Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System
- The first 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 features 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 when 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 earphone cable specifically isolates each conductor
- Streamlined controls for quick and simple, user-friendly navigation throughout the KSE1500 settings
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From the Manufacturer
Introducing the KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System.
Experience a premium listening environment anywhere.
Whether you’re on an international flight or an undisturbed mountaintop, your ears will be enveloped by luxurious audio in a sleek system designed for the most discerning audiophile.
Featuring unprecedented Sound Isolating electrostatic earphones and a matched digital-to-analog amplifier, the KSE1500 means that high-fidelity portable audio is at last a reality.
Simply luxurious sound, wherever you are.
What's In The Box?
- KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System
- USB Wall Charger
- Micro-B-to-Lightning Cable
- Micro-B OTG Cable
- (2) 1/8" (3.5mm) Cables [6" (15.2 cm) and 36" (92 cm)]
- (6.3mm) Adapter
- Leather Carrying Case
- Airline adapter
- Cable Clip
- (2) Security Bands
- Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
The world’s first electrostatic Sound Isolating earphones.
Electrostatic technology provides the fastest, most accurate transient response available. Until now, it has never been applied to Sound Isolating earphones.
Each earphone features a virtually weightless, massless diaphragm surrounded by an electrostatic field generated by back plates that manage charge oscillation. The result is unmatched clarity and detail with an extremely high correlation to the source audio.
Easy monitoring of settings.
Clearly view input source, input level meter, battery level, output volume and EQ setting from the home screen.
Five EQ Presets
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This item Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System
Westone WSTW80 In-Ear Headphones & Monitors B01M6W1XVL
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The premium KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System is an electrostatic earphone and amplifier system with digital-to-analog-conversion (DAC) for use in-line with portable media players. Featuring single-driver electrostatic Sound Isolating earphones matched to a USB digital-to-analog-converter (DAC) that converts analog or digital audio from portable digital or analog audio sources. The KSE1500 system features a 24 bit/ 96 kHz conversion rate, customizable 4-band parametric EQ with five standard and 4 user-defined settings, recharge ability and input level meters. Able to process both digital audio directly via micro-USB, analog via a direct line in, or bypass entirely for a pure analog signal without conversion. The KSE1500 system defines a new standard of portable listening that brings high-fidelity audio into the mobile demands of today’s active lifestyles. Included: KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System, USB wall charger, Micro-B-to-Lightning cable, Micro-B OTG Cable, (2) 1/8" (3.5mm) cables [6" (15.2 cm) and 36" (92 cm)], ¼" (6.3mm) adapter, leather carrying case, airline adapter, attenuator, cable clip, (2) security bands, microfiber cleaning cloth.
Top Customer Reviews
A sound in a league of its own, with amazing clarity, balance, and speed.
Need to carry the proprietary DAC/Amp
Not the most comfortable IEM
The volume control on the KSE1500 DAC/amp unit doubles for menu navigation. When double-pressing on the volume button, you get the following set of controls:
Equalizer. This comes with the following predefined settings:
Bypass (flat, or no EQ)
Below this are 4 user-defined entries. You're able to start creating your own frequency response curves using the parametric EQ either from the flat user-defined entries (1-4), or from any of the existing preset shapes, above. When saving, you'll be prompted to save your EQ curve into one of those 4 user-defined slots. The parametric EQ isn't really explained in the user manual, but it's pretty intuitive. It lets you adjust the frequency response by shape, centre frequency and amplitude. However, I rarely use the EQ these days. I was initially using it to bump up the sub-bass slightly, but I find that with SpinFit tips flat/no-EQ is just about perfect to my ears. In fact, with the SpinFit tips, I find the bass even more prominent than that of my SE846 (to be clear, I now use Brown Knowles dampers in place of the stock filters on my SE846).
Below the EQ is the "Audio" menu, which has two settings:
1) Limiter off/on. There's no explanation at all for this one in the user manual. Basically, in various legacy Shure products, there was always a peak RMS limiter to avoid excessive dB levels at the eardrum that might cause hearing damage. Although the max SPL of the KSE1500 unit (~113 dB) isn’t perhaps as high as with some other headphone/amp combos (a trait of electrostats), Shure decided to keep this limiter feature. I'm not exactly certain at what SPL level the limiter would kick in (I contacted Sean Sullivan at Shure, and he wasn't certain either), but to hear the effect you’d have to be pushing the volume to unsafe levels where the sound might(?) start to distort. At that point, you could opt to use the limiter to basically swap distortion for compression. Neither is a good idea, and if you're willing to spend $3000 on an IEM, you probably shouldn't be risking your hearing by listening at that kind of volume.
2) Input pad: This adjusts the sensitivity of the line-in. You can choose between increments of 0, -10, -20dB. Basically, if you have a high output voltage from your players line-out, you might notice the KSE1500's meters hitting the orange or red. You want to avoid that by reducing either the LO output power, or reducing the sensitivity via the input pad.
The next menu is the Utilities menu, which has the following options:
1) Display: Let's you adjust screen brightness and display timeout.
3) Flip screen - so you can use your KSE1500 in Australia ;-)
4) Knob direction (do you prefer clockwise or counter clockwise?)
