Review: Shure SE102MPA Sound-Isolating Stereo Headset
Except for one semi-significant factor, Shure's SE102MPA ($120, street price $100) is an attractively priced fusion of the company's earlier, popular E2c earphone with its MPA-3C "music phone adapter." We're not going to go into a lengthy review of the SE102MPA because it's derivative of these two previously-covered, B-level products, but a few points are worth making.
First, despite the fact that they’re priced the same, we strongly preferred the SE102MPA to the company’s earlier SE110, which we found to be lacking in sparkle and no real improvement over Apple’s free iPod pack-ins, despite their added size. The SE102MPA’s black housing is the same shape as the clear E2c, and though the sound quality it offers isn’t on the cutting edge these days, it’s still nicely balanced and tight, delivering more detail and controlled bass than a peer-priced earphone such as the V-Moda Vibe Duo. You pay a bit for the sound quality, however, with the size; Vibe Duo’s design is tiny, and the cords can hang down from your ears; SE102MPA pretty much needs to be worn with cords over your ears, and the earpieces feel like they’re a generation or two behind in comfort given their quality.
Second, there’s the microphone. Shure’s other headphones ship with detachable non-microphone cables, but as it’s designed to appeal to users of iPhones and other mic-utilizing music phones, SE102MPA only includes the MPA-3c half of the cable here. In addition to the microphone system, it contains a button that lets you either accept a call, end a call, pause music midstream, or change tracks.
We’ve previously reviewed the MPA-3c, which we praised for rendering the sound on our side of a phone call more crisply and intelligently than Apple’s stock mic and those of some competitors, but also noted has a tendency to pick up more background noise. SE102MPA’s mic is the same, and in test calling, offered a marginal overall improvement over other microphones we tested, though with the same ambient noise caveat. While some other mics may produce more lifelike sound, the SE102MPA mic generally lets people hear your voice a little more easily.
Third, and as the only offset to what was otherwise a very attractively priced fusion of two good products, Shure has stripped the collective package of these two items down to the bone. Four total sets of rubber earpieces and a drawstring-style carrying case are in the package, both representing the barest minimum of items that we can recall Shure including with a pair of earphones. You don’t get the foam eartips that came with the SE110s or for that matter the E2cs, which reduces the sound quality you can expect to achieve from the SE102MPA unless you buy additional tips from Shure; this adds to the feeling that the large earpieces won’t fit ideally in every pair of ears.
Overall, the SE102MPA is a good but not great alternative to other $100 mic-and-earphone sets we’ve tested over the past year—the attractive price is an offset to its use of recycled parts. While the large earpieces can produce better sonic quality and isolation than peer-priced competitors, their size and the tips they ship with aren’t ideal, so you won’t get as much out of them as you might have with the E2cs. Consider this headset if you like balanced sound, have medium- to large-sized ears, and are willing to wear cords over them.