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My IEM Review (Shure E4/E5, UE Super.Fi 5 Pro/EB, Etymotic ER4s)

post #1 of 125
Thread Starter 
Let me start by first saying thank you to the people who made this review possible:

Thanks to all the wonderful folks at Ultimate Ears for letting us tour their factory. It was their wonderful “door prize”: A free set of Super.Fi 5 Pros that got this review started.

Thanks to Matt (Sugarfried) from Shure who provided me with a set of E4’s for this review.

Thanks to Edwood, for loaning me the Super.Fi 5 EB and Etymotic ER4s.

Thanks also to Jude and all the moderators that keep Head-Fi going day in and day out.


I started this review with the intent to report back and forth comparisons between each individual IEM (Shure E5/E4/E2, Etymotic ER4s, Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro/EB). In that, I did not exactly succeed. I did get part of the way through, and if anyone would like a copy of my raw notes, please PM me with your e-mail address and I’ll send you a copy.

What I did do, was fall in love with the new Shure E4. Now don’t get me wrong, each and every one of the earphones I tested is very capable and they are all wonderful in their own right. As such I’ll talk about my findings and try to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each as I try to explain in detail why I like the E4 so much.

Before I get started thought, I should probably mention the gear I used, the music I listened to and the testing conditions. For my gear I’m using .ape or .flac and foobar2000 with ASIO output to an E-MU 1212m. The 1212m is connected to my PreSonus HP4 headphone amplifier with Mogami Gold balanced TRS to TRS cables. I listen to a very large variety of music and as such I used a wide variety of music to do my testing which included some rap, a variety of rock, classical, jazz, blues, country and some psy-trance. I did most of my testing sitting at home in my room with my window fan blowing like crazy trying to keep the temperature down. I did, however, get a chance to test the E4 with the soft grey tips with my Zen Xtra while I was waiting for my tires to be changed at Costco (it took 3 hours so I did a considerable amount of listening). I also got a chance to test the Super.Fi 5 Pro using the small single flange tips while waiting for an oil change and on a short walk. When I’m at home I mostly listen to rock, jazz, blues and country with a little classical mixed in. I generally save the rap and trance for when I’m out and about.

As for my personal preferences, I like a lot of detail but I think my definition of detail is a bit different from the definition of detail by some, and includes aspects that many separate out into different categories. For me, detail includes timbre (in other words, instruments should sound like themselves) and decay (notes should sound natural, not particularly short or long), as well as what most probably consider detail (various sounds that are individually identifiable).

As I stated at the start, this review came into being because Ultimate Ears gave everyone who attended the factory tour a free pair of UE Super.Fi 5 Pros. They asked us to give our opinions and I already had the E5 so I figured I’d do a little review comparing the two. When I considered the prices though, I thought that the E4 might be more of a direct competitor so I contacted Matt (who I’ve talked to and dealt with on quite a few occasions in the past) over at Shure to see if he would be interested in me reviewing the E4 as well. He thought it would be a good idea and sent me a pair. While I was waiting for the E4 to come in I found that I had almost completely switched from the E5 to the Super.Fi 5 Pro. There were several reasons for this of course. First off, I wanted to become acquainted with them before starting a review. Second, it was my new toy, I just couldn’t help myself. Third, despite the fact that the E5 is technically superior in most respects (in my opinion anyway) the SF5P is darn musical (also my opinion).

Once the E4 arrived I spent a couple of days getting used to their sound. I made a bit of a mistake here though. I started off with the soft grey silicone tips which I generally use for the E5 because they still sound pretty good, are very comfortable and work very well for quick insertion and removal. I say mistake because I wasn’t completely sold on the sound of the E4 and kept concluding that they were a bit on the harsh side. I also say mistake because that’s not what I had remembered them to sound like from auditioning them previously with the foam tips. Well a couple of days ago, mid review, the light finally went on, and I switched to the foam tips. WOW, night and day difference. Everything really smoothed out in the top end and the mids as well as the bass came forward. More on that subject later though. For now, I’ll continue on about the first few of days of testing.

