Review: E2c Sound Isolating Earphones by Shure - Macenstein

Review: E2c Sound Isolating Earphones by Shure

Posted by Brain in a Jar

Audiophiles have oft lamented about the quality of the standard ear buds Apple ships alongside its über-popular iPods. This has always been somewhat baffling to me, as I would think a true audiophile wouldn’t settle for MP3 level quality to begin with (although, maybe these people are ripping direct to WAVs, who knows?).

Personally, I had no problem with the stock iPod earbuds. While they certainly never blew me away, I never thought they sucked. They were fine. The only real complaint I had was I often had to crank the volume up to levels I suspect were borderline damaging in order to hear my music in noisy environments. However, after reading about the millionth complaint on Apple’s website, I began to wonder whether this was just a case of me settling for hamburger simply because I had never tried a steak. So I set out to try find out just how bad the Apple headphones are by comparing them to something more highly rated (and expensive).

To conduct my experiment I went to Apple’s own iPod accessory page at over at, and chose a pair of $99.00 Shure E2C Sound Isolating Earphones. I settled upon these initially because I recognized the Shure brand name, plus at nearly three times the price of Apple’s earbuds, I figured these would give me a pretty good idea of how good an earbud could sound.

First Impressions

First, let me just say that I do not consider myself to be a total spaz. However, I found just opening the E2c’s to be a needlessly complicated and somewhat dangerous ordeal. Nowadays many companies like to encase their products in an impenetrable molded plastic shell, but Shure took the E2c’s packaging one unnecessary step further. After much cursing and a few scrapes, I freed the earbuds from Shure’s Machiavellian prison (let me apologize in advance to the good people at Shure for the condition of the packaging I am returning). 🙂

The E2c’s look pretty cool, especially when compared to Apple’s stock earbuds. They have a high tech-looking transparent housing that lets you see some of the device’s audio components. Of course, once the E2c’s are in your ear, it’s not what they LOOK like that matters, it’s how they sound.

Shure includes 3 different types of flex-sleeve covers (each in 3 sizes). From left to right: Black rubber, Clear plastic, and foam.

So, how do they sound?

Well, unfortunately there is not really any one answer for this. The E2c’s are what’s known as “sound isolating� earbuds which means that — when properly inserted — the E2c’s can deliver amazing sound and cancel out most background noise in the process. To achieve this, the earbuds need to first create a vacuum seal between your eardrum and the headphones.

And that’s the problem. Unfortunately, people’s eardrums (much like snowflakes and un-cloned kittens) are all different. I found getting the E2c’s to stay put in my ear an almost impossible task. Shure includes three different types of ear bud covers in three different sizes with the hopes that at least one will make a perfect fit. I had the most success with the least cool-looking solution, the medium sized orange foam insert. Here, after about 20 minutes of fiddling (and a fairly sore right ear) I achieved the much-sought-after “airtight sealâ€?. You can tell when you have successfully gotten the vacuum by breathing in through your nose. If your breathing sounds like Darth Vader is inside your head, you got it.

A perfect fit? Shure certainly TRIES to give you a sporting chance by providing a number of different sized earbuds in a variety of materials.

The sound quality of the E2c’s is definitely a step up from the standard Apple headset, and once you have an airtight seal Shure’s earbuds deliver a very respectable level of bass which is often missing in earbud style headphones (and totally missing in Apple’s). The mid and high ranges are also clean and well produced. By way of comparison, I would give Apple’s stock iPod earbuds a 6.5 for sound quality, and the E2c’s a 9.

Sound Isolation

Once I had my vacuum lock, I figured that now would be a good time to test out the sound isolating qualities of the headset. Inside my house, the E2c’s certainly had no problem drowning out background television noise, and even managed to drown out my screaming 2-year-old (no easy feat). But I figured I would give these headphones a REAL test, so I went outside and fired up my lawnmower.

I must say I was quite impressed with the noise canceling abilities of the E2c’s. Sure, I could still hear the mower, but only faintly, and I did not have to have my iPod cranked up to 90% to hear the music as I did with Apple’s earbuds. I could easily hear my music at a comfortable 40-50% volume, which is probably way fewer decibels than mowing the lawn sans any music at all. After an hour and a half of mowing and weed wacking, the earbuds still felt comfortable (aside from my poor right ear which was injured in my initial fitting attempts).

