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Product Review
 

Shure E4 and E5 High-Performance Earphones

Part I

February, 2006

Jason Victor Serinus

 

E4 (Single Balanced Armature Transducer)

Sensitivity: 109 dB SPL/mW at 1 kHz

Impedance: 29 Ohms

Net Weight: 31 g (1.1 oz)

MSRP: $319 USA

E5 (Dual Low Mass/High Energy Transducer)

Sensitivity: 122 dB SPL/mW at 1 kHz

Impedance: 110 Ohms at 1 kHz

Net Weight: 31 g (1.1 oz)

MSRP: $549 USA

 

Shure

www.shurestore.com

Introduction

When I recently flew from Oakland to Newark to attend my cousin’s 90th birthday luncheon, I determined to make the most of the trip by using my Powerbook to write CD and DVD reviews in flight.

Knowing that my $49 Radio Shack headphones were not up to the task of blocking airplane noise, I decided to audition various models of the Shure noise-canceling earphones I’d heard so much about. My thanks to a true gentleman, Piero Gabucci of the Secrets staff, for providing me with distributor information, and to Shawn McLoughlin of Compass Xpress for supplying the headphones in record time.

After soliciting opinions about the Shures from Secrets staff members, I inferred that the higher the model number, the deeper the bass extension. Knowing the importance of full-spectrum sound for writing music reviews, I decided to audition both Shure's E4s and E5s.

Shure claims the E4s offer an "ultra-wide frequency soundstage with brilliant highs and extended bass," and that the E5s offer "extended frequency response for precise highs, natural mids, and full bodied bass."

While the words sound pretty similar, the sound of these earphones is miles apart. Chalk it up, in part, to the E5's separate bass module, which adds to their size but not to their weight.

Features

Both the E4 and E5 offer a gold-plated, 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) stereo output plug. The E4, whose cable length is 157 cm (62”), comes equipped with the PA235 level attenuator only for use when connecting to airplane seat audio outputs. It also includes a carrying pouch, "Fit Kit" w/cleaning tool (two each-small, medium large clear flex and soft gray flex sleeves, one pair foam sleeves), one pair triple-flange sleeves, replacement nozzles, and a 1/8" to ¼" mini-plug to phone-plug adapter.

The E5, whose cable length is 1.55 m (61 inches), comes with a carrying pouch, "Fit Kit" w/cleaning tool (two each-small, medium large clear flex and soft gray flex sleeves, one pair foam sleeves), and one pair triple-flange sleeves. Don't ask me why, even though the E5 costs considerably more than the E4, it doesn't include the PA235 level attenuator nor the 1/8" to ¼" mini-plug to phone-plug adapter. [Note: This accessories information was obtained from the brochures
supplied with the earphones. While it differs from what Shure states on its website, it reflects what was actually included in the earphone shipment I received.]

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men . . . .

The first time I attempted to evaluate the Shure headphones, grand plans were foiled when one of my CDs jammed in my Powerbook's transport mechanism in-flight and the screen went dark. So much for writing music reviews in-flight. It took Apple over three weeks to obtain and replace my failed logic board.

Before the computer died, however, I was able to make several major observations. Firstly, it was a challenge to find the right way to get these earphones to stay put in my ear canals. Every ear canal is different, so you may have an easier time inserting these babies than I did. For me, only two positions on a 360-degree rotation work with the E5s. The one that works best has me draping the cords over my ears, which is not easy to arrange.

As I struggled to conquer the headphones in-flight, cords kept tangling, and optional earpieces and volume control fell to the floor. Trying to retrieve them from under my own feet and others' while in coach class was not my idea of a good time. Eventually I discovered that, for me, Shure's yellow rubber foam inserts supplied the tightest connection, and did the best job of sealing out external noise. Note that Shure calls these earphones "Sound Isolating", due to their acting like an earplug. They are not active noise canceling designs.

If at First You Don't Succeed . . . .

Happily, January brought a shorter flight to Las Vegas for CES. With every seat taken and spirits geared up for a full weekend, there was noise aplenty to mask.

Even as I sat on the floor of the Oakland airport terminal awaiting my flight, I affirmed that the yellow foam sufficiently insulates me from background noise. Yes, I did hear intercom announcements and security announcements in the background, but the insulation was sufficient to allow me to concentrate on the music at hand.

Especially if one were listening to something like rock, where there's rarely a drop in volume between notes, I'm convinced that the yellow foam inserts would definitely do the trick. They couldn't block out the sound of the woman who decided to lean over me while screaming into her cell phone, but I doubt anything short of total annihilation would have silenced her.

I immediately heard a marked difference between the E4s and E5s. At first, I thought the E4s sounded thin, a bit tinny, and unquestionably bass shy. As I continued my assessment, I realized that the E4s are quite extended on top, revealing a lot of detail that on some recordings may register as harsh. Auditioning DVDs of historic Bell Telephone opera broadcasts, for example, brought through the hiss loud and clear.

Click Here to Go to Part II.

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