You'll have to pry my Shure earbuds out of my cold, dead hands. I've had them for years and love them to pieces. They've been with me through countless bus rides and hours at the cafe. They're the gold standard for great earbuds, as far as I'm concerned, and hard to beat.
The E3000 earbuds from Japanese manufacturer Final are one of the first pairs to make a go at it. These tiny earbuds are great looking, but they have a lot of work to do when I'm so used to this one daily-use pair. With that said, they also cost half the price at around $50, so it's not a one-to-one comparison, but the you-get-what-you-pay-for aspect of this formula is worth considering as we look at each aspect of the E3000s.
Aesthetics & Build
The E3000s might be the best-looking pair of earbuds I've put in my ears. Earbuds are supposed to be small and light, but they often lean toward looking cheap or having the kind of bright colors and flair designed for runners. The E3000s look light and simple when compared to so many of the other earbuds I've seen. Each bud is a small chromed metal cylinder that looks good out of the ear and disappears into it, becoming almost a piece of jewelry in the process. I wish the buds would've come with some differentiating texture so that I could put them in the correct ears without looking for the L and R painted on them. That's the kind of thing that can wear off with everyday use. Even something as simple as the braille for L and R would've been an awesome addition to make putting them on a no-look affair.
Even the cord is dainty, and that's one of my few major gripes with the E3000s. The cord incredibly thin and light, which is nice in terms of how much it pulls on the buds themselves, but it seems like it would, in time, become the weak point of the set. The cord is built in, so you won't be able to replace it if it wears out, and it seems like it would be easy to sever.
But it's not all bad. Some of the thicker cords I have are sturdier, but they often seem to hold onto their coiled shape. The E3000s forget the coil almost immediately. The set comes with a pair of curved guides if you'd like to wear them over your ears, and I left the cords in those guides for about a week. After popping them out, the cords went back to normal almost immediately.
It's a bit of a trade-off. If the headphones were any more expensive, I'd consider the weak-feeling cable a major downside, but for the price it's more of a minor compromise.
Aside from the buds themselves, the box includes a generous number of rubber sleeves for the buds, a small faux leather pouch, and the aforementioned pair of curved guides for over-ear wear. All the extras fit easily inside the pouch along with the buds themselves. With that skinny cord, I wouldn't dare stuff these into a purse or busy pocket.
Because the buds are so small and light, they all but disappear into my ears when I'm wearing them. They're incredibly comfortable and stay steadily in place with almost no pressure. My usual earbuds use foam inserts, and at first I had a strong preference for those. But these work nicely and will stay in whether you're sitting in the cafe or maybe running for the bus. The light cabling ensures that over-ear wear is as comfortable as the more traditional positioning.
Another concern I had lies in the sharp back ends of each bud, but I've barely noticed them in hours of wear.
The E3000s have a semi-open design that includes a vented back, which means that the sound seal isn't quite as solid as I'm used to, but it's intentional. You can hear more of the outside world, and just a little bit of sound escapes when you have the buds cranked. But it's a very small amount, and you could likely have these hanging from your collar all day playing music and not even realize it.
Once I got these into my ears, I was impressed with the quality they provide for the price.
Overall, they have a pretty even sound profile, but it's not perfect.
They're not terribly loud, but they don't sound weak, either. They still get loud enough at max volume that you wouldn't want to keep them at that volume for long. That's also where the price difference when compared to my Shure SE215s starts to show itself. Where the Shures are still quite clear even at ear-splitting volume, cranking the E3000s all the way up to this-is-gonna-hurt volumes starts to show some distortion.
The soundstage is acceptably wide even compared to more expensive headphones. I've felt cramped listening to some, like I was stuck in a port-a-potty with the band I was listening to.
On the high end, most of the detail is there, but it's not quite where I'd like it to be. The cymbals in Dick Dale's "Misrlou" kind of bleed together into a hissing sound, for example, while the tambourines in Jimi Hendrix' "All Along the Watchtower" get lost and sound like any other cymbal sound.
On the low end of things, the bass isn't as punchy as I'd hope for. The punch is there but it's not as lively as I would hope for from something with a tight seal on my ears. The warm distortion in tracks like Kyuss' "Green Machine" comes across a little dead compared to what I'd expect. The bass in El Huervo's 'Daisuke' (that track from the game Hotline Miami) feels muted compared what I'm used to.
That all sounds pretty negative but it's worth mentioning that nothing sounds bad. Everything sounds fine, especially if you're not sitting down to be overly discerning about the minutiae of tracks.
If you're looking for a good pair of earbuds for a commute, something to wear on campus, or something to tune out the noise of surrounding cubicles, the E3000s are going to do a solid job of delivering a good, clean sound while still looking pretty danged stylish. They're not reference-quality earbuds, but they're also not wildly expensive at around $50. You're getting a small, elegant package that is easily worth the price.
Thank you to Audio46.com for supplying the headphones for this review.