Review of the P.EAR.S SH-2 CIEM – A truly fantastic earphone!

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Pros: Overall sound quality, looks and design, microphonics, comfort, isolation
Cons: Fit and location of P.EAR.S for refitting (if you live outside of Switzerland), accessories

Packaging & Accessories: 5/10
Build Quality: 9/10
Design & Look: 10/10
Microphonics (higher ratings means lower cable noise): 10/10
Isolation: 10/10
Comfort: 9/10
Sound Quality: 9/10 (rating is separate from universal earphones)
Value: 8.5/10
My final Rating: 9/10

Review Date: December 2015
Review Price: [CHF 550 / £370] +80 CHF for Swiss walnut finish = CHF 630 / £425 (not including in-ear impressions)

It should be noted that the company ‘harschacoustic‘ was renamed to ‘P.EAR.S‘ – the review has been updated to reflect that, as the product (The SH-2) has remained the same!

harschacoustic SH-2 - Looks

First of all, I would like to thank Samuel from P.EAR.S for sending me the SH-2 for review.
P.EAR.S was created and founded by Samuel Harsch, also known as the co-inventor of vital audio characteristics of the  Audéo PFE series. To this day, the best universal earphones I’ve owned and reviewed is the Phonak Audéo PFE 232, a set of MSRP £400 universal earphones, which only housed two Balanced Armature drivers, but had such an amazing crossover that the two drivers in the PFE 232’s compete with 4-6 driver BA drivers found in other earphones.

Therefore, when I saw Samuel created his own earphone, I was excited to see if I could review it – as I wondered if he improved/added to the PFE 232s sound and created it into a CIEM of his own.

Before getting into the review, I would like to state that this is my first CIEM review, I have previously reviewed/heard a lot of earphones (in excess of 100 different earphones), but never ventured into the CIEM world, as I’ve previously had problems with fit. For example with the 1964-SLV Universal IEM Custom Sleeves, the Custom Art custom tips and even tried going to a professional audiologist in London as an attempt to get a good fit for custom sleeves for the PFE 232s. No matter who I tried or how many times I tried redoing the impressions they didn’t work – and I always had the impressions done by a professional audiologist.
I was therefore going to give up trying until I saw the SH-2s, where I thought to myself – I have to give this one more go and if it fails, then I’ll give up for good on CIEMs.
I was lucky enough to get good impressions at my local Specsavers for only £29 – which I was sceptical about. I will expand on this in the comfort section.

More information on the SH-2s, including specs can be found on P.EAR.S’s website!

To complement the written review, here’s my video review of the earphones:

Let’s get into this written review!

Packaging & Accessories

Let’s start off with the packaging and accessories. Unfortunately, there’s not much to say about this section, apart from the fact it felt that there was a lack of included accessories.
The SH-2s come in a small plastic briefcase, that has your name printed at the front of the box.
Whilst opening the box (which has an inner foam lining) you’ll find the earphones and a cleaning tool. To me, it’s natural that you won’t find a set of tips, as these are CIEMs, but the lack of a small carrying pouch, a 1.4″ jack and potentially a replacement wire would have been really nice to see included.


For me, the small carrying case is useful when it comes to transporting the earphones through an airport or on a holiday, but it’s not a carrying case that will fit in your pocket, where a small pouch would help protect the earphones from water/dust/scratches.

harschacoustic SH-2 - Frequency graph

I should also note within the packaging of the SH-2s I received a frequency response graph to show how my earphones were tuned – this is a nice touch for P.EAR.S to add, as it gives you an idea of how they sound to the machine – I’ll expand on the sound in the sound quality section.

