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Topic: Shure E3C Impressions

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Old 05-19-2005, 11:14 AM
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Shure E3C Impressions

Let me preface this review with a few words about my current setup. For the last few weeks, Iíve been listening to music on my iPod Mini through a pair of Radio Shack 33-1991 earbuds. Iíve heard it speculated that the 131-1991ís are merely rebadged Sennheiser MX-500ís, but have no idea if this is indeed true. What I can say is that the 131-1991ís have a fantastic sound. Iíve tried countless earbuds and canal phones, and this cheap pair of Radio Shack earbuds blows them all away. Radio Shack ordinarily screws up whatever it makes, but the 131-1991ís are that rare exception to the rule.

The bummer is that the 131-1991ís are a discontinued model. Iíve seen them at a number of local Radio Shack stores, but when they are goneÖ.. They are gone. I encourage anybody looking for a hot pair of buds to call a few of your local Radio Shacks, and see if they have this model in stock. You get great sound and an inline volume control to boot.

The only reason Iím even looking for a new pair of earphones is a matter of comfort. I have yet to find an earbud that will stay put in my left ear. The right ear is no problem, but my left ear is shaped such that every earbud falls out with no prompting. And if I really cram the earbud into my ear, I get quite a bit of discomfort. This is not a problem unique to the 131-1991ís. I have this problem with all earbuds.

I did try a few models of ear-clip earbuds, but couldnít find a pair with sound that I liked. I tried models from both KOSS and Sony, and was left wanting. I next made the move to canal phones. I experimented with both the Sony EX-71ís and the Apple In-Ear canal phones. My problems with both canal phones were identical. Both featured rather bloated bass, harsh highs and a midrange that I can only describe as veiled. Vocals sounded as though there was a thick wool rug between me and the singer. This was far from what I was after.

So, after weeks of walking around, holding my Radio Shack earbuds in my ears as I went, I decided to purchase a more expensive set of canal phones, in an attempt to have my cake and eat it to. I did a ton of online research, and finally set my sights on the Shure E2Cís. Iím not even a fan of the isolation provided by canal phones, but when nothing else fits in your ears, what are you gonnaí do?

I started looking around at reviews and prices of the E2Cís, and all looked well. No problems. Then I happened to follow a link from the Stereophile website, to an online store called discountheadphones.com, where I found the even better Shure E3ís for just $111.94. That was a bargain that I just couldnít pass up. The cost was over the $100.00 I had earmarked for the purchase, but not too far over. To make the deal even more pleasing, an email conversation with discountheadphones revealed that they were happy to send me the white E3Cís, instead of the gray E3ís, even though the E3Cís were not listed on the website. The store was very accommodating. A side benefit of the transaction was that headphones.com is an authorized Shure dealer, so I have a full 30 day money back guarantee.

Well, I got home from work yesterday, to find a UPS package on my doorstep, just 2 days after placing my order. Opening the package revealed one of those dreaded plastic blister packs, with my E3Cís held kidnapped within. After 14 hours of trying to get the blister pack open, I finally managed to get to my new earphones. Very nice quality. The carrying case is absolutely superb. The manual is somewhat brief, but comes in 37 languages. The build quality of the E3Cís themselves looks to be very good.

I spent the next 30 minutes listening to my iPod through the E3Cís, trying to find a good EQ setting. The sound was pretty harsh in the high end and lacking lower midrange punch, no matter what EQ setting I used. So I hooked up the earphones to my stereo for the next 4 hours, and let them burn in to some full orchestra classical music.

4 hours later, I was ready to do some more critical listening. While the sound still wasnít totally to my liking, it was obvious that a few hours of burn-in did wonders for them. The highs calmed down nicely, and the midrange began to come into form. I did side-by-side comparisons over the next 3 hours, between the E3Cís, Radio Shacks, EX-71ís and Apple In-Ear canal phones. Even after just 4 hours of burn in, the E3Cís were already light years ahead of the EX-71ís and Apple In-Ears. The bass on the Shures was at least as good, and the midrange clarity was significantly better. The highs were far from overpowering, but pleasant to the ear.