5) Battery info: This tells you the charge %, cycle count and temperature.
6) Factory reset
7) Firmware information
The final menu is hardware, which has the following options:
2) Disable charging - This is essential if you're driving the KSE1500 from, say a smartphone and you don't want your smartphone to be charging the KSE1500 (and draining its own battery) while playing. (iPhones and iPads don't give you that option, but you could use an Android phone or tablet to simultaneously stream to - and charge - the KSE1500. Most of the time, you'd want to disable charging, even if your player supports it. Note that the KSE1500 reverts automatically to charge mode when shutdown.)
Original review below...
Build quality: It's only right that Shure recoup some of the money they've spent on 8 years of R&D, but honestly, this doesn't feel like $3000 worth of kit. The DAC/amp unit has a tiny, flickering, low-res, pixelated screen that looks like something from a 1970s Casio LED watch. The earbuds themselves look and feel cheaper than those on the SE215. They have plastic nozzles, which worries me as I've torn off plastic Shure nozzles in the past, just trying to remove the eartips.
The DAC: It's ok. It sounds great. But it's a little dated now and there's a chance you already own a better DAC than the one built into the KSE1500.
Memory wire: I hate it. But I haven't yet been brave enough to take an exacto knife to a $3000 IEM with non-replaceable cables ;-)
Fit: The buds are a different shape to the SE846 buds (they're smaller and thinner) and the plastic nozzles seem shorter too, and even with the exact same Shure olive tips, I struggled to get a good fit and seal. Comply P-Series foams fit perfectly, but I noticed some loss of detail in the upper frequencies, so in the end, I settled for installing the Shure olives only part way down the nozzle. Of course, as with any IEM, seal is critical.
Portability: You can't just throw these IEMs into your shirt pocket. The earbuds themselves are tiny, but the cable and connector are pretty bulky (even when wound up) and you also have to carry an extra box of high-voltage electronics with you. Also, the standard-size carry case Shure supplies is too small even to hold just the earbuds. (What was Shure thinking here?!)
Crackling/distortion from high-output line-outs: Using the default setting, line-outs from certain DAPs can cause clipping and distortion. Basically, the analog input is overly sensitive. You can fix this by setting lower input-pad dB levels, but this is something that should really be explained in the user manual (the KSE1500 user manual doesn't explain much more than the on/off button). Digital in via USB works fine, as does analog in from variable-volume line-outs, such as that from the wonderful QP1R.
Convenience factor: If you want to grab a pair of headphones to listen to something quickly, you probably won't reach for the KSE1500 as it takes a bit of extra time to get all those cables connected.
Battery life: About 7.5 hours if you use both DAC and amp.
The DAC/amp unit is actually quite small and the battery charges pretty quickly. I wouldn't have minded a slightly larger amp unit (and slightly longer charge times) in order to get 10+ hours of use.
Pros: The sound. If you hear these and then go back to your old IEMs, you'll be forever knowing that you're missing something.
I felt compelled to write this because of two particularly harsh and unfair reviews here on Amazon. I'm all in favor of warning consumers about poor value-for-money products, but you have to get your facts right. As you can see from the list of cons above, I don't consider the KSE1500 to be perfect. It is insanely expensive and it's not nearly as portable as a regular pair of IEMs. But it isn't snake oil, as one reviewer has suggested. These are electrostatic IEMs, which means they have the sound isolation of a good pair of in-ear monitors (Shure claims 37 dB NRR), together with essentially mass-less drivers which are capable of incredibly fast transient response and extremely low levels of distortion. The level of resolution and detail from these headphones is amazing. But they are electrostats - and they are IEMs, both of which have implications...
IEMs are often noted for their inability to create a wide sound-stage. While full-size headphones invariably do better in this regard, I've always felt this particular criticism unfair, because most (all?) modern recordings are made to be played back on speakers. If one were to play back binaural recordings - particularly VR binaural, where the listener can gather additional spatial cues by turning their heads, IEMs would trump full-sized headphones. But as things currently stand in terms of recorded music, yes, the KSE1500 will have a narrower sound-stage than that of most full-size, over-ear headphones.
