Get closer to the SE1s, Cambridge Audio's first ever earphones
We initially launched our brand new in–ear monitors on a ‘pay what you choose’ basis to raise as much money for the National Foundation for Youth Music as possible. Now they're back with 50% of proceeds going to charity. Here's the story behind what went into the making of them to get that balanced, hi-fi sound on the move.
We caught up with our Technical Director Dominic Baker to find out what’s so special about these earphones.
In-ear headphones are not a part of the usual Cambridge Audio line up, how did they come about?
We’ve actually had an interest in making some sort of in-ear headphones for quite a while now. As the Cambridge Audio HQ is located in Central London, our staff are no strangers to the daily hustle and bustle of commuting in the big city. Obviously we’re passionate about the music we listen to, so we want to enjoy good quality sounds on the go too. We wanted that Cambridge Audio sound when we’re travelling just as much as when we’re sat in front of our Hi-Fi systems.
Being the first in-ear monitors released by CA, what new challenges did the team face?
As this was a new type of product for us, it meant we had to consider different elements that we haven’t really looked at in as much detail. For example, we needed to ensure the SE1s are small, compact, lightweight and comfortable. Not something we really look at when creating a streamer or amplifier! Another factor was making sure they were as tough and reliable as possible. There’s nothing worse than your earphones snapping or breaking when you’re already out the door on the way to work! The SE1s were exposed to intense reliability testing under a number of conditions. For example, to test the strength of the wiring, the in-ear headphones were placed on these specially designed jigs that rotate back and forth stressing the cables thousands of times. They endured temperature and humidity tests which was something we couldn’t miss considering the sporadic weather we face in London!
What other forms of testing did the SE1s face?
We have tested them in a number of ways to ensure we got the sound we wanted. One method was using specialist measurement kit. The terrifying looking G.R.A.S 43AG Ear and Cheek Simulator is used to verify a multitude of factors including frequency response, distortion, impedance and isolation. It’s a versatile piece of kit that gives very accurate readings, as it’s also used for testing hearing aids and telephone handsets. We also use another unbeatable form of testing… our own ears! Over 100 colleagues and friends were heavily involved during the beta testing, so that was a great way of gaining feedback.
The SE1s make use of unique Beryllium drivers, how exactly do they benefit the user?
The shortcoming of most in-ear headphones is the treble performance. Often enough the high frequencies let them down, which is where the Beryllium comes into play. The Beryllium diaphragms are much lighter and stiffer than what’s used in other in-ear headphones you see on the market. This means it can react much faster and more accurately to high frequency signals, achieving much better HF extension and treble. This gives the listener that detailed and balanced natural sound heard from our Hi-Fi products.
The earphones also come with Comply foam tips, how do they differ from traditional silicone ones?
Comply tips use memory foam, rather than the commonly found thinly moulded silicone rubber. Not only does that mean less exterior noise interrupting your music, but it also means you can experience the balanced natural sound from the Beryllium at a much lower volume, which is always good for your ears! They’re also much comfier and grip the inside of your ear better, which comes into its own when you’re running to catch a bus! Some people still prefer the traditional silicone tips, so we’ve included those too so you can decide for yourself.
Has this given you a thirst for earphone production, do you think you’ll be looking at more in the future?
There’s no doubt it was great working on a project that was a little different. Who knows if we’ll see more earphones in the future. Never say never!
Lastly, how would you describe the SE1s in three words?
Amazing Cambridge sound!
To round off the making of the SE1s, the Great British sound needed some Great British packaging. Graphic Designer Ben Carratu explains the design that graces the box of our SE1s:
The design was intended to get away from the technical ‘scene’ that’s already on the market and create something that’s more personal to us. We design and engineer in London so we wanted to celebrate that fact. Hence the subtle map and foil compass rose centered over our HQ. As these earphones were intended to see us into our workplace with good sound, it felt right to call them by our postcode – SE1, the coordinates you see on the box are the exact coordinates to our front door! It’s brilliant that we’ve been able to use these to support our SE1 neighbours – Youth Music.
If all the above has left you hankering for some serious quality audio on the move, the SE1s are on sale now! And remember, money raised will go to the Youth Music Foundation, Music Unites and The Merit School of Music who work tirelessly to improve children’s lives through the power of music. Cambridge Audio quality in-ear headphones for you, and an improved way of life for others. Everyone’s a winner.