review, I covered as many music genres as possible and used tracks with different complexity, speed and cast density.

The following tonality paragraph will be split into two parts (blue “balanced” and white “bright/treble” filters).


Tonality:

Blue Filters (“balanced”):
Roughly, I would describe the sound as a smooth and relaxed adaption of balanced sound with a decent amount of added sub-bass. Another description would be “mature fun” (no double entendre intended).
Mids are lush and always present (overall, they’re even somewhat more up-front, just like the SE425’s, however without the sometimes slightly annoying in-your-face midrange “peak”) and slightly on the warmer side which is due to that the fundamental range is slightly elevated, along with the mids, which adds the subtle warmth in this area.
In contrast to other in-ears with elevated bass, SE846’s emphasis starts very low in the lower root, wherefore it doesn’t even slightly bleed into the fundamental range and also doesn’t add too much unnecessary bloom or thickness. The (upper) root is pretty muh not influenced by the bass emphasis and the upper bass is also not elevated as much (SE846’s upper bass is clearly less present than Triple.Fi 10’s or FA-4E XB’s – the emphasis starts really low), so the “true subwoofer” claim is quite true. Compared to quite neutral IEMs like the ER-4S,  the lower fundamental range and upper bass show some emphasis, but it is of lesser amount than the InEar SD-2’s (root area) or Triple.Fi 10’s (upper bass).
Down from the mid-bass, the emphasis really starts extending, very evenly, and is integrated rather subtle. The climax with about +8.5 dB is reached in the sub-bass.
Tracks with deep bass lines show nice and distinct “cellar rumble”, for example Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” (actually not my usually preferred and listened music, but good for testing sub-bass), where the first of the two synthetic bass tunes is located at 30 Hz.

Treble is somewhat in the background (on the graphs, it looks different, but subjectively treble isn’t as recessed as the frequency response graphs suggest – this is also what was the general consensus in other (German) reviews).
Unfortunately, so I have to say, treble extension isn’t that good for a quad-driver three-way IEM around €1000, as SE846’s treble rolls off more or less early at 10 kHz. I can accept the SE425’s treble which rolls off about 2 kHz earlier than the SE846, as it costs only between €200 and 300 and is a two-way dual-driver IEM, but the SE846 is quite a bit more expensive and although it has the better extension than the SE425, there is about nothing above 10 kHz (music lacks the subtle sparkle in the area of the super treble).

What I personally dislike about the blue filters are the middle highs: around 5 kHz, there is a quite steep dip in my ears – it took me quite a while to figure out that it was exactly that particular dip that made me dislike the blue filters rather often.
Usually a dip in that area (harmonics of instruments and tones in the midrage) adds a more “relaxed” character to the mids and takes away some strenuousness, however (at least in my case) I find the midrange to become too boring and yes, more strained is case of the SE846 (maybe because the mids are somewhat emphasised). And it is exactly this dip that I dislike about my Westone W4R although it is a technically excellent IEM otherwise (W4R’s dip is even steeper). Yeah, I am not the biggest fan of that 5 kHz relaxed-dip gene.
Another reviewer described the SE846 as “very high resolving but with a presentation as if it coated everything with icing” – and this is in my opinion a very fitting description of the blue filters’ presentation; it sounds clean and neat, but overdone at times and somewhat not “dirty” enough.
Correcting the 5 kHz “relaxed” dip with an equalizer or using the white filters (more about them just in a moment), the relaxed and white-washed tonality mostly disappears.

White Filters (“bright/treble”):
The mids and bass remain untouched, however there are quite distinct changes in the treble department: the area around 9 kHz gets boosted, nonetheless I wouldn’t describe it as the typical bright peak that other IEMs have, though that frequency band is little more present than neutral in my ears. Especially compared to the blue filters, the whites are quite a bit brighter. Despite the less dark highs, I would say that the blue filters sound a bit more natural, homogenous in the treble department – but also a bit too relaxed for my personal tastes, due to the 5 kHz dip.
What I really love about the white filters is that the 5 kHz “relaxed”-dip isn’t as present as before, wherefore the “icing” and subjective strenuousness disappear, although the sound is still a little more relaxed than neutral, but not to the extent that I dislike it.
As you can probably tell, I prefer the white filters much more than the blue ones that are too relaxed for my preference.

