SHURE KSE1500 Review

SHURE KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System

KSE1500 Review

Introduction

When you think of buying a pair of earphones, your first reaction is probably not taking your credit card and swiping it for $3,000.

However, if you’re familiar with SHURE earphones, then this price point may not come as a surprise to you. When it comes to microphones and earphones, SHURE is one of the world’s leading, high quality manufactures.

This KSE 1500 review is aimed at those looking for a superior listening experience in their audio.

But who are these earphones for? Theoretically, anyone. But realistically (unless you have the budget and want the best listening experience of your music, even then you’ll likely need a special smartphone app to play your music at the right frequency) they are for those who are professionals in the audio and recording industry. It’s for those who need the absolute best listening experience and also need to be mobile.


How was the KSE 1500 made?

These earphones is a labor of love over the past eight years from the team over at SHURE. Which, according to the guys over at Head-Fi, is a fantastic thought in that no one could have predicted that at the time of development the market for these types of earphones would be in such demand today. With cool code names like “kelp” and “lighthouse” (during their secret development years), these hi-end earphones were eventually given the name KSE 1500 earphones (though I think “Kelp” has a special ring to it…don’t you?)

The history and story behind these earphones is very interesting and deserves and more in-depth explanation. You can watch the full video KSE 1500 review from Head-Fi, it’s development history and more technical explanation of the technology below.

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What is Electrostatic Technology?

To fully understand the technology and genius behind the KSE 1500 earphones, we need to explain what electrostatic earphones are and what makes them different from normal earphones.

We’re about to get very technical, so hang in there.

Electrostatic earphones are manufactured with a static (or non-moving), very thin diaphragm film. This diaphragm is place between two perforated metals. When an electric charge is applied to the two metal conductive plates (also called statters) , it causes the diaphragm film to vibrate, thus creating sound. Because it is nearly massless, the diaphragm has the ability to move very quickly.

The science itself is actually the same as static that causes items to stick to your clothes. The idea here, is that we are able to produce sounds with out physically touching the diaphragm. The electric charge is applied perfectly evenly across the film.

kse1500 electrostatic diaphragm
Image from SHURE Video
Electrostatic Technology
Images from SHURE Video

This gives us a listening experience that is beyond anything a traditional headphone could provide!

In comparison, most earphones are created using a coil, a magnet and a stiff cone that results in significant movement when a charge is applied. This is actually very useful technology for sound, but hasn’t has a meaningful update since the 1800s.

With the KSE1500, this changes (and others like the STAX SR-009 well). In an electrostatic headphone, the only thing that moves is the thin film (diaphragm) between the two metal plates.

This is the beauty of the technology — it’s just pure sound coming in your ears — and nothing else.

The film in the KSE1500 is so thin and light, it’s actually lighter than the air around it. This also makes electrostatic earphones physically light because there are no magnets, cones or coils. Here are some of the advantages to purchasing an electrostatic pair of earphones:

  1. Force comes from Electric field vs a magnetic field.
  2. Zero Motor-weight
  3. Zero resonances
  4. Zero energy storage

Electrostatic technology has actually be around for many years in microphones. Only in recent years, have they been reverse engineering this technology into listening products like the KSE1500 earphones. Because of the intricate size, ultra sensitivity and precise tuning manufacturing, the price is justified. The KSE1500 is the first application of this technology in a sound isolating earphone featuring a MicroDriver design.

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A review of the KSE1500 General Features:

  • It features a high correlation to the source audio. This goes a long way in providing much higher detail and audio quality — basically there are less obstacles between you and the sound.
  • We’ll go more in-depth below, but it boasts a 4-band parametric EQ with 5 presets and 4 customizable settings to control your audio playback.
  • As with many portable devices, it comes with an internal USB rechargeable battery. This gives you the ability to listen while still connected to your computer.
  • Due to it’s electrostatic and quality design, the earphones are very light-weight.
  • It’s Sound isolating technologies also blocks up to 37DB of ambient noise. – What this does for you is that is cuts out nearly all ambient noise around you including air conditioners, people talking around you, possibly the traffic rumbling outside and similar noises at this level. This noise reduction is exactly what you need if you’re reviewing a recording session outside the studio. In a real sense, the KSE1500 truly gives you a mobile quality studio sound.
  • We’ll dive in deeper into this, but it has a cable that was designed specifically for these earphones and has the ability to isolate each conductor.
  • A well thought-out design layout for easy navigation
  • Compatible with all popular devices, both Apple and Android. It has evened partnered with Apple to access their interface giving them the ability to connect directly with the lighting cable.

