Customer Reviews: Shure E3c Sound Isolating Earphones (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
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on September 15, 2004
First off, let me save certain people the trouble of reading the following review: If you've got to convince yourself that a pair of earphones could be worth what these cost, they probably aren't.

When I first put these on (with my correctly-fitting size of included ear adapters), I was comparing them with a $9 pair of Sony earbuds that I've been using for the past few years. I couldn't believe it, but I thought my crappy Sony earbuds sounded 100 times better. "Where's the bass?" I thought to myself when switching the '3's' back into my noggin for the second time and still not hearing it.

It took me about 5 minutes to finally figure out the trick that Sony, Panasonic and all of the other consumer-grade electronics manufacturers have been playing on me and you all along: they deceptively amplify the bass response from that of the musician's original intent to cover up the dismal sound quality and inaccurate reproduction of the music provided by their inferior wares. Yeah, that 'Mega-Bass' is more like a bunch of mega BULL.

The '3's do not overpower you with bass. They deliver your music to you as your favorite musicians intended for you to hear it. What you are paying for with these headphones is ACCURACY. Those tight, crisp high-hats bucketed in syncopated pockets of time that you may have not even heard before will elude you no longer, once you get the '3's. The slight tune-decay of those analog synth chords that you're supposed to hear just upon the release of the keys on your favorite 70's fusion recordings would send chills through any jazz/funk afficionado like myself, but you'll never hear 'em without these puppies. The raw, airy echo of live drums that manifests the musically intended mood of good music more than almost any other component or aspect, imho, will be kept from you no longer once you are down with the '3's.

I just got these today, I put them in my ears over two hours ago, and here it is, 10:20pm, I've got work early tomorrow morning, and I cannot even tear myself away from these. I'm hearing my music for the first time, as far as I'm concerned. These headphones literally bring me to tears.

What's your music collection worth to you? Mine's worth about $10K in monetary value, priceless in musical value. I look at it this way now: If I didn't get the '3's, I wouldn't have saved the cost of the headphones - I would have wasted the value of my entire musical collection.

BTW, I do not work for Shure and I have no connection with them, Sony, Panasonic or the like.

If you are one of those conspiratory-minded people that think that a review this strong on musical electronics could only come from someone looking to knock a corporate power off of its perch,

that's cool with me; you probably don't understand music very well or a thing I've said above if you have time to waste on such thoughts that you could be spending listening to music.
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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2004
Not being an audiophile but just an ordinary listener, I decided to splurge and check these out as Shure has a return policy. Am not disappointed --- really pleased to have the quality of great sound. Clear and crisp as one had great speakers. Don't bother with looping the cord over the ears, they work fine the regular way and check out the various inserts for the best fit. I have Sony noise cancellation headphones for over 7 years now and use those too, as well as medium priced Koss headphones from Radio Shack but neither compare to the E3c --- so save your money by not buying all those other headphones that will sit and go with the Shure E3c!
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on November 29, 2004
I ordered my pair the day after thanksgiving. I was a bit hesitant, due to the price, but let me tell you they worth every penny. I have not tried the 5cs, but this pair is good enough. As other users said, when you hear a song you truly love and have heard for thousand times before, it's like you are listening for the very first time. They passed my Enigma; Sting; Lara St John, and Cher tests with flying colors. The music is deep, not distorted, and detailed as if you are in the music hall in the best seat. Excellent choise, don't be bothered by the price, since we are paying $300 plus for our ipods, they deserve the best headphones out there. An important note, make absolutely sure that the headphones are all the way inside your ear canal, otherwise you will be dissappointed. The earphones come with a fitting package that will accomodate almost anybody's ears. The key is that the earphones need to be all the way inside your ear canal.
One bit downside is the cord is a bit akward. I guess it will take some getting used to, but for $180, I think the company can do a bit better with cord management.

