Triple Driver In-Ear Earphones Showdown: Shure E500 vs. UE Triple.fi 10 proEarphone Solutions holds the exclusive Copyrights to this review. You can link to this page, however you cannot reproduce part or the whole material without our written permission.
By: Oriel Mendelovitz
Free-market economists will tell you that competition is the stuff of consumers' dreams; it drives innovation, provides choice, and in the end, benefits the consumer…Well they are absolutely right! In the heat to meet the demand spurred by ipodiophiles worldwide, the IEM market, once restricted to musicians and those in the audio industry who could afford a few hundred dollars for a pair of monitors that sounded worse than a pair of Koss Porta Pros (don't get me wrong, a pair of Porta Pros sound awesome, but also cost only $50), is now inundated with IEM's that can be had for as low as $100!
If that isn't enough to tickle your fancy, now Shure and UE have upped the ante by introducing triple drive IEM's, accessible until recently, only to those elite willing to pay $800+ a pair!
So I get another Fed-Ex package in the mail recently - this time it is a pair of the Shure E500 Triple Driver IEM's Flavio graciously sent me to compare with my new portable audiophilia, UE's Triple.fi 10 pro earphones.
Now Triple driver technology doesn't come as cheap as $100; in fact, the MSRP on the E500s and Triple.fis are $499 and $399 respectively. At these prices, one has to consider whether or not the fidelity is worth the cash and which of these options the better value is. Let's face it, audiophile or not, $100 is a big price difference even for those of us crazy enough to consider something at this price point.
So what do we get for our hard earned money? Let me start by saying that as far as sound quality is concerned, neither of these buds disappoints. Whether or not either sound suits your taste may come into question (what do I mean? Patience…read on, you'll understand soon), but I've listened to these units carefully and tried to be as objective as possible; as far as I'm concerned both sound good enough to be considered head and shoulders above some of the best sounding universal IEM's (in my opinion) that existed prior to the release of triple driver technology: the Westone UM2 and the Shure E4.
The first thing that hits you is the packaging: both are packaged tastefully and are contained in housing that befits a $400+ earphone. The E500's box is a brushed and anodized black/silver aluminium case; the Triple.fis don't actually have a case of their own (unless you manage to be one of the first 180 people to own a triple.fi and get yourself a personalized roadie case). Along with all the standard accessories and tips, the Shure provides an ovalized version of their tried, tested and true mesh zipper case. UE provides you with two small carrying cases - one leather travel case (great for storing tips and accessories) and a silver matte aluminium case for earphone storage. Both are excellent cases, but the UE case (which resembles a really fancy mint tin) gets the edge. The overall packaging offered by Shure is nicer by far to the UE, but in my opinion it is eye candy wasted as it doesn't offer much to the user apart from opening a really nice box; Chalk one point for UE.
The finish on each headphone are about par - Shure offers the pewter look while UE has opted for the Electric (or metallic, as you choose) blue. In either case they both look absolutely awesome, but their construction qualities could be a bit better. In both cases I found minor flaws in the casing's finish - honestly, I'm splitting hairs on this one, but when spending $400 - $500 on a pair of earphones, I'm allowed.
Getting to the important stuff - fit…
Both monitors are as comfortable as can be. In the case of the E500s, I cheated a little and went straight to the Westone Comply tips. Owning the E4's for over a year, I learned very quickly that although they may be comfy, the stock Shure tips don't hold a candle against the comply tips. If you order yourself a pair of E500s, be sure (no pun intended) to spend the extra $9.75 on a set of the complys. It'll be the best money you ever spent in audio; but I digress...oh yes, fit! As far as comfort is concerned, both earphones offer virtually identical performance. Both just melted away into my ears. Now where these two earphones go their separate ways is in their positioning; the E500s nestle themselves into your ears somewhat subtly and 'blend' into your earlobe. The triple.fis have the distinction of being possibly the spaciest (and ugliest) looking earphones in existence! They protrude from the head like little blue antennae, making one look like a little alien-like. Both earphones will garner you attention, however only one will garner positive aesthetic attention. This round goes to E500 hands down.
Let's talk bass; let's talk treble; let's talk midrange. After all, what's the point of having three drivers in an earphone if they can't reproduce all three frequency ranges properly, right?
Bass - there is a subtle yet definite distinction in how each earphone reproduces this section of the audio spectrum. Both earphones excel in this area. There is weight and texture in their reproduction, providing the illusion that the bass notes wiggle, that kick drums thump and that kettle drums thrum. Bass is heard and felt. Where the E500s are more visceral in nature, the Triple.fis are more articulate. Listening to a thunderstorm will be more involving and enjoyable on the E500, but the Triple.fis describe so much detail in the bass registers, that you feel as if you're riding the crests and troughs of bass guitar notes, bouncing on the kettle drums like you used to on your parents' bed, and cooling your face from the air blown on your face by the kick drum.