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The Earphones

kse1500 earphones

The KSE 1500 earphones themselves are presented in a sleek ergonomic form that fits the ear nicely. They are touted to be “the worlds’ first electrostatic Sound isolating earphones.” The internal electrostatic components are surrounded by a clear light-weight plastic molding and has a closed back, something different than most other electrostatic earphones.

According to Head-Fi, because of this closed system it doesn’t quite provide the quality of the large electrostatic earphones like the STAX system. In each earpiece you will find the electrostatic technology — the ultra thin diaphragm and two metal plates as mentioned earlier.

This technology makes it virtually weightless and provides a significantly better sound quality than the dynamic or armature counterparts. The earphones are permanently connected to the headphone’s rounded cable. Now as you probably already know, these earphones can’t be plugged into just any “device.”

They also come with their own amplifier that you can then connect with other devices like your iPhone or PC.

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The KSE1500 Amplifier

kse1500 amplifier

The amplifier itself is a beautiful piece of technology. It features a convenient USB plugin for the internal rechargeable battery. This same USB input also gives you access to all your IOS, Android, Mac and PC devices. At the bast of the amplifier you will find a switch letting you choose between line and USB.At the top, is the input for your 6-pin LEMO connector cable and also a 3.5mm (1/8”) analog input.

Don’t be fooled by it’s simple design — with merely two points of control, you can access everything you need to adjust to your preferences. You have easy access to the main menu from the large dial on top and the low-profile button on the side.

You’ll find that the menu is easy to see and clear in it’s presentation. According to the Shure website, the interface has the advantage of these three things:

  1. Easy monitoring of settings – right on the front screen you can view the source input, input level meter, volume of output, battery level and EQ settings. I like how the colors are very vibrant and clear.
  2. Five EQ Presets Preloaded – Whether you want digital processing or want to bypass it straight to analog altogether, this amplifier has just about everything. It comes with 5 EQ presets that include the following: Low Boost, Flat, De-ess and Loudness. You can also customize these 5 presets if you’d like. With these features, you really have limitless options in how your tracks sounds. Too much bass? No problem. Too rich of a sound? The EQ’s got you covered. Just remember, that when you run your audio through the equalizer it does covert it to ADC and then back into DAC.
  3. Detailed Personal Control – Not to be limited by the 5 presets, you’re also given 4 completely customizable EQ presets for your own listening pleasure.

Speaking strictly on design, the KSE1500 was made to be “on the move” with it’s size comparable to your smartphone. This is really a “first” in this technology — portability and sound quality on this size and level hasn’t really even been done quite like this. This was years in the making.

Probably one of the most important features of the amplifier is it’s ability to convert analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog. In “audio” lingo, they call these devices DACs or “Digital Analog Converter.” It even meets the high requirement of Japan Audio Society. It also has the ability to connect digitally to your iDevices – by passing the analog option.

Getting down the “nitty-gritty,” you’ll enjoy a range of sampling rates including; 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96 kHz. You can also charge it with a portable battery pack as long as it meet the following requirements; USP-powered: 5 V/0.5 A to 1 A. It’s battery life ranges from 7 (EQ mode) hours to 10 hours (BYPASS EQ mode). It’s size is also perfect at 182.-g (or 6.43oz.) and dimensions of 111 x 59 x 21 mm.

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The Cable

kse1500 kevelar cable

While most electrostatic earphones uses flat cables, the KSE 1500 uses a unique customized round cable. Because of the nature of the voltage that makes it way through these cables, it’s a common practice to manufacture them with flat cables.