An additional comment regarding Bass;

What we have to keep in mind is that these earphones are reproducing the sound in its 'pure' form. In other words they take the sound with all its attributes and reproduce it. That means that you will not be overpowered by bass. A lot of low priced earphones overcompensate with the bass to cover up the lack of the other details of the sound reproduction. A good example is the MDR series from Sony which are also inside the ear design. The MDRs overcompensate in the bass, because they distort the other elements of the sound. I am an avid audiophile for Jazz and Classical music, some pop too; but jazz and contemporary classical are my favorite genres. I am attending live performances very frequently. My take away from the live performances is that there is no overpowering of bass. Bass is supposed to be complimentary adding tempo to the overall performance, not being the performance itself. Thus, it might take a while to get used to the reduced presense of bass in these earphones, but this absence does not mean they are not good earphones. The absence actually means that they work they way they are supposed to be working. As mentioned earlier, if you don't hear any bass, then you are not fitting the earphones into your ear canal per the instructions.
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on August 8, 2004
This is an update to my earlier review. I've now had these for about two months and have grown to really like them. I've found that the foam sleeves are by far the best, both for sound quality, isolation and comfort. The sound with these is simply fantastic - sharp, clear, detailed and powerful. The isloation is awesome. The foam sleeves get dirty after a while but Shure sells replacements for $20 for 10 pairs. A pair probably needs to be replaced every few weeks, depending on how often they are used. $2/pair isn't a lot of money so I don't mind it.

Another review mentioned how the design is bad because the wire needs to go over your shoulder or under your armpit. That's not how they're supposed to work. The wire goes down your back. I usually keep my Ipod in my front pocket and have no problems having the wire run down my back around to my pocket. Can also run the wire down the front as well (I do this at the gym). As for putting them on, yes they're not AS easy as regular headphones but they take me all of 5 seconds so I don't mind.

I've seen some complaints about the bass. People who complain don't know what bass should sound like. These have tight bass, not crappy boomy bass like cheap headphones. I listen to a lot of bass-heavy hip hop and electronic music and I love the way these sound. I have some tracks where the bass is pounding.

I do have a few minor complaints with these. Because the cord runs down your back, you need to make sure to leave some slack when you sit down, otherwise your back will press the cord against the seat back and if you move your head, the wire will be tight. This doesn't really bother me, and you can also run the wire down your front if you want. Also, when you take them off, you can't just put them around your neck like other headphones since there's no headband to fit around your neck. Again, very minor complaints.

Overall, I have grown to really love these headphones. The sound quality is awesome and the isolation is really amazing. The only sleeves I use are the foam. The gray ones don't sound as good and the clear ones aren't very comfortable. I ordered the triple flange sleeves for $10 from Shure's website, but didn't like those. The foamies are really awesome though.

I've had these for two weeks now. Did a lot of experimenting with the sleeves and I will tell you that which sleeve you use makes a HUGE HUGE HUGE difference.

I initially used the gray ones. Tried both the small and medium sizes. I'm an audiophile and was disappointed in the sound quality. Don't get me wrong - it sounded good. It was very clean and flat. But I thought it sounded a little thin and lacked depth/color. I fiddled around with how they sit in my ear and found that that made a big difference also but never hit the point where I thought the sound was amazing.

I just tried switching sleeves. Tried both the clear ones and the foam. All I can say is WOW. The sound quality with both of these is so much better than with the gray (at least for me). I can't get over the difference it makes. The difference is all in the seal that the earphones make in your ear. To anyone buying these, I strongly suggest you try all of the sleeves that come with these. It will make all the difference. For me, it will take some experimenting to see whether the foam or clear sleeves are more comfortable to wear for extended times, but they both sound amazing.

The isolation on these is also incredible. I live in NYC and take the subway to work every morning. With my old (over the ear) headphones, I couldn't hear the music when a train would pull in or out of the station or when the train was moving and the wheels were screeching on the tracks, even with the volume all the way up. Now the music dominates everything I hear. Even if a screeching train is pulling into the station, my music still sounds loud and clear. Plus I don't need to keep my Ipod's volume all the way up anymore, which is better for my ears. It's really amazing.

The design of these takes a little while to get used to (they wrap up behind and over the top of your ears) but once you get used to it, it really is a better way to wear headphones. They are securely in your ear and will not come out. Also, the cord is out of the way. Takes a few seconds longer to put them but I think it's worth it. I find these to be very comfortable.

I'm a DJ and have used Shure needles for years. Shure makes high quality products. These are no exception. They sound fantastic - rich, deep, clear and flat. I strongly believe that anyone who gave these a bad review didn't experiment enough to find the right seal. I highly recommend these.
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on April 2, 2006
I've been using these headphones with my iAudio X5, my notebook computer, and my desktop PC for a few months now, and have tried them in a variety of environments.

First, I should make it clear that the E3Cs are sound-isolating earphones. Don't buy them for use while driving, biking, or any other activity where hearing is required. It's not safe. Buy them only if you plan to be alone (at home, on the bus, etc) while listening, in situations where you don't need to hear your environment.

