Great sound quality
Although they're certainly a good, versatile set of in-ears, the Shure SE535s are currently priced at a very, very expensive $500.
The Shure SE535s are a set of high-end in-ears. They feature detachable ear buds, which either allow the addition of in-line accessories or allow users to replace a broken cable. Cables are the weakest part of a set of in-ears, and are also the cheapest part to replace. You should consider the SE535s an investment in this regard, since you'll just have to replace a relatively cheap part of them when they break down.
Like other Shure headphones, the SE535s feature long, open nozzles that will get filled with all kinds of gross stuff from your disgusting ears. Don't fret, however: they also come with a cleaning tool for extracting all the biological waste they collect.
Also like other Shure headphones, the SE535s feature a very robust cable. It's thick with insulation, which should keep the cable from breaking down as quickly as it would on another, less beefy set of headphones. The neck split is also pretty well protected. The word "rugged" is often over-used in tech journalism, and while we'll avoid using it here, if any set of in-ears could be considered rugged (they can't), it'd be a pair of Shures.
And, for the denouement of our thrilling tour, SE535s end in a typical 1/8-inch plug. It's somewhat thick, however, so don't expect to easily hook up to a recessed port.
Inside the SE535's fancy metal box, you'll find a bunch of sleeves, some adapters, a volume control switch, and a carrying case.
Shure's in-ears are usually durable, and the SE535s are even better in that regard than their predecessors. The SE535s have lost the modular cable in favor of detachable ear buds. That means if any part of the cable breaks down, you can just swap it out for a new one.
Of course, the open nozzle allows gunk to get inside your headphones. They're not too tough to clean, though.
Like the rest of the SE series, the SE535s 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 SE535s aren't bad looking. Overall, the SE535s don't have anything to catch anyone's eye, for better or worse.
The Shure SE535s have a fine frequency response up until the very high end, where they fall off very, very suddenly just before the 10kHz mark. The drop isn't particularly smooth either, with a small bump at the 10kHz mark and another one towards 15kHz. Other than mishandling the high-end, however—which seems to be intentional since just about every other pair of Shures we've reviewed performed similarly—the SE535s had a decent frequency response.
There isn't much here in the way of distortion. There are a few low-level spikes throughout, but nothing that'd bother anyone but the most delusional audiophile.
The headphones had pretty consistent tracking throughout the spectrum. They were a bit loud in one ear, but that could be written off as a wear issue. The important part is the tracking curve is pretty much horizontal. Great result here.
Like other Shure headphones we've tested, the SE535s isolate extremely well. These headphones will block out more noise than a great pair of active noise cancelling headphones.
There's really no leakage issue with the SE535s. Our test found barely a whisper came out of them, so feel free to listen to your horrible music at full volume at the local public library without causing a stir.
We found the Shure SE535s could achieve and output of 127dB without reaching a 3% distortion level. Once distortion hits 3%, your playback will start sounding like terrible garbage. The headphones can go louder, of course, but they'll take a huge hit to audio quality.
Although the Shure SE535s feature a slightly different build than other Shure in-ears, they're about as comfortable of a fit. Wear them normally or slung over the backs of your ears and you'll find them equally comfortable either way.
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.
Of course, this section is entirely subjective, so please, try the headphones out before you buy them. We guarantee your head and ear shapes are totally different than our own (we are horribly disfigured and more monsters than men).
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 SE535s 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 SE535s lack.
The Shure SE535s measure 5.33 feet. This is a bit longer than average for a set of in-ears; most users will have some slack tucked into their pocket. The headphones also come with a two adapters: a 1/4-inch adapter for plugging into a stereo system, and an airplane adapter for plugging into an airplane.
As in-ears, the SE535s are ridiculously portable. They're short bits of thin-ish cable with plastic parts on the ends. They also come with a case, which is actually a lot more functional than the typical SE series porter. 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 barf your sleeves everywhere when you cracked it open. Below is a shot of all the garbage that comes with your SE535s: it all fits in that little pouch on the right.
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 SE535s do come with multiple sleeves, but they don't come with a cleaning tool. They do have a trick, however: removable ear buds. If your cable breaks, it's not a big problem: just replace it. Since the ear buds are where all the expensive technology lives, being able to replace the cord is a great way to get longevity from your headphones without having to constantly re-buy the whole expensive package.
The SE535s 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.
