Speaker manufacturer Paradigm has a well-earned reputation for making good-sounding and affordable products. In late 2011, Paradigm announced its foray into the competitive world of headphones, specifically a series of three in-ear monitors, the e1, e2m and the e3m reviewed here. All three models are contained within Paradigm's new Shift line. The Shift line currently includes powered speakers (which we heard at CES 2012 and in-ear monitors. Headphones and gaming headsets will be added soon.
Paradigm has extensive manufacturing and testing facilities in Canada that include a massive 36,000-cubic-foot anechoic chamber. While Paradigm has learned a great deal of information from the anechoic chamber in connection with the design and manufacturing of traditional speakers, headphones require something different in terms of engineering. The Shift group within Paradigm utilizes a head and torso manikin that tests frequency response and is also used for ergonomic design. The manikin and live listening tests are used to tune each of the in-ear monitors to match a particular series of Paradigm speakers, with the e3m being voiced to match Paradigm's Signature Series speakers.
The Paradigm Shift e3m is a compact, aluminum bodied in-ear monitor with a single 8mm driver. Unlike larger in-ear monitors, when seated, the e3m is very unobtrusive. Sensitivity is rated at 105 dB, with a frequency response of 8Hz to 19 kHz. The e3m retails at $130, accompanied by a hard travel case and three sizes of single-flange ear tips, each with a white or red insert for channel designation. Paradigm has also released Sport Ear Hooks, which are flexible polymer pieces that attach to the cables and hook around your ears for a more secure fit. The Sport Ear Hooks retail for $12 per pair and are compatible with all three models. The e3m can be had in either black or white and features the new Paradigm Shift logo on the end of monitor's body. Build quality for these Canadian-made in-ear monitors is quite good, with cloth-covered cables and an aluminum-bodied "Y" piece, microphone/control and connector. Not that you would want to abuse these, but they look like they should easily stand up to the rigors of constant use.
Read about the high points and low points of the Shift e3ms on Page 2.High Points
• The Shift e3m has a warm, tube-like midrange and full, rich bass.
• The e3m is nicely finished and very compact in its design.
I found the cloth-covered cables of the e3m, and subsequently all Shift
headphones, to be somewhat impervious to snarls or tangles.
The e3m provides the listener with limited control capability and no
volume control when connected to a portable music device or smart phone.
• The e3m is slightly to the dark side of neutral, with a bit of bass bloom that may obscure the finer detail of bass notes.
Competition and Comparisons
are more than a few affordable in-ear headphones available to you these
days. A few standouts for those with more discerning tastes include
Bowers & Wilkins' new C5 headphones, Sony's MDR-EX 1000 and several of Monster's Turbine branded in-ear headphones. For more
on these headphones, as well as others like them, please visit Home
Theater Review's Headphone page.
who haven't upgraded from the stock earbuds that came with their music
player or iProduct can reap big benefits by taking a listen to the new
Paradigm Shift in-ear monitors. The Paradigm Shift e3ms provide
significantly better sound than stock ear buds. I found the e3ms to be
more comfortable than my portable devices stock ear buds; clarity with
both music and spoken word was greatly improved.
marketing information states that a solid connection from the tips
through the body of the earpiece enhances bass performance. Bass notes
through the Paradigm Shift e3ms are indeed strong and full, with a bit
of bloom that, while lacking the bass detail and impact of Paradigm's
full-sized speakers, provides a satisfyingly balanced reproduction of
the lower octaves. Depending on their fit in your own ears, the bass
reproduction may be a little different for you. Midrange is a critical
area of the audio reproduction spectrum and relies less on fit, so this
should be more consistent from listener to listener. When one considers
that many of today's headphones are being used for double duty for both
phone conversations and music, the midrange becomes even more critical,
as this is where most vocals fall. I found the e3ms to do an excellent
job with the midrange. Not only were the music vocals full-bodied and
natural, voices on the phone were rendered with great clarity. When
using the e3ms, I do not recall ever having to turn up the volume to
hear a caller, as I have with other ear bud-style earpieces.
the Paradigm Shift e3ms are easy to recommend. They are well-made,
small, lightweight, comfortable and sound good. The Paradigms give up
some of the detail and upper frequency air that my
several-times-more-expensive Etymotic ER4s convey, but they provide
phone integration and a very competitive price. Some audiophiles may be
critical of this, but one can easily make the argument that, for those
who are listening in less than ideal environments, the Paradigms will
provide all the detail one is likely to hear over background noise and
the slight bass bloom will provide a better-balanced sound in those
listening environments. For those who are looking for an in-ear design
that provides good sound for both music and telephone conversations in a
small, reasonably-priced package, the Paradigm Shift series of in-ear
monitors deserves a listen.