The Radio Shacks provided much stiffer competition. The E3Cís had better bass extension, and a much more revealing midrange, but the Radio Shacks had more apparent punch, for lack of a better word. Kick drums jumped out of the Radio Shacks. Eric Claptonís vocals were nice and throaty. B.B. Kingís guitar was fluid and powerful on the Radio Shacks. Music though the E3Cís was very accurate, but just not as involving.

I have a feeling that this was largely a matter of dynamic range. The Shures have a ton of range. The guitar work can be quite loud on a certain track, while the vocals are much softer. On that same track, through the Radio Shacks, both the guitar and vocals seem to play at the same volume level. A number of various recordings revealed the same thing over and over. I do believe that the Shures are more accurate in their reproduction, but the Radio Shacks seem to be more ďfunĒ to listen to on rock, jazz and blues, just because of the lowered dynamic range. I hope this is makes sense.

I will say that through the 3 hours of listening, the E3Cís started to sound better and better to me. I was noticing many more details in the music, which I was not able to hear through the Radio Shacks. The Shures also provided a much better soundstage. Vocals were gaining body as the E3Cís continued to burn in.

Then the battery ran out in my iPod. End of story for the night. Iíll be spending the rest of the week and the weekend comparing these two headphones, and will decide on Monday whether to keep the E3Cís or not. For the record, both of these phones have VERY similar sonic signatures. If you are thinking about buying the E3Cís, but are afraid of getting burned on such an expensive purchase, I highly recommend that you search your local Radio Shacks for the 131-1991ís. You will know instantly whether youíll like the E3Cís or not, and will only have to spend $20.00 to do it. Iíve been running my Radio Shack earbuds with the iPodís Rock EQ setting.

Iíd also like to touch briefly on the fit of the E3Cís. I had no problems getting a proper fit. I found the soft flex sleeves to be very comfortable, and to provide a good amount of isolation. They were quick and easy to put in and remove. The foams were also comfortable, and gave massive amounts of isolation. It was almost impossible not to get a perfect fit with the foams. But since Iím not a big isolation fan, Iíll probably stick with the soft flex sleeves. The normal flex sleeves are good, but a bit finicky to get a good fit with.

Wrapping the cords over the tops of your ears is pretty much a must when using the soft flex sleeves, if you plan on moving around at all. This helps to keep the phones in your ears, and eliminates almost all microphonics. I wear glasses, and had no discomfort problems with wrapping the cords over my ears.

Thatís it for now. Iíll be posting more observations in this thread over the next several days, as I do more and more listening.

Last edited by Buzzbait; 05-19-2005 at 12:03 PM.
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Old 05-19-2005, 11:31 AM
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Wow, Buzz--that's one of the most clearly written and helpfully informative user reviews I've ever seen. Thank you! I look forward to reading your updates over the next several days.



The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
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Old 05-19-2005, 12:15 PM
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dnd
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From experience e3c's take a week or two to burn in properly and get better over time. IMO the foamies provide the best isolation and bass response (these things had none to start with and now it's ear shattering!!!)

I also use mine on a Shuffle which IMO has a better headphone output stage than the rest of the range


PS Buzz, you planning a jounalist/reviewer career?



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Last edited by dnd; 05-19-2005 at 12:19 PM.
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Old 05-19-2005, 01:42 PM
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Hehehe... Grandfather was an English professor. Father was an English professor. Iím not an English professor by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know a word or two. Thank you very much for the kind words.
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Old 05-19-2005, 02:32 PM
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E3C's dont require any sort of burn-in; they use armature drivers which are proven not to improve with burn-in. However, the "burn-in" that you may be experiencing is your ears being trained to listen to the earphones...
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Old 05-19-2005, 02:58 PM
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That is very possible, and I have a half-baked plan I can use to verify it. I had my wife listen to the E3C's last night when they were first unpacked. She had very definite comments on how she thought they sounded.

Tomorrow, after the earphones have had many hours of use, I'll ask her to listen again. I'll see if she has the same comments.

