Portable Audio-listening Heaven, Part 1: A Review of Shure’s E3c Sound Isolating Earphones

by C.K. Sample III Jan 05, 2005

We were all blissfully unaware of how good portable music could be back in the pre-iPod days. A few of us were fooled into thinking that a nice carrying case for our favorite vinyl records and a turntable in the backpack was the best solution to achieve High Fidelity “on the go.” In the 70s, several of us believed that 8-track players would be the portable audio solution. Many of us jogged through the 80s with a cassette player strapped to our belt. In the 90s, we were sure that the CD player was the end-all of portable music. In all these cases, we were wrong.

If you already own an iPod, you’ve escaped portable-audio-listening’s lower tier of purgatory, plagued and limited by removable media. The iPod effectively and stylishly provides the space and interface for easily carrying all the music you’ll need for on-the-go listening. Unfortunately, you’re still only in the higher tier of purgatory (which is pretty good compared to most mortals). Over the course of the next three weeks, I will be reviewing three very nice, albeit pricey, peripherals for your iPod that will help your iPod propel you closer to portable audio-listening heaven.

Shure E3c Sound Isolating Earphones (Website ; MSRP $179)

If you love your iPod, but wish that it came with better earphones than Apple’s included earbuds, you should take a look at the Shure E3c Sound Isolating Earphones. Unlike your earbuds, which sit on the outside of your ear, and traditional headphones, which generally cover your ear, the E3c is designed to fit snugly inside your ears. As a result, most outside sound is naturally blocked out and you are able to listen to your music clearly at lower volumes. The sound is crystal clear and effectively conveys the entire range from highs to lows. On Christmas day, as my little cousins ran around screaming and playing with their new toys, I leaned back in my own private listening bubble and enjoyed some of my favorite music.

Although I initially thought that the in-ear design might prove uncomfortable, I actually found the E3c to be much more comfortable than Apple’s earbuds. Shure includes a kit of 7 different pairs of earphone sleeves of various sizes (small, medium, and large) and materials (clear flex, soft grey flex, and foam) for you to find the perfect fit for your ears. For you audiophiles and spec geeks, the earphones feature a low mass / high energy transducer with sensitivity of 113.5 dB SPL/mW at 1kHz and impedance of 29 ohms at 1kHz, a gold-plated 1/8-inch stereo plug, a 60 inch cord, and weighs in at 0.9 oz. Translation: it sounds great, has a long cord, and is light. It also comes with a nice zippered carrying case and a two-year warranty.

For the ultimate sleeve for these headphones, Shure has partnered with Sensaphonics, who will make custom silicone gel sleeves for the E3c fitted to the shape of your ear for $100 (not including shipping and the fee you must pay an audiologist to make a mold of your ear).

Shure offers both a less-expensive, the E2c (MSRP $99), and much more expensive, the E5c (MSRP $499), model, but the E3c is the smallest in design and, with its white and grey coloring, the most effectively geared towards being used with a stylish portable audio device like the iPod. If ear-penetration doesn’t sound like it’s your thing, you might want to consider another branch of high-end headphones, like the similarly-priced Bose TriPort Headphones (MSRP $149).

The Shure E3c earphones will get you one step closer to portable audio listening nirvana, but there’s more that can be done to improve your iPod experience. Have you ever noticed that when you turn the volume up on your iPod, the sound can sometimes get a bit muddied? Next week, I’ll be reviewing and discussing a viable solution for this problem: the Simpl A1 Headphone Amplifier for iPod (Website; MSRP $149.99)


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