As I mentioned earlier, I used the both the Super.Fi 5 Pro and the Shure E4 portably for short periods of time and have used the E5 portably for almost a year. When it comes to sound I would more or less say it’s a toss up between the E5 and SF5P if you listen mostly to rap/hip hop, rock and electronic (as I do when I’m on the go). The E4 is no slouch but is a little light in the bass department if used with silicone tips which are more practical for portable purposes. Still, they sounded pretty spectacular for jazz, blues, classical and most rock as I wandered around waiting for my tires to be replaced. Of course, there are other considerations when using headphones/earphones portably. Aside from sound, a lot of us are probably at least fairly concerned about what these things look like as we are wearing them out in public. To me, the E4 looks the best, it’s very classy looking and unobtrusive. The E5 follows slightly behind that offering a very low profile appearance that stands out a bit more but isn’t unattractive. The SF5P and SF5EB follow closely behind the Shure line up for me. The 5P is a little more attractive but is still a bit on the big side. Thankfully they aren’t horrendous looking. The EB is a bit bigger but still not atrocious. The Etymotic ER4s comes in last for me in the looks department, in my opinion they look rather goofy in the way they stick out of your ears. Another major area of concern is microphonics and occlusion. With IEMs, occlusion is pretty much unavoidable so I won’t really go into that. Microphonics on the other hand varies from one IEM to the next. The absolute dog in this category is the Etymortic ER4s. I can’t even sit in a chair without being annoyed by the microphonics of these things, let alone walk around. For me this is completely unacceptable. The rest of the IEMs I tested all come in about the same with the UEs being ever so slightly less microphonic than the Shure line. This comes with a cost of course, and I’m really not sure it’s worth it. The UE cord is extremely thin. I’m constantly worried that I’ll snag it on something and have it snap in half. That said, I have snagged it on something and the plug came loose from the player but did not break. It is possible that they are considerably more durable than they appear. I have not heard of someone snapping one in half yet. The Etymotic cable seems somewhat flimsy but isn’t terrible as far as sturdiness goes. The E5 cable has been my one big complaint about the E5 the entire time I’ve owned them. It’s not sturdiness that I take issue with, it appears fairly sturdy and in my experience it most certainly is. The problem, though, is that it coils itself up and tangles constantly. I think the E4 (as well as the E2 and E3) has the best cable. It’s sturdy, looks nice enough, and is quite resistant to tangles.

Of course the cable itself is an entirely different issue from the memory wire. So far I’ve had the opportunity to try three different canal phones that come with a memory wire (Shure E5 and Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro as well as the Super.Fi 5 EB) and have to say I much prefer having one than not. The memory wires do a pretty good job of keeping the IEM in place and unless you’re dancing around like Usher (I noticed his memory wire was constantly unhooked from behind his ear when they were airing his concert on Showtime) you should be able to just put the IEM in and forget about it. On the other hand, the IEMs without a memory wire will sometimes unhook themselves from behind my ear when I’m out and about. This is particularly true of the Shure E2. The E4 does it, but not nearly as much. This seems to vary based upon depth in the canal and the subsequent distance the cabled end of the IEM sticks out from your ear. If I could change one thing about the E4 I would likely add a memory wire.

I suppose there is one other thing I might change if I could. It seems to me that most IEMs are voiced to sound their best when used with foam tips. While I find the foam tips comfortable on the E3/4/5 as well as the Etymotics (the E2 and UE products are less comfortable with their foam tips), they are cumbersome to use on a daily basis and wear out quickly. Sadly the E4 seems to suffer the biggest change in sound, in comparison to the other IEMs I tested, when used with its silicone tips. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t nearly as sold on the E4 until I switched to the foam tip. If I could change the way they were voiced, I would voice them to sound the way they do with the foam tips when using the silicone tips.

