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Shure E3G Review

Highs

  • Good sound isolation; strong
  • accurate bass; sound clarity

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 10

Lows

  • Spendy; tough to fit properly
Shure has listened to the consumers and crafted some of the best canalphones we have had the pleasure of auditioning.

Summary

Shure’s new line of gaming canalphones fill in the gaps within the company’s consumer line, by retaining the crisp, accurate sound of the C series and boosting the bass. Some users may find this style of headphone uncomfortable, but for those who appreciate complete immersion into their music, there’s no better option. There are some issues with fitting that plague all headphones of this style, but with a slew of available ear canal sleeves, there’s one sure to satisfy you.

Edit 2/27/06 – We received a lot of inquiries regarding the difference between the E3g and E3c earphones. While we experienced a slight difference in bass between our two review units, Shure’s PR department has released the following statement:

“In actuality, the E3g and E3c earphones are technically identical- there was no enhancement made to the bass response between the models. In order to complement portable gaming devices, Shure modified the exterior color of the earphones, shortened the cable length, and made over the product’s packaging. You will only notice an increase in bass response when moving up the product line from the E3c (or E3g) to the E4c (or E4g).”

Design and Features

Canalphones have seen a steady climb in popularity. The few companies that have honed these unique headphones over the last few years have been especially attentive to the concerns of customers–and have paved the way for a number of knockoffs that frankly aren’t worth the bandwidth to review. Shure is one of those pioneering companies that have been in the business for a while and have seen canalphones move from a niche market to relative popularity.

As mentioned in earlier reviews, canalphones are similar to the ear buds that come with many portable audio devices. The main difference is that they actually fit into the ear canal and seal the ear canal, isolating the listener from the outside world almost entirely. This is a double-edged sword, though. In most casual listening situations, you’ll enjoy some of the clearest sound with the fewest interruptions. But in social situations and in situations where the listener needs to be aware of their environment, they can be dangerous. We never suggest jogging and cycling with canalphones, since the wearer would be totally oblivious to traffic and other hazards.

The Shure E3g is the middle-of-the-line offering in the new gaming line of headphones. These cans are meant to compliment the company’s C series, aimed at general consumer use. We previously reviewed the E2C and E3C and thoroughly enjoyed both. We noted the relatively weak bass in the E3Cs, and at the risk of spoiling our evaluation of the E3g, that issue has been addressed.

The first thing we noticed was the refined appearance. Sure, these are going to be jammed so far in your ear that wiggling them will tickle your brain, but the build quality is a step above the competition and even Shure’s previous offerings. The drivers are contained within a black, glossy housing. The casing is big enough to easily grasp when inserting and removing, which may not sound like a big deal, but removing a competing canalphone made us feel like we were trying to pick a penny off a wet glass floor. The cord length is average, and all the joints feel secure. The cord itself is thicker than average, which reduces the microvibrations that can be transmitted up the wires when they rub or bump against clothing or obstacles.

In the box, you’ll find the headphones, a carrying case, and several varieties of sleeves of differing sizes. The array of options is the same as that of the E3C. There are three sizes of firm rubber sleeves:  Three gray, soft rubber sleeves, and one set of spongy form-fitting sleeves (similar to what you get at the pharmacy sleep aid aisle). The interchangeable sleeves fit into the ear so that only the body is outside the ear canal. The degree of comfort, durability, sound isolation, fit, and sound clarity varies with each.

The spongy sleeves, though the least durable, happen to offer the best fit, comfort, isolation and bass response. The soft rubber sleeves offered the worst sound quality (though still quite good), the toughest fit, and middle-of-the-road sound isolation. But, we found we could wear them for long periods of time without any discomfort. The stiffer rubber sleeves offer the second best sound quality and isolation, but become uncomfortable with prolonged use and have the worst fit of the three. They are also the most durable, but since they are light color, they can become discolored after a while. Despite our immaculate ear grooming, our E2C had this problem after a couple of months. The Etymotic ER-6is required nearly daily cleaning to remain even presentable. The sad fact is that your ears will release more wax as a protective measure against louder sounds, so while the topic is slightly gross, be aware that it is unavoidable. In the end, we found ourselves using the gray, soft rubber sleeves because they offered the best balance between comfort and performance.

Accessories
Accessories that come with the E3g’s

Performance

In our previous reviews of the E2C and E3C, we noted the difference in clarity and bass response. To sum it up, the E2Cs offered nice bass but lacked some clarity, and the E3Cs had great clarity but weak bass. So, how does the E3G fit into this arena? We used the same music selection that we auditioned the E3C with, along with some other updates, listed below:

  • Bjork’s Vespertine (DVD-Audio and MP3)
  • Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, Mahler Symphony 10 (DVD-Audio)
  • The Cure’s Disintegration (Audio CD + MP3)
  • Gary Numan’s Exile (CD and MP3)
  • Delerium’s Karma (CD and MP3)
  • Assemblage 23, Storm (Audio CD and MP3)
  • VNV Nation, Matter and Form (Audio CD and MP3)
  • Louis Armstrong, All-Time Greatest Hits (Audio CD and MP3)

For sources, we used

  • SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum (DVD-Audio, CD, and MP3)
  • Apple iPod photo (MP3)
  • Creative Nano Plus (MP3)
  • Sony Playstation portable (MP3)

We also tested a few games:

  • Doom 3 (PC)
  • City of Villains (PC)
  • Lumines (PSP)
  • Death, Jr. (PSP)
  • Wipeout:  Pure (PSP)

We also dusted off our copy of Spiderman 2 on UMD.

Rather than go through each combination here, we will try to categorize the sound. Also, we used the soft rubber sleeves for all testing.

The difference in bass between the E3C and E3G is like night and day. The E3G offered much deeper, atmospheric bass, and reached down into levels we did not experience with the E3C. In fact, all of our music tests resulted in complete satisfaction. The mid-range clarity was very slightly muffled during fast-paced music, and the highs didn’t quite reach the highest frequencies, but we’re really nit-picking more than is necessary. Sound quality in the most general sense between each of the music selections was comparable, and we found no “weak links”–no single category of music seemed to shed light on a particular audio flaw. The sound stage was appropriate, but lacked a little expanse. This is common to nearly all canalphones, though. Driving the E3G was average, and slightly better than the ER-6i. We did push the limits on the iPod volume control here and there, and the Creative Nano was usually set to max volume (no different from several headphones we’ve tested).

Gaming performance on the desktop side was decent, but really shone on the Playstation Portable. The PC games are more tuned to surround sound and environmental effects, which are usually lost in headphones. 3D positioning via software did little to compensate for this. Sound localization requires a combination of reflection off the ear, echo, and intra-aural time differences. The canalphones somewhat thwart the sound card processing for earphones by placing the driver closer to the ear drum, and removing and reflection. That said, the sound quality while gaming was great, and sources within about 130˚ were easily localized in PC games. Because the PSP is designed with stereo sound in mind, it fared much better than our desktop gaming behemoth. All PSP games performed very well, especially Lumines, most likely because of the music-based atmosphere.

Conclusion

Priced at $179, they don’t come cheap, but your ears will thank you. Shure has listened to the consumers and crafted some of the best canalphones we have had the pleasure of auditioning. While they aren’t really appropriate for outdoor activities or desktop gaming, the E3G really shine when used with portable music players and gaming consoles. Just plug them in and listen, as the outside world simply melts away.

Pros:

  • Good sound isolation
  • Strong, accurate bass
  • Sound clarity

Cons:

  • Price
  • Tough to fit properly

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