Build Quality

The build quality of the earphones is fantastic, however, the reason it didn’t score a full 10/10 is due to its wire.
When I first received the earphones, I had to send them back (for a refit) but also for the cable to be changed. Samuel stated he could have sent me the cable, but seeing as I needed them to be a re-worked in terms of fit, it was best to send Samuel the whole package.
The problem I had with the cable was located by the 3.5mm right-angled jack. Out-the-box, the cable had disconnection problems – when the cable was slightly wiggled, it would disconnect one of the audio channels. This became very frustrating when it came to using it on the go, where there is a lot of movement. It was clear there was a problem in the making of the wire, and upon receiving the replacement cable, the problems were completely eliminated.

harschacoustic SH-2 - Cable

Speaking of the cable, it can be customised where they all come in a gold-plated 3.5mm jack which is right-angled, but can be found in various colours and styles: “Twisted Black”, “Twisted Transparent” and “Beige”. I opted for the “Twisted Transparent” version – Do remember, that cables naturally oxidise over time, where they might turn a little green/red – the transparent cable will show the oxidisation, whereas the other cables will hide it.

Moving up the triple braided cable, it has a Y-split with a transparent cable cinch, before terminating into the earphones via a 2-pin plug type. It should be noted that the cable is removable, meaning you can buy other cables and/or replace the cable if it ever breaks. The fact that the earphones have a removable cable is a nice touch, but very common to fin with CIEMs. I would also like to point out that there is a small blue and red dot on the connector, to depict left and right sides – a nice touch and an easy way of figuring out which side the drivers go (although it should be pretty obvious!).

harschacoustic SH-2 - Drivers

To finish speaking about the cable, there were no microphonics (cable noise) that I could hear of, which comes down to the earphones being worn over-the-ear and having an extremely light triple braided cable – which is great as the cable doesn’t weigh down on your ears. However due to the cable being quite thin and light, it does get tangled pretty easily. The “hook” wire that goes over your ears, have a metal wire within them so that they keep their position, whilst being in your ears.

Moving on to the earphones, they are made out of a plastic acrylic, again a common thing found in CIEMs. The faceplate and the design of the earphones can be customised (more on this in the design/looks section), but the overall build quality of the earphones is fantastic – from the nozzle all the way to the actual construction of the shell.

harschacoustic SH-2 - Connector

Overall, the build quality is fantastic, but due to my problems with the cable I am a little sceptical about the longevity of the stock cable that it comes with. Other than my slight (subjective) concerns, the build quality is fantastic and I really love the attention to detail that P.EAR.S’s have put into the SH-2.

Design, looks, comfort and isolation

Looks:
The looks and design of these earphones is perfect. By default these earphones can come in a “Clear Transparent”, “Beige (skin)”, “Blue Transparent” and “Red Transparent” shell. I opted for the “Clear Transparent” shell myself, as I like seeing the drivers within the earphones.
For an added CHF 80 / £55 you can add a wood finish of “Swiss Cherrywood” or “Swiss Walnut” – I opted for the “Swiss Walnut” option myself, as I love the dark wood found in audio products, such as my Denon AH-D2000’s that have D5000 Mahogany cups on them.
There are other customisations you can add to your earphones, which can be found detailed on P.EAR.S’ site.
To me the design and the looks of the earphones is flawless, from the transparent shell to the beautiful wood finish, which looks beautiful to my eyes. I’m sure in the future there might be more options added, but as it is I think the options are satisfactory for most people.

harschacoustic SH-2 - Close-up

Isolation:
As you would expect from a custom shell that’s designed for your ear canals, the isolation is going to be perfect. Unsurprisingly the SH-2s isolation is flawless – a small note I would like to make on this: with increased isolation, it means you can dial down the volume of your source a few notches, as you’re no longer affected by noise leaking out or environment sounds disturbing your listening experience. This is the reason I wanted to get custom sleeves for my PFE 232s, but never found a good fit, which left me disappointed and disheartened.
With lower decibels being played to your ears, the risk of hearing loss is lowered and means you can enjoy your music at the same quality, but at a lower overall sound level.

harschacoustic SH-2 - In-ear

Comfort:
The comfort is something that should be straight forward for a CIEM – it’s designed and fit for your ear, so there shouldn’t be any problems. However, this isn’t the case for a lot of people, who have to get their impressions redone or have the earphones slightly tweaked in order to obtain a better fit. In my case, the impressions were decent (albeit not flawless) and the SH-2s came out good, but on my right ear caused me pain on any listening periods stretching over 15-30 minutes. This is why I had to send them back to P.EAR.S to get slightly tweaked. With the right description to Samuel, the returned SH-2s ended up being perfect – which was a huge sign of relief – pun intended.

