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Shure’s in-ear headphones are small, but the audio takes a big leap forward

It’s long been known in the world of cars, but it rings true in many tech-fueled industries: A heck of a lot of the tech inside of your Volkswagen Jetta or Honda Civic was bred on the racetrack.

In this case, Shure’s new $2,000 KSE1200 in-ear headphone system is the race car.

A recently launched headphone system that pairs purpose-built electrostatic in-ears and a special headphone amp, the KSE1200 is the latest evolution in a decade of high-tiered innovation at the audio giant and one that will have audiophiles gazing at their wallets with increased vigor.

The KSE1200 are a slimmed-down sequel to the KSE1500, a pair of headphones inside which Shure replaced the traditional piston-style dynamic drivers in headphones with a membrane suspended in a magnetic field between two electrified plates and powered by static electricity (electrostatic). Because they’re more precise than traditional dynamic drivers, electrostatic drivers give listeners shocking separation between musical components. Long admired in the audiophile realm for their incredible fidelity, the technology is also unwieldy due to high power requirements, and to shrink it down to in-ear size required serious technological innovation from Shure.

This latest version of the company’s tiny electrostatic headphones is particularly impressive in that it cuts the price by a third from the $3,000 KSE1500 to $2,000 by removing the DAC component from the original design, which puts them in line with many of the audio world’s other most-prized headsets. Such pricing should not be taken lightly; the KSE1200 mark a massive step toward economizing a technology that was available in backrooms and laboratories until just a few years ago.

“We understand what it takes to design, develop, and manufacture audio products of the highest caliber,” senior director of product management Matt Engstrom said in a press release, “With over 20 years of experience in the earphone business we can confidently say that our electrostatic earphones are the pinnacle of our achievements. The new KSE1200 system was developed for those who prefer the electrostatic sound signature using their own DAC. Like the KSE1500, the KSE1200 system produces the absolute highest level of detail and isolation available in a portable design and we are thrilled to now offer electrostatic sound at a more affordable price.”

We spent ears-on time with the original KSE1500s in 2016 and walked away floored by their ability to showcase every tiny detail in the music. We have yet to hear the new KSE1200, but we expect nothing less from the latest model. We’re looking forward to getting some time with these new headphones and also to a future that might include similar technology at less astronomical prices.

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