Hardly scientific, but worth a shot.
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Old 05-19-2005, 03:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Uber_1337
E3C's dont require any sort of burn-in; they use armature drivers which are proven not to improve with burn-in. However, the "burn-in" that you may be experiencing is your ears being trained to listen to the earphones...
Hmmm. Quoting Buzz's review: The sound was pretty harsh in the high end and lacking lower midrange punch.... So I hooked up the earphones to my stereo for the next 4 hours, and let them burn in to some full orchestra classical music. 4 hours later, I was ready to do some more critical listening. While the sound still wasnít totally to my liking, it was obvious that a few hours of burn-in did wonders for them. The highs calmed down nicely, and the midrange began to come into form.

So how were his "ears being trained" during the four hours he wasn't listening to the buds while they were burning in? I'm not suggesting it's not possible, only questioning the basis of your certainty that the burn-in Buzz experienced occured only between his ears and not in the E3cs themselves.

As you're doubtless aware, the subject of audio electronics burn-in is controversial. Some claim that it cannot happen at all, that people like Buzz are deluded. Others have experienced the phenomenon themselves so know it exists even if they cannot explain it (like gravity). Still others offer a myriad of tentative theories striving to account for it. Since you are so certain that burn-in cannot happen with armature drivers, I'm quite curious about both the theoretical basis and the empirical evidence for your assertion that it's "proven."



The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
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Old 05-19-2005, 04:02 PM
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Being trained to an earphone doesn't require the user to be actively listen to the earphone. I may sound crazy, but his initial listening will have been going over in his head (even at a sub concious level) therefore training him to the unique sound. Thats just my crazy speculation though, probably untrue...

Another reason could of been that at the initial listening of the e3c he did not know what to listen for, maybe he was used to the sound characteristics of his old earphones and was totally oblivious (at the time) to the characteristics of the e3c's. After the initial listening he knew what to expect; in his own words "pretty harsh in the high end and lacking lower midrange punch". He would be ready to compensate for those characteristics.

Those two reasons are just theories.

I also believe in burn-in, just not in armature drivers. There diaphram is minute compared to other earphones/headphones. I totally agree that burn-in occurs in larger diaphramd earphones.
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Old 05-19-2005, 07:32 PM
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Whether or not burn-in exists, I think that if I can also get used to the E3cs and find them consistently better than my disappointing Sony EX-71s, then I will be completely happy. Thanks Buzzbait for this excellent review! Now I'm almost certain I'll try for the E3s -- except that the E4s have come out (and I'm unsure whether the quality will be worth double the price).
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Old 05-20-2005, 01:08 PM
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I did about five more hours, last night, of comparative listening between the Shure E3Cís and Radio Shack 131-1991ís. When it comes down to musical enjoyment, choosing between the two isnít all that easy. I will say that the E3Cís are much more accurate in their presentation. They are a pretty neutral earphone, if maybe a tad on the ďfunĒ side of things. The E3Cís have the ability to render certain subtle tones and sounds within the recordings, which are lost with the Radio Shacks. The E3Cís tend to draw you into the moment of the performance, reproducing background noises, soundstage effects, etc.

The downside of such accuracy is the variation in quality of the recordings. For listening sessions, where you are actively trying to learn more about a certain recording, the E3Cís have proven to be exceptional. That is, until you run into a lousy recording. Then all of those subtle nuances can actually become a distraction. I guess that ignorance can be bliss, especially with rock music. A rather large majority of rock music features less than spectacular recordings.

I will also say that during casual listening, the Radio Shack earbuds tend to be more involving. Again, I believe this is due to the lower dynamic range of the Radio Shacks. This effect is similar to listening to a song on your carís radio. You are driving along, rocking to some great music on your favorite station. The lower dynamic range of FM radio allows you to hear softer notes at higher than normal volume levels. Then, you decide you love the song so much that you buy the CD. You pop the CD into your carís CD player and start to listen. The sound quality if obviously higher, but you miss certain parts of the recording unless you jack the volume up to ear bleeding levels.

The same thing happens with headphones. I find myself able to better enjoy music through the Radio Shacks, when listening at lower to medium volume levels. I may not hear every nuance of the recording, but the most important stuff is all there and easy to hear. I get a steadier beat with more aggressive attack on kick drums, vocals and guitar riffs. I do more foot tapping with the Radio Shacks. My head nods more often and Iím compelled to far more ďair guitarĒ solos.

