The Shure SE210 headphones start with a gray and white bud. The gray part is rubbery and also serves as a cord guard, while the white part is hard plastic. Since these headphones are intended to be worn around the ear, the branding and left/right markings appear to be upside down to the untrained eye. The nozzles protrude at an angle from the bud. The tips of the nozzles are open - the nozzle isn't sealed by any kind of grating or cloth.
The cord is the same color as the gray rubber on the headphones. The neck split has an adjustment slider, and also ends in a 3.5mm jack. This means the SE210s themselves are just more than 18 inches in length, from bud to jack.
To all those who scoffed at the 18-inch length of these headphones: the SE210s do come with a 3-foot extension cable with a 3.5mm jack on the end. The box also contains a basic carrying case to cram everything into, but there is no adapter for the larger 1/4-inch socket found on many home audio systems.
The Shure SE210s also come with a handful of sleeves. Size variations aside, there are three different types: foam, soft flex, and triple-flanged. There are three sizes of both foam and soft flex sleeves, and one pair of triple-flange.
In terms of durability, the Shure SE210s seem to be durable overall, but we did spot some potential issues. We're able to bend the cord guards back far enough to cause them to separate slightly from the rest of the bud. They do, however, always return to their original position. The cord guards near the jack are similar. Bending them around causes the flex points to whiten from the stress. This doesn't bode well for their longevity, but to the cord guard's credit, it still manages to feel robust despite this visual indicator of weakness.
As a final item in the theme of 'durable, but with issues,' the neck slider is definitely cause for concern. The neck slider quickly tore after just a couple of days of moderate use. Once we got the initial rip, it was a lot harder to rip the slider further. Still, this initial rip shouldn't have been as easy to make. Many people would probably just cut the thing off if it got a rip in it, because it just looks ugly at that point.
The sleeves fit very snugly over the nozzle, so you really shouldn't run into problems with runaways. The nozzles themselves feel pretty sturdy, but the angle they stick out at could make them more prone to getting snapped off accidentally. Really, the more pressing durability issue of the nozzles is their open end. There isn't much to separate the interior of the nozzle from liquid, sand, lint, and ear wax that could all make their way down the nozzle without much opposition. Regular cleaning could help, but there isn't any sort of replaceable barrier. The similarly-priced Etymotic ER6is offer a replaceable ear wax guard.
In-ear headphones are hard to judge based on aesthetics: there's really a not a lot exposed when in use. These in particular have a simple design. The back is gray, and the main body of the bud is white with black branding. The real aesthetic issue many people will encounter is having a jack at the neck split. This means the cord is relatively thick following the split. The cord is pretty thick in general, though, so this chubby spot doesn't look completely out of line. Overall, these don't look like $500 headphones, but they do look attractive and functional.
The SE210s has generally good audio performance, and also does a good job blocking external sounds. However, we did find a few issues; there is some minor distortion, and the frequency response drops off very quickly, meaning high frequencies sound muted.
These tests are carried out using a high-end electroacoustic audio analysis system consisting of a Head and Torso Simulator (HATS) and a professional audio analysis program called SoundCheck, produced by Listen, inc. The HATS simulates the human head and ears, and has two microphones in the ears that respond to sounds in the same way your ears do. The SoundCheck system produces a series of test signals and captures the output from the headphones using these microphones, allowing us to do very precise, scientific testing of headphones. For more information on how we do our headphone quality audio testing see this article.
Frequency Response ***(2.46)*
**In this test, we look at the frequency response of the headphones, which indicates how well the headphones reproduce the sounds you play back over them. The graph below shows the frequency response of the headphones, ranging from very low frequency sounds on the left to high frequency on the right. The green line is the left channel, and the red is the right channel. The dotted black line indicates the limits we would like to see; headphones that go wildly outside these limits get lower scores.
This graph shows the frequency response of the Shure SC210 headphones is fairly good at the lower and middle parts of the graph; the response is flat, so most frequencies won't be over- or under-emphasized. The high end is not so good, though; the response of the headphones tails off somewhat quicker than we would like, meaning higher frequency sounds don't get the response we would like to see. This doesn't mean higher frequency sounds wouldn't be heard, but they would seem a little lower in the mix, giving the sound a slightly muted feel.