As you may have guessed, this use of a round cable took many years for the team at SHURE to design. This was done because of the KSE 1500 application as an in-ear monitor and probably the desire to make it as low-profile and portable as possible.

In addition, SHURE designed it with re-enforced Kevlar to withstand the active use of it’s wearers (I mean they use this stuff in bullet proof vests… just sayin’). The cable features a 6-pin LEMO connector that was uniquely designed to pair with the amplifier and each ear piece.

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What’s in the Box?

Along with the amplifier, cable and earpieces, you’re KSE1500 will come in a beautifully designed storage box with a number of accessories to protect and enhance your new purchase:

  1. A leather case to protect the amplifier.
  2. Two rubber security bands (but honestly, they look like “cause” bands. So if you’re a huge fan of SHURE, you could probably wear them on your hand just because. 🙂
  3. Two mini-to-mini cables
  4. Extra earphone tips
  5. Cleaning cloth
  6. Hardcore of the earphones

kse1500 review accessories

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Conclusion of the KSE1500 Review

In bringing this review to a close, it’s not hard to miss what an amazing piece of technology these headphones are. This groundbreaking innovation is likely only it it’s beginning stages. Perhaps one day, it’ll even be available at a price point where many can enjoy such rich audio.

However, that day is far off and the only question is whether this electrostatic earphone system is the right choice for you. If you are a professional in the audio/visual industry or take your music listening seriously, then these electrostatic headphones are definitely something you want in your “arsenal.” However, if you’re not convinced, I went out and pulled a few things other people had to say about the product.

“This is perhaps, for me, the most significant product release since the Seinnheiser HD 800.” – Jude, Head-Fi

“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.” – D. Sedik, Amazon

“The sound of these headphones is in a league of its own. The clarity and separation is amazing. The sound is so clear and balanced, I can make out all of the instruments even when there are other sounds present at the same time. Simply amazing. This is a breakthrough product.” – Amazon reviewer

See customer reviews at: Ebay | Amazon


There are some cons that were mentioned by some users. I’ve outlined them below as things to consider:

  1. Considering the Shure KSE1500 price point, some believe that the build quality could have been better with a more advanced interface.
  2. Some users had problems with the earphone tips fitting properly in the ear.
  3. The portability of the device is a bit difficult, as you can’t simply plug it into you iPhone because it uses the amplifier.
  4. In a few places it was mentioned that the battery life could be better.
  5. The price

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KSE 1500 Specifications

These specs you can also easily find on the landing page for the KSE 1500 on the SHURE website.

General Specifications
Category Specs
Bias Voltage 200 V DC
Output Voltage ±200 V max.
Output Current ≤1 mA
Noise Attenuation ≤37 dB
Operating Temperature Range −18 to 57 °C (0 to 135 °F)

Earphone Specifications
Category Specs
Transducer Type Electrostatic
Connector Type LEMO Connector
Frequency Response 10 Hz to 50 kHz
Maximum SPL 1 kHz at 3% THD 113 dB SPL
Net Weight 44.0 g (1.55 oz.)

Amplifier Specifications
Category Specs
Bit Depth 16-bit / 24-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1 / 48 / 88.2 / 96 kHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio up to 107 dB A-weighted
Adjustable Gain Range -40 dB to +60 dB
Limiter Selectable Analog RMS Limiter
Equalizer 4-band Parametric
USB Input USB Micro-B Receptacle
Line-In Input 3.5 mm (1/8")
Charging Requirements USB-powered: 5 V/0.5 A to 1 A
Housing Black Anodized Aluminum
Net Weight 182.0 g (6.42oz.)
Dimensions 111 × 59 × 21 mm H × W × D

Battery Specifications
Category Specs
Battery Type Rechargeable Li-Ion
Nominal Voltage 3.6 V DC
Battery Life Analog in (BYPASS EQ mode) up to 10 hours
USB Input Analog in (EQ mode) up to 7 hours
Battery Charging Temperature Range 0 to 45 °C (32 to 113 °F)

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