Canal phones are a relatively novel type of headphone when it comes to consumer audio gear. While the idea of actually jamming an electronic device into your ear canal may sound like a gruesome outtake from an 80’s Sci-Fi flick, the isolation allows the listener to hear the music, and ONLY the music. The Shure E2C is a mid-priced canal phone with exceptional sound that can be easily driven by most portable audio players.
In order to review the Shure E2c, we need to give a brief explanation of what a canal phone is. Canal phones are a cross between ear buds and earplugs. They actually fit into the ear canal, and the tiny speakers vibrate the air between the drivers and the eardrum, producing sound. Since the phones seal off the movement of air in and out of the canal, outside sounds are muted and only the vibrations of the driver are pushing air against the eardrum. Historically, one annoyance with canal phones has been micro phonics – unintentional sounds that are amplified by the design of the canal phones. Contact with the wires may produce a scraping sound and footsteps a deep thudding.
The Shure E2c series of headphones is their low-end E Series model. The models vary by the speakers used. The E Series are sound isolation earphones deisgned for regular consumer audio use. There are two properties that define the E Series: sound isolation and high-energy micro-speakers. Sound isolation is achieved by a form-fitting soft, flexible sleeve that conforms to the inner shape of your ear. Each product in the E Series also utilize small, high-energy micro-speakers to bring what Shure says is “incredibly precise sound quality directly in your ear.”
According to Shure, the sound isolation is important because it makes it possible to hear greater detail at a lower listening volume than is possible with earbuds or most headphones intended for portable use. They say that low-volume listening can actually be less fatiguing over extended periods and safer than competing with background noise by turning up the volume on your headset. This makes isolating earphones an ideal choice for commuting, travel, exercise, study, work or any activity where you desire portable, high fidelity sound.
Ear isolation is totally different from noise cancellation, and according to Shure, if done correctly, can block most unwanted background noise.
Shure has been around for over 78 years and is known for creating high-quality studio and stage audio equipment for musicians. They entered the consumer market recently after musicians started telling them that they use their Shure headphones to listen to their personal electronics.
Along with the headphones, Shure includes a “personal fit kit”, which includes several sizes of silicone “flex sleeves” and several sizes of foam sleeves, for a comfortable fit.
Testing and use
In order to get a quality review, we thought it was important to listen to different types of audio under different conditions. We used the Shure headphones for listening to music and for PC gaming. We conducted several of our tests in public with background crowd noise and others in more quieter areas.
We tested the Shure E2Cs with the following recordings: Bjork’s “Vespertine” (DVD-Audio and MP3), Mahler Symphony 10 (Berliner Philharmoniker – conducted by Sir Simon Rattle – DVD-Audio), The Cure’s “Disintegration” (Audio CD + MP3), Gary Numan’s “Exile” (CD and MP3), and Delerium’s “Karma” (CD and MP3) from a SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum (for DVD-Audio, CD, and MP3), iRiver SlimX 350 (CD and MP3), and Rio PSA|Play 120 (MP3). All MP3s encoded with VBR 160kbps-300 kbps/44kHz.
In all of our tests, the Shure E2c headphones produced clear, smooth sound. The treble was quite clear and never became screechy in our tests. The midrange was balanced and well represented, and the bass was deep and not boomy at all.
Overall they strike a very nice balance across the sound spectrum. The sound space is almost too expansive, and adequately far away. We experienced no sound leakage, and once you get them in, the headphones are flush with the outside of your ear. This is nice for use in bed, since they won’t disturb anyone else, and you can turn on your side without discomfort. Once the listener gets used to the sensation of something in their ear, the E2c’s are actually quite comfortable. Expect sore ears, though, the first few days.
Micro phonics were nearly non-existent under most circumstances. Jogging resulted in a slight thudding and scratching, but walking was comfortable. Driving the E2C appears to be a little costly, with max volume on both portable devices being just a bit too high.
The relaxed sound worked counter to Bjork. Her vocals often quickly go from high to low tones. Those sudden jolts of sound were often smoothed over, but the bass response was never lost or too airy feeling. Mahler sounded amazing. The balance across the spectrum shone through excellently. The Cure sounded slightly distant, but very similar to concert quality in instrument balance. Gary Numan sounded similar, but with some of the more ambient noises more pronounced. Delirium came through clearly, distant, and expansive, just as it should.
For gaming we used Quake 3, Tribes 2, and Jedi Knight 2. Sound localization was adequate, but made slightly difficult due to the airy smoothness the E2c’s create. The bass was good, but failed to really rattle our cages. Strangely, reproduction of sounds coming from behind was very clear; enough that sneak attacks resulted in the uncontrollable mouse twitch that leaves you staring at the ground.
At under $100 dollars, the Shure E2c’s provide excellent sound reproduction. They’re characterized by a slightly airy, open and expansive soundstage that blends the sounds from all directions accurately. The response of treble, midrange and bass is very balanced, and brings out the nuances of the music. The E2c’s isolation is absolutely superb for when you want to get lost in the music.