In this test we measure how much distortion we find in the headphones. Less is better here, as distortion can really ruin the audio experience the headphones provide.
Our audio testing system measures distortion across the audio spectrum, analyzing if there are any particular frequencies that get more distorted than others. We then produce this graph that shows the distortion for the left channel (in red) and the right channel (in green). We measure the distortion at 65 decibels; a typical level for listening to the headphones in a quiet room.
We found the se210 headphones have low distortion across most of the audio spectrum, but there is a small amount of distortion present at most frequencies. This is low enough that it wouldn't be noticeable by most users, but it is definitely present.
**Sound Level ***(10.00)*
Some people like their headphones loud, so we test how loud they can go before distortion becomes a problem. We do this by gradually increasing the sound level the headphones output, then measuring the distortion until the THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) hits 3 percent. The SE210 headphones didn't have a problem with this test; they kept the distortion less than 3 percent right through to the maximum sound level we test at of 120 dBSPL. If you're listening to music at that volume level, you've got other problems; that's loud enough that extended listening could cause permanent hearing damage.
You wear headphones because you don't want to hear the things around you, so we also test how well headphones block outside sounds. We do this by placing a speaker near our testing system and playing back pink noise, measuring how much sound the ear picks up both with the headphones on and off. We then determine how much the headphones block this sound across the frequency spectrum by calculating the difference, which is shown on the graph below. The blue line shows how much sound is blocked; the higher the line, the more sound is blocked at that frequency.
As you can see, the SE210 headphones do a great job in this test, blocking a decent level of sound across the spectrum; we found the best isolation is provided by the triple-flanged sleeves, as they provide the tightest fit inside the ear and the best seal against outside sound. This is typical of in-ear headphones, with their design completely filling the ear like a earplug, blocking most sound.
It is interesting to contrast the performance of these headphones against ones that use active noise cancelling circuits, such as the Bose QuietComfort 2 and 3 headphones. While the SE210s block sound by putting a physical barrier in its way, the active noise cancelling headphones block sound by generating another sound that cancels it out. We found in our tests so far, the active noise cancellation headphones are more effective for low frequency sounds, which makes them a good pick for frequent airplane travelers. In-ear headphones like the SE210s are more effective overall, though; they block a wider range of frequencies more efficiently, making them a better pick for more general noise blocking purposes. As long as you don't mind sticking things in your ears, that is.
The in-ear design of the SE210 headphones also means very little sound escapes from them; our test system only noticed a very slight amount of leakage from the SE210s. Even when running the headphones at a high volume, very little sound escapes. And that's the way it should be, especially if you listen to music on the bus on the way into work. The bottom line is that, if you seat them properly in your ears, your music remains personal and the person next to you won't know if it's Britney Spears or Beethoven on your iPod.
The Shure SE210 headphones are definitely above average in terms of usability. They're comfortable for in-ear headphones; you can wear them for extended periods of time without feeling like your ears are stretching out. Other than that, they're typical in-ear headphones. They're easy to cart around from place to place as a default. The case helps out a bit, but the lack of a pocket for the sleeves means they might fall out when you try to remove the headphones.
For this section, we wore the headphones for an hour, after we'd customized the headphones to provide the maximum comfort. We chose the large-sized soft flex sleeves, and thought they were fairly comfortable. The main issue we ran into was that, since the nozzle protrudes at an odd angle, getting them to fit into our ears well was a bit harder than expected. Once in, however, The Shure SE210s are a fairly comfortable pair of headphones. Once they're in, there's extremely minimal pressure on the ear canals; though we never completely forgot we were wearing them, we never had a nagging reminder they were in, either.
The only issue we ran into was with movement. If you wear your headphones looped around your ear, the buds may only loosen a bit. If you just stick in the buds and let the cords drape down, however, these things are coming out when you go for a jog.
This section is identical to the previous one, with the sole exception of the duration: for extended use, we wear the headphones for six hours. During this marathon session, we didn't really notice too much of a difference in how they felt. After about five hours we started to notice the pressure a bit more, but it still wasn't uncomfortable. Overall, we'd say the Shure SE210 headphones hold up well over time.
The SE210s use a cable to pipe the sound from a source to your ears. This cable is remarkably short, as we previously mentioned: from cord guard to cord guard, the cable is about 18 inches long. Fortunately, a 3-foot extension cord is included, lengthening your tether to about four and a half feet. This isn't bad.
