Introduction

The search for the perfect earphones has been a long and difficult one for this SLCentral editor. I've tried countless high-end personal audio products from cans to canal phones, and with brands ranging from Etymotic to Bose. And yet, while each pair of phones I've tried has presented a unique combination of qualities, none have completely satisfied my ears completely, be it in the comfort or audio reproduction department. So when I noticed Shure new flagship sound isolating earphones, the E530PTH (Previously called the E500PTH), I was skeptical. After much testing, there are still a couple of gripes I have with the E530PTH that make it fall short of my perfect personal audio device, but I'll admit the E530PTHs came pretty damn close to being it.

Bear in mind that I am no audiophile--I don't know exactly what a tweeter is, how resistors flatten sound production in the bass ranges, or how to pick out frequency ranges to precision. But I have tested my fair share of audio products, and I'm here as a lay audio enthusiast offering my moderately experienced perspective as an avid and diverse listener of music. This means that you're probably not going to see a lot of fancy terms or detailed technical reports in this review; instead, I hope that my background with audio products and my consumer electronics mind set can present an understandable yet informative analysis of this product.

Now that I've got that disclaimer aside, let's get into the review.

Technical Specs

Driver type: Triple balanced armature drivers
Sensitivity: 119 dB SPL/mW
Impedance: 36
Weight: 30g (1 oz.)
Frequency Range: 18Hz-19 kHz
Input Connector: 3.5 mm (1/8) gold-plated stereo plug

Design

It's clear from the onset that Shure took strides to insure that the E530PTH made a powerful statement with regard to quality and durability from the moment the packaging is handled. In contrast to previous earbud (E3c, E4g) packaging, which comprised a plastic case, the E530PTH comes in a surprisingly compact square package which reminded me slightly of the box that iPods come in. Let's unpack this thing.

box
A brushed metal box attests to the quality and image that Shure wants to project with their top-of-the-line offering, the E530PTH. Cool? Yes. Surprise? No. At around $500 a pop, these phones should and do make a positive first impression. Note: While the package reads E500PTH, the name has since been modified to be E530PTH. The product is identical.

 

phones1
The E530PTH earbuds were slick and lightweight. With a glossy black shell and rounded wedge-shaped design, each earbud exuded style. Housed in each bud is some heavy duty machinery: three distinct speakers comprising two woofers and one tweeter. This triple driver design provides optimal audio quality over a range of sounds.

 

pth
The 'PTH' part of this package's namesake refers to the push-to-hear module. I'm not positive what drove Shure to spend development time and capital to produce this bit of machinery, but the module is useful if frequently taking your earbuds out would become irritating.

The real heart of these earbuds, and what sets them apart internally from the wealth of canalphones out there, is Shure's three driver design. Housed in each earbud is a combination of two woofers and a tweeter (a feature usually nonexistent in the E530PTH's price range). Enhanced with integrated passive crossovers, this melding of ultra sensitive hi-tech audio reproduction gadgetry works to insure that highs and lows are reproduced with stunning clarity and power.

On the outside, the E530PTH earbuds are slick and lightweight. With a glossy black shell and rounded wedge-shaped design, each earbud exudes style and quality. The included zip-up travel case also provides a convenient case in which to store the earbuds when they are not in use. Extra sleeves comprising various sizes and forms are included in order to ensure that a near-perfect fit is possible for anyone.

The last piece worth mentioning in this section is Shure's 'PTH' module. It stands for push-to-hear, and is an attachment that eliminates the necessity of removing the earbuds when you want to hear what's going on in the outside world. I never had a problem just taking out my earbuds, so I found this attachment to be of minimal use, but for those whose ears would get irritated with continued removal and insertion of the earbuds, the PTH is a fine solution to your problems. It's designed to be very lightweight, and styled in black to match the rest of the package. A clip makes it easy to carry the module on your pants or shirt. The only gripe I have with the PTH module (besides the fact that I don't really need it) is that the sound dial to control microphone volume is a little difficult to access.

Functionality

Unbelievable sound quality.

That phrase sums up my experience with the E530PTH. When I reviewed Shure's E4Cs I thought that I had just about found the closest alternative to quality cans, but the E530PTH proved me wrong. The acoustic accuracy and distinctiveness through the midranges (normally a blurry range for earbuds), coupled with a tight, booming bass and stunning clarity in high frequencies comes together in an unparalleled package of audio reproduction. How does Shure accomplish this? The answer is in the three-driver heart of the E530PTH and the carefully positioned and designed supporting mechanisms. Shure provides a helpful diagram of the innards of the earbuds on their website:

drivers
ting

As you can see, there are actually three speakers housed in each earbud. The two woofers pump out rich and tight bass, while a miniature tweeter deliver crystal-clear precision in the high ranges. To further provide cohesion to this system, an inline crossover has been implemented to discriminate between highs and lows, to make sure the right speakers are producing the range of sounds they specialize in, and ultimately to provide distinction between the two ranges for optimal tonal accuracy. This strategic blend of machinery produces a sort of balance that is often lacking in the earphones in this market, and you will never be satisfied with the typically compressed track while you own the E530PTH; loss less compression is a must while listening to music with these phones. Tracks with lesser quality simply don't do justice to the sound reproduction capabilities of the E530PTH. And despite the complex equipment built-in to these earphones, they are light to the point where you can forget they are hanging on your ears.

On the comfort side, I found the foam sleeves to provide the best combination of comfort and fit for my ears. But my no means does that mean the foam sleeves are right for you. That's why Shure included a variety of different sleeves (much more variety in form than with previous earphone models); surely there's a sleeve that fits almost every ear to near-perfection. The trick to taking full advantage of the E530PTH's capabilities is to position the sleeve so that it is in just the right position in your ear canal; insert the buds incorrectly, and you will lose the bass, precision, etc. It may take some experimentation, but with the right combination of sleeve and fit, the music eventually comes alive in a big way. That 'aha' moment is pretty satisfying, and thenceforth you'll know how to get the most out of these earphones.

The push to hear module should also be mentioned. I'll admit that I didn't find any real use for it and probably would not have purchased it had Shure made it an optional accessory (which it is, for other Shure earbuds). However, because it was bundled with the earbuds and many people could potentially benefit from such a device (or Shure wouldn't have taken the pains to develop it), a discussion of it is obligatory.

The push to hear module attaches to the earbuds through a cable and is very lightweight. Simply activate the switch on the surface of the module and the outside world, as well as your own voice, are relayed to your ears through the earphones.

The device basically consists of two microphones. One within the main module to hear outside sounds, and one closer to your face that amplifies your own voice (smart). When someone appears to be trying to talk to you, all you need to do is switch on the device, and your audio becomes muted while the dual microphones start transmitting outside sounds to your earbuds. I've never had a problem with just taking the earbuds out, but I'd imagine for those who take a long time to find their sweet spot (in their ears) or who have sensitive or hard-to-fit ears this device would be a great convenience. For me, it's just extra stuff to deal with. Like I said, it's a cool addition bundled with the E530PTH, but I wouldn't buy the optional module were it not included.

Conclusion

For its price range, Shure's top-of-the-line buds are easily the best in the category. Although many of my friends swear by Ultimate Ears' UE-10 earbuds (I haven't tried them myself), I can't imagine how much better than the E530PTH they could be (and for an extra $400, I'm not willing to pay to find out). Certainly a huge improvement over the E4Cs, these earbuds beat out competitors such as Etymotic in both audio clarity and design. I would not hesitate to say that the E530PTH is hands down the best canalphone I have ever owned. Not as good as a quality pair of cans, but pretty damn close.

SLCentral Score: 9/10



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