Review: Shure SE215 Sound Isolating Earphones

An Excellent Choice for Travel

Shure 215
Photo Courtesy of PriceGrabber

Travel is many things, but quiet often isn't one of them. From the roar of jet engines to high-volume airport announcements, traffic noise to inconsiderate hotel guests, there's a regular need to silence the outside world when you're on the road.

Earplugs are a good option, but if you find them uncomfortable, or just prefer music to silence, earphones with some form of noise suppression are an ideal alternative. After years of putting up with cheap, low-quality models, I've been using a pair of Shure SE215 earphones on a daily basis while traveling for the last several months. Ten thousand miles later, here’s how they've fared.

Noise Isolation

Since loud environments–airports, buses, cafes and other public spaces–are so common while traveling, effective noise suppression is vital. The Shure SE215’s use molded foam tips that fit inside the ear canal to provide passive noise cancelation. The tips come in three sizes, and require a little practice to achieve a secure fit.

Once that's done, however, this type of noise-blocking technique can be surprisingly effective. Background noise disappeared at very low music volumes, and even crying babies and loud conversations were easily blocked out. The noise reduction is almost too good at times, as I've nearly missed station announcements and boarding calls because I simply couldn't hear them.

As with any wired earphones that block out outside sound, wearing these during vigorous exercise isn't ideal. Noise travels up the cable as it rubs against skin or clothing, exacerbated by the relative silence. Perspiration damage could also be an issue over the longer term, as these earphones aren't rated for waterproofing.

Sound Reproduction

Listening to a range of different music, podcasts, and radio shows, the sound quality of the Shure 215’s has been impressive across the board. If you're an audiophile who requires a completely "flat" soundscape, you'll probably want to look elsewhere in the Shure range. For most listeners, however, the equalization is pretty much ideal.

Bass is rich and warm without being excessive, while mid-range sounds are clear and crisp. Even with low-quality MP3 files, or when streaming songs from Spotify and online radio stations, there's very little to complain about.

Durability and Design

The noise cancellation and high sound quality of these earphones only happen if the foam tips fit perfectly into the ear canal. If not, outside noise leaks in, and bass notes (in particular) disappear.

To help ensure that perfect fit, the earphone cables loop behind and over top of the ears before slotting into place. It looks and feels a little unusual, and takes a few attempts to get right, but seems a small price to pay for the end result. The cables behind the ears keep their shape, so there's rarely a need to readjust it after the first use.

Earphones tend to break in one of two places: at the base of the plug section, or where the cable bends as it connects to the drivers (speakers). It seems Shure has realized this, using thicker, reinforced cable for those sections around the ears, and an over-sized plug housing.

That durable plug can cause a small problem, however. Due to its extra size, the housing tends to overlap the space allotted for the headphone jack in many phone and music player cases. This sometimes prevents the plug from clicking firmly into place, resulting in a loose connection when it gets bumped or moved.

The earphones zip away into a small, semi-rigid case that protects them from damage and prevents cables from getting tangled. It's a nice touch, and an important one for those on the move.

Value for Money

The list price for the Shure SE215 earphones is $99, and unless there's a sale on, that's about what you'll  pay online as well With high-quality sound reproduction, impressive noise cancellation, and a durable design that can withstand the inevitable knocks, this represents extremely good value.

What About Bluetooth?

Increasing numbers of phones are now shipping without headphone jacks, which complicates using wired earphones like these. While you can use a dongle that converts between micro-USB/Lightning and headphone ports, Shure has a couple of other alternatives.

Firstly, if you already own a pair of the company's wired earphones and want to switch to wireless, you can buy a replacement cable that adds Bluetooth capability, along with a microphone jack. If not, just buy the Shure SE215 Wireless model instead.

Final Word

The Shure SE215 is an excellent choice for travelers looking for a set of durable noise-canceling earphones with great sound quality that doesn't cost a fortune. It's as simple as that.