Bass response has been something that some have criticized, even before hearing the KSE1500, as it's naturally assumed all electrostatic headphones will lack sub-bass. Is that true here? Not really. Compared to the SE846, the bass certainly rolls off a bit earlier (~25 Hz vs ~20 Hz limit, with a gentler roll-off in the latter case). In its default (flat/no EQ) state, the KSE1500 certainly has less sub-bass rumble, but the EQ on the KSE1500 amp/DAC unit is actually very good, and you can elevate that bass to SE846-like levels with negligible loss in transparency. (In fact, I found the default low-bass setting too much and settled instead for a 4 dB boost below 80 Hz.) There's a legitimate question of preferences here. Should a headphone sound accurate, or should it sound fun? The KSE1500 certainly leans toward the former, but the EQ does allow you to shape the sound if you prefer. I'm not really a fan of "accurate" or flat-frequency responses anyway. Our ears are naturally less sensitive to the low and high frequency extremes at modest volumes and a slight V-shaped signature can compensate for that and allow you to still hear the details of the full spectrum of music at safe listening volumes. Even if a headphone FR were measured completely flat, everybody's ears are different, so everyone will have their own preferences for these EQ settings. What matters is the FR curve that reaches your brain ;-) I'll be honest - there are some tracks I've tested where the humble ATH-M50x sound way more fun and euphonic than the KSE1500 on flat/no EQ setting. Since listening to music is about the emotion - if some extra sub-bass resonance (even if it didn't actually exist in the recording) and some artificially sparkly treble create that emotion for you, it would certainly be hard to justify the KSE1500 at 20 times the price. However, for the most part, the parametric EQ on the KSE1500 allows you to choose - accurate or fun, or somewhere in between. Whatever the EQ setting, the level of detail retrieval is surprising. An awful lot of money is wasted in the audiophile world on things that make negligible difference (e.g., cables, DAPs) or absolutely zero difference (hi-res audio files). Yes, the KSE1500 is outrageously expensive, but it makes an obvious improvement in clarity that you don't need the hearing of a dog to appreciate.
One final note on price. This current Amazon seller is listing the KSE1500 for a whopping $3700, but then generously giving you a $700 "savings". This is BS. You shouldn't be paying more than $3000 for this from any US seller.
Lastly, I want to say a HUGE thank you to the awesome folks at Westlake Pro Audio, who were generous enough to let me take this unit home in order to demo it properly, with the option of returning it for a full refund if I didn't want to keep it. I expected I would most likely return it. In the end, I didn't. It really does sound that good. If you get a chance, give it a listen!
Second, I want to say that I already own a number of excellent IEMs--JH Audio Laylas, Noble Kaiser 10s, Sennheiser IE800s, Shure SE846s. I also own some Sennheiser HD800s and Stax SR009s. The HD800s are an excellent dynamic headphone, but the Stax SR009s are, in my opinion, just the best headphone I have ever heard. The sound of the Stax is so detailed and the treble and bass so good (to my ears) that I often thought to myself "wow, it would be great to have a portable pair of these".
Well, the Shure KSE1500s come pretty close to the Stax. They are in my opinion the most detailed, best sounding IEMs I have ever heard. So, if you are looking for the best, you need not go further. That said, they are not the most convenient IEMs. In the first place, they require their own dedicated amplifier/DAC. You can't just plug these into your iPhone, DAP or other sound source. You need to use the digital or analog output of the player which feeds the KSE1500 amplifier/DAC which drives the earphones. So, that means that you need to carry around your music source, plus the electrostatic amplifier/DAC plus the earphones. Personally, I use the KSE1500s with an Onkyo DP-X1 and they sound fantastic either through the digital or analog inputs. But I do listen to my other earphones as well sometimes, because I don't want to go through the trouble of all the hookup required.
Here are some more specific attributes:
Comfort: In my opinion, the KSE1500s are as comfortable a universal IEM as I have used, though not as comfortable as my custom JH Audio Laylas. But, in my opinion, the detail in the high frequencies of the KSE1500s is far superior to the Laylas.
Isolation: When inserted properly, these IEMs do in fact isolate as well as my custom JH Audio Laylas. That is very good, because it means you can hear the detail and the bass is not lost either.
Battery life: I have not measured the hours, but the battery of the Shure electrostatic amp seems to last a very long time, much longer than the battery on the DP-X1, though it seems to me that when I use the digital input on the Shure amp it seems to suck power from the DP-X1.
Carrying case: I use an external hard drive carrying case by Case Logic to carry the Shure amp/DAC and my DP-X1. The earphones and cable I carry in their own dedicated Shure earphone case.
Generally, I agree with the other positive reviews on this site. In fact, the Shure amplifier can handle only up to 24/96 music and no DSD. Though that seems a bit behind the times, for me, this is not such a big drawback, because the detail I hear with these earphones is so much better than with others that the 24/96 vs 24/192 or whatever is of secondary importance. But there may be others for whom this is very important.
A note about the user manual: It is not very informative on the settings. I wrote Shure to ask about the settings in the amp/DAC and they wrote me back explaining everything I needed to know.
I would be amiss if I did not note one other issue which I ran up against when using the KSE1500s with my iPhone. When listening to hi-res audio files through my iPhone 6s connected through the digital output and into the Shure amp/DAC I hear occasional popping, cracking and even buzzing. This issue occurs no matter what hi res app I used (I used Onkyo HF player, iAudio gate and Kaisertone). This problem, is not an issue with he Shure amp/DAC, because it occurs with other DACs that I have used with the iPhone. It appears to be an iPhone problem. I agonized over this problem for weeks, testing my iPhone 6s with other DACs, testing the Shure with my iPad (no pops or cracks!) and testing different hi-res players on the iPhone 6s. I contacted Shure about the issue, and they also conducted tests of their own and could reproduce this problem on 1/2 the iPhone 6s they tested. The moral of this story is that if you plan to use an iPhone 6s as your source device, you should probably test it with the Shure KSE1500 (or any other external DAC) before you buy. To repeat, this is not a Shure issue, it is an iPhone issue.