Review: Paradigm Shift E3m

Paradigm tunes its IEMs to match the sound of its different speaker lines. The E3m is the top-of-the-line model, thus it is said to match the company’s top-of-the-line Signature Series speakers. The midpriced E2m matches Paradigm’s Studio Series speakers, and the low-priced E1 matches the Monitor Series 7 speakers.

The compact, CNC-machined aluminum earpieces are attached to a cable with a woven cover that tangles easily and can create excessive noise in the ’phones when it rubs against your clothes. The cable features an inline microphone but no volume control, and a compact zippered case is included.

Each of the three pairs of included silicon tips has one with a red center and one with a white center, to designate left and right. That’s easier to see than some of the tiny L and R marks on many IEMs, but the Shift E3m’s earpieces aren’t marked, so if you mix up the earpieces when you’re changing tips, you have to figure out which is which.

I’ve reviewed at least a half-dozen Paradigm speakers, but the E3m doesn’t sound like any of them. The headphone has a very soft treble and upper midrange, while Paradigm’s speakers to me tend to sound slightly bright. The E3m’s unusual balance seems “filtered,” as Greg put it. The bass sounds very strong (although Lauren noted that there’s not much low bass), the midrange is somewhat muted, and there’s not much treble detail. None of us got much sense of spaciousness from the E3m, either. A second sample that we tried produced better highs, but the veiled midrange and overpowering bass remained.

We’re not sure who the E3m’s tuning was meant to appeal to, but we’re hoping Paradigm’s next headphone sounds more like a Paradigm speaker.

Test Bench

The E3M’s frequency-response plot confirms what we heard: a large bass boost with unusually weak response above about 1.5 kHz. A second sample showed about 5 dB more energy from 6 to 9 kHz. Increasing output impedance to 75 ohms has no significant effect on frequency response. Isolation is typical for an IEM. Distortion at 100 dBA typically measures less than 0.6% but rises anywhere from 1.6% to 3.2% between 1.9 and 3.6 kHz. Average sensitivity is 101.9 dB from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 1-watt signal; there’s no published impedance spec, so the 1-watt level was calculated for the 19 ohms measured impedance.