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Like the rest of the Shure SE options, the SE115s have a modular cord and were designed for people who like to loop the headphones' cable around the back of their ears. You can also opt to purchase several different in-line accessories, although other SE series headphones include a few options in the box.

Although they didn't perform as well on our audio tests, the Shure SE115s seem to be a good pair of headphones at the $120 price point.

The Shure SE115s are a set of in-ears with a modular cord. This means there's a plug just after the left and right channels meet, to allow users to plug in various accessories.

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The ear buds have bent nozzles, which mean the backs of the ear buds will stick out if you wear them at the wrong orientation. At the correct orientation, however, the ear buds will contour to your head.

The SE115s end at a tank of a plug. It's both bulky and well-protected.

In the Shure SE115s' box, you'll find a bunch of sleeves, an extension cord, a carrying case, and a cleaning tool.

Shure's in-ears are usually durable, and the SE115 doesn't buck that trend. The cable is thick and its modular design lets you replace the part of the cord that wears down the fastest (the end that plugs into the listening device). The main durability issue we have with Shure headphones are their open-nozzle design. The open nozzle allows gunk to get inside your headphones. Granted, the headphones come with a cleaning tool, which helps somewhat, but doesn't prevent garbage from getting in your headphones to begin with.

SE115Like the rest of the SE series, the SE115s have some Plain Jane aesthetics. They're a mix of greys, and all they have going for them is their design, and that runs the risk of annoying users. This being said, the SE115s aren't bad looking. Overall, the SE115s don't have anything to catch anyone's eye, for better or worse.

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The Shure SE115s' frequency response looks fine until you reach the high end, at which point it takes an utter nose dive, falling over 15dB in a relatively small frequency span. This is where the SE115s lost a majority of their points. If you look at other areas, the headphones do well: they have a strong base and emphasize middle tones well. There aren't any other jagged areas.

Frequency Response Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Frequency_Response) Although there are a few areas where distortion picks up above the zero line, the overall distortion levels stay very, very low. The SE115s did very well here.
Distortion Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Distortion) The Shure SE155s had good tracking that suffered from a few quirks. As you can see, on the other side of the 1kHz mark there are a few jagged lines. These lines represent a small shift in volume, from 2dB on the right to 2dB on the left. The average listener would never notice this shift. The loudest the right channel gets before 10kHz is 4dB louder, and that volume onlly lasts for tiny frequency range. On the other side of the 10kHz mark, there's a bit more of a dip, but don't take the graph as gospel at this point: we toss out the extreme high end of the graph, because they're not 100% accurate. It can be used to find the general trend of performance, however. In this case, the emphasis looks like it'll trend to the right side. Despite its issues, the SE115s have good tracking. At no point should you notice any point where the sound vacillates wildly between the left and right channels.
Tracking Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Tracking) The SE115s, true to their legacy, had great isolation with the foam ear buds. They blocked out about as much sound as the SE420s. One interesting thing to note is how the other SE headphones had slightly poorer isolation scores. We're not entirely sure why this is, since we used different sleeves during each battery of tests. Compelling mysteries aside, the SE115s shouldn't give you any problems with isolation. They'll make a great set of headphones for a commuter.
Isolation Graph
[Click here for more information on our isolation test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Isolation) Like a lot of in-ears, the Shure SE115s don't have much leakage at all. In fact, we could barely hear a whisper about six inches away from the headphones when they were playing at a relatively loud decibel level. Feel free to bring the SE115s to the library. [Click here for more information on our leakage test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Leakage) The SE115s were capable of a very high decibel output without succumbing to distortion: 123.07dB. We give 10 points to any headphones capable of 120dB or more, because anything more than 120dB is a bit superfluous and can hurt your hearing. Increasing the volume output on some headphones will also drastically increase the volume. Chances are you've heard a pair of headphones that have started to sound blown out when you boost the volume too high. Unless you're listening to the SE115s at crazy-unsafe levels, you shouldn't run into this. [Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Maximum Usable Volume) In this section, we discuss the relative comfort of the headphones, so feel free to totally ignore us. See, your head, for all we know, has a vague trapezoidal shape to it, while ours were crafted by Freya herself to be the definitive example of human perfection. Of course, since our heads look nothing alike, the SE115s could feel far more or less comfortable to us than they would to you. Our recommendation, in this case as with all other cases: try on the headphones for at least a few hours before you decide to keep them. If you've read any other Shure review, consider that another reason to skip this section: these things are built the same as every other set of headphones in the series. What does this mean? Well, the cables extend from the top of the ear bud. This means you need to wrap the cable up and around the back of your ear. Don't like doing this? You have two options, neither of which is 100% ideal. The first option is to wear the headphones upside-down, which causes the back of the ear buds to stick out from your head at a near perpendicular angle. The second option is to wear the right ear bud in your left ear and vice versa. Unless you're listening to something that has directional significance, this is probably the best option. Aside from the quirky shape, we do have to say that the Shure headphones come with a good set of sleeves to help users find a good fit. The headphones also stay in well, making them a good gym option. As a reminder, all our subjective scores try to use 5.00 as an average score. Shure headphones tend to get slightly annoying after multiple hours of use. The foam sleeves get itchy and hot, while the soft plastic sleeves end up exerting too much pressure on our fragile ear canals. These issues aren't particularly severe, however, hence the small drop in score. The Shure SE115s come with two different types of sleeves: foam and soft plastic. The higher-end sets of Shures come with triple-flanged sleeves and a spare set of foam sleeves that the SE115s lack. The SE115s also don't come with the in-line accessory options of their sisters. This being said, the SE115s have more customizability options than the average set of sub-$100 headphones. With the extension cord added, the SE115s measure 55.75 inches. This is a bit longer than average for a set of in-ears; most users will have some slack tucked into their pocket. If you remove the extension cable, the SE115s are only about 1 foot, 5 inches long. This is a good length for hooking up to a media player in an arm band, but not much else. The main reason the SE115s come with such a short cord is so users can attach various in-line accessories, like volume changers, or a remote & mic for issuing commands to a media player or making calls on a cell phone. While other models in the SE series come with both these extras, they are separate purchases for the SE115s. Without their extension cord, the SE115s are less than a foot and a half long, which is very, very short. If you're using the extension cable to bring the SE115s to a more realistic length, they'll be a bit longer than the average set of in-ears. Also, the Shure SE series has a slightly thicker cord than we typically see on other in-ears. The SE115s come with a case as well, which is actually a lot more functional than the typical SE series porter.
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The main change is a small cargo pocket to keep all the sleeves in check.