harschacoustic SH-2 - In-ear

I should state that P.EAR.S offer a free 30 day guarantee, to get the earphones a perfect fit. The only thing you’ll have to pay is postage to Samuel in order for it to be reworked. The problem this brings for people outside of Switzerland (where P.EAR.S is based), is that you’ll have to send your earphones (often non-tracked and without insurance) to Switzerland. In my case I paid £5 or so for my package to be delivered. As soon as I asked how much it would cost for it to be insured, the price of postage rose to £55, which is ridiculous.
Therefore, before sending across your in-ear impressions, I would advise taking a picture of them and sending them to Samuel for approval, before going ahead and saving yourself from sending potentially poor in-ear impressions to him – where you will be left with getting the earphones refitted several times. In my case, I knew the impressions were of a good standard before I sent them off to Samuel.

Overall the SH-2s are comfortable, but to me, in comparison to a universal earphone, such as the PFE 232s, didn’t feel as comfortable – but that’s completely subjective, as I’m used to universal earphones, that often have soft tips rather than a CIEM that has a hard shell/nozzle.

Sound Quality

Now the sound quality was something I was really looking forward to, especially as I wanted to compare it to my PFE 232s – considering the man behind both the PFE 232s and the SH-2s is the same (which is something quite rare to say!).
Now before I continue and for you to judge the ratings I gave the earphones – I should state quite clearly: The CIEM ratings will now be different from the universal earphones – as they offer a lot more in terms of sound and space. However, using the same rating system and analysis (being as objective as possible), I will try to describe its sound and compare it to the PFE 232s – so please don’t compare just the numbers of the SH-2s with other universal earphones I’ve reviewed!

As said previously, the PFE 232s are one of the best universal earphones I’ve reviewed – in terms of demo’ing I think it sits up there with the very best (ie the AKG K3003is / Sennheiser IE800) – but does sound V-shaped versus the more higher-end earphones. What the PFE 232s did very well however is present a pleasant, not totally analytical sound, that could be enjoyed with a variety of different genres. More so, due to its filters the sound could easily be adjusted for different musical tastes, which offered it a unique offering to budding audiophiles. For the purpose of this review, the sound quality comparisons I make with the PFE 232s are comments attributed to it being heard with the grey (mids) filter. This is the filter I use on a daily basis with them and haven’t really used the black (highs) or green (lows) filter since my review back in 2012.

harschacoustic SH-2 - Nozzle

When I first plugged the SH-2s into my ears, the first thing I noticed was how V-shaped the PFE 232s sounded in comparison to the SH-2s. It somewhat reminded me of how the DUNU DN-2000 sounded in comparison to the PFE 232s. It was also apparent that Samuel took the same sound signature as the PFE 232s, but just improved it, in almost every way – which is something I’ll explain below.

Before getting into that, I would like to state that the SH-2s were easier to drive than the PFE 232s, which is great in terms of using them with a portable player or smartphone.
Just like the PFE 232s, they also have two drivers, where the SH-2s have a single mid-low driver and a single highs driver. On that note, I did find the SH-2s more sensitive than other universal earphones I’ve reviewed. Not quite to the level of the Fischer Audio DBA-02 mk II, but still quite sensitive when being used alongside an amp.

 

Lows:
Now the lows is something that’s extremely important to me, as I like good quality bass – being an ex-basshead, that used to love heaps of mid-bass. After being so accustom to the PFE 232s lows, I started to appreciate the bass quality over the quantity. In this respect, I really enjoyed the sub-bass the PFE 232s could deliver.
The SH-2s have a decent sub-bass response, although don’t really reach that super low-end tone that I like to hear and feel. I would have liked to see a little more extension in the sub-bass region, just like what I heard from the PFE 232s when used alongside a custom sleeve (which meant when the PFE 232s were deeper in the ear canal, they resonated a better sub-bass response).
In terms of the mid-bass, I felt it was just missing that extra bit of quality that I like to hear in the mid-bass slam. With that said, I’m being very picky here and comparing it to some of the best bass-hitters I’ve ever heard, such as the Future Sonics Spectrum Series G10. The G10s had a lot of bass quantity and quality, where the SH-2s just lacked that little bit of mid-bass refinement. Not in terms of quantity, but in its way of accurately and perfectly representing a song’s mid-bass response.

