The vivid-sounding Shure E500 “in-earphones” are better than their predecessor as “Flagship Of The Line,” the retro-sounding E5c. They play louder and have better bass ‘n’ balance than Shure’s next-best model, the E4c. They are relatively comfortable, sound great, travel easy, and isolate the listener from ambient noise as well or better than any (in-earphones, ear-buds, or headphones) I’ve heard.
When I reviewed the E5cs two years ago, I figured some would find them a tad uncomfortable. Perhaps Shure’s marketing people found the E5cs were uncomfortable enough to turn off many would-be owners, and greater comfort became a high priority. In any event, Shure engineers were able to come up with a more curvy ‘n’ comfy product. The Shure E500’s driver housing (not the part that goes into the canal that leads to the ear drum – the sleeve) has been redesigned, and while not much smaller than the E5c, it is notably more comfortable. Comfort is back!
Visually comparing the 500 to the 4c, it is apparent how much smaller and lighter the 4c is. The reason is the 500s have three hi-definition drivers in each earphone, together with integrated passive crossovers. This innovation is a first in universal-fit sound-isolating earphones. You might expect the 500s to have better bass, and they do: bigger and better controlled. The midrange is Shure-suave, and with a notch more brightness that translates to more detail. The highs are a tad brighter, too, but (with more mid-range brightness) just blend right in. The over-all effect is a more vivid sound than either the E4c, or the older E5c (that sounds like a big ‘ole’ Bozak).
The new 500s have also exaggerated the portability of this design. First, the phones come with various super-lightweight connecting cables that can be made shorter for jogging or working out, or longer for computer work or late-night listening. You can fit the drivers, the interconnects, the continuous attenuator, and the “Push To Hear” circuit, all into a zippered hard case that will fit into most shirt pockets. This system has been designed with traveling in mind.
The sound-isolating ear plugs are adjustable, allowing you to choose for yourself from among four different types. They come as a “Sleeve Fit Kit,” with various sleeves (plugs) included: the open-cell foam type is crushable to conform to the ear’s canal; a transparent, medium-soft, polymer type flexes somewhat; a nearly black, softer, butyl type flexes even more; and a white, soft-rubber, triple-flange flexes easiest and blocks out the most ambient noise. Since these plugs fit over the “hypodermic needle” part of the driver housing, they are called “sleeves.” As their flexibility goes up, so does their ability to block noise. Medium size comes standard, but if you have tiny ear canals, or larger than medium canals, you can get in touch with Shure and they’ll see you get what you need. With the triple-flange sleeves in operation, and with optimum fit, these sound-isolating plugs have been measured as achieving a 30-37 dB drop in loudness. Since the dB is a logarithmic scale, this means a great deal of sound blocking – perfect for trains or planes. Indeed, a system designed with jet travel in mind.
Shure’s continuous attenuator is a small device that pigtails into the line in front of the in-earphones, and after whichever length of interconnect cable is in use. The flick of a finger can pass a full signal, or reduce it, or cut to silence. It seems most useful on long plane trips when the pilot preëmpts the sound track of a movie to make an announcement. As you probably already know, that can be a very loud and uncomfortable experience without such a device. Even if there is a short time where the pilot’s voice is overwhelming before the attenuator is activated, it can be a bit unsettling. It’s a welcome gadget in those situations. So is the “Push To Hear” (PTH) circuit. This accessory allows the user to bypass the music or movie to be able to hear someone who addresses him (say, a stewardess), and to hear his own reply. This gadget pigtails into the interconnect cable and amounts to a battery-powered, microphone-driven audio circuit that hangs around the neck. With the flick of a finger the listener can get the circuit in operation, muting the input, allowing him to hear a spoken exchange, adjusting for loudness with his attenuator if necessary, and return to his listening – all without taking his in-earphones out of his ears and reinstalling them for optimum performance. I haven’t had occasion to use this gadget in-flight yet, but it seems a much welcome convenience as I sometimes need more than a few moments to get the in-earphones settled back in.
All this leads to earwax, again. I’ve managed to keep my triple flange in-canal ear buds clean by washing them with a dilute solution of audio-appropriate dish-detergent (Palmolive) and water, then drying them with a specially chosen audio-appropriate cloth (a torn T-shirt). You can also do this if you are careful, using the solution sparingly, and in a way that keeps the fluid from going back down into the tube. Remember, electronics and water don’t mix. I hereby refuse any responsibility for any one who drowns his in-earphones in solution, and shorts them out. Use with all intelligent caution. But, whenever there is color or wax visible, you can prolong the life of the sleeves for a matter of years, even with hard use, by cleaning them. I have found that if I removed them each time, the “sleeve” part would stretch and become enlarged, eventually becoming useless. So try to clean them while they are still attached. But be careful!
To sum up: The Shure E500 in-earphones are the new flagship of the Shure line. They are a damn fine-sounding system (two woofers, one tweeter). They are more comfortable, travel well, isolate well, and they include a handful of accessories (the “Sleeve Fit Kit,” the attenuator, the Push To Hear circuit) that make them fun to use. Priced at about $500/pr they are a bit steep, but about right value for money in today’s inflated market. Shure has raised the bar as far as sound is concerned, and put the rest of the industry on alert with the package of value-added accessories they offer. So, if you’re in the market for a top-flight pair of in-earphones, why don’t you prance and dance a Turkey Trot on down to your audio boutique and get yourself a pair of really fine traveling phones. They will get the best from your walk-around CD player, your iPod, or your Single-Ended-Triode headphone amp. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
— Max Dudious