After reviewing the Shure SE846 at the Stereo The Headphone Concept Store Westgate outlet, I turned my attention to the KSE1200. This is a unique earphone system that uses electrostatic drivers, the most expensive type of audio drivers for headphones. They are usually bulky because they require special power to drive the headphones. For the KSE1200, it comes with a dedicated battery-powered amplifier to drive the earphones, and retails at S$2899.
Electrostatic drivers are expensive because they are made of extremely sensitive components. The extremely thin diaphragm that is responsible to produce the sound are driven by two electrostatic plates sandwiched between the weightless membrane. When the plates are charged with electrodes to move the membrane, sound is produced. Due to its thinness and sensitivity, electrostatic drivers are capable of producing very detailed, distortion-free sound (if you do hear distortion, it is probably from the recording itself). Special amplifiers are required to power up the drivers, hence the headphones are rarely portable.
Here, Shure has achieved a remarkable feat to shrink the technology into an in-ear form and powered by a small USB-powered amplifier. The KSE1200 is the second model after the KSE1500 launched in 2016. The difference from the KSE1500 is the built-in 24-bit 96kHz DAC component with Micro USB for iOS, Android or other streaming sources. The KSE1200 also does not have OLED screen for digital menu navigation and EQ.
Exceedingly Clear and Detailed
I have tried electrostatic headphones before, but except for Sennheiser HE1, they generally do not impress me much, partly because I tested them under noisy environments, and they sound open with spacious details. One characteristic that holds true is they all produce exceptional treble details, which is naturally their forte.
On the KSE1200, the drivers get inserted closer to my ear drums, and with the sound isolating design, I am literally experiencing the drivers up close. Like the SE846, the earbuds fit very comfortably and achieves good isolation from the environmental noise. But moving from SE846, the KSE1200 sound is the exact opposite. While the SE846 sounds veiled, the KSE1200 is amazingly transparent and precise. Some of the finer instrumentation that are often buried in other earphones are easily identifiable on the KSE1200. The instrument textures like the guitar strums are so life-like, the mix turns out so sparkling clear yet not hazy, not pushy, not harsh. While the bass is not as boomy as SE846, there is sufficient volume to achieve balance. The midrange also helps to prevent the KSE1200 from sounding too brittle and cold. Listening Classical music with the KSE1200 is extremely satisfying.
The KSE1200 pairs well with the LG V30+, but not with the Chord Mojo, which I find lacks control on the treble. I was not able to comment on the battery life of the amplifier, but the ability to adjust the gain helps to achieve higher volume on the V30+. At -10, I had to max out the V30+ volume level, but at 0, I could listen at 50s.
The Shure KSE1200 is a joy to listen to. The treble is so pristine yet not fatigue thanks to its amazing resolution. I was playing track after track, made a mental note to stop the review after a specific time, but time passed by so fast that I just wanted to continue listening. The KSE1200 lets me in more musical details that I could never hear on other earphones, and because the drivers are closer to my ear drums, I can pick up the recording much more than I would have on over-ear headphones. At a retail price of S$2899, it would be the best in-ear headphones to get if you have a collection of high quality instrumental genres.