Despite their impressive qualities, not many people know what an IEM is. We've recently received a whole packet of them in the office, and the most popular comment we seem to get is "people pay three hundred dollars for ear buds!?" Of course, IEMs are not earbuds. IEM stands for 'In Ear Monitor'and refers to a specific kind of headphone that sits inside the ear canal rather than in the outside chamber of the ear, earning them the nickname "canal phones". It might sound a little painful, and it definitely takes some time to get used to, but the benefits are more than worth it. Not only does this placement allow them to create absolutely exquisite sound but it completely isolates you from external noise, making these some of the best noise canceling headphones available.
- Comfortable, brilliant resolution
- Bass lacking
If you have a decent equalizer on your media player, then this is probably the best choice you can make. If you don’t however, you may find the bass comes up lacking.
Price$ 439.00 (AUD)
The Shure E4c is one of the more popular IEM models. Claiming a place in the high mid range of products, it is definitely one of the best buys on the market. People particularly pursue IEMs for portable use, as their tiny form factor combined with Hi-Fi quality sound makes them the ultimate compromise between earbuds and full over the head models. As stated above however, their noise canceling properties are also a big selling point. Most noise canceling headphones operate under a noise canceling algorithm that compensates for outside sounds in their playback. IEMs on the other hand operate by simply creating a vacuum seal between your ear canal and the outside world, stopping any sound from penetrating it. To give you some idea how effective this is, we were testing them on a train at one stage and the only way we could tell the doors had closed was that the train was moving. Furthermore this complete isolation works in reverse as well, stopping any sound from leaking out to annoy those around you. This makes IEMs an ideal choice for office workers or library goers. Be wary using them outside however as we found ourselves dodging mysteriously silent buses on multiple occasions.
For many people, sticking something down your ear canal generates childhood memories of lead pencils and a trip to the hospital, rather than high quality audio, but we assure you, the E4c is everything you could want and more. For the most part, the quality of the sound is on par with something like the Audio Technica AD700, if not better. The mid range was absolutely crystal clear, to the point where we were hearing background elements in our songs that not even our Beyer DT880s had brought out. This is the best quality of these headphones, their detail resolution. Everything sounds so wonderfully complicated it makes your music that much more technical. This is only enhanced by the brilliantly biting mid range, and the incredibly liquid highs. Listening to some of our Radiohead test tracks, we had Thom Yorke's gob-smacking vocals, ornate keyboard riffs, bells and biting guitar all hitting us at once. Incredible.
The soundstage is fantastic for an IEM. It offers a very front row feel, like you've got great tickets at a large concert, which differs quite a bit from the usually intimate presentation of IEMs. Of course most of you have noticed by now we neglected to mention the bass on this model, and that is really the one weakness it has. Whilst it is of good quality, reasonably quick and tight, it is lacking in depth and power. In many of our songs there was an extremely noticeable difference going from this model to something like the E5c, which has much more bass by default. The good thing was, with a little equalising on our MP3 player, we managed to rectify this problem completely. Pumping up the lower frequencies gave us music with all the aforementioned qualities and deep, rich bass.
For the uninitiated we must also mention the design; IEMs will put many people off at first. The headphones are actually nothing more than a little tube, which you then cover with a tip and insert into the ear. The unit comes with a variety of tips, ranging from foam to different plastics, and all shapes and sizes. It is best to try all the different tips and find the one that suits you. If you are willing to really spend a wad of cash you can get IEMs that are moulded to fit your ear canal, but for those of us without a house in the Bahamas simply finding the best fit for us is an easy solution. We found the foam tips in particular were very comfortable, as the foam is soft and moulds to the correct shape. Getting the right tip is absolutely crucial with IEMs, as, if you don't get a good seal they will lose all semblance of bass and sound absolutely terrible, so put some work into it; it's definately worth it.
We found this particular model to be extremely comfortable. Many of the high end units have big chunky bowls that sit in the recess of your ear, and ultimately become uncomfortable after just a few minutes. The E4c however simply have a small, tubular shape, that fits easily into the canal and is pain-free, even after long listening sessions.
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