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The $129.99 E3M is the flagship model in Paradigm's Shift headphone line, and while it's certainly a beautifully crafted in-ear, the sonic standards don't match its ambitious price tag. The bass is bloated, thick, and muddled, as is the midrange, and the overall sound balance comes across soft and muted. Despite the beautifully machined earpieces and noise-isolating performance, the E3M's sound design needs work before I'll recommend these $130 earbuds.
Design and features
Thanks to the machined metal earpieces, the E3M have a quality build you rarely find in this price class. Paradigm claims the rigid connection between the silicone tip and the earbud body enhances bass performances by lessening the loss of low frequencies, and each bud houses an 8mm super-neodymium driver.
The 48-inch cable lends a touch of luxury to the design, but the sound of the cable rubbing against my clothing (the so-called "microphonic effect" is more apparent than other headphones. The cable houses an inline microphone and smartphone controls for track navigation, but it feels unusually flexible and prone to tangles. The metal 3.5mm plug has a quality feel, but with no strain-relief where the cables attach to the earpieces, the long-term durability prospects are likely below average.
The headphone comes with three sizes of silicone ear tips. Fit will vary with each person's ears, but I found them very secure and comfortable. Instead of "R" and "L" markings on the earpieces, the silicone tips have red and white inserts to indicate right and left channels.
Accessories are limited to just a small, zippered carrying case, but Sport Ear Hooks are available as a $7.99 extra cost option.
The E3M is a very bass-heavy headphone. The fullness extends up into the midrange, so voices also sound richer, though less clear than I've heard from other headphones. The E3M's bass is also muddy and thick, which forced me to play music louder than I would normally listen.
The E3M headphones are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and they do a good job blocking environmental noise on the New York subway. On windy days, I occasionally heard a high-pitched whistle from the air moving over the earpieces, but it wasn't apparent most of the time.
I compared the E3M with the new Sony XBA-1iP earbuds ($99.99), and the sound was a study in contrasts. The XBA-1iP was much brighter and comparatively bass shy, but exhibited more vivid clarity.
The E3M sounded muffled on movies, lacking the detail I heard from most other in-ear headphones.
Conclusion Paradigm makes great speakers, but the Shift E3M's sound is hard to love. Its bass-heavy character by itself wouldn't disqualify it from serious consideration, but the muffled sound makes it a flat-out sonic bore.