Review: Shure E2c Earphones
Pros: Lightweight, robust, good sound, don’t drain iPod battery.
Cons: Pricier than similar Sonys, ‘in-your-brain’ sound can be slightly tiring.
By David Babsky
Earphones are personal, and one person’s choice isn’t necessarily another’s. But, push-inside-the-ear ‘buds’ are generally a good idea - they’re easier to keep in place than those ‘dangle-at-the-ear’s-entrance’ phones which Apple supplies with the iPod, and by sealing themselves inside your ear canal, insertable earbuds provide much better bass, and reduce external noise. Do the Shure E2c’s improve upon the Apple-supplied (Sony made?) standard iPod phones? They Shure do. [Editor’s Note, November 1, 2006: An additional commentary on E2c has been added to the end of this review.]
The E2c phones come well packed, with 3 different-size sponge-plastic sound-insulating ‘foam sleeves’ and three sets of clear silicone ‘flex sleeves’ - conical plastic stoppers - to hold the phones right inside your ears and to keep other sound out. These alternative stoppers of your choice slide onto a 7.5mm clear plastic tube integrally moulded into the phones. There’s also a handy ‘How-To’ booklet, a 2-year guarantee, and a circular lightweight carry pouch. The pouch and cables are black; the phones are clear (left) and two-tone (right), to distinguish which is which.
Carry pouch with earphones, sponge and silicone slip-on ‘earplugs’, and circular black replaceable ‘earwax preventers’.
Choose from three sizes of sponge (above) or silicone (below) push-on earplugs, to slide onto the 7.5mm clear plastic tubes.
The insulating ‘sleeves’ - choose the pair which best fit your own ears, and are most comfortable - suppress almost all external sound, and beef-up the sound from the E2c phones ...particularly the bass. This makes them “isolating” phones: they fit right into your ears, not just perch at the entrance, and keep out all ambient noise (street and subway sounds, conversation, general atmosphere) so you hear the iPod, and nothing else. CAUTION: This means you’re out-of-touch and unaware if you wear them while cycling, driving, or doing anything which needs ‘wits-about-you’ attention! These phones block out all external sound.
The frequency range, undocumented by Shure, pretty much matches Sony’s excellent little $40 EX-70 earbuds, ‘luxury’ $250 Bose Quiet Comfort ‘noise-cancelling’ phones, and Sennheiser ‘home listening’ $80 ‘590’ headsets - with good clear highs and deep, rich bass. The bass is better, too, than the iPod’s own phones, because the E2cs nestle right inside your ears, instead of hanging just outside. Being very sensitive, and being stuck well into your ears, they need very little iPod amplifier power - about halfway across the iPod volume graph for normal listening, which is slightly less than the iPod’s own phones. So the E2cs don’t drain the iPod battery, and they let you listen longer.
Sony EX-70 (left) Shure E2c (centre) iPod original (right) phones; note the tougher cables on the Shure phones.
Though their frequency range is close to those other excellent phones (but without quite the bass reach of the EX-70s or the larger-diaphragm Bose ‘QC’s) the Shures do tend to ‘squash’ the audio, with only a little ‘breathing space’ between you and the sound. It’s as if you’re in a booth with loudspeakers just three feet away pumping sound at you, whereas the similarly tiny Sonys (and many other phones) give a broader ‘sound stage’, with an apparently wider separation between bass, mid-range and top ...as if you’re in a larger room, with speakers spaced further apart. The E2cs are like having a picture thrust right in front of your eyes, and having to squint at it; it’s more comfortable to look from a little further away. This can make the E2cs slightly tiring after a while ...like having someone constantly shouting into your ear.
This ‘crowding’ seems to be due to the very long-reach 7.5mm tubes which carries sound from the phones’ diaphragms deep into your ears. (The EX-70 earbud tubes are only 3mm, letting the sound ‘find its own way’ down your ear canal.)
It’s important to choose the correct (small, medium or large) foam or silicone plugs to slide onto those 7.5mm audio tubes, so that the E2cs fit very snugly into your particular ears. Too small a plug size, and they won’t ‘seal in’ all the bass. I found the foam plugs more comfortable than the slightly harder alternative silicone cones, and they were easier to push into my ears. But whichever you use, it can be fiddly to get the E2cs in just the right position, especially with their none-too-flexible cables. The instruction book tells you all about earwax buildup, too, and how to clean the earphones!
There’s a choice of sponge or silicone earplugs for an excellent bass seal. Note the cables as thick as a matchstick.
The E2cs weigh 32 grams - almost nothing ...but still twice the iPod’s original phones (14 grams), and three times the weight of the Sony EX-70s (10 grams ...pixie dust).
It’s not just the weight of the phones: because the Shure cables are thicker and heavier than most phones’ - and less pliable (more like a laptop’s power lead) - they can be awkward to insert, and there’s a slight downward drag on your ears. Perhaps to counteract this, Shure recommends wearing them with the wires wound over the top of your ears so that the cable-weight goes around - and is carried by - your ears, rather than their - admittedly pretty minimal - weight pulling the phones down and out.
Their sound is a great improvement over the original iPod phones, the E2c need less power - because they’re jammed right into your ear canal - and they’re more secure. You can’t just let the cable simply dangle, though, as it’s a little too heavy and stiff ...the wire needs to hang over the back of your ears. Worth $99? The Sony EX-70s (or new EX-71s) is a slightly better value at half the price and size, and one third the weight. The Shure E2c is bigger, but with thicker, more robust cables.
Editorial Addendum, November 1, 2006
[Editors’ Note: On November 1, 2006, iLounge published The 2007 iPod Buyers’ Guide, with more than 30 brand new, capsule-sized product reviews - only for products we considered to be amongst the very best we’ve used throughout the year. The short review below is excerpted from the Guide, which you can download here; it is intended to note our current view of these earphones.]
Let’s set the record straight about Shure’s E2cs: when used with the right eartips, and properly inserted into the right-sized set of ears, these are great earphones. And by great, we mean A-caliber, with seriously rich, engaging sound that rivals the best offerings in our latest Buyers’ Guide. The only problem is that the E2cs don’t sound great with the cool-looking, oft-pictured rubber eartips, are physically large - the largest in our Buyers’ Guide - and work best when their thick cords are worn around the tops of your ears. If you have bigger ears or can manage to situate them comfortably in your smaller ones, which isn’t hard if you play around a bit with the foam inserts, you’ll love how they sound; that said, we found their competitors easier fits.