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.
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.
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.
The main change is a small cargo pocket to keep all the sleeves in check.
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 is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email