Overall the lows were extremely impressive and despite me sounding more negative here, it’s me being very picky and analytical about an expensive earphone. At the given price range, I know it’s not much to ask from a CIEM, but still I analyse it at its price tag, rather than a CIEM or a universal earphone. So to summarise, the bass is really well presented, but could have done better by extending that little more in the sub-bass frequency and having a little more control and precision in the mid-bass region.

harschacoustic SH-2 - Looks

 

Mids/highs: 
The mids were very impressive to me – I would go as far as saying it’s one of the most accurate and well presented mids I have heard in an earphone. I feel it lacks a little in comparison to something like the AKG K3003i and the Sennheiser IE800, due to it being less forward than the aforementioned two, but in comparison to the PFE 232s it makes the PFEs sound V-shaped and recessed, which is not entirely false to say – but the way the SH-2s manage this is fantastic.
I felt the mids were just right enough for me to enjoy them, whilst not wanting me to dial them down due to them being too forward. What I loved about the SH-2s mids is that they brought my music to life, whilst also producing a more realistic and accurate sound.

The highs were also extremely impressive, however again, just like the lows I felt that they could have extended just that little bit more. Despite them providing a perfect sparkle and non-sibilant sound (where some who owned the PFE 232s complained about them being sibilant), I felt the SH-2s did a valiant job. I was therefore just wanting just that little bit more from the highs in certain songs, especially vocal orientated ones.

Overall, the mids and highs are extremely impressive, however if they were slightly more refined, I feel it would have been perfect. I wouldn’t say the earphones are neutral or flat, they do sound very slightly recessed, but at the same time provide a fantastic mids and highs reproduction.

 

Soundstage:
The soundstage was really fantastic – something that I really loved when listening to the SH-2s, they were almost flawless to me. They were not too closed sounding, but at the same time didn’t sound like they were coming from a mile away, like the Sennheiser IE8/7s. The instrument separation was flawless and the positioning too (even when I tested it in games, it was the most accurate positioning I’ve heard from an earphone – which is impressive!).
Its depth and width were very good, but if I had to be really picky, I would say it could have had a slightly wider and deeper soundstage, where it would add to the mids and even the highs with that little extra decay. I’m not sure how this could be achieved, but I did feel that I would have tweaked it just a little.
Overall the soundstage was fantastic – and really did add to the enjoyment of listening to these earphones.

Sound Quality Ratings
Lows: 8.5/10
Mids: 9/10
Highs: 8.5/10
Soundstage: 9.5/10

Conclusion & Closing Thoughts

harschacoustic SH-2 - Design

In conclusion, the million dollar question for me was: Would they de-throne the PFE 232s as my primary earphone. After having used the SH-2s for a little while as my primary earphone and then going back to the PFE 232s, it’s safe to say that I can finally rest my PFE 232s in their case and use the SH-2s as my primary earphone. I didn’t think any earphone could have managed it, and a few did come really close, but the SH-2s without a doubt are the best performing and looking earphones I’ve heard to date (for their price). At the £370 or even £425 price tag, I can’t think of a single earphone that comes remotely close as to what the SH-2s offer as an overall package. They’re fantastic and unbelievably good sounding – of course there’s slight rooms for improvement, but as far as I’m aware that comes with the SH-3 or other models that might come out in the future.
From it’s design and looks, to the overall sound quality and even to the man behind the company, Samuel – the SH-2s are fantastic earphones that I would highly suggest to anyone looking for a very high-end earphone at an affordable price (versus the competition in both CIEMs and universals).

Here’s to my new daily drivers (pun intended) – cheers!

Hope you enjoyed my review!
TotallydubbedHD

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