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Thursday, March 19, 2009

[REVIEW] Philips SHE9850

Generally I am not a big fan of Philips' product, but SHE9850 beautiful design got my attention when it was announced about a year ago. Due to numerous reasons, I was never able to get my hands on them until recently. So here is a somewhat postponed review.

SHE9850's spec:
  • Sensitivity: 115 dB SPL per 1 mW
  • Frequency Range: 20 Hz-20 kHz
  • Impedance: 12 ohms
  • Cable Length: 1.2m
  • Weight: 14g

Packaging, Accessories, and Build Quality
The packaging is quite typical of Philips' consumer product. It is decent but not spectacular. Nevertheless, it is already better than most Philips headphones out there. Inside, you will find the IEM, a manual, three set of different sized single flange silicone eartips, a pair of Comply T100, a shirt clip, a black aluminum case with the cleaning tool inside - basically you got everything you will want a pair of decent IEM to include, and that is a good start. I like the metal case by a lot. It can be slide in / out and has the space to hold extra set of eartips (not to mention the cleaning tool). The earpeice itself is half metal (nozzle + transducer housing) and half transparent acrylic, making it one of the best looking IEM I even seen. The overall shape / size is about the same as Shure E3c, but it is obvious from the beginning that it is intended to be wore normally and not over-the-ear (though you can). The cable and the mini plug used isn't really as impressive as the earpeice. It is really plain and normal - I would have want something better consider Philips is marketing it as a high end model. Thanks to the big rubber strain relief, I didn't detect much microphonics on the cable, so I end up not using the included shirt clip. Regarding isolation, I find HSE9850 to be very well on either foam or silicone eartips.

Overall, I am happy with what I see.

Sound Quality
Out of the box, I find SHE9850 sounded a bit veil. It has a warm and full sound signature resembling Shure's house sound, but the treble response seems to be even worst than my old E3c. After switching the stock silicone eartips to a pair of Shure olive, it becomes apparent that it is the stock single flanges that are really muffing the treble up. It is safe to say SHE9850 is tuned with foam eartips in mind as treble extends much better after the switch. I mainly choose to use olive as they last longer, but I do find Comply T100 give a slightly smoother, more enjoyable sound. However, the different is subtle enough that I don't think it matters. The slight downside of using olive is the slight harshness on the vocal region - not a big deal as it is still with in acceptable level. I give my SHE9850 a total of over 60hrs of run-in time and didn't notice any significant change. Bass is impactful and deep with just the right speed, it is close to the best bass response of any single balanced armature IEM I ever tried. Mid is warm and full body, giving the overall sound signature a sense of musicality. Treble is by far the most problematic. As mentioned, you will need to use foam tips for the treble to reveal itself, or else all you'll get is mudded up mid + bass. Even with foam tips, SHE9850 can hardly be called 'detail'. There are still roll off on the upper treble, but acceptable and better than E3c in comparison. Soundstage wise, SHE9850 is pretty 'normal'. I find that amping help introducing a sense of airiness into the mix and open up the soundstage a bit, but the low impedance and the high sensitivity of the IEM makes it not really suitable for amping (getting too loud too fast). In all, I'll describe SHE9850 as a well made all-rounded entry class IEM - Warm sounding with good bass, sweet mid, adequate treble / detail and decent soundstage. In a sense, it is Shure-E3C-done-right.

The initial MSRP (US$100) seems a bit too high for SHE9850, but the current street price (≤ US$90) places it just in the right zone to compete with other entry level IEM. For those who doesn't like their music clinical sounding, this is the IEM I'll recommend to you for consideration. I'll pick it over low end Shure any day of the week.

For a quick sum up, you can read this.

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Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!

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