We fell in love with the E500s' sound immediately, listening to everything from Roots Manuva to John Coltraine on an iPod. Tight, rich bass and razor-sharp highs were expected, but the midrange surprised us with distinctive power and clarity. Instruments typically buried in sound pop out; acoustic guitar riffs hover then dissipate; spoken voice is almost spooky. Quick listening tests versus the sub-$100 Creative Zen Aurvanas and the $250 Ultimate Ears Super fi 5 Pros proved that you get what you pay for, though the Super fi Pros certainly give you lot of bang for your buck. Further sessions listening to Bob Dylan and Ulrich Schnauss in lossless and several CDs confirmed that these are the best in-ear style headphones on the market for less than $600 (I haven't personally listened to the UE-10s).
They are also comfortable to wear and very low profile, and they block out ambient noise extremely well (Shure claims 90 percent of external noise is blocked out). The triple drivers are sheathed in a lightweight and shiny gunmetal-colored plastic, and a variety of earphone sleeves come bundled. I prefer the yellow foam sleeves, though you also get translucent PVC, rubber, and triple-flange options in a variety of sizes. The attractive earphones are shaped to conform to the ear, so they don't stick out. Like other Shure 'phones, the cable is designed to wrap around the ear down the back.
The E500 cable is durable and easier to untangle than the Super fi Pros' superthin cable. The E500 system is modular, with the main earphone cable reaching only 19 inches. An extender cable adds an additional 3 feet, an ideal length. Or you can attach the push-to-hear adapter that fits between your headphones and audio player. This remote-size controller (about 2.5 by 1 by 0.5 inches) has a built-in microphone; activate the switch, and your audio will fade into the background while the microphone connects you audibly to the external world. The AAA battery-operated controller includes a volume adjuster, and the mic picks up sound really well. Basically, this technology keeps you in touch with the external world without having to remove your headphones. It's a useful extra, but for the sake of portability, I personally wouldn't use it. Shure intends to sell a version without the push-to-hear controller, but gave us no firm date.
In addition to the aforementioned cables, you also get a 9-inch extension cable, a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch stereo adapter plug, a cleaning tool, a level attenuator (a small adapter that controls master volume), and a sturdy oval carrying pouch. If you're the type who prefers uncompressed and lossless formats, require low-profile headphones, and don't mind investing in high-end earphones, the E500PTH headphones should be on your short list.