Details: Flagship of speaker manufacturer Paradigm’s new IEM line
MSRP: $129.99 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $39.99 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 18Ω | Sens: 105 dB | Freq: 8-19k Hz | Cable: 4′ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Trimmed MEElec triple-flanges; Head-Direct bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and faux leather clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4/5) – The E3m is built around a single piece of machined aluminum housing the driver chamber. A second, plastic piece flares outward at the rear and presents a rather large Paradigm Shift logo. The nozzle is protected by a metal filter and the entire construction feels nice and solid. The cabling is nylon-sheathed but seems to resist kinks and tangles very well. The biggest issue is the lack of strain relief on housing entry and at the y-split, which may result in the nylon cable sheath fraying over time. A mic/remote unit with an unusually small single button is located on the right-side cable.
Isolation (3/5) – Good for a dynamic-driver earphone
Microphonics (4/5) – Mild when worn cord-down and pretty much nonexistent with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (3.5/5) – The housings use an ergonomic, off-axis design (a-la AKG K3003) and the stock tips are of good quality and easy to get a good seal with. The E3m can be worn both cable-up and cable-down but the sharp rear corners of the housing and stem tend to contact the outer ear, potentially causing discomfort for some users. This is easily remedied by using longer aftermarket eartips that position the housings farther out in the ear
Sound (6.9/10) – The general sound signature of the Paradigm Shift E3m is bass-biased, with a laid-back midrange and similarly relaxed treble. The low end is full and deep, easily reaching down into the subbass frequencies and offering great rumble and impact. Paradigm claims that the tuning of the E3m was inspired by their Signature Series loudspeakers, and it is easy to imagine speakers putting out the same sort of powerful, visceral bass the earphones produce. Relative to the midrange and treble, the quantity of the bass borders on ‘basshead’ and despite the lack of mid-bass bloat lacks a little texture, speed, and resolution, sounding boomy at times. For comparison purposes I grabbed another in-ear headset recently released by a different speaker manufacturer – the Velodyne vPulse. While the bass of the Velodynes did not have quite as much impact, it was pleasantly cleaner and more controlled, resulting in a more accurate, less colored overall sound.
The midrange of the E3m – and pretty much everything following – is recessed compared to the prominent bass. Though there is not much of a mid-bass hump per se, the bass level is so inflated that the low end bleeds into the midrange anyway, resulting in noticeable veiling of vocals and instruments and a lack of clarity compared to many cheaper in-ears. Bumping everything above 200 Hz up on the EQ helps, allowing the mids to shine – with the bass out of the way detail and texture levels are actually quite good and the earphones sound enjoyable. Notes have good weight and thickness, giving the E3m a full-bodied feel that works well with the warm tone.
The treble transition is smooth and uneventful. The top end is just as laid-back as the midrange, with the resulting ‘dull’ sound reminding me of the new Dunu Crater and Hawkeye. There is no treble sparkle and crispness is mediocre at best. On the upside, top-end extension is decent and the E3m adds no harshness or sibilance into the mix. The sound remains smooth and non-fatiguing, even at higher volumes, but the dullness does make cranking up the volume tempting. A more accurate set – a VSonic GR06, for example – will extract the same amount of musical detail at lower volumes and may even encourage some listeners to turn down their devices.
The presentation of the E3m is probably its best trait – it is wholesome and well-rounded. The soundstage is above-average in size and has very good on-center feel compared to sets like the Velodyne vPulse. While the bass tends to dominate the sonic space when present, the E3m doesn’t sound particularly congested and has good instrument separation and layering. In comparison, the Dunu Hawkeye and Velodyne vPulse both sound flat and a bit uninvolving. Dynamics are quite decent as well – closer to the mid-fi level of a MEElec CC51 or Shure SE215 than the Velodyne or Dunu sets.
Value (7/10) – Paradigm’s flagship in-ear is less of a shift and more of a paradox, promising sound akin to high-end speakers but delivering a bass-heavy signature saddled with veiled vocals and dull treble. The drivers are certainly very capable, producing high detail levels, good dynamics, and a spacious presentation, and the E3m is a solid headset – well-built, comfortable, and low on cable noise. As it stands, however, the balance makes it one to recommend only for lovers of warm, full-bodied sound with forward bass and recessed mids and highs.
Pros: Nice construction; smooth sound with decent presentation
Cons: Housing shape may not be comfortable for everyone; bass-biased balance results in midrange and treble deficiencies