The Shure SE210s are very portable for several reasons. First and foremost, they're in-ear buds, which are never very large. Second, the headphones themselves are ridiculously short, so if you don't need the extension cord for some reason they'll take up a fairly small amount of pocket space. Even if you do need the extension cord, a small case is included. The surface of the case is moderately rigid, but will definitely give if pressed.
The interior has no pockets or pouches for the sleeves, so if you lose their tiny plastic bag you'll have to unzip the case with care, or you'll be spilling sleeves and cables everywhere.
There are two boxed-in options for customization: sleeves and the extension cable. Since the headphones are so incredibly short to begin with, the extension cable is pretty much a must, so we didn't award it full points. The other options you have are in your choice of sleeves. There are three main types: soft flex, foam, and triple-flanged. The soft flex and foam sleeves each have three different size offerings: small, medium, and large.
Also, although minor, the adjustable neck split allows the degree to which your headphones choke you.
The SE210s come with a tiny cleaning tool. It's a small plastic stick with a thin wire loop on one end, and a plastic peg on the other. Both protrusions fit about 95 percent of the way down the open nozzle. While this tool will definitely help, it doesn't completely compensate for the issues the open-ended nozzle causes in the first place. We're not sure why they didn't simply offer a wax guard, since the nozzle is definitely wide enough to accommodate one. These headphones, like most in-ear headphones, are also not built for easy disassembly. This means that if something does manage to get inside the nozzle, you're stuck with inventing a new tool to scrape out the mess.
In terms of maintenance, while the headphones come with a good amount of sleeves, there aren't any same-size duplicates in the bunch. Fortunately, the nozzle doesn't let go easily, so it's not like you'll constantly leave a trail of lost sleeves in your wake. They are also made of good-quality material and should be easy to clean or wash if the need arises. The only exception are the porous foam sleeves, which are like tiny ear-cleaning sponges. More sleeves can be purchased direct from Shure, which charges $19.99 for a set of five pairs.
*The Sure SE210 headphones don't require a battery to work or provide some super cool feature. Batteries are a hassle, so by avoiding them, the SE210s get some points.
For just about every good point, the SE210s also have a bad one. This is true across nearly the entire board in terms of its features. Really, these criterion tend to cancel each other out, leaving you with a pair of slightly better than average headphones with a slightly above average price. If the strange form factor doesn't bother you, then give these your consideration while shopping. We do tend to think these headphones are a tad overpriced at $179.99, however.
Audiophile* - Real audiophiles tend to sneer at in-ear headphones; they would rather go with a big pair of headphones that have better sound performance. But the SE210s might be acceptable for the audiophile on the road who doesn't mind making some compromises on sound quality.
Portable User* - The SE210s are small and easily portable, so they will be a good pick for the modern person on the go.
Airplane Traveler* - In-ear headphones aren't always great for airplane travel (they don't let the pressure in your ears equalize, so you have to take them out as the plane ascends and descends), but they do block a lot of sound.
Home / Office Use* - The sound-blocking capabilities of the SE210s will be welcomed by anyone in a noisy office, but the slightly awkward fit and cable might make them difficult to wear while walking around or working.
The SE210s are a series of self-confounding pairs. There is a cleaning tool included, which is normally a nice extra. In this case, the open, deep nozzle simply invites grime down to where the tool can't reach. The cable seems to be made of really sturdy material, but it can easily catch on the neck split, causing it to tear. The headphones do technically come with an extension cord, but the headphones are far too short to be functional with out it. The included case will undoubtedly cause you to accidentally spill your collection of sleeves all over the floor since there is no inner pouch to keep them contained.
This pattern is also applicable to the headphones' design. Sure, the bent nozzle will make one style of wear more comfortable and attractive, but if you wear your headphones any other way the buds will stick straight out. Further, the plug after the neck split, while great for those looking to add a custom headset dongle, will just be an unattractive hassle to others.
In terms of audio quality, the SE210s have problems, even for in-ear headphones. They seriously underemphasize higher frequencies. They have issues with tracking and distortion as well, but those areas are not huge problems. Really, these aren't bad headphones, they're just a little overpriced for what they are.
Meet the tester
Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.
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