With that said, the E4 is definitely the most balanced IEM I’ve tested to date. As I’ve seen stated in another thread, they don’t seem to emphasize any one area of the sound more than another. Bravo to Shure for this! The rest of the canal phones I tested all suffer from deficiencies in one area or another when it comes to tonal balance. The E5 has excellent balance between the bass and mids (with a slight but enjoyable gain in bass over the mids) but suffers from a recessed treble region. The ER4s is even more balanced in the mids and bass areas when compared to the E5 but suffers from a major boost in treble which is extremely fatiguing and harsh. The UE Super.Fi 5 Pro, while enjoyable, manages to slightly lower the tone of all but the highest voices. I can’t say I agree with the comments that have been made about the SF5P being rolled off in the treble region. It seems to me that the treble extends all the way out to 16 KHz (hence, they aren’t really rolled off) but is a bit recessed or masked by the strong bass. The Super.Fi 5 EB throws balanced sound to the wind in favor of a VERY bass heavy performance. Its bass is pretty solid and tight but overwhelming when used with music. Vocals are significantly lowered in tonality. I did enjoy the EBs for watching action movies like Jurassic Park though.

I also have to give top honors to the Shure E4 when it comes to detail. When I was listening to Diana Krall’s “A Case of You” I could very clearly identify the piano’s pedals being depressed. The E5 and SF5P came pretty close but I had to raise the volume and listen a bit harder before I could clearly make out the sound. With the ER4s it was much more difficult to clearly identify what was creating the sound. Of course this is only one example. The thing is though, because the E4 has such a balanced sound it allows the listener to focus on whichever part of the music he or she is interested in. All of the IEMs in this test are very detailed but the flaws in their balance (except for the E4 which has excellent balance) reduce their apparent detail. With the E5 it can be quite difficult to make out treble detail. With the SF5P the bass detail when something like a double bass is being played is incredible, but because of its bass heaviness things can get a bit muddy when there’s a lot going on in the bass region. As mentioned earlier, the SF5P also changes the tonal balance of vocals and for me accurate timbre is very important. The ER4s really loses it for me in decay. It really seems to shorten the trailing end of notes, particularly in the treble region. As such, cymbals often sound completely unreal. The ER4s also has a thin sound that I find very unconvincing. The SF5EB seems to have quite a bit of detail but the detail is severely masked by the thunderous bass.

When it comes to soundstage the E5 and SF5P take top honors with surprisingly expansive soundstages. The E4 comes in a notch or two behind with a soundstage that seems to stop just a little ways outside of one’s head. The ER4s has the smallest soundstage with all sounds taking place inside your head. I did not pay particular attention to the SF5EB when it came to soundstage but it seemed pretty good while I was watching JP.

In the end, the balanced sound of the Shure E4 really won me over for home use. As I mentioned at the start of this review, when I’m at home I listen mostly to rock, jazz, blues, country, and classical. For these genres the E4 really provides the best overall sound with tons of detail. From an “audiophile” perspective, the E4 is probably the best IEM of the bunch. If you’re looking for all around performance the E5 takes top honors. The reason I say this is that I find them to be “at home” in any situation I’ve ever thrown at them (any genre of music, movies, games, portable situations, etc.). The SF5P is darn close to the E5 in universal performance but it lacks a bit of edge that sometimes makes it a little dull (the upside to this is that they control siblance better than the E5) and it can also get a bit muddy sounding at times. On the other hand, the SF5P is arguably a bit more musical than the E5. What I mean by this is that when using the SF5P I often forgot myself and what I was doing and just got lost in the music. The E5 doesn’t elicit this response from me quite as often but outperforms the SF5P in most technical aspects. No matter how hard I try I can’t seem to make myself like the ER4s. For me the thin and harsh sound they produce is very difficult to listen to for more that a few minutes. Beyond that, they suffer from a ridiculous amount of microphonics. I come away from this review with one word to describe the Etys: Annoying! As for the Super.Fi 5 EB: They’re extremely colored and unbalanced. I’m sure that there are a good number of people out there that will enjoy this, but I don’t think most of us Head-Fiers will find much use for them outside of action movie watching and gaming.

Please refer here for further comments on the Super.Fi 5 EB
post #2 of 125
Thread Starter 
I'll be adding pictures as soon as I can get over to Edwood's house (hopefully this Thursday).
post #3 of 125
Great review. Were you suprised that you liked a single driver IEM (Shure E4c) better than a dual driver (SF5P)?