The E3Cís seem to be shine more when Iím relaxing in my chair, trying to escape the world I live in, and just become part of the recording. It isnít always as exciting, but Iím hearing more than a steady diet of music. Iím hearing where the microphone was positioned in the room, and how far from the mike the singer is standing. Iím nol onger home in my chair, but at the recording session with the artists.

I guess itís like reading a good long book versus watching the movie. You obviously get more out of the reading the book. You learn more about the characters and what is going through their heads. You begin to understand their motivations. You experience a broad range of emotions. This is what listening through the E3Cís is like. But sometimes you donít want to spend a week reading the book. You just want to experience something exciting and fantastic for a couple hours, and then go on with the rest of your life. This is what the Radio Shack 131-1991ís bring to the table.

Which is better? I donít think thereís a clear-cut answer to that question. Part of it has to due with the type of music you enjoy. I would say that the Radio Shacks definitely excel with rock music. ďLetís Get It StartedĒ, from the Black Eyed Peas, is powerful and fun. The sound makes you sing and dance. The same goes for the Doors singing ďLa WomanĒ. The song makes you want to go wild when Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger really start to groove. They Radio Shacks are also perfect for a personal that is actively exercising, and needs a steady beat to move to.

The E3Cís have different strengths. Listening to Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker sing ďIím In The MoodĒ is laid back and sexy. The sound is mystical and inviting. The same goes for B.B. King and Eric Clapton doing ďThree OíClock Blues. You can hear not only the music being played, but you can hear the artists playing their instruments. Fingers slide along the strings.

I guess that this is all an enormous compliment to the Radio Shacks. Even being compared to a true audiophile earphone like the Shure E3Cís is pretty big. The Radio Shacks are easy to listen to, and never really disappoint. Iíd be happy with that sound for a long, long time.

One big question is whether the Radio Shacks will last. They are hardly of the same build quality as the Shures. The E3Cís are quite overbuilt. Then again, if you can find the 131-1991ís in a store, you can buy 4 or 5 sets for the same price as the Shures. And obviously, if you really need isolation, the Shure canal phones are the obvious choice. Comfort is entirely a personal thing. Some people hate canal phones. Some people are like me, and have great trouble with fitting earbuds in their ears.

At this point in my trial period, Iím leaning toward keeping the E3Cís. I love my Radio Shacks, and actually prefer them for my 20-minute walks to work in the morning, and back home in the afternoon. They give me a steady beat to walk to, and really get my heart pumping. But the Shures have opened me up to new experiences with certain recordings. It would be very hard to send the E3Cís back, and know that Iíll never again get to hear so many subtle musical cues. In the end, I may not end up replacing my Radio Shacks, but will probably start listening to more music.
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Old 05-21-2005, 01:39 PM
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Buzz--Since I've considered purchasing Shure E3s for my pod, I was particularly interested in your claim about the similar sonic signature of the Rat Shak buds. At my nearby store, the clerk told me I had the wrong model number, that all their earphone model numbers start with 33, not 131. I found some 33-1991s, forked over $20 plus tax, and took them home. I plan to return them today. They are highly efficient, but have a very pronounced midrange emphasis and steeply rolled-off highs. This was apparent with rock, orchestral music, and jazz, especially when compared with my reference Sennheiser HD590s. I much prefer the sound of my (post burn-in) Sony EX51s. Except for a slight treble emphasis and modestly deficient bass, their frequency response seems pretty accurate, and though they hardly compare with the 590s for clean, open, natural sound, they are still far less muddy and hissy than the stock iPod buds, thus a pretty fair bargain for $25.

Are you sure, Buzz, about the model number of those Rat Shak buds you like so much?



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Old 05-22-2005, 02:36 PM
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You are correct about the model number. I just found the packaging to mine, and they are indeed 33-1991's. My bad, obviously.

You are also correct about the midrange hump and rolled of highs, in comparison to the Sonys. These characteristics are common to both the Radio Shacks and Shure E3C's. Some people like the Sony sound better. Some people prefer the Radio Shack/Shure sound, hearing the Sony sound as a totally collapsed midrange, overly aggressive highs, and uncontrolled bass.

