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Shure KSE 1500 Electrostatic Earphone System

Despite its modest dimensions, the Shure KSE1500 electrostatic in-ear headphones are a huge audio breakthrough. The Shure KSE1500 kit shrinks the massive driver/amp arrays of full-size electrostatic headphone systems down to fit the new mobile world of the discerning portable audiophile. The KSE1500 delivers pristine acoustic performance with a hypnotic resolving power unique in the history of in-ear headphones.

The Shure KSE1500 represent the culmination of almost a decade Shure spent researching and engineering the world’s first electrostatic in-ear design. Without a doubt, their hard lab work has resulted in a major audio leap forward. We think the Shure KSE1500 are likely the world’s most transparent and neutral in-ear headphones. Their ultra-fast sound, stunning level of immediacy and ‘flat’ technical accuracy to the recording is unmatched by any other in-ears we’ve heard before. As one of our reviewers poetically waxed, “It’s not just that it feels like I’m inside the music; it’s more like the music is inside me.” We’re not sure if Yogi Berra could have said it any better.

Read Our Original Headphone.com Blog Post Review of the Shure KSE-1500

The Shure KSE1500 system is comprised of a smartphone-sized electrostatic amplifier unit that drives the left and right in-ear earphones. The non-detachable KSE1500 earpieces are ergonomically constructed, very comfortable to wear and look somewhat similar to the rounded slim-profile dynamic driver Shure SE846 dimensions. A huge array of Shure eartip sleeves come standard with the KSE1500 to ensure finding the proper personalized fit for a wide variety of ears. We thought the KSE1500 earpieces were very easy to wear for extended periods without any ear discomfort, a tribute to their light weight compared to most other in-ear headphones.

The reason for the Shure KSE1500 easy-on-the-ears feel is a newly engineered, basically weightless/massless diaphragm driver that is housed within each earpiece. The microscopically thin diaphragm is enveloped by an active electrostatic field generated by tiny internal back plates that serve to control and regulate the voltage charge oscillations across the diaphragm. A uniquely specialized LEMO 6-pin Kevlar headphone cable extends about 4ft to securely connect the KSE1500 earphones to the amp unit and the cord itself is properly biased to correctly drive the electrostatic earphones. Of course, the Shure KSE1500 earphones and amplifier system must be used as a holistic unit and is not compatible or interchangeable with any other in-ear headphones or headphone amps.

The Shure KSE1500 electrostatic amplifier can function as a 24-bit /96kHz DAC-ADC allowing you plug directly into the USB port of your computer for reference digital listening. The mini-plug 3.5mm analog line input meets the Japanese Audio Society’s demanding protocols for both A-to-D and also D-to-A conversion. The KSE1500 amp unit can charge while listening via USB and the lithium-ion battery run time rates between 7 to 10 hours maximum. The amp features five pre-set EQ curves (‘Flat’; ‘Low Boost’; ‘Vocal Boost’; ‘Loudness’; ‘De-essing’) along with four storable, fully customizable parametric EQ curves for serious audio tweakers. You can also get a pure analog signal feed using the ‘Bypass Mode’ which routs the circuitry to avoid all internal digital processing. The 3-position [ 0dB /-10dB/ -20dB ] ‘Input Pad’ feature allows you to dial in the correct input level of your audio device to best match the electrostatic amp with zero distortion. We found that setting the line-level input approximately where the green LED meters barely poke into the yellow seems to make the KSE1500 sound best. There’s also a ‘Volume Limiter’ feature which not particularly needed on these earphones; although the volume definitely gets plenty loud, extra-rock listeners on our team were able to dial up the KSE earphones to max volume with certain devices and not run screaming from the room even with the limiter off, meaning they don't get as loud as most other earphones. Perhaps we should consider the slight volume limitation a good thing to preserve our long-term hearing safety. In any event, despite its serious functional load and high performance audio responsibilities, the KSE1500 electrostatic amp unit is remarkably lightweight, extremely well-sized and easy to tandem with DAP's and/or smartphones of all dimensions. Shure even thoughtfully provides two thick black rubber bands to secure the KSE1500 unit to the portable player of your choice.