Trouble in Paradise

After my successful mowing experience, I was feeling pretty good about the E2c’s. Sure, the dorky-looking foam cover was the only one I had gotten to work, but the sound was great.

However, two hours later I attempted to use the E2c’s again, and for the life of me I could not get the headphones to create the vacuum seal. Shure suggests with the foam inserts you first squeeze them for 10 seconds and then quickly shove them in your ear, holding them in place for another 20 seconds or so, giving the foam time to expand and create the vacuum seal. Yet try as I might, each time the ear buds would inevitably pop out. Without the vacuum seal, the Shure’s actually sound WORSE than Apple’s ear buds, so if you can’t get a good fit, there is no point in buying them.

Figuring it was just me, I had both my wife and Macenstein’s own Helper Monkey give them a try. Helper Monkey fared no better than I, but my wife successfully got the small black rubber buds to work. However after an hour or so, she found them to be a bit uncomfortable.

The point here is there is some definite trial and error and a potentially sizable time commitment involved in getting these buds to work for you. For me, they just didn’t cut it. I can’t see spending 10 minutes trying to create a vacuum seal each time I want to listen to music.

I am sure there is a portion of the population that has no trouble with this type of sound isolating ear bud. In fact, I would say it is around 73%, based on the reviews posted on Apple’s website. Out of the 52 posted reviews, 14 rated the E2c’s at only 1 or 2 stars. The remaining 38 rated it 4 and 5 stars. It seems the general consensus (and I agree) is they sound great if you can get them to stay in, but getting them to stay in can be a hassle (and a bit painful).


The E2c’s are a great-looking and great-sounding set of headphones that deliver a deep bass lacking in Apple’s stock iPod earbuds. Their noise canceling is amazing. Unfortunately both the noise canceling and rich sound they provide rely upon first creating a vacuum tight seal between the E2c’s and your eardrum. This can be a long and frustrating process if your ear canal is not the right size/shape. If you are familiar with similar in-the-ear earbuds and have had success with them, I think you will find the E2c’s a worthy upgrade. If you are new to this type of headphone, be sure to keep your receipt, just in case.

E2c Sound Isolating Earphones by Shure

Price: $99.99

Rating: 7.3 out of 10

Audio Quality: 9
Sound Isolation: 8
Comfort: 7.5 (when properly inserted)
Ease of use: 5

Pros: Great sound, deep bass you can’t get from “regular� ear buds. Does a great job blocking out external noise.
Cons: Good results require first creating an almost impossible to make (for me at least) vacuum seal with the ear drum.

3 Responses to “Review: E2c Sound Isolating Earphones by Shure”
  1. Derek says:

    I became a proud E2c owner last June and, not even a full year later, I’m on my third (!) pair of these headphones–the wire for the right earbud keeps flaking out after a few months of use, perhaps a few hours a day. Thankfully they have a two-year warranty on them, but that’s only convenient if you bought retail.

    I hate to admit to patronizing a big-box retailer, but I bought my second pair from Best Buy in a mad rush. One advantage of that is that they honored the warranty and gave me a new pair on the spot. No questions asked, no fuss, no muss.

    I’m pretty darned careful with my things (my TiBook’s paint speaks for itself…) but I can’t keep taking these back forever. A shame, too, since they can be very comfortable after you get used to them (stick to the small black silicone sleeves unless you’re Shrek) and they sound pretty darned good for the money (relatively flat frequency response; not as boomy as the Sony EX-71Rs).

  2. kuba says:

    Rather than the E2c, I went ahead and bought the E4c. Lo and behold, these come with the Triple Flange inserts and once you put them on you’re in a state of nirvana. They immediately create a tight seal, they never fall out … and the E4c’s sound even better than the E2c — say a 9.5/10.

    You can also get the Triple Flange’s separately for the E2c’s — i think they’re $10 a pop (pretty pricey, but they’re worth it)


  3. Eric says:

    Shure have always been a second choice for the budget minded compared to etymotics.

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