My name is Flavio and I'm the owner of Earphone Solutions.

This comparison is between the Westone UM3X (same as UM3X-RC with removable cables now re[;aced by the Westone UM PRO 30) and the new Shure SE846 earphones.

For this comparison I selected four songs:

  • Get Lucky, by Daft Punk
  • Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: VI. Gigue, by Yo-Yo Ma
  • La Wally, by Sarah Brightman
  • Bills, Bills, Bills, by Destiny's Child

The UM3X has been one of my favorite earphones for long flights across the atlantic (9+ hour flights). The sound signature of the UM3X is warm, mellow and laid back which is less prone to causing me fatigue after long hours of music listening. In general I prefer less bright sounding earphones. I also love my UM3X for its comfort. So I chose to put them against the new SE846 first.

Prices at the time of this comparison were $399.00 for the UM3X-RC which features a 3-way crossover and 3 balanced armature drivers (one for lows, one for mids and one for highs). The Shure SE846 is priced at $999.99 with new technology never used in in-ear earphones before: the low pass filter which "forces" the low frequency to travel 4 inches inside the tiny filter inside the earpiece. As per Shure's website, this is a patent-pending design for never seen before low end performance. This groundbreaking low-pass filter enables low-end roll-off at ~3 dB at 90 Hz (~10 dB at 250 Hz), the previously unattainable deep low-end performance of a true subwoofer, without sacrificing clarity or detail. Ten precision-welded, stainless steel plates form 4 inches of high acoustic mass pathway, naturally enabling low-frequency roll-off to begin at about 75 Hz without distortion or artifacts.

First thing I noticed with the SE846 was the weight of the earpieces. They are heavier than any of the other earphones I own. I'd guess by 20% (no precision scale at home). They are also slightly larger than the UM3X. Not larger that it would be uncomfortable for me, however the size difference was enough to not fit my 16 year old son's ears as well as the UM3X so if you have smaller ears, the SE846 might not be the best choice for you. Victor will write some stuff about his W4R vs SE846 tonight.

The cable on the SE846 felt strong, maleable and the "memory-wire" (the 2 inches of cable) which I usually use to push against the back of my ear, I found myself using it to keep it away from the place where my ear meets the head as it was becoming a sore spot after a while.

I tested the Shure SE846 and the Westone UM3X using an iPhone 5 straight up. The iPhone easily drives both earphone models. The SE846 performed loud at 3/5 of the volume and sometimes I'd take it to 3/4 and that was loud. So plenty of efficiency from both earphones and no need for external amps. The SE846 was tested with the "balanced nozzle" as we did not have the other 2 (bright and warm).

1. Get Lucky

SE846 - volume set at 1/2 and plenty loud. When tried to increase the volume over 1/2 it got too loud. The SE846 is snappy and fast. Bass strong and punchy with definition. Second half of this song it gets more complex and the SE846 sound simply awesome. Mid-range is Shure's signature and the SE846 carries the heritage. Vocals were forward and never pushed to the background even on the more "congested" parts. Soundstage which defines the "size" and how "wide" the sound is perceived is one of the biggest things you notice with the SE846. It has the biggest soundstage I have experienced so far.

UM3X - Treble suffers. That is the first and most obvious part. Bass and low mids are mixed up together in comparison to the SE846 so one could use the word muddy here. The vocals "carry" a wider part of the midrange with it and definitely delivers less detail and separation. Comfort however I will say the UM3X are not felt at all. As in I don't know I have them on. Now to the second half of the song which adds more "tracks" and things get much more congested for the UM3X to handle. Of course up until the day I got the SE846, I was 100% happy with my UM3X. Now, not so much. The bottom on the UM3X is there but much less detail and separation between high-lows, mid-lows and lows. But of course we are here comparing a $399 earphone against a $999 one. I do see the clear upgrade. If they are worth $500 more to you will depend on your disposable income and how important getting closer to the holy grail of micro speakers it is for you. I can justify the price tag. If you know me and you are one of my long time customers, you know how much that means.

Going back to the SE846, it's just cowardice now. The sound separation and how everything is presented with detail and clarity provides a completely different experience. Things get much more distanced after the 2 minute mark of Get Lucky. If I were comparing a $100 earphone with a $200 earphone and the sound quality factor was 2 X, with the SE846 and UM3X playing Get Lucky I'd say we are closer to 2.5 to 3 X superior sound quality. Of course, very subjective. If I had to use one word for describing the first time I heard the SE846 would be (aside from awesome) FAST. They are super-snappy delivering great reproduction of rapid transients.

2. Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: VI. Gigue, by Yo-Yo Ma

Started with UM3X. Again less separation specially in the mid-lows and lows but the UM3X holds itself a bit better on this song. UM3X is mellower. Again. could go for long hours listening to this without fatigue. I feel less "need" to switch back to the SE846 here. However now that I have :), "more cords are being played" and the playback is much richer. Just much more detail. The only difference is that the UM3X version of this song doesn't bother me as much as Get Lucky as I go back and forth between the 2 earphones.

3. La Wally

Here I have to be at 1/3 to 1/2 of the iPhone 5 volume. Despite the difference in impedance between these 2 earphones they play as loud as the other so efficiency are almost identical with the SE846 being a bit louder. This is a beautiful song. The vocal of course is the feature here so everything else plays lower in the background. On mark 3:35 vocals stop. Instruments are not at all impressive on the UM3X. Now with the SE846 first obvious thing is the instruments that were very muffled on UM3X are much more noticeable. Vocal still forward but violins play at a much closer volume with the vocals. A much more refined presentation by the SE846. Instruments were part of the piece at all times. When vocal stops, music is much more complete with the SE846.

4. Bills, Bills, Bills

I wanted this song because I know the keyboard has a cool timbre and it's in your face plus the snare drum is very snappy and I wanted to see the difference now. With the UM3X the vocals are too loud. The snare drum is noticeable but you can see there is a big difference in the tuning of the sound signatures. SE846 separates more the sound in all frequency range groups and you can perceive more sub ranges within those frequencies. More detail and a fast snappy percussion on the SE846. I found myself lowering the volume twice on the UM3X on account of vocals and the back vocals. I didn't expect that. The snare drum on the SE846 plays a main role along with the keyboards and vocals. The UM3X was a lot of vocals and everything else was a bit lower.

Note that none of these songs had a strong ultra-low bass but I can tell you that in listening to some other songs not included in this list, the low pass filter delivers on its promises.

I know these earphones are priced very differently but both feature a 3-way crossover. The Shure model has 1 more driver and features the low pass filter. I hope this gave a little help to UM3X owners have an idea of what kind of performance difference these 2 earphones would deliver. Again I understand the price difference. This was an obvious win for the new SE846 and at times I questioned the test myself because of the difference in the overall sound quality. But unfortunately I don't have an IE800 at the moment. We will add a comparison of Shure SE535 vs. SE846.

Shure SE846 Westone UM3X-RC
Sensitivity 1kHz 114 dB SPL/mW 124dB/mW
Frequency Range 15 Hz - 20 kHz 20 Hz -18 kHz
Impedance 9 Ω 56 Ω
Driver Quad High-Definition MicroDrivers with True Subwoofer Three balanced armature drivers with a passive three-way crossover

The SE846 removable Nozzle provides adjustable sound signatures via changeable nozzle and allows for easy cleaning:

Sound Signature Response
Balanced Neutral (as shipped)
Bright +2.5 dB, 1kHz to 8 kHz
Warm -2.5 dB, 1kHz to 8 kHz