The look and feel of the Shure KSE1500 amplifier unit is an exemplary execution of industrial design with just 2 buttons doing all the heavy lifting. A large rotary push-knob on top and a little button on the side handle volume, tone shaping and menu navigation and the small color screen graphically displays input levels, tone settings and user actions. It’s a well-arranged, professional-looking unit that’s refreshingly simple and intuitive to use without complicated downloads or firmware updating required to get it going; its basically ‘plug & play’ ready right out of the box after an initial charge. Perhaps most impressively, the weight and size of the electrostatic KSE1500 amp/DAC device is just slightly smaller than an Apple 5S smartphone/ Otter case combo, making it perfectly suited for easy portability. So whether its via a USB connection from computers, or via the included Apple Lightning cable for the newest iOS products, or via the built-in 3.5mm analog-to-digital line input, the Shure KSE1500 electrostatic earphones will work with virtually any audio device you want to use.

Just like the big table-top electrostatic headphone and amp systems, the strongest part of the in-ear Shure KSE1500 presentation remains the impossibly quick transient response and the intense level of exacting musical definition delivered by electrostatic technology. To our ears, the most engaging thing about these headphones is their unmitigated resolving power and resulting interior access they grant to the listener. You can hear all the dark corners of the sound with a liquid clarity and faithfulness that reveals all the intimate musical secrets lurking behind the production. Its a tone that’s not just merely transparent, but one that cuts like a knife into the micro-nuances and shaded tonal hues of a recording to uncover the real-life drama inside the music. For us fanatical music lovers, the renewed vitality of old favorite songs or chestnut warhorses springing back to life full of fresh details and excitement is what the Shure KSE1500 really brings to our audiophile table. And for audio professionals or studio producers needing the very ultimate in unsullied accuracy, we think these may be well worth every pricey penny given the penetrating, incisive insight they will bring to your recorded work.

The widescreen image and expansive soundstage qualities of full-size electrostatic headphones also remains a key sonic strength of the little Shure KSE 1500 system. It has perhaps the best ‘outside-the-head’ imaging and sense of spatial dimension we have ever experienced in any in-ear headphone. Unlike many other earphones rather tightly stacked imaging ability, instruments and voices are extremely well-delineated in the recording space and spread out before your ears like a wide-open tapestry of precise sound and color. Vocals are specially breathy, wonderfully chesty and tightly textured with zero sibilance - unless the sibilance is actually found on the original recording in which case you’ll really hear it given the KSE1500’s unflinching honesty. The sense of clean space heard around the notes is palpable and surprisingly airy. In tandem with the effortless dynamic quickness, there’s little question the KSE1500 is the most fully resolved in-ear headphone available to date. The KSE offers the kind of fast transient speed, detail illumination and clear retrieval of subtle room sound information that was until recently the exclusive domain of top full-size open-back headphones like the Sennheiser HD800S. With the Shure KSE1500 electrostatic in-ears, critical listeners can expect essentially the same faultless clarity, rapid-fire dynamics and precision accuracy as with the very best full-size over-the-ear headphones, but with the advantages of easy travel portability, near-total ambient noise isolation and complete audio privacy anywhere you want to listen to your music.

Perhaps the biggest question looming over old-school electrostatic headphones is the slightly weak-kneed bass response that is typically inherent to the design. The direct, unadorned signature sound of electrostatic systems can be lacking in robust low-end authority with certain modern musical genres or with heavy soul/classic rock recordings, for example. That’s likely one of the big reasons why many of the dedicated long-time fans of the superb Japanese Stax electrostatic headphone systems usually tended to be classical, symphonic or orchestral music aficionados where linearity, dynamics and extension was most crucial; a hugely brawny low-end bass presence was not. So for deep bass lovers, the generally lighter, airier electrostatic sound undoubtedly has some drawbacks.

Similar to classic electrostatic headphones, the Shure KSE1500 earphones offer an extremely flat tonal delivery without any low-end excess or bass coloration. For some listeners, the overall sound presentation may perhaps skirt towards being overtly forward or even a tad too bright with certain recordings. The KSE1500 presents a naturally lean, clear tone in the lows which can be slightly enhanced via the customizable tone-shaping EQ for those seeking more bottom-end bass impact. But one caveat: we found dialing in a bit too much bass can quickly distort the sound, so a little EQ goes a long way with these headphones. Again, the natural focus of these miniaturized electrostatic cans is absolute technical precision and neutrality, not artificially boosted emphasis in any part of the audio spectrum. Fortunately for the KSE1500 soundscape, that essential purity of tone is not marred by an unforgivingly clinical or cold tonality that sterilizes the presentation into sounding like surgery instead of music.