Midrange - This remains the sweet spot of Shure's musical presentation. The E500s are more forward and detailed in their presentation of this frequency spectrum, whereas the Triple.fi tends to encompass you a little more; the Triple.fis present the midrange as a wide backdrop against which pronounced mid-range details, bass and treble are layered over top.
Vocals are sweet, harsh and emotional in both phones, guitars sing, and pianos - well, they sound oh so nice. The main difference between UE and Shure in this area comes down more to presentation than actual reproduction of midrange frequencies. The E500s tend to sound cleaner, and the Triple.fis fuller. The E500s strong suit is its ability to isolate musical instruments and sections into their own little islands. They are easily defined and heard because the E500s place a certain 'blackness' around them, and then takes all the different sections and provides them with their own, specifically chosen location inside your head - that's right - inside your head. Everything sounds highly intimate coming out of a pair of E500s. The Triple.fis, on the other hand, fill your head with music and sound, but also present the sensation that you are surrounded by the sounds playing through them. There is no blackness at all - just a sea of musical sounds layered one over the other like transparent sheets the movie animators used to use when drawing cartoons. This can be fatiguing at times, and poor amplification seems to exacerbate the problem more than going unamped. Make no mistake - the Triple.fis faithfully reproduce every detail, they just go about presenting those details differently. The other point of note worth mentioning with respect to the Triple.fis is that they image about the best I've ever heard in any IEM. The music flows through the corridor of Left to right without missing a beat. There is no three-blobs-in-the-head syndrome in their case (something even top of the line headphones suffer from often). It's also worthwhile to note that the E500s will sound a little muddy unamped; however, they seem less picky about what amplifier they are paired with than the Triple.fis.
Treble - This section of the frequency spectrum is where you will notice the greatest difference between these two IEM's. This isn't good news for those who don't like Shure's 'recessed/rolled-off' highs. The E500s reproduce treble frequencies faithfully, but have relegated them to what feels like the background (at best). Cymbals and high-hats seem to suffer the most from this presentation. To my ears, I found this somewhat annoying, as I like my music bright. I consistently used my iPod's Treble Booster EQ to make the E500s sound 'balanced' to my ears. You may wonder how I find this so annoying when I love the E4's so much - the answer is simple: The E4's are weak on bass and treble, and as a result, feel more balanced. By contrast, the E500s seem to favour lower registers and therefore sound a little unbalanced to these ears.
The Triple.fis, conversely, bring the treble right up close to your ears; for those of you who are sensitive to brightness, make sure you can EQ your sources! I found the highs harsh occasionally, depending on the recording.
I enjoyed some surprises, twists and turns when testing out these two new releases. My initial impressions led me to the hasty conclusion that I would prefer the E500s over the Triple.fis. The TFs take some time getting used to, and in the beginning I was unimpressed with their performance. I've gotten over that now, and for the most part I like them - perhaps even better than the E500s; however, that's only because I tend to listen to my music at low volumes and prefer bass and treble frequencies to 'mid-range' frequencies. If I had to pigeon-hole these two earphones, I'd probably say choose the E500s if you like thunderous bass, prominent mids, require lots of sound isolation, prefer cleaner, more analytic sound presentations, really like gadgets (PTH is very nice, and works spectacularly) or if you are vain enough that wearing funny looking earphones embarrasses you that much. Conversely, if you like full, warm, and lush sounding music, require tonal balance (more neutral sounding), want easy in-and-out earphones, want to keep your earphone setup simple (sometimes it feels like I have to plan a listening session with my E500s) and like treble, get the Triple.fis.
Overall, I feel that the Triple.fis are a slightly better value than the E500s: both earphones' sound reproduction weaknesses cancel out; in the end, it becomes a matter of taste rather than clear sonic superiority that should make you chose one over the other. The E500s look better/cooler than the Triple.fis, but fit-wise, no better (the E500s didn't work for these ears when lying down in bed - try the UM2's for that). The Triple.fis are a lot simpler to use, insert and remove more easily than the E500s, but leak more sound in. I found the E500s PTH to be of great benefit and a definite value added; however, I found the whole system to be particularly cumbersome when compared to the Triple.fis. Finally, there is price. $100 is still a lot of money (even if it doesn't go as far as it used to), and you save at least that much with the Triple.fis (people are always offering these things online for less than MSRP, right?). Either way you can't really go wrong choosing one over the other. Alternatively, if you're really screwy like me, you can just go out and get both! Well, at least you won't have to worry about redundancy…