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Monday, February 23, 2009

Shure SCL3 Sound Isolating Earphones

Last week a friend informed me of a sale at the Guitar Center. Apparently Shure was no longer producing the white version of their SCL3 earbuds and there was a huge price reduction. Another reason to investigate was the current (and recent) state of the Skullcandy earbuds I am using. I have documented the experience well (the latest pair). Needless to the say, the third pair came with an headphone jack extender. This extender suffers from the same issue as all the other Skullcandy earbuds I have had. Namely the connector to the device loosens over time and the connections start to break. It is a manufacturing/design issue that I have made them aware of each time I RMA. You end up with the dreaded "I can only hear sound in one headphone" syndrome. Luckily the extender was busted and not the headphones themselves. This will obviously only be a temporary solution, as I have already replaced the buds twice. Probability wins; sorry Skullcandy. The problem is when I need to get them replaced, means I cannot use them & the turn-around on the replacement is approximately 2 weeks to a month. That's 2-4 weeks of using either the horrible Apple "earbuds-from-hell" or the "buds that won't stay in" that came with my Creative Zen X-Fi. That just won't do, anymore.

In all honesty, the price was the biggest reason to check it out. I have had Shure earbuds before, but the consumer level E1 or E2. I was very satisfied with them. These are the SCL3, which if you check the manufacturor's website, can be found under the "Personal Monitoring Systems" link of the "Pro Audio" section. These are a reference/performance level. More importantly the price of these normally priced $150-200 buds was $60, with free shipping. It was only the white version of these buds that was this low. Now why would I want to pay $90 more for a color, that won't really matter because they are in my ears and you can hardly see them anyway? With all these reasons, and the faltering economy, how could I not buy them?

It took less than a week to arrive (having ordered them on Friday and arriving the following Thursday (the same day I had the Joey McIntyre sighting). I unbox the following :

Inside I find the buds themselves, instructions (in several languages), warning pamphlet, toxic chemical sheet (in Chinese) and a carrying case (inside it's Bud X-mas). Within the carrying case is an assortment of different sizes and shapes for the earbuds. There are 3 sizes of the plastic & black-rounded foam buds. There is an additional pair of yellow traditional foam buds and even a pair of triple flange sleeves (my current buds of choice after a little off the top).

I have had the buds over the weekend and put them through some tests to garner an idea of their quality & even compared with my current Skullcandy buds. I first carefully tested all the various sleeves to find the ones that has my preferred balance of noise isolation-to-comfort. After trying on all the options, I decided on the double flange. The original triple flange made me feel like I was poking out my eardrum every time I inserted them into my ear. Removal of buds from the ears with the triple flange, felt similar to removing a catheter (insert preferred body part here) and I am used to having in-ear buds. The comfort level on both earphones are comparable, however, and it is in the isolation department that the Shure become the clear winner. Even while on a subway platform, as trains going by and the X-Fi at a volume of 50%, did not affect the output (as it does with the Skullcandy).

I am not much of an audiophile but I can easily say these are as good as the Skullcandy or Westone earphones I have had before, if not better. The sound is clear and crisp (most of my mp3 audio has a bit rate of 256kb or greater as well). The base is not as "loud" as others I have had, but that is usually a marketing gimmick created to garner the consumer who loves to "blast" the music (soon to be nonconsumer as their hearing diminishes). I find that that base is strong without drowing out other instuments or sounds.

This picture is for the Skullcandy people. Most headphones will fall to the connector problem listed above, through moderate-to-heavy normal daily use. This is unavoidable. This is what the connector end should look like if you want maximum longevity and the possibility to survive the engineering stress test that is life, longer than 12 weeks.

And NOT this :

In a final test, my friend Gregory (shamless cross-promo here) provided me with a frequency mp3 file. We wanted to see the range of these earphones. The file runs 67 seconds and tests the range 20Hz-20kHz. The result is that both Gregory & I were able to hear sounds from 1-66 seconds. If I read the specifications of the manufacturer correctly and test file's range is accurate, that means these buds are better than advertised when it comes to their response range. In conclusion, these are some good buds!! Greg's even ordered a pair of his own, coming soon.

On a sidenote, I wanted to thank Pavel for the link.


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