The idea of wireless earphones is pretty compelling. Much as I absolutely love my Shure E500PTHs, having a mass of heavy cabling draped down the length of my torso and into my pocket where my MP3 player resides is far from ideal. That said, cables are something that I’m willing to put up with because sound quality is far more important to me than convenience, and for the most part wireless earphones or headphones tend to be manufactured by technology companies, rather than audio specialists. I therefore sat up and took notice when Etymotic Research announced a set of Bluetooth earphones.
Etymotic Research produces high-end earphones that compete with the likes of Shure and Ultimate Ears – I reviewed the ER.4 microPros about a year ago and was very impressed, so I was keen to see whether Etymotic Research could manage to marry great sound quality with a wireless design.
The Etymotic Research ety8 earphones certainly look special. Nestling in their box, these earphones have an air of quality about them – something that you’d want to see having just shelled out close to £200. Before I go any further though, let me make it clear that these earphones are not for anyone that’s too image conscious, because when you wear them you do look, well, faintly ridiculous.
Each earphone is made up of a rectangular module that measures 35 x 22mm, which make for a pretty conspicuous ear adornment. This is compounded by the fact that each earphone measures 33mm from the end of the ear-tip to the back of the rectangular module. So, not only is each module large, it also protrudes from your ear – subtle these earphones are not!
Obviously the reason for the bulk is that Etymotic has had to squeeze in all the Bluetooth electronics as well as a battery for each earphone. This in itself causes another problem – weight. Despite there being no cables dragging at your ears, the sheer weight of each earphone is enough to pull uncomfortably under normal use – I can confirm that running using the ety8s is definitely off the menu.
I can’t help thinking that Etymotic could have come up with a design where all the weight and bulk weren’t built into the earphones themselves. Perhaps a neck strap design like the one Philips employed for its SHN7500 earphones is the answer – you could have the electronics and battery hanging from a strap around your neck and the earphones routed round the back of your neck and to your ears. The result would be earphones that weighed no more than Etymotic’s non-Bluetooth models, while the weight of the control module will be hardly noticeable hanging from your neck.
Even in the current configuration, the earphones are connected by a chord to stop them dropping on the floor if they come loose from your ear, and of course to facilitate charging since there is only a charging plug on one earphone. With that in mind a neck strap wouldn’t make things much more complicated.