April 18, 2012
| by Robert Archer
Until recently, Paradigm was a name known only for manufacturing loudspeakers—big ones, thin ones, small ones, in-wall ones and subwoofers too. Anthem audio components are also part of the Paradigm family. Now that family has branched off a third time to form Shift—a line of portable products including earphones. We decided to see how a maker of impressive speakers can make the transition to tiny earbuds by taking the E3m model out for a test listen.
Headlining its line of ear bud products is the E3m. Paradigm Shift says the E3m (MSRP: $129) is designed for personal audio, gaming and other mobile and computing activities. It engineered the ear buds to perform at a high level without compromise, and it finishes the product with a black or white trim to complement devices like an Apple iPhone.
The company states the E3m’s low-end capabilities are facilitated by a construction technique that includes rigid connection between the tip and the ear bud, and it employs a tight seal to enhance its sound-isolation properties.
Other features worth noting on the E3m include a 1.2 meter cable, a small, padded carry case, and an inline remote and microphone. According to the company the ear buds are 105dB sensitive and they provide a frequency response of 8Hz to 19kHz.
I’ve been using the E3m for a few months at work, at home and for other things and over time I’ve concluded that they are a competitively priced solution that offer surprising amount of bottom end.
My initial impressions of the headphones were that they were comfortable to wear. I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of ear buds because they never seem like they fit right. That wasn’t the case with the E3ms, however, which come with a choice of three fittings that all proved comfortable.
Straight from the box the E3ms need time to break in. The bottom end that I alluded to earlier is quite up front and overpowering. Of particular note I thought the upper bass region (80Hz to 250Hz) was a bit too pumped up for my tastes. Over time the ear buds did tighten up and that ripe upper bass evaporated. This trait lends warmth to its sound reproduction that extends through the midrange. The ear bud’s top end is extended with no hint of rolloff, and the E3Ms image well.
Doing some serious comparison listening, I compared AIFF test tone files, as well as Apple Lossless and other AIFF files stored in iTunes on my iMac. I also compared the E3ms to a pair of Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) P5s (MSRP is $300) and a set of professional Shure SRH1840 (street price $700) headphones. Comparing ear buds to on-ear and open-back, professional headphones is like comparing apples and oranges, but I wanted to hear how the E3Ms stacked up to products that were more expensive.
The E3ms were much easier to drive than the Shures and slightly more sensitive than the B&Ws. Surprisingly the E3ms played down to 25Hz and provided usable bass at 31.5Hz. The B&Ws were slightly better than the SRH1840s; the Shures really didn’t provide usable bass until 40Hz. One area in which the Shure product really displayed its professional pedigree compared to the Paradigm Shift and B&Ws was its noise isolation and noise floor. I could not detect an ounce of noise or hiss with the Shures and this in part helps the SRH1840s to produce a highly detailed listening experience with super imaging and lots of bloom. These headphones provide a black background that both consumer products weren’t able to touch. The B&Ws were a little better than the E3ms, and this along with the slight upper bass emphasis, seemed to influence the definition and resolution of content below 800Hz when looking at performance traits such as detail.
Another factor I should point out with the E3ms is the ear buds’ ability to block out outside noise, thanks to their snug, yet comfortable, fit. Using my daughter’s Tuesday dance class as a backdrop the E3ms spare me the pain of having to hear the worst music man ever created (dance mixes of pop music should be outlawed). This is something that travelers will want to consider as airplane cabin noise can be highly distracting.
Overall the E3m is a really nice headphone and when you add up its comfort, easy portability — I threw the ear buds in the case and put them in my pocket to carry them — and surprising low end, results in a compelling product. Further enhancing the E3m’s attractiveness is its price point. I compared the E3ms to headphones that are much more expensive and it held its own.
If ear buds are your ticket to portable device audio bliss, check out the Paradigm Shift’s E3m. They offer a combination of stealth portability, deep low-end extension, warm sound and wallet friendliness.
Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.