My current love affair is with an AKG K601, AKG518DJ and Shure E500 (aka Shure SE530). I’m going to try reviewing all of them this year (and comparing them with each other), starting of with the Shure E500.
Full review of the E500 after the jump
Before I begin, a short introduction, explaining what kind of earphones the Shure SE500 competes with:
- Single driver microspeaker: Most of the cheaper IEMs (Sony EX71, Sennheiser CX300, Creative EP630, Shure E2c) are of this type.
- Single driver balanced armature: A slightly more expensive type, used in the Shure E3c, Shure E4c, Shure Se310
- Dual driver balanced armature: Slightly expensive type, used in Westone UM2, Shure SE420, Shure E5
- Triple driver balanced armature: Top of the line universal fit IEMs, UE Triple Fi 10 pro, Shure E500
Beyond the rather expensive triple driver universal fit IEMs there are the custom fit IEMs. ‘Custom-fit’ means you’ll have to go to an audiologist to get ear impressions made, after which the IEM manufacturer will mold your earphones. The recently released Ultimate Ears 11 Pro even features 4 drivers. The ‘Pro’ in the name is not some marketing bullshit, it’s actually a product intended for artists (and demanding audiophiles of course). I’m not going to talk about the custom-fit IEMs, simply because I don’t own one (…yet).
Instead I’ll be talking about the Shure E500.
The Shure E500 is a triple driver universal fit IEM. This means Shure somehow managed to squeeze 3 balanced armature drivers into each of the two small earphone housings. 2 drivers provide the bass, while 1 driver provides the higher tones. I’ve previously owned the single-driver Shure E4C and Sony EX71 and I’ll make brief comparisons to both of them. I’ll also be comparing it to the full-size (over the ear) AKG601 and (on the ear) AKG518DJ.
Being an universal IEM and because people’s ear canals vary greatly in size, you need some way to get the IEM to fit. For this reason there are a lot of different ear tips. In the box are a number of different ‘tips’. You put these on the end of the earphone.
- 3 pairs of different sized hard transparent rubber tips
- 3 pairs of different sized flexible grey rubber tips
- 1 pair of tri-flange tip, which go really deep into your ear
- 1 pair of yellow foamies
The photo on the right shows all the accesoires you get with a SE530. I got the photo from Headroom an excellent site that review and sells headphones.
The SE530 also ships with 3 pairs of different sized olive shaped black foamies. My E500 didn’t come with this type of eartip, but I ordered them online through eBay. The small black olive foamies are my favourite eartip. They provide excellent isolation, great fit and insert easily. Before I got the black olive foamies, I used the grey soft rubber tips, but they had an uncomfortable suction effect when I took them out.
The E500 has some small improvements to the earphone design compared to the older Shure E4 I used to own. One of the problems of that IEM was that the ear tips sometimes got stuck in my ear when I took the earphones out. The tips simply slipped off the earphone-shell. The E500 has a small ridge on the earphone that prevents the tips from slipping off.
An important benefit of IEMs the passive isolation. It’s also possible to get earphones with active isolation. These earphones use microphones and anti-sound to cancel out the noise around you. However, this uses batteries and affects the sound quality.
Passive isolation is ‘free’ and it’s about as effective as putting your fingers in your ear. Nearly all IEMs offer some degree of passive isolation and the E500 is no exception. The isolation makes sure a ride on the subway is a near-silent experience.
A downside to this isolation is called ‘microphonics’. This means that things hitting the earphone wire or sounds from your body get amplified. You’ll hear the clicking of your teeth, your feet hitting the ground and your heart beating during the more quiet parts of the music. Another effect is the transfer of movement against the earphone wire to sound. The movement of the wire across a sweater will sound like scratching in your ear. A way to prevent this behaviour is to use a very flexible, almost rope-like, wire for the earphone. Unfortunately, the E500 uses a rather stiff, plastic wire, which doesn’t really help at preventing microphonics. This is partially made up by the way the E500 loops around your ear which makes the microphonics ‘bearable’. Still, Shure should take a look at Westone’s wires for their IEM’s.
My main problem with the E4c was the lack of bass. The Shure E4c is a very neutral headphone (at least in the low-mid range) and I found this sound-signature not ‘exciting’ enough. The E500 adds a nice little bump to the lower the frequencies that I really like, without getting muddy. My old Sony EX71 added a BIG hump to the lower frequencies and made the bass really ‘muddy’ and uncontrolled. Compared to the AKG K601 the E500 has quite a bit more bass, and I prefer the E500’s bass to the K601’s. The AKG K518 has more bass than the E500, but its bass is overpowered and kinda muddy. I prefer the E500’s bass to the K518’s.
The mid-range is where Shure earphones typically shine, and the E500 is no exception. Nicely detailed and controlled. The highs is where the E500 struggles slightly, and I’ll explain why.
All IEMs have a slight flaw. They’re unable to produce frequencies above 16.5KHz. This is a result of the speaker technology used and is something you’ll have to accept when getting an IEM. If you have golden ears and can hear the full 22KHz in an audio-cd, this might be a problem for you. The E500 makes this problem slightly worse by having ‘rolled-off’ highs. This is part of Shure’s typical sound-signature to prevent making the earphone sound shrill or ‘bright’. This sound-signature also gives the impression that the high frequencies aren’t as detailed as they should be. When I compare the E500 to the AKG K601, I can hear and appreciate the extra sense of detail the K601 produces, but when I’m riding the train, or a bike with my E500, I don’t miss this detail at all.
The Shure E500 is an amazing IEM. The triple-driver delivers punchy bass, great mids and decent highs. The price is reasonable if you live in the USA, but if you’re from Europe like me, you might want to shop around on eBay. I got mine from the UK for about 200 euro’s less than the cheapest Dutch web shop. If you want to play Russian roulette with customs you could get them from the USA for about 300 euro’s less (especially with the current weak dollar), but you’ll want to avoid getting caught by customs.
All in all I definitely recommend this IEM to every audiophile or music lover who can live with the slightly rolled of highs. It’s the best universal fit IEM and the last stop before you’ll have to hit custom-fit IEMs