The good:

- Good sound quality. It's not a life-changing experience, as some reviews suggest, but they do sound pretty good. Sometimes when using them, I hear details in music I hadn't noticed before.

- Good noise isolation. Other sounds mostly just fade away when I'm using my E3Cs. I can still hear some things, like the excited girls screaming a couple tables away at the coffee shop, but the normal drone of sounds is almost entirely gone.

- Lower listening volume. I can hear music clearly with the E3Cs at very low volumes. The volume on my iAudio X5 goes from 1-40, and the useful range with the E3Cs is about 3-8 (compared to the 12-20 needed for my $30 Sony headphones). Music is still pretty clear at a volume of 1-2, but then the sound of breathing, and my minor tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are louder than the music.

- Great carrying case. The hard case is very nice; small and protective. I recommend removing the plastic spool from inside, though. It gets in the way.

- Nice, thick cable and generally solid build quality. The E3Cs won't break easily. The cable is thinner after it splits into individual earpieces, but most of the product seems pretty sturdy.

- Over-the-ear design keeps the cables out of the way. Only an inch of cable is visible before it disappears into my hair, and then the cables can easily be routed under a coat/shirt and into a pocket where my music player is kept.

The bad:

- At $130, they were a bit expensive. At the $180 retail price, I'd rather pick up some cheaper Etymotics earphones. The Etymotics models may be more likely to break, but at half the cost, I could afford a spare set.

- Amplifies sounds inside the body. Footsteps can be quite a bit louder than the music, and they're not particularly useful while chewing. Even breathing can be louder than the music, at low volumes.

- Needs a shirt clip, but doesn't come with one. The weight of the cords on my ears makes them hurt after a short while, unless I use a shirt clip to hold the cable in place. Also, there is quite a bit of "cable noise" when I turn my head unless I'm using a shirt clip.

- The carrying case would be better without the plastic spool inside. (it's not difficult to remove)

- Most of the eartips are too big. I thought I had big ear canals, since I use the largest available eartip for my Etymotics phone headset, but only the smallest Shure eartip will fit comfortably.

- The foam eartips are itchy. I don't experience this with regular foam earplugs; the foam used in the eartips is a different type.

Other notes:

- The noise isolation can work too well sometimes. It's impossible to talk to anyone or interact effectively when using these earphones. This is often a good thing, but it limits my use to times I plan on being alone. The E3Cs make it really easy for someone to sneak up on you.

- The E3Cs make my computer's electrical noise rather noticable. This is a problem with my computer, though, not the E3Cs.

- It took me a few days to figure out which eartips fit me best, and find a way to wear the E3Cs for more than 20 minutes without discomfort. The eartips tend to produce suction or pressure inside the ear, unless inserted just right.

- I have to turn the bass up on my music player in order to make the music sound "correct", but not as much as with my $30 Sony headphones. The bass is not lacking as much as some reviews might suggest -- the only time the bass disappears is when I don't have the earphones inserted correctly.

- It'd be very spiffy if music players had a passthru microphone option, so I could press a button and hear what's going on around me without interrupting the music... but instead I have to take the E3Cs out in order to listen to anything around me.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the E3Cs. They're great while I'm composing music, trying to fall asleep, or sitting in a loud environment (coffee shop, airplane, server room, etc). The noise isolation aspect makes them inappropriate for many situations, though.
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on October 17, 2004
When I got my new Archos Gmini 400 media player, The earbuds that the player shipped with would not stay in my ears. I have Panasonic mega-base headphones but they just weren't comfortable. Aside from the comfort factor, before getting the Shures, I was perfectly happy with them ,now, I don't even know where they are.

Anyway, after looking at several alternatives, I decided to go with the Shure. One reviewer, in particular, impressed me. He said that he commuted on NYC subways everyday & he wanted to be able to hear his music over the roar of the trains. I take the same commute so the noise cancelling feature of the headphones really attracted me. Of course, what good is the noise cancelling feature if they don't sound good. The same reviewer raved about the sound so I decided to take the plunge. At first, I could decide between the E5c & the E3c. However, since I couldn't try them out in the store or return them if I wasn't happy, $350 (the price at J&R) seemed like too much of a chance to take on an untried commodity. To be honest, I was even hesitant about spending $139. But I shut my eyes, sucked in my breath & plunked down the moolah.