In the end, there’s no doubt that spending $3,000 on a set of in-ear headphones is not a cavalier expense for most of us. But if its candid clarity, a frank tone and high-definition energy you want to hear from your music - not a big booty bass presence -  the earnest, articulate sound of the Shure KSE1500 electrostatic in-ear headphones is hard to find done any better. In our opinion, hardcore mobile audiophiles who want a super-clean, dynamically responsive musical sound in their ears should definitely experience the Shure KSE1500 electrostatic headphones.

The Shure KSE1500 in-ear headphones come in a very nicely thought-out drawer-style hard box containing all manner of cables, adapters and interconnects along with a cool leather holster sleeve for the amp unit and a hard-shell case for the earphones. Variously sized eartip sleeves are included in both black and yellow foam styles as well as black silicon-type eartips in small/medium/large sizes. Although it can charge via via any computer USB connection, an AC wall charger is also handily provided for the amplifier. In order to take advantage of any future technical design improvements for your Shure KSE1500 electrostatic system, updated versions of Shure firmware for the product can be downloaded and installed using the Shure Update Utility Tool online. The Shure manufacturer's warranty covers all device parts and service if needed for a full 2 years from the original date of purchase with 1-year coverage offered on the internal rechargeable battery. Your headphone.com ‘100% authorized Shure dealer’ receipt ensures your warranty service period stays hassle-free.

We know its not easy deciding among all our ridiculously great audiophile in-ear headphones, so please feel free to give our expert headphone.com team a call and we’ll be glad to attempt to break it down even further. And keep in mind our easy 30-day return policy ensures you’ll love what your ears hear - or your money back!

  • Features

    • First ever application of electrostatic technology for Sound Isolating Earphones [patent pending] featuring a single MicroDriver design
    • Extremely high correlation to the source audio provides unmatched audio clarity and detail
    • 4-band parametric EQ with five preset settings and four customizable settings to manage audio playback preferences
    • Integrated USB-rechargeable battery can conveniently charge from provided wall charger or computer, even while streaming USB audio from computer
    • Lightweight, ergonomic earphone shape minimizes ear fatigue while comfortable 'Sound Isolating' sleeves block up to -37 dB of ambient noise
    • Custom-designed electrostatic earphone cable specifically isolates each conductor
    • Streamlined unit controls for quick, simple, user-friendly navigation throughout the KSE 1500 settings
    • Compatible with Mac, PC, iOS and Android devices via provided accessory assortment including Micro-B to Lightning and Micro-B OTG cables
    • Premium fit, finish and construction featuring an elegantly machined black aluminum housing manufactured to exacting Shure quality standards
  • Specifications:

    • Driver Type: Electrostatic
    • Sensitivity: 113 dB SPL/V
    • Frequency Response: 10Hz - 50kHz
    • Isolation: ≤37 dB
    • Connector Type: LEMO connector
    • Cable Length: 36 inches
    • Cable Style: Straight 'Y' Type
    • Weight: 44 g (1.55 oz.)
    • Manufacturer Warranty: 2 year

    What's in the box:

    • Shure KSE 1500 Electrostatic Earphones
    • Shure KSE DAC/Headphone Amplifier
    • Hardshell zipper earphone pouch
    • Leather amplifier case
    • Shure Fit Kit with assorted eartip sleeves
    • USB charging cable
    • Micro-B "On The Go" USB cable
    • Type A to Micro-B USB cable
    • Micro-B USB to Lightning cable
    • 6-inch male-to-male 3.5mm cable
    • 36-inch male-to-male 3.5mm cable
    • ¼-inch (6.3mm) to ⅛-inch (3.5mm) stereo adapter
    • Airline adapter
    • Inline volume control
    • 2 black rubber amplifier security attachment bands
    • Owner's manual and quick start guide
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