Ooh, are you going to get the UE5c anytime soon? I think I might go this Thursday but still undecided whether I should save up and get the UE10 instead. When I listened to them at the meet, the UE10 was a bit too detailed for me, and I think the UE5c was more musical. But so many people liked them here, I wonder if I should give them a second chance and listen to them again.
post #4 of 125
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by rx7_fan
Great review. Were you suprised that you liked a single driver IEM (Shure E4c) better than a dual driver (SF5P)?

Ooh, are you going to get the UE5c anytime soon? I think I might go this Thursday but still undecided whether I should save up and get the UE10 instead. When I listened to them at the meet, the UE10 was a bit too detailed for me, and I think the UE5c was more musical. But so many people liked them here, I wonder if I should give them a second chance and listen to them again.
Yes, quite shocked actually!

Call ahead and drive yourself back down to Irvine and find out for sure! No, I'm low on funds at this time and am trying to grow my music library with the funds I have.
post #5 of 125
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasper994
I come away from this review with one word to describe the Etys: Annoying!
Your review is pretty annoying and biased in favor of Shure. I can't believe I wasted 3 minutes reading that thing.
post #6 of 125
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJGeorgeT
Your review is pretty annoying and biased in favor of Shure. I can't believe I wasted 3 minutes reading that thing.
These are my honest opinions according to the way I hear things with my gear. Take them as such. Everyone hears things differently. Beyond that, I have very low tolerance for microphonics. The Etymotics perform extremely poorly in this category. No other IEM that I've tried suffers from this problem. As such, I feel no hesitation in bashing them over it. It's substandard and unacceptable.

If you read carefully, I also think quite a bit of the UE Super.Fi 5 Pro.
post #7 of 125
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJGeorgeT
Your review is pretty annoying and biased in favor of Shure. I can't believe I wasted 3 minutes reading that thing.
WTF??? Did you even read the review or did you just pick this one line?

Jasper,

I personally thought the review was very well done and very balanced. I haven't heard the UE's or the E5's but I would agree with most of your comments regarding the E4/c's and the the ER4's. The E4c's have really won me over with their balance and detail, I find myself reaching for them even at home.

I'm not sure what to make of your comments about the tips though, I haven't used the foamies extensively because I don't particularly like the idea of having to buy new ones all the time so I've been paying more attention to the flex sleeves. I started out using the small grey soft flex sleeves but switched to the small clear ones because the grey ones were doing some odd things. The clear ones offered a slightly drier, thinner sound but are quite detailed. I've since switched back to the soft grey ones and I think these offer a smoother, fuller presentation with a little more heft in the bass. I'll have to try the foamies more extensively to see how they compare but my initial thoughts were they weren't too far of the soft grey flex sleeves sound.

One thing I've noticed with the Shures is some oddness with the tips. At first I thought I was getting a seal but the sound was really thin and bass shy. Then I got a better seal with the small flex tips but they have to be inserted further than I was led to believe by some posts. I've retried the medium grey flex sleeves on a couple of occassions and again while I seemingly get a proper seal the sound is incredibly thin and little bass to speak of. I have to wonder if some of the comments/complaints I've read are due to this?
post #8 of 125
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJGeorgeT
Your review is pretty annoying and biased in favor of Shure. I can't believe I wasted 3 minutes reading that thing.
Your post is obnoxious.

Thanks for the really informative review, Jasper. Makes me want those E4 even more.
post #9 of 125
Quote:
Originally Posted by rx7_fan
Great review. Were you suprised that you liked a single driver IEM (Shure E4c) better than a dual driver (SF5P)?