I am so pleased that I made that decision. All of the reviewers have suggested that you try all of the ear connectors until you find the one that fits you best & sounds the best. It took me several weeks but now the plugs stay in & they sound absolutely incredible. I listen to many different types of music--everything from classical to jazz to blues to electronica/dance. I can't say enough about the sound quality. Even taiko (thunderous Japanese drums) sounds fabulous. You are immersed in the music. The only caveat that I have is that they are truly noise cancelling & I have to especially vigilant when I am walking around with them on. Listening to music with them on is a truly immersive experience but you don't want to walk around New York City & be totally unaware of your surroundings.

Based on my experience with this model, if I had it to do all over again I would go for the E5c. But I have no complaints about this model. My advice, if you love music & you don't want to spring for the pricier model, THESE GET THESE PHONES!!!
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on May 18, 2005
First off, if you're scared by the price, you won't appreciate what these earphones offer you. Otherwise, these are the best earphones I have ever tried (though I haven't tried the Shure E5C).

Simply put - the sound is crisp, flawless, and flat. Too many consumer earphones falsely boost the bass or rolloff the treble frequencies (intentionally or not). These give you a wonderfully flat response, so you hear the music as it is recorded and was meant to be heard.

Keep in mind, these are designed to be on-stage in-ear monitors. They're rugged, lightweight, and solidly built. The method of routing the cord (over the ears, down the back of the neck) is designed to conceal the cord behind a performer and inside their clothing. However, I have found that the E3C's work in any position that is comfortable to the wearer.

The E3C's do a remarkably good job of blocking out ambient noise. I am looking forward to the next time I can fly to try them out in that grueling environment. In fact, the first night I had them, I missed 3 phone calls because I couldn't hear the phone ringing - and it is only 6 feet away from where I was sitting!

As well as keeping sound out, they keep sound in - meaning artists in my project studio can have the monitor volume they want without it bleeding into the microphone at all.

To recap - a well designed earphone that is one of the best earphones out there. For audiophiles and recording engineers, it is well worth the money!
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on October 14, 2004
I've had these now for over six weeks and they get BETTER!!! In my research some people mentioned that the drivers needed to 'warm up' or 'kick in', they were right! The mids and highs got crisper and clearer! The bass also became richer! I am amazed, I'm not into music with thumping bass, just clarity. They got better all around!

The one thing I have to pass on is ear hygine. I use the foam sleeves and insert the buds pretty deep. After a few days the wax in one ear compacted a bit (I know, gross!) It wasn't a big deal, a little wax loosener and flushing with warm water but if you have excess ear wax this could be a serious problem! The other thing is make sure your sleeves are cleaned often, or if you're using the foam, when they're dirty, they're dirty and need to be replaced.

Otherwise the BEST headphones I've ever had!!!! I would recommend these to anyone!


1) Keep your ear hygine in mind! Clean your ears and sleeves. This is not only healthy but will make sure your listening experience is optimal.

2) Keep the volume low on your device before turning it on!

3) As others have mentioned, if you need to hear what's going on around you, DON'T USE THESE!!!!! BE CAREFUL!!!!

That's my follow up. I'm so glad I have these!

Now my original posting:
I received my E3c headphones three days ago and am totally impressed!

As I used to travel for work alot I have owned the Aiwa HP-CN5 noise cancelling overheads, but the sound wasn't good and they were very uncomfortable. I then got Sony MDR-NC111 noise cancelling earbuds, the volume was very low. I was impressed with noise cancelling on both these models on planes, trains and in vehicles. But both left much to be desired in terms of sound quality.

On a plane flight I came across a SkyMall catalog that featured the E5c headphones. $500 is way to much for me to pay for headphones but it got me to research the technology. I did much research and decided upon the E3c model (I paid $129 from Computers4Sure)

It is very true that the correct sleeves are paramount to their preformance. It take a few moments and a few tries to find the right ones, but as soon as you find the proper fit you'll know. All surrounding sound is muffled as if you're wearning earplugs. Once I plugged them into my mp3 I quickly realized that this was a superior product. The mid/high level ranges were incredible. The music seemed to be in my head, not my ears. Plus I had the volume set on 12 (out of 40 on my mp3)I only had a few minutes as my wife had to throw a dog toy to get my attention because my three year old daughter was crying and my wife was yelling for me! I had to wait to do the truest test I could think of..... Mowing the lawn. I couldn't believe it! I had the volume between 16 and 18 and the lawnmower was very quiet and the music was still crystal clear. (I used to have to set my volume to 40 (max)to even really be able to listen and mow)

That's my experience with my new favorite audio accessory. Remember, pick the correct sleeve, have your device set to a low volume before turning on. And if you do need to hear what's going on around you.... Don't use these!

