SE102MPA Sound Isolating Mobile Headset
Company: Shure, Inc.
Shure has long been known as a manufacturer of high-quality audio equipment, with a full line of both pro and consumer-level products.
The iPod/iPhone earbud market is one of the hottest consumer spaces there is, and Shure has several products for it. The Weeks Division of MyMac Labs had the opportunity to evaluate the Shure SE102MPA Sound Isolating Mobile Headset.
We spent several days on the road with the SE102 in our ears, and here’s what we found.
These earbuds produce very good sound quality, as you’d expect after paying $119.99 for a pair. The SE102 is not your average pair of earbuds; when properly fitted and installed it produces sound that approaches audiophile quality. I’ve reviewed a number of iPod/iPhone earbuds, and the SE102 produces the best sound of any pair I’ve tried.
The SE102’s bass is full and tight, yet not boomy. Highs are crisp and clear, and the mid-range is warm and liquid.
While Shure rightly brags about the technological quality of the SE102’s drivers (and they are good), a significant part of the overall experience comes from the sound reduction that you get only after you have the correct ear tips installed. Take the time to find the right size. Shure provides a wide choice of ear tips to fit almost ear canal size. Being just your average guy, with average size ears, I was able to obtain the right fit with the tips that came installed from the factory.
Shure recommends the wearer loop each ear bud’s cord behind the ear. By doing this, the buds locked themselves firmly in my ear, and I got the best sound reduction. Unfortunately, this makes putting them on more time-consuming. I found looping the cord around the top of the ear to be awkward, as I sometimes needed two hands to make sure the cord didn’t flop over the top of my ear when I inserted the bud itself into the the ear canal. If you elect not to loop the cord in back of your ears, you can let the cord drape straight down. I found this made it far easier to do while on the go, but the fit was not quite as secure, and the sound reduction not quite as impressive.
The SE102 comes in two parts; the earbuds themselves, which have a (approximately) 14″ cable ending in a mini-RCA jack, and the microphone, which is at the end of a 22″ extension cord. The short cable from the earbuds jacks into the microphone itself, which plugs into the iPhone. The microphone has a button which enables the standard features of single-clicking to pause audio, double-clicking to jump to the next track, and triple-clicking to jump back to a track’s beginning. The microphone’s button is pleasantly large and easy to quickly locate while on the go. Also included is a small carrying pouch.
As much as I liked the pure audio experience of the SE102, I found it frustratingly hard to use in the real world. As noted above, it can be awkward to put on the two earbuds correctly. I was rarely able to do so pulling a rolling suitcase while walking, as I needed two hands to obtain a correct fit.
More importantly, the location of the microphone is badly chosen, being too far from the user’s mouth. With the cords looped behind the ear, the microphone hung down to the middle of my chest. When talking in a quiet room, callers reported the call audio to be crisp and clear, but a bit quiet, and without much bass. When calling in a busy location, with normal amounts of ambient noise, some callers could not hear me well. If I did not loop the cords behind my ear when putting them in on the go, the microphone was nearly down to my belt line. With the mic this far from my mouth, I had many callers telling me “could you repeat that, I can’t hear you.”
Moreover, the microphone is rather large, compared to most other iPhone mics. This makes it difficult to use my absolute gotta have it can’t live without it most-favorite earbud accessory; the Belkin TuneTie.
Anyone who travels with earbuds knows the most unfortunate fact of earbud life is that they tangle. Badly.
Weeks’ First Law of Earbud usage states: The degree of tangle is directly proportional to how quickly you need to put them on. The TuneTie ($9.99 for three) allows you to wrap the earbud cord around it, and thus prevent earbud cord snarls and tangles. TuneTie also prevents me from snarling when I get tangled earbuds.
As I was trying hard to like using the SE102 when on the road, I was distraught to find the SE102’s microphone to be large enough to prevent the cord from wrapping around the TuneTie, thus forcing me to carry the buds loose in a pocket, guaranteeing massive tangles when needed, or to fish the earbuds out of the Shure carrying pouch and hope to find them not tangled.
Shure has produced an earbud/microphone set that has wonderful audio quality and great ambient noise reduction. When properly fitted and placed in the ear, the SE102 furnishes great audio quality and noise reduction. Shure just doesn’t have the technology packaged for easy real-world use. The microphone needs to be closer to the user’s mouth to provide for better call quality in noisy locations. It also should be smaller. Ideally, the SE102 should be a one-piece unit, and not come in two parts that need to be plugged together. Fewer parts means fewer parts to lose, and better audio quality due to fewer plug connections.
MyMac rating 3 out of 5 Great audio, but mediocre ergonomics.