Black filters:
Sorry, I never tried the black filters  and do not even intend to – they are still in the metallic cylinder.

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On a personal side note, the SE846 IEMs don’t work that well for me as all-round IEMs, as they are too coloured (once again, for me) for Classical, Chamber, Jazz and Instrumental music, so I’d definitely call them genre-specific, however they do that really good (and it’s not a real con for me as I use different IEMs for stationary as well as portable purpose and also have IEMs that I prefer with certain music genres).
Your mileage and preferences may of course be different than mine, so the SE846 may very well work for you as all-rounders (and I have come across some people who use them for about every music genre).

Resolution:

The SE846 has got a high resolution and can easily compete with other universal IEMs above €500 and custom IEMs around/above €1000 (though I have to admit that I have solely experience with the whole Ultimate Ears CIEM line-up when it is about custom-moulded in-ears). My UERM is probably a bit more refined, but these are only nuances and I’d say the SE846 is about on-par.
Although the SE846 is definitely not that close to a neutral frequency response, it sounds authentic and neither synthetic nor inconsistent; instruments sound mostly realistic.
Speed, texture, dynamics and control are really good, however the UERM have slightly better dynamics and the quicker bass impact (more arid/faster decay).

The bass is dry, fast as well as punchy, and especially the sub-bass is surprisingly free of any boominess and pretty arid, despite the emphasis that concentrates mainly on it – really nice.

Soundstage:

Compared to their previous and lower-priced IEM models, Shure has definitely improved in terms of soundstage and spatial presentation.
The SE846 has got an authentic and three-dimensional soundstage presentation with decent depth, layering and an instrument separation and placement that is on-par with custom-moulded in-ears around €1k, however it is undeniable that SE846’s soundstage has got less width and depth. Though, the balance between width and depth is really good and I also never get the feeling of congestion.
I’m not implying that SE846’s soundstage is small, as it isn’t by any means, but most IEMs at this price point have a larger one. Nonetheless, the SE846 has got a nice scaling, wherefore I never have the desire for a larger soundstage when listening to music (even when many instruments are playing at the same time).

The SE846 also does a good job with reproducing “emptiness” between instruments/tonal elements and generally does a good job in terms of creating an authentic soundstage, with decent separation and layering.

Subjectively, I perceive SE846’s soundstage as half as large as my UERMs’, four times as large as my SE425’s and about ⅔ times as large as my InEar StageDiver SD-2’s.

Quick comparison to the SE425:
For a fellow friend, I wrote this brief tonal comparison, so I thought I’d include it here as well:

The SE846 (white filters) is a bit more prominent in the lower mids a has got slightly less level in the lower highs (presence area) as well as middle treble and clearly more level and the better extension in the upper highs (with the blue filters however, upper treble levels don’t differ that much, although the SE846 has still got the superior extension). As the level drops steeper from the mids to the presence area, the SE846 is by the way less analytical and critical with bad recordings although its resolution is a huge step forward.
SE846’s bass emphasis starts extending very low and evenly, with its climax in the sub-bass. SE425’s sub-bass rolls a little off and its general tonality is rather balanced, with only bit more upper bass and just a little fundamental range warmth.


Conclusion:


The SE846 gives you the feeling of a premium product (which it obviously is) right from the start, with its large amount of nice included premium accessories. Sound-wise, it is definitely a premium product as well: it features a mature “fun” signature with “true” sub-bass that is very arid and controlled, adjustable treble via the included filters, a really high resolution, a nice 3-dimensional and authentic soundstage (that is rather mediocre in size but well-layered and precise) and sounds surprisingly natural, despite the emphasis in the sub-bass.


However, it doesn’t have the best all-rounder signature and is rather genre specific (at least for me, but your preference may and will most likely vary) and most strikingly, treble extension above 10 kHz should be better at this price point, but other than that, the SE846 is a really nice and premium IEM that I personally like and use mainly for more modern pop, soft rock and electronical music.

Overall, considering the strengths, weaknesses, value and price, I give the SE846 87%.

GearBest