I don't work for Shure, I just love good music combined with good sound. I'm trying to justify spending $500 on the E5c but I doubt I could bring myself to do it..... Though if they're better than these, I may have to start saving.
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on October 26, 2005
These headphones are difficult to review, because their performance for me is highly variable. As the other reviewers point out, they come with 3 sizes of two different kinds of rubber earpieces (hard and soft) and a pair of foam earpieces. They can also be used with triple-flanged soft rubber earpieces or custom earphone sleeves (not included). When I use these headphones with anything other than the expandable foam earpieces, the sound is not nearly what I would expect for headphones of this quality. The bass response is highly dependant on the seal that forms in your ear; when there is not a tight seal, the headphones sound warbly and as another reviewer said, slightly underwater. The treble becomes overpowering.

With the foam inserts, it's a different story. I use these headphones with my ipod photo, and the sound is so fantastically detailed, even after the mp3 compression, that I swear I can hear things that I can't hear using a pair of Grado studio headphones with an amplifier. Like others have said, these earbuds are all about detail; the sound is incredibly crisp and clear, aided by the superior sound isolation. Even when using them with those wonderful foam earpieces, they do not have a lot of bass; faithful to the recording, but for those used to more (or those that listen to a lot of bass-heavy music) it may be underwhelming. The ipod EQ is little help, since it distorts the music so terribly. I do miss the bass response of my prior earbuds, Sony MDR-EX71SLs, but I'm learning to enjoy my music in a whole new way with these Shures. The sound isolation is impressive, and they don't blast you with white noise or require external power like active noise cancelling headphones. They completely seal out the outside world; on the New York City subway, I cannot hear a thing (which is great for sound quality, but isn't all that safe). The downside to the foam earpieces is that they are probably not going to be that durable (the documentation contains the part number for a big bag of replacement foam earpieces, which I will have to order). While on the subject of durability, the cables are thick and seem rather durable, which is nice considering the price.

Another thing that can seriously vary the sound of these headphones (for me at least) is the ear placement. I only get proper sound with the headphones looped over the top of my ears. Otherwise, the sound is not that clear. The fit even with the cord looped over like that is rather comfortable with the foam earpieces, though the tops of my ears are not especially sensitive. I do have inner ear pressure issues and these headphones do not cause problems with that.

Bottom line: these are the best portable headphones I have ever used. I have tried the Sony MDR-EX51LP, Sony MDR-EX71SL, Sony MDR-EX81LP, and Sennheiser PX100. In terms of sonic accuracy and detail, these Shures blow them all away (and should, since they are much more expensive), when used with the foam earpieces and with the cord looped over the top of my ear. Any other way and, for me, these headphones sound worse than all of those Sony models above. I give these headphones 4 stars because they are stellar, but a pair of Sony MDR-EX71SL headphones costs $80 less and sounds pretty great, too. For those that really want the fantastically accurate sound quality these headphones offer, they are worth the price. But for those that are looking for something different, they may not be that satisfying. If you require lots of bass or aren't that finicky a listener, you might be happier with $80 in your pocket and Sony MDR-EX71SL earbuds, which are also quite comfortable for me and have a lot of bass. Either way, you can't go wrong (and you should throw those Apple earbuds that came with your ipod in the trash, where they belong).

UPDATE (Jan. 2008): I have since upgraded to a pair of Ultimate Ears Superfi.5 Pro headphones, and there is no comparison between those and the Shures. They are incredibly powerful, are just as detailed, and have massive bass. Comfort is a wash. For anyone looking at or around that price range, I do not think a better headphone exists than the Ultimate Ears.
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on February 9, 2005
Yes, the sound is great, but only if you sit still on a winter day. I am now on my 3rd (and last) pair in a few weeks of these---as soon as you start to sweat, the moisture in your ear enters the earphone and it shuts off. SOME of the sound returns after a day or two, but not all of it The user guide states simply: "Normal operation often returns after the earphone dries out." Often? Try never. For $180, these should function for more than a week....
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