It's funny how different people hear things so differently. People seem to either love the Sony sound and hate the Shure E3C sound, or love the E3C sound and hate the Sony sound. From what I've read, the Sennheiser earbuds sound similar to the Shures and Radio Shacks. And the Etymotics have a similar signature to the Sonys. I think people know very quickly, which of the two flavors is right for them.
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Old 05-24-2005, 10:34 AM
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Last night was a real eye opener for me. After a few days of listening to the Shure E3Cís, I was a bit bummed out. Iíd been playing around with EQ settings like crazy, trying to find something that would make me happy. Iíd discover that good EQ setting for one song, and that same EQ setting would sound terrible on the next song. I was starting to get dizzy, remembering which EQ setting to use on each of my 600 song collection.

To make matters worse, vocals always seemed to have this slight nasal tone to them. And there was no aggressive attack on musical instruments. It was as if, no matter what EQ setting was used, the Ipod couldnít deliver enough juice to make the E3Cís sound the way I wanted them to.

So I set up a test to prove my theory. I first listened to a number of good recordings through my home stereo system. The system is better than most, comprised of Rotel, Audio Alchemy, Meridian, B&K, MIT, Cardas, and Vandersteen components. The room has been adjusted for acoustics, to the best of my ability, so I took the stereo system as my ultimate sound reference. The music obviously sounded very nice. Then I listened to the Ipod through the Shure E3Cís. Positively anemic sound, in comparison.

The next step was the important one. I placed my Ipod Mini in an Ipod dock, and ran the line out from the dock to the auxiliary input on my Rotel preamp. I then hooked the E3Cís to the headphone jack on the preamp. GLORIOUS SOUND!!!!!!! This is what I knew the Shureís should sound like. This was one of those wonderful audiophile moments, when you just know that you are hearing wonderful perfect sound. I was dancing around the room, as far as my modest 12-foot headphone extension would allow.

Eric Claptonís vocals had that wonderful throaty quality I knew was always there. Kick drums had tons of attack. Ambiance was outstanding. B.B. Kingís guitar sounded positively awe inspiring. Ray Charles voice was filled with interesting nuances. Pink Floyd was suddenly filled with intricate and involving sounds effects. You could hear the separate notes played on a bass guitar, which previously sounded like one blob of bass. Sounds were full of body and melodious. Heck, I didnít even need to use the EQ on the Ipod. No EQ, through the line out, sounded drastically better than any EQ setting when played through the headphone jack. The highs were greatly extended from the line out, while retaining the warm midrange I love. Bass was far more powerful overall.

I also tried the Radio Shacks through this new setup. The sound was improved, but not greatly. Through the preamp, the overall sound of the Shures was miles ahead of the Radio Shacks. The sound of the E3Cís was far too amazing for words to describe properly.

SoÖ.. What do I make from this recent development? Obviously, the Radio Shack headphones are extraordinarily easy to drive, benefiting little from the line out experiment. The E3Cís, when properly driven, offer positively remarkable sound reproduction. Better than I ever hoped to achieve. But, the E3Cs are not exactly amazing, when played directly through the Ipodís headphone jack.

The good news is that I still have weeks left in my trial period of the E3Cís. Enough time to maybe pick up or build a small dedicated headphone amplifier, and give that a try.
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Old 05-24-2005, 11:09 AM
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Buzzbait you don't have to remember which EQ setting to use on each song all the time.

To into itunes and right click on the song. Go to the get info (as if your were going to change the id3 tag), click on the options tab and then the "equalizer preset".

To my knowledge the ipod equalizer should changed to the song's preset.

Last edited by wytwolf; 05-24-2005 at 11:19 AM.
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Old 05-24-2005, 11:11 AM
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I'm surprised that someone with the audio savvy implied by Vandersteen, Meridian, et al components would even consider degrading the sound with EQ. Have you tried it with EQ off? Also, that you're using a mini might be significant. I read somewhere recently that Apple crippled the output stage in the mini iPod's design.



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Topic: Shure E3C Impressions

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