Portability Image

This is a relatively small fix, but the older cases would just vomit your sleeves everywhere when you cracked it open. We almost lost about 40% of the Shure sleeves we got in for review this way, although we concede this was partially due to our own lack of coordination.

Another new addition: this hooky, keychain thinger.

In-ears are usually hard to maintain, since there's no easy venue for do-it-yourself fixing. The tactics users typically have access to involve removing the sleeves for easy cleaning and cleaning tools. The Shure SE115s come with both multiple sleeves and a cleaning tool. The cleaning tool is just a bit of plastic with a wire loop on it. While its good for cleaning out the SE115s' open nozzles, it doesn't reach the entire way down through the nozzle. This being said, this tool is a great inclusion.


The SE530s don't require batteries, which is enough to net them some points here. Some fancy headphones need fancy batteries to power their fancy features. While these features might be awesome, batteries rarely are. They're a pain to change or recharge.

Sure, there's a minor difference in the grays used, but overall these headphones are identical.

The SE420s take the comparison here, by not sharing the SE115s' high-end plunge. It is interesting to see the SE420s do dip in that area, however. Other than this difference, both headphones' graphs look very similar, boosting bass before settling down to a more even-handed mid-range response. For those reading this review linearly: the SE115s are very unlikely to win on the frequency response comparison.

The SE115s actually have less distortion than the SE420s.

Both headphones have similar tracking graphs. Really, neither one has much of an issue with their tracking. The SE420 manages a slighTly better response here, but it's not a gigantic lead.

Both headphones are excellent isolators.

Both headphones are about the same in terms of comfort, since they have virtually identical shapes and sleeves.

We think this match-up is somewhat indicative of the typical upgrade you can get out of a set of headphones. The SE115s are a better budget option while the SE420s are better for more discerning ears. One interesting take-away is how similar these two headphones are and the price that separates them. These price differences typically scale on an exponential magnitude. Audiophiles are doomed to spending tons of money on their hobby.

In this match-up, we prefer the MM 50 iPs aesthetically. The glossy black plastic on the backs of their ear buds looks a bit better than the drab rubbery stuff on back of the SE115s. This being said, they're both in-ears, so these differences we've called out are very, very minor.

In terms of durability, the SE115s win by a landslide. The MM 50 iPs have a tendency to shear at the plug with no options for recourse. The SE115s, however, will let you replace the lower part of the cord.

The SE115s again lose the frequency response battle. That part towards the high end is bad news.

