Overall definition and inner detail through the E-series earbuds was average. I found the E1 offered the most low-level information, detail, and resolution because it had the least amount of masking from excess low-frequency energy. With the E3m, the loudest passages with lots of bass got untidy in direct relation to how loudly they were played back through the earphones. At the highest volumes the overall definition of the E3m’s was severely impacted by its bass overpowering everything else.
If a pair of earphones lacks upper frequency extension the imaging suffers because most locational cues come from upper frequency phase information. As expected, the Shifts were not among the most precise earphones I’ve heard in terms of image specificity. I found the E3m’s had the best imaging, followed by the E2ms. The E1s imaging was on a par with the Ultimate Ear UE200s and only slightly less focused than the Shure SE215 earbuds.
On the Beatles, “The End” from Abbey Road [Capitol], Ringo’s mini drum solo that begins at 00:21 served as an excellent tool for comparing the differences between the various Shift models’ bass response. Through my reference Etymotic Research ER-4P ‘phones it was easy to hear that each of the three toms had a different pitch, volume level, and location in the sound stage. Also through the ER-4Ps I could easily tell when the cymbals and high-hat came in at 00:36. Switching to the Paradigm E1s I was immediately aware of the abundance of upper and midbass energy. The centrally located tom was much louder than the other two, and after each hit it excited some low-level sympathetic vibrations that hung over after the notes stopped. The vibrations were definitely pitch-related because the kick-drum, which is equally prominent in the mix, didn’t cause a similar effect. The cymbal and high-hat entry at 00:36 was just as easy to pick up through the E1s as the Etymotics, but some of air and sparkle was missing (though in fairness it is important to remember that the Etymotics sell for roughly six times the price of the E1s). Moving up to the E2m’s from the E1s, the primary difference was slightly more and better-controlled bass. The central tom didn’t generate any additional resonances but the top end was no more open or extended than through the E1s.
Listening to Ringo’s solo through the E3m’s I heard even more bass energy than from the E2m’s, but it was well controlled. When the bass and central tom were playing together the E3m’s didn’t come unglued but they did get slightly untidy and a bit hazy on dynamic peaks.
Listening to Mahler: Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen - Wenn Mein Schatz Hochzeit Macht performed by Benjamin Zander, Christopher Maltman, and the Philharmonia Orchestra on Telarc was also enlightening. All three of the E- series models did a good job of making the tenor soloist’s voice sound seductively rich, but on the dynamic peaks the bass energy tended to overpower and obscure subtle midrange and upper frequency details. In some ways the E1s suffered the least problems with bass obscuring the lower midrange, but they were not as detailed in the bass or treble nor did they image as precisely as their more expensive siblings.
Consider Paradigm Shift’s E-series earphones if:
• You want earphones with a comfortable outer ear canal fit.
• You prefer earphones that, as a rule, offer very strong bass response (more than strict sonic neutrality would require).
• You need efficient earphones that can be driven by virtually anything.
Look further if:
• You need or want earphones that come with a multitude ear tip types to give you a broad range of fit options.
• You prefer earphones with even, neutral tonal balance (this in area where Paradigm loudspeakers are very strong performers, but unfortunately this aspect of Paradigm design “DNA” did not entirely carry over into the Paradigm Shift earphone lineup).
• You prefer or require earphones with user-replaceable signal cables.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced earphones)
• Tonal Balance:
o E1: 8
o E2m: 7
o E3m: 7
• Frequency Extremes: 7(Bass)/7(Treble)
• Clarity: 6
• Dynamics: 7
• Comfort/Fit: 8
• Sensitivity: 9
• Value: 7 (but higher for the very affordable E1)