The Shure E3c earbuds are the descendants of the company's in-ear monitors for onstage musicians. Wyclef Jean, Wilco, Jethro Tull, Everclear, Nikka Costa, Tricky, Herbie Hancock, and Oasis all use Shure products. Now, thanks to a bit of trickle-down technology, a range of Shure in-ear models is available to consumers. Listed at $179, the E3c is in the middle of the group.
The tiny E3c weighs less than an ounce; it comes with a sturdy storage pouch. The earpieces are white, complementing Apple's iPod. If you prefer a darker look, check out Shure's E3s, which are the same headphones with charcoal-gray earbuds and a black cord.
The E3c achieves its full bass response only when you push the buds pretty far into your ear canals. To ensure the best possible fit for ears of all sizes and shapes, Shure includes both reusable flex sleeves and disposable foam sleeves in small, medium, and large. Compared with the flex sleeves of the $99 step-down E2c, the E3c's fit more snugly, so we found them more comfortable, but not everybody will like them. However, you'll have some time to test how the headphones feel in your ears before you make a final commitment. The E3c comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and, for the long run, a two-year warranty.
The E3c blocks high levels of ambient noise in planes, trains, buses, and any other environment, so you can hear all of your music's detail without cranking up the volume and blasting your ears. The E3c isn't an active noise-canceling model, but in our comparison tests, it shut out noise just as well, and better yet, its hushing abilities don't rely on batteries.
The E3c's sound is nice and warm, with incredible clarity and transparency. Even when you're listening at low levels, the headphones effortlessly bring you the fine detail in your music. And if you want to turn up the volume, the highly efficient E3c will play as loudly as any headset driven by a portable device's meager watt output. Shure designed the E3c to be accurate, and it is, so don't expect it to blow you away with hyped-up bass or sizzling high frequencies. If you crave heavyweight bass, move up to a full-size, over-the-ear model.
When we compared the E3c with the E2c, the family resemblance was obvious, and each offered equal isolation from external noise. But the sound of the less expensive model struck us as thinner and not as clear. The E3c's richer and more palpably realistic audio clinched the deal for us.
More important is the way the E3c always brought us closer to the music. Playing CDs we've listened to countless times, we were constantly finding new details and gaining further insight into the songs. The E3c is an audiophile delight.