Shure E review: Shure E

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The Good Excellent sound quality; earpluglike design blocks environmental noise; thick, durable cable design; full assortment of accessories included; shorter cord than E4/E4c headphones.

The Bad Some people find in-ear headphones uncomfortable; expensive.

The Bottom Line Except for the black color and a slightly shorter cord, the Shure E4g earbud headphones are identical to the awesome-sounding E4cs.

8.5 Overall

When we reviewed the Shure E4c headphones in 2005, we called them the best in-ear headphones we'd ever heard. Perhaps we should have added the caveat that they were best semiaffordable in-ear headphones we'd heard, because there are even higher-end premium 'buds out there, such as Shure's own E5c--but we consider them superniche products. Of course, the E4cs ($299 list) aren't exactly cheap either, but they sound terrific. If there was a complaint about them, it was that their cord was a little too long. So what does Shure do? It comes out with the E4g headphones, which are exactly the same as the E4cs but have a 7-inch shorter cord and come in black. (Confusingly, Shure also makes a "professional" model of the E4cs in black with the same longer cord, but it's simply called the E4.)

For whatever reason, Shure has chosen to market the E4gs as "gaming" headphones and has targeted PSP owners as potential buyers. While PSP owners may indeed be interested, we suspect the real audience for the E4gs are owners of the increasingly popular black iPods. Like the E4cs, the E4gs feature Tuned Port Technology, which enhances the tiny earphones' bass response by improving airflow around the driver. The E series' earpluglike designs block background noise so that you can listen at lower volumes in noisy trains, buses, and planes. And unlike noise-canceling headphones, the E4gs don't rely on batteries to power their hushing abilities.

In order for the E4gs to achieve their full bass response, you need to push their earpieces into your ear canals. And since human ears come in all sizes, the E4gs come with a pair of disposable foam sleeves and an assortment of reusable flex sleeves to ensure a comfortable fit. The E4gs can also be used with custom-molded earpieces (made by a hearing specialist) to provide even greater noise isolation and comfort. The Shure E4gs weigh almost nothing--just 1.1 ounces--and come with a plug-in volume-level control (for lowering those earsplitting in-flight announcements), a gold-plated 1/4-inch home adapter, and a nifty compact carrying case that provides a tangle-free way to store the earphones.

If you're trying to choose between these headphones and step-down E3g models ($179 list), you won't notice a huge difference at first, but the E4gs sound a little weightier, so baritone saxes sound deeper, stand-up basses have a richer, woodier tonality, and male voices have more--ahem--testicular authority. The E4gs also have superior low-level detailing, which allows you to hear subtle reverberation; the "spaces" between the instruments are also more apparent. Sound isolation is excellent, approximately on a par with that of the best active noise-canceling headphones we've tried.

As for gaming, we tested the headphones with a handful of movies and PSP games, including Fight Night 3, Winning Eleven 9, and Pursuit Force, and the combination of the headphones' effective noise isolation and their rich, detailed sonics certainly made for a more immersive movie-watching and gaming experience. That said, most people willing to spend big bucks on this level of headphones will be interested first and foremost in how they handle music, with games and movies running second.

When we reviewed the Shure E4cs, we noted that they sounded less inside our head, more dynamic, and a tad richer than Etymotic's impressive ER-4Ps ($330). The Etymotics are still great headphones, but on Lucinda Williams's CD, Live @ the Fillmore, the E4cs put us in the first row of that legendary venue. It was amazing how clear the sound was. At the same time, the vocals' natural warmth was preserved, and the bass power and definition were first rate. The ER-4Ps' cooler, more analytical presentation had oodles of detail but didn't sound as rich. By default, the same observations can be applied to the E4gs.

In our review of the E4cs, we also mentioned a few nagging design details. We wished, for instance, that Shure had included a shirt clip, because the thick, dangling cable often felt as if it was about to yank the earpieces from our ears. And the headphones' recommended insertion process--looping the wires behind and over the ears--could be an involved maneuver, especially for those who wear their hair long. Shure hasn't addressed this issue with the E4gs, but it did shorten the headphones' lengthy cord by about 7 inches to make it make more portable-player friendly. In reality, those 7 inches don't make a huge difference, but it does make the cord feel closer to optimal length--somewhere between not too long and not too short.

As for the the E4cs' tiny L and R earpiece labels, they're still hard to decipher under low-light conditions, but that's a minor nitpick. The bottom line is that the ultracompact Shure E4gs, like their c sibling, sound amazing, and if you own a PSP or a dark-colored MP3 player and are looking for a set of premium earbuds, the E4gs--or the longer-corded E4s--should be at the top of your list.

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