NerdyStuff’s Stuff for Nerds: SHURE 846 IEM Headphones

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Picking headphones can be a particularly daunting task, particularly given that many simply assume that one pair of buds is as good as any other. Take any transit ride and you’ll see plenty of white cabled, came-with-the-device pairs being used perfectly well to channel whatever latest hit is being streamed from phones and into ear holes.

From there things go positively bonkers, with some spending thousands and thousands on devices that make incremental (if any) difference in sound reproduction. It’s a dangerous game, and one that can cost you a small fortune if you become hooked.

I’ve long argued that audio stuff is like wine – you can certainly taste the difference between a $5 box of red and a decent $20 bottle, but if you’re saying that the $1000 vintage is somehow radically different in quality than, say, the $400 or the $2000 bottle then things get a bit more complicated. The deal then is to get the model that’s right at that sweet spot – not quite “need a bank loan” to purchase, but not the bottom of the barrel, either. If you can find that sweet spot you’re going to get something you’ll be happy with, even if it’s a bit of a drain on your wallet.

The Shure 846SEs fit the bill for me perfectly. They’re the highest-end of IEMs (in ear monitors) that the company builds, and they’re an engineering marvel. Housed inside a clear plastic bean-shaped shell are four individual drivers with micro crossovers to deliver sound throughout the spectrum. Essentially, these are earbuds with a subwoofer and three tweeters inside, and listening to beautifully-recorded music with them is an absolute delight.

Being a premium product, they come in a large plastic case with plenty of accessories including an in-line volume control and plenty of earbud shapes to go over the fixed nozzle. For even better noise cancelling I went to my local audiologist and got silicone earbuds that fit onto the phones, making a perfect and comfortable seal that’s ideal for when there’s that screaming baby sitting beside me on the plane.

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At around $1000, these aren’t a small investment. But in terms of bang-for-buck you should definitely give these a listen if you care passionately about music reproduction. Heavily compressed EDM or modern pop will sound similar on loads of quality phones, but when listening to Jazz, Classical, or analogue recordings of rock then IEMs like these truly live up to their role. Listening to Neil Young’s early records newly released as hi-res FLAC, or Herbie Hancock’s 60s recordings, uncovers details in the music that hundreds of listens hadn’t uncovered. You can hear the timbre change on the mic placement as Mick Jagger sings on Let It Bleed’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and it may just give you chills like it did for me.

There are plenty of other options in this price range, and for years I was happy with the previous flagship model, 530SE. The jump up to the 846, however, is pretty grand, and with the form-fitted earplugs it often feels like the music is being performed right in front of me. I also love that you can “tune” them with a series of different coloured inserts that provide different roll-off points to the sound (I switch between the white and black plugs depending on mood). You can also easily replace the cables should they get frayed, making this an even more long-term investment.

With killer bass, amazing imaging and just about the best sound you can get from a convenient in-ear model (thus far more portable than the chunky over-the-ear types) the Shure 846 is my go to set for recording, editing, and listening to music. They’re so good, they need to be heard to be believed.

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