A year ago, I reviewed the $2,999 Shure KSE1500 earphones and declared them an outstanding technological feat with a sound that’s basically impossible to obtain anywhere else. Well, there’s now a more attainable version of the same, with Shure announcing the $1,999 KSE1200, which eschew the digital signal processor (DSP) and ship only with an accompanying amplifier. That allows the company to slice a third off the original audiophile earphones’ price while still retaining the claim to best-in-class fame.
The truth is that Shure’s electrostatic earphones win the prize of best in their class by default: no one else is doing anything as ambitious as this. The KSE1500s were an entire personal music listening system — one where you plugged in your phone or other digital device and Shure’s hardware handled the conversion and amplification of the sound to ensure a consistent level of quality. With the simplified KSE1200, you’ll need your own DSP, which you’ll probably already have built into your media player of choice. This is both a requirement and an opportunity to have sound more suited to your tastes. I didn’t personally enjoy the cool tonality of the original 1500 processing, but with the 1200 edition I have more control over how the music is processed and can thus obtain a warmer sound.
Of course, for most people this is of merely theoretical interest, given the eye-watering price tag. But we shouldn’t discount the fact that Shure’s out-of-this-world earphones are now a third cheaper. Every manufacturer of super premium products like this seems to recognize the need to eventually simplify and bring them into a more consumer-oriented market. In recent times, Audeze has done so with its excellent LCD2 Classic headphones — a revised version of its former flagship cans — and Haselblad has trickled down its super high-end tech with the X1D medium-format camera.