One way to find a quiet place to relax, away from the modern world, is to don a pair of the most modern, sound isolating earphones. Shure, best known for personal monitor systems used by professional musicians on stage, has designed the EC3 earphones for everyday use. Its smallest, most compact design to date, the EC3s use high energy, micro-speakers for high quality, balanced sound across the frequency range.
Shure's sound isolating method is different to noise cancelling headphones. Headphones like Bose's Quiet Comforts use electronic circuitry to remove noise after it has entered the headphone earcup. A mirror image of the noise signal is created, cancelling the sound. Because the headphones fit over the ear, they tend to be fairly big, and noise cancelling also uses batteries to power the microphones and circuitry, which again adds to the size. Cancelling out one noise by producing its inverse sound becomes less effective as sound frequencies become more complex. Shure claims that the performance of noise cancelling headphones will at best screen out around 80% of unwanted noise. By comparison, EC3s are the sound of silence, isolating you from all but 7% of the noise around you, according to Shure.
How did they perform when we put them to the test? The first hurdle was fitting the EC3s. The earphones have seven different pairs of sleeves made of foam, clear pliable plastic and silicone rubber. These are different sizes and the sleeves fit tightly over the earphones to create a seal once the EC3s are placed in your ear canal. We started with the biggest sleeves and worked our way down until the EC3s sat neatly, flush with our ears and we could not hear the TV we were sitting next to for the purposes of this test. It was only by pulling our ear upwards and outwards, and by checking an anatomical drawing to see exactly where our ear canals were, that we managed to fit the earphones. Not everyone will like the sensation of pushing something into their ear and we did not even try the foam covers. These work by pinching the foam so it compacts, inserting the earphones and the foam then expands to seal out sound. We were too worried about what would happen to the foam sleeves when it came to taking the earphones out to try them out.
With the earphones fitted, we tried them with a portable music player and a portable DVD player. As you would expect, the experience you get from portable media devices is improved a lot by a good set of earphones. What set the EC3s apart for us was the degree of isolation from surrounding noise. You really can get lost in your music, or watching a video, with these earphones. And when it is the only thing you are hearing, there is less need to turn up the volume, which has the advantage of saving power on your device, as well as being better for your hearing.
The need to cut ourselves off has never been greater. It's not just when travelling that we want to relax in peace. With more and more people tuning into their own personal media devices, being able to shut out the rest of the world helps retain some sanity, not to mention relationships with your nearest and dearest.
Shure's EC3s are perfect for losing yourself in music, or a video, but at a price. The compact, lightweight design, and white colouring, makes them very unobtrusive to wear. Whether in-ear buds are more comfortable than wearing a big set of headphones over your ears, is down to personal preference so make sure you can return the product if you are new to wearing something in your ear canal.
Certainly the manufacturers of that other popular ear device - bluetooth headsets - could learn a lot from the variously sized sleeves for fitting that come with the EC3s.