by John Gatski
At the Oct. AES Expo in NY last month, I saw an innovative product, the KSE1500, from the venerable Shure company: a headphone/DAC with in-ear, electrostatic earbuds. That is the first time I have ever seen the electrostatic principle miniaturized from the normal large-panel electrostatic principle used in high-end speakers, such as MartinLogan and Quad, etc.
This product, priced at $2,999 and available early in 2016, is said to be "the first application of electrostatic technology for Sound Isolating Earphones (patent pending) featuring a single MicroDriver design." Besides the intrinsic electrostatic sonics transmitted via small drivers, the system also can attenuate nearly 40 dB of noise. Shure is a leader in wireless monitoring for devices, and it makes sense that it would utilize that design expertise in making a high-end hi-fi product.
Like many other audiophile DAC/HP amps, the KSE1500 offers high-res performance to 24/96 in PCM via a Cirrus ADC/DAC chip and low-noise, dynamic headphone amplifier. Early specs do not mention DSD compatibility, but Shure is definitely pushing itself into direct hi-res playback via this product.
Shure is showing a keen interest in broadening their markets beyond traditional pro, and the KSE1500 reveals one more evolutionary step. This an audiophile product, no doubt.
I briefly listened to some CD-quality music via a smart phone with the electrostatic earbuds and KSE1500. With a pair of close, but not quite, fitting of isolating electrostatic earbuds firmly implanted in my ear canals, the ambient noise did not allow for a critical listening demo. But from what I heard, the electrostatic buds and Shure DAC/HP amp relayed a present, detailed, soundstage with ample low end, and great openness and air on the treble sounds: characteristics of electrostatic speakers. In other words, the Initial sonic opinion from yours truly was quite positive. Can't wait to get an evaluation unit for a full review.
Other than no 24/192 decoding (a feature that I strongly suggested to the design engineer at AES), I was also pleased with the factory noise specs of -107 dB A-weighted, which is excellent for a portable device and equal to the some of the very best portable DACs we have measured.
I also like the inclusion of 4-band onboard EQ with customizable settings, full connection compatibility with IOS/iPad via lightning and Android via OTG USB connectors — as well as PC and Mac via the USB. The battery is rechargeable via USB and is said to get 7-10 hours of play before recharge. Like Shure's other microphone and headphone wireless gear, the unit is heavy duty in its elegantly machined, black aluminum housing.
|Shure SHA900 DAC/HP amp|
Besides the KSE1500, Shure also has another model HP amp/DAC designed for conventional headphones and earbuds, the SHA900. It is priced at just under a $1,000, and can be used for pro and hi-fi duties with other kinds of 'phones and buds. That unit is shipping now.
Coupled with the excellent SRH headphones introduced over the last four years (I use the flagship SRH1840 as a reference) Shure is showing a keen interest in broadening its markets beyond traditional pro, and the KSE1500 reveals one more evolutionary step. This an audiophile product, no doubt. Bring it on. More info, click KSE1500.
John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org