The volume switch pretty much functions as advertised. Our only caveat: make sure it doesn't hang out inside your pocket. Try to keep it outside. The switch is pretty sensitive, and rolling around in your pocket is enough to turn the dial from "moderate volume" to "I need to go to the hospital."`
The Shure SE535s feature a much better design than the Bose MIE2s. The Shure's cable can detach from the ear buds, which helps you replace the cable without also having to swap out the actual expensive bits. The MIE2s, on the other hand, look kind of weird.
The headphones actually had similar curves to their frequency responses. The SE535s was a bit more reserved, however.
Neither set of headphones had many isues with distortion.
The Shure SE535s had less issues with their tracking.
The SE535s isolated far, far better than the Bose MIE2s.
The Shure SE535s don't stick in as well as their predecessors, but they still offer a more comfortable, secure fit than the MIE2s. The only way we'd say the MIE2s were more comfortable is if you hate looping the headphone cable around the back of your ears. The Shure SE535s are meant to be worn this way, and feel a bit weird if you don't.
The SE535s are significantly better than the Bose MIE2s. They feature better performance and significantly better construction, but their price reflects this. If you're looking for better headphones but don't necessarily want a super high-end item, the Bose MIE2s are the better choice—but if that's the case, we have to warn you: the MIE2s aren't the best choice either, since there are many better headphones that cost less.
The SE535s clearly have a better design than the hf3s. Their cable detatches to allow inline accessories and to easily replace a broken cable without having to replace the more expensive ear buds. The hf3x, however, come with an in-line remote & mic: for all their fancy-pantsiness, the SE535s can't say that.
Both headphones had similar frequency responses, but the SE535s were a bit more accurate than the hf3s.
Neither set of headphones had much distortion.
The headphones both had very even tracking.
While both headphones were excellent isolators, the SE535s were just a bit better than the hf3s.
We didn't so much see a difference in the comfort levels of these two headphones, but they do have different wear styles. The SE535s are meant to be worn with the cable slung around the back of the ear. They're still wearable otherwise, but they have the option. The hf3s do not.
The SE535s are high end headphones. They have a ridiculously fancy design and represent an investment in portable audio. The hf3s aren't as durable and might break down over time, but they also cost significantly less.
There's no real competition here: the SE535s feature a much better design than the CX 680is. Their cable detaches from the ear buds to allow inline accessories and to easily replace a broken cable.
The Shure SE535s had a significantly more consistent frequency response.
Neither set of headphones had many issues with distortion.
While the CX 680is' tracking wasn't exactly all over the board, the SE535s were much more balanced.
The Shure SE535s isolate much more external noise.
We didn't really think either set of headphones was more comfortable than the other, but their wear styles are pretty different. The SE535s are meant to be worn with the cable draped around the back of the ear. The CX 680is feature a more traditional wear style. We'd recommending trying out each before making a final purchasing decision.
This match-up is really an issue of budget. Both are good headphones within their respective price points, but those price points are pretty far apart. If you don't mind taking a hit in durability and sound quality for quite a bit of savings, the CX 680is are the better choice. If you'd rather make the investment up front and not have to deal replacing the entire set of headphones when something breaks down, the SE535s are for you.
The SE535s look like an expensive set of in-ears. The CX 980s look like they're a 1980s approximation of what headphones might look like in the distant future. The SE535s feature detachable ear buds and don't have a mandatory bulky volume switch in-line.
Neither set of headphones had the best frequency response. The SE535s had poor emphasis in the high end and the CX 980s had too much emphasis in the low end.
Neither set of headphones had much distortion.
The SE535s were more balanced than the CX 980s.
The SE535s isolate much better than the CX 980s.
We thought both headphones were roughly the same level of comfortable. The SE535s can be worn down or around the back of your ear, but the CX 980s would feel awkward if worn in the latter style. The one minor complaint we'd make regarding the CX 980s is that their control pendant is a bit bit for the limited functionality it provides (just volume control).
We'd recommend the SE535s over the CX 980s here. They're far more durable, wear better, and don't have the wonky in-line volume control.
The SE535s are a good, durable set of in-ears. They're stupidly expensive at $500, though. The price makes sense when you factor in their removable ear buds, but even if the lower upkeep cost justifies the entry price, it's enough to send many buyers into sticker shock.
The headphones have two unique factors that aren't for everyone, however. The first is their design: wear these around for a bit before you decide to keep them. The second is their modular cord. While it's definitely a boon to be able to swap in various in-line accessories, it just increases the number of connections that can get pulled apart.
If you're looking for a budget option, the SE535s aren't for you. In the $100, we always recommend the Sennheiser MM 50 iPs. Below that, the new Apple in-ear headphones are a good, if somewhat fragile bet, as are the Denon AH-C351s.
Meet the tester
Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.
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