Ooh, are you going to get the UE5c anytime soon? I think I might go this Thursday but still undecided whether I should save up and get the UE10 instead. When I listened to them at the meet, the UE10 was a bit too detailed for me, and I think the UE5c was more musical. But so many people liked them here, I wonder if I should give them a second chance and listen to them again.
rx -- I think you'd love the UE5c, especially if you're using them with an Ipod or similar, and with no amp. To my ears, they are wonderfully musical and balanced. While I am sure the UE10Pro is technically superior, I continue to think the UE5c is wonderfully balanced for portable use.
post #10 of 125
Jasper, nice job. I've been a little on the fence lately because of conflicting reports. Your review combined with The_Mac's [currently a ER-4p user] solid endorsement at the Detroit meet have made me decide firmly on the Shure E4. It is too bad that I didn't get a chance to try them myself in Detroit.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJGeorgeT
Your review is pretty annoying and biased in favor of Shure. I can't believe I wasted 3 minutes reading that thing.
Don't get all pissy just because he doesn't like your headphones.
post #11 of 125
Jasper,

I own Ety 4s and am not a fanatic and would be willing to switch to something if it is better. Could I ask you this if you still have them, did you use foamies or the tri-flange? I ask this because your reaction to switching to foamies on the E4 is the same experience I had when going to the foamies on the E4s. The difference is quite significant.

I have also listened to my foamies modified for almost a year now (one third of the width cut off from them, or a Sure yellow foamie is supposed to do the same thing). The other day for fun I put on a full foamie and I didn't care for the sound and had the same reaction that you did in your review. The modified foamies really transform the Etys into something special IMO, and I would love to see a comparison between the Shure E4/5 and the modded Ety4s. Would you be able to do this?

Thanks,
dshea
post #12 of 125
Nice review, Jasper. I'm in total agreement with your positive comments about the memory wire. I find it to be a real help in holding the IEM in place. And, like you, I find the microphonics of the Etys is a large drawback to using them portably.
Right now, I'm a big fan of the SF Pro sound........but after reading your review, I'm really anxious to receive the E4 I pre-ordered.
Thanks for sharing.
post #13 of 125
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasper994
Etymotic ER4s comes in last for me in the looks department, in my opinion they look rather goofy in the way they stick out of your ears..
Quote:
ER4s also has a thin sound that I find very unconvincing.
Jasper994, these two quotes make me think you might not have had a good seal with the Etys. I realize that by now you've had tons of experience with IEMs, but in my experience the Etys fit differently from the other IEMs I've tried -- they go a lot deeper. When my Etys are inserted, there's nothing sticking out, just the strain relief portion of the driver (that is, the part after the bend) hanging straight down. It's a very deep fit.

Inserted that way and properly sealed, I don't find them at all thin when driven with decent amplification (which you clearly have). Not-heavily-bassy, yes; but thin, no. So I feel you may not have heard all that these earphones are capable of. I hope you'll give them another try, because with a good fit, good seal, and good amplification I find them anything but unconvincing.
post #14 of 125
Ah, the long-awaited comparison at last Thanks for the great read! It appears that the conviction of my intuitive pre-order purchase back when the initial brouhaha first broke will hold out. Can't wait for my new black E4s
post #15 of 125
I am also going to agree with Jasper. I personality think the er6i are the best budget headphone on the market. They have more bass and you don’t miss too much detail on the treble side of things. In fact I think er6i have more details then e4c’s. Just don’t have as much bass

As for the ER4’s. I just found them to have a number of problems.

1)The ER4-p needed an amp, If you listen to them without one you are missing quite a bit. At the gym ER4-p I would have to turn the volume of the ipod to about max to get a good level.
2)The cord is a pain. You clip the cord to your shirt but when you walk it effects the sound out of the headphones. Just more sounds in general from cord or your mouth.
3)The lack of bass.
4)Quick decay or what I call unmusical aspect of the headphones.

I could live with the bloated bass and lack of details with e5s. The cord was so much better, didn’t need amp, and I liked having bloated bass. With an amp the bass gets more under control.

edit.. I left out the part about the ER4s hurt your ears after you have them in for awhile. Maybe because that go in further with E5s. I also add I used the tri-flar with both the ER4s and E5s. I tried the others but didn't care for them as much.

I did enjoy the ER4s when I had them. I thought they were great and I was blow away with there resolution. But after I lost my first pair. I decided that I wanted something different. And started reading reviews of the E5s. I found how much I was missing bass. Or that canal headphones could have real bass. I thought only fulll sizes headphones could have real bass.
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