It’s safe to say Final has always been a company with aspirations – its very first product, a turntable cartridge unveiled in 1974, featured a cantilever cut from a one-carat diamond. And ever since, Final has had little interest in compromise.
Since the turn of the 21st century, it has concentrated most of its efforts on building uncompromised, uncompromising (and generally pretty expensive) headphones. This is the company that will part you from £1999 for a pair of its A8000 in-ear monitors – and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter if it’s over-ear, on-ear or in-ear designs you’re talking about. Final has usually delivered products with a flourish.
So you won’t be surprised to learn we queried the price of the E500 in-ears when we were first offered the chance to listen to them. But no, there was no rogue decimal point – the E500s cost just £19.99 per pair.
Design and build: Light, fantastic
Everything we say about the E500s is going to be heavily contextualised in terms of price, and ‘design and build’ is as good a place as any to start qualifying the praise.
Even the most expensive in-ear headphones (whether they’re Final or some other brand) tend to be pretty unadventurous in terms of design, so it follows that twenty quid’s-worth are unlikely to break any new aesthetic ground. Mind you, the E500s look nice enough. Their black thermoplastic polymer housing looks and feels good, and the very subtle logo punched into the back end counts, in this instance, as an actual design feature.
At just 15g a pair they’re hardly a burden to wear, and the black cable is discreet enough. And despite that remarkably modest price tag, the E500s feel robust and long-lasting. No, they’re not the last word in luxury – but, really, is that what you were expecting?
Features: Get it right in your ear
This is another area where in-ear headphones tend not to go to town. But with the price uppermost in mind, the E500s actually exceed our expectations in one key area.
Impressively, the E500s are fitted with the same 6.4mm small aperture dynamic driver as the rest of Final’s ‘E’-series – and that includes the £219 E5000s. On paper, then, they would seem in this respect to be overspecified in relation to their price.
They use the same ‘swing fit’ design as the rest of the ‘E’-series too – this allows the earbud to be easily and comfortably positioned in the ideal orientation towards the wearer’s ear canal.
Otherwise, there’s very little to report. The cable is a useful 1.2m long, the box includes a generous selection of differently sized ear tips and, um, that’s really about it. Even so, it’s fair to say you get a little more than you pay for where the E500s’ features are concerned.
Performance: Better than all white
There are getting on for two hundred reviews of headphones on this website – and the least expensive of them cost almost three times the price of the E500s. I don’t want to labour a point, but these Finals really are ridiculously affordable – and as long as you keep that thought in mind when you first hear the E500s do their thing, you’ll get along just fine.
Because no, the E500s aren’t the most dynamic in-ear headphones you ever heard. They’re not the most three-dimensional listen around, and they don’t control bass frequencies as well as plenty of other in-ears can.
What they are, though, is streets ahead of the headphones that came with your smartphone, and that’s the whole point. Compared to the white, wired in-ears bundled with an iPhone, for instance, the E500s are a way more sophisticated, more complete and more enjoyable listen.
Moderat’s Bad Kingdom sounds genuinely hefty through the E500s. The ragged analogue bass sounds are deep and nicely textured, and while in ultimate terms they drone just a touch they’re better controlled than by some more expensive rivals. The lop-sided tempo is handled well, and there’s enough detail revealed in the midrange to make the singer sound like an individual.
There’s quite impressive separation to the sound, too. The Finals’ soundstage might be rather flat and two-dimensional, but nevertheless it’s open enough to allow every element of the recording a bit of breathing space. And up at the top of the frequency range there’s well-judged bite and attack, but not so much that the tune threatens to get edgy or hard.
The big dynamic variances in Pantha Du Prince’s Lay in a Shimmer are hinted at rather than revealed in full, but the same recording lets the E500s show off their ability to deliver transients and fine details in surprising quantity. And anyway, this ultimate lack of out-and-out drive is mitigated by the Finals’ lifelike tonality and nice, natural way with rhythms and tempos.
Final E500 verdict
In the end it’s quite difficult not to be impressed by the E500s. And if, like some people around here, you rashly pre-judged them based on price alone, well – you may even feel a little embarrassed.
Because while it can sometimes be difficult to make a case for spending £60 or more upgrading your freebie smartphone headphones, dropping £20 on a pair of these is an absolute no-brainer. These are a proper, genuine upgrade for next-to no money.
You can easily pay more than this for a pair of socks – and really, what’s going to bring you greater satisfaction?
Confident, detailed sound
Properly made and finished
Cheap as chips* (*four portions)
Cable transmits a little noise
Not all that dynamic a listen