The first thing you'll notice upon opening the included travel case is the variety of interchangeable tips -- small, medium and large versions of both foam and "soft flex" (feels like silicon to us) for all types of ear canals. They're stubby, meant to sit more towards the outer edge of the ear canal. For what it's worth, we've always found these a pain to insert, and much prefer the flange-type tips that go farther into your ear canal.
When you find the right fit, the next task is getting these guys situated in your ears. The foam tips provided a better fit for us -- you have to smash them down and insert them into your ear before they become un-smashed and fill the ear canal, a process you may already be familiar with. But the body of the earbud is a relatively hefty thing, curling around a bit and protruding awkwardly with a big honking "SHURE" logo on the outside for good measure. You're supposed to insert them with the cord facing up, then twist the wire up and back around your ear, where it will eventually hang below and behind your earlobe. Sound weird / not very convenient? It is. It's neither fun nor easy to put these things in, and the over-the-ear wire combined with the big body looks far from subtle.
Once you get them seated, you can focus on the sound. Noise isolation, as it is with lots of foam tips, is very good. Handling noise on the hefty cable is much lower than comparable models, but still an issue, like with most in-ear phones. We actually enjoy the way they sound when there's not a lot of bass in the mix, like in a female a cappella performance. The drivers themselves feel warm and friendly -- not necessarily clean, but well-rounded. But when there's any amount of thump, things get muddy quickly, and that part wasn't much fun for us at all. We're high-end junkies, especially with earbuds, and losing nuance in the top end makes us frown. This can be somewhat rectified with a little bit of EQing, but Shure has built these with an emphasis on bass. Bass-enhanced earbuds are popular and easy to market because they pack more initial punch, and their trendy profusion these days isn't likely to go away anytime soon. But with such little physical room to move audio vibrations around in, something's always got to give way in other frequencies. Hence, the mud.
If you're looking for bass and good sound isolation, and don't really care about the way they look or the over-the-ear cord thing, the SE215s will do you well. If you're looking for accuracy, clarity and a more understated look, we'll have to stand by our long-time favorites from Etymotic
, the ER-6i's, also $99. If you want accuracy and clarity and
bass, don't wear things that are designed to go in your ear! Simple as that. Go with an over-the-ear model or just get a real subwoofer and tell your parents / roommates / spouse to take a hike while you get the Led out...or whatever it is you prefer to do when you're alone with your bass.