The iPod is renowned for being the best MP3 player bar none, but it is also renowned for being the most expensive personal stereo around too. Imagine spending £399 on an iPod and listening to it with £29 earphones. That’s like getting a Nakamichi amp and plugging in Amstrad speakers. For those of you with higher expectations for audio quality, Shure has the ultimate in in-ear luxury – the E5c headphones.
Before I tell you all about the E5cs there is something you should know. They are expensive… very expensive… almost as much as a 40GB iPod expensive. Bear that in mind as I try to convince you that £370 isn’t an insane amount of money to spend on headphones.
You know you’re buying from the top of the range the minute you open the box. The E5c headphones come in a brushed-metal case that puts the iPod’s still-tasteful packaging to shame. Inside there is a carrying case, seven sleeves to fit all ears, level attenuator (that’s volume control to you), and the headphones. The headphones have dual micro-speakers, with extended frequency response. As far as I can tell, it’s like having two pairs of the E3c models in your ears at once.
The design is bigger than the E3c, but they actually feel lighter. This is in part due to the memory fit cable. By memory fit, they mean the wires are stiff, so you can shape them to your ear, using the same over-the- ear design as the other Shure in- ear models. At first I found this a bit confusing, and it took a while to get them right. Once you have them the right way around, they fit well, although they’re so light they sometimes feel loose. It feels like they’re falling out, but after two weeks’ use, they never have.
Of course, all the accoutrements are a distraction from the main event – the sound. In a previous review, I noted that the E2c headphones were twice as good as the Apple headphones, and the E3c model was twice as good again. The E5c headphones are more than twice the price of the £150 E3c models, so expectations were high.
One of my favourite audio tests is to listen to the Cocteau Twins, and if I can hear what she is blathering on about it’s a pretty good indication that the audio quality is good. The E5c passed with flying colours. It also passed the classical, rave, Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel, and Led Zeppelin tests. If there is any weakness in the sound it is probably the bottom end of the range.
It’s better than most headphones, certainly the best in-ear option, but it can’t match the booming bass punch of the Sennheiser HD 280 DJ style headphones (£99; HHHH/8.7 April 2004). Of course, these are so big that it’s like hanging speakers off your ears, so the E5c is still the best mobile option.
These headphones are excellent, but they aren’t twice as good as the £150 version. They’re better, just not twice as good. Some people wouldn’t spend £370 on headphones if they won the lottery; some people would spend their last £370. I would spend £370 on these headphones – if I won the lottery. In the meantime, I’ll covet them from afar.