In our experience, Sennheisers typically have very low distortion levels. This reinforces our assumptions nicely.

Both headphones have very similar tracking scores. The SE115s favor the left during the mid-range, while the MM 50 iPs favor the right, but their overall performances were almost identical.

The MM 50 iPs aren't great isolators. The SE115s, on the other hand, are.

We thought the MM 50 iPs were more comfortable than the average set of in-ears, while the SE115s were about average. Of course, since the SE115s come with more sleeve options than the MM 50 iPs, users have a better chance of finding a great fit with them.

This is an interesting match-up. We thought the MM 50 iPs were more comfortable overall, but the Shure SE115s are more adaptable. The MM 50 iPs have a remote and mic, but the SE115s have the potential to have this add-on plus many others. The MM 50 iPs aren't as durable, but look better.

Really, this match-up boils down to a few points: overall audio quality and actuality vs. potentiality. The Shure SE115s have the potential to be better all-around headphones than the MM 50 iPs, since they isolate well and have a modular cord. The modular cord increases their already high level of durability by letting you replace the cord cheaply and it also allows in-line accessories. The MM 50 iPs have better overall audio quality and are a better pick for people who don't want to have to buy additional accessories.

Like the MM 50 iP match-up, the SE115s lose on aesthetics, but win on durability. The Apple headphones will break all day and night, but they look clean and well-designed. At some point Apple will fix their terrible plug design, but until then, prepare to head to the Apple store every few months to get these things replaced.

While both headphones have a similar issue towards the high end, the Apple headphones' problem is slightly less severe due to the more gradual slope leading up to it.

The Shure SE115s win this area, for having less overall distortion and also for having less noticeable distortion. Interestingly enough, the Apple's distortion plateau seems like it occurs between the two bumps of the SE115s.

The Apple headphones have an absurd tracking result. They will continue to dominate this comparison category for many reviews to come, we're sure.

The SE115s are awesome at isolating users, while the Apple In-ears are significantly less awesome.

Here you can see the difference between the SE115s' unorthodox design and the status quo of Apple. The Shure SE115s, despite any issues you might have with them, are far more comfortable than the Apple headphones. They will not pop out easily.

This is an easy win for the SE115s. They cost less than the Apple headphones and are better in just about every category. The only demographic that will favor the Apple headphones are those who don't want to have to buy the SE115s optional remote and mic accessory.

Again, the Shure SE115s prove to be utter tanks that aren't really pretty. The CX 300-IIs have a nice splash of red in addition to the simple, but good design inherent in the MM 50 iPs. They aren't as durable as the SE115s, however they do have a better plug than the MM 50 iPs do.

Again, a quick, painful loss for the SE115s. The CX 300-IIs have a much more even frequency response and barely stray outside our limits at all.

The CX 300-IIs have very little distortion. To most people, the headphones will sound about the same here. To discerning audiophiles they will also probably sound similar. The CX 300-IIs do have an advantage here, though.

Believe it or not, the CX 300-IIs got a worse tracking score. This might not immediately be apparent just by looking at the graphs, but if you'll notice, just before the 10kHz mark the CX 300-II takes a bit of a dip.

The SE115s are far, far better at isolating users from external sound. Look at that graph!

The CX 300-IIs and their thin sleeves are really comfortable, especially for in-ears. Even though the SE115s come with myriad sleeve options, chances are the CX 300-IIs will still manage to provide a better wear experience.

Like the SE420 match-up, the CX 300-IIs are a higher-end set of headphones. The downside: the CX 300-IIs are the same price as the SE115s. The CX 300-IIs break a lot of the current price conventions, actually, outscoring tons of headphones that provide better sound quality. In this match-up, unless you really value isolation, the Sennheisers are the better bet. If you like isolation first and foremost, the CX 300-IIs can't hold a candle to the SE115s (we realize this is a poor metaphor because headphones are not sentient and have no hand-like appendage to grab a candle, but we stick by it nonetheless – UPDATE: maybe it could wrap its cord around the candle?).

The Shure SE115s are a nice option for $120, but it has some harsh competition at this price point. They did have some issues in our testing, specifically our frequency response test, but still remain solid at their price point. If you're looking to upgrade, the SE420s are probably a better value than the SE530s. If you aren't sure you like the SE115s' design, you might want to try out the Sennheiser MM 50 iPs or the CX 300-IIs, which are both solid headphones.

Overall, the SE115s are a great, less-expensive-than-usual, entry-level option from Shure. Try to pick it up for under $100, because such deals are very easy to find.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer


Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

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