The Etymotic ER4PT are top-end earphones costing around £250. They’ve been around for a while, but having not checked out an Etymotic top model since 2006, I thought it was time for a look at what the company is offering today.
If you're after a lean, mostly uncoloured sound – where each part of the mix sits in its own clear space – then these earphones offer up some of the best sound available from a single driver. Want bags of power and beefy bass? Then the Etymotic ER4PTs probably aren't for you.
They're audio nerd earphones. However, they're in desperate need of an update, since they lack a cable with both a built-in remote and shirt clip that would make them otherwise ideal for those wanting earphones for their journey to and from work.
Whether you opt for entry-level earphones such as the MK5s or the top-end ER4PTs, Etymotic’s earpieces share the same look – they're a bit like tubes with wires attached to the ends.
Etymotic has also largely ignored the trend for using flashy materials. The Etymotic ER4PT have a light, plastic housing, rather than a metal one giving a more expensive feel.
However, the plastic used is a league above the cheap-feeling material present in the Etymotic MK5s. I’ve no major complaints about the ER4PT's lack of bling.
Other parts of the design might put some of you off, though. First, the earpieces stick out from your ears by quite some margin – although it gives you plenty to tug on when you want to take them out.
However, this position does a funny thing to the Etymotic ER4PT’s "pivot point". The earphones have a rather chunky plastic ingot that sits where the left and right cables meet. So although they're very light, the weight here makes the Etymotic ER4PT feel as though they’re ever-so-slowly trying to work their way out of your ears – or at least pulling on them, when you're walking around with them in.
The simple solution is to use the included shirt clip, specifically designed to clamp onto this bulky plastic section.
I'd usually leave such an accessory in the box, but with the ER4PTs I'd recommend using it. It won't be so easy to use if you tend to wear t-shirts rather than shirts, or other clothing without an obvious clip-friendly seam. Plus, the oversized clip will also do nothing for your fashion cred.
The clip largely deals with the issue of comfort, and puts an end to much of the noise that is otherwise a result of the chunky cable bouncing against your clothing. Known as microphonic noise, it is often an issue with earphones that offer good isolation.
The ER4PT's isolation is excellent, especailly when used with the foam tips included in the box, which areof the triple-flanged silicone variety. I didn't find their invasive fit particularly comfortable, however. This is largely down to the shape of your ear's insides, so some may be fine with them.
Despite all the extra bulk, the Etymotic ER4PT don't inlcude any form of hands-free functionality or remote control. That huge bit of plastic really is just there to act as a junction point for the cable.
The ER4PT accessories package
It does feel like a quality cable, though. It’s braided up top, chunkier-than-average down below and longer than a standard cable.
One other area where the Etymotic ER4PT lag behind other top-end earphones is that its cable is non-removable, or at least not user-replaceable. It’s designed for easy repair should it become damaged, however. But you’ll have to buy a £20 replacement from eBay and do the job yourself.
The Etymotic ER4PT aren't at the cutting-edge of earphone-related frilly bits. However, there’s much less to complain about on the inside.
They use single, balanced armature drivers, and claim to be among the “most accurate” earphones available. Sure enough, they have a tone that emphasises detail, clarity and the separation between instruments.
The Etymotic ER4PT are slightly bright-sounding, with no extra bass down below to provide a safety cushion to balance out any harshness in the mids or treble. However, Etymotic isn't a new starter in the earphone world; it knows how to tune a driver.
There’s great mid-range texture and detail to the Etymotic ER4PT. Vocals are lifelike and "full", without needing to lean on extra bass for a similar effect – as some lesser earphones do.
Although £250 may seem like a lot to pay for a single-driver model, when earphones such as the Shure SE425 offer two for around the same price, the mid-range sophistication justifies the ER4PT’s place among similarly pricey peers.
Some accuse Etymotic’s earphones of sounding a bit "clinical", but this suggests there's something artificial in the sound, of which I found no evidence. It’s better to think of the Etymotic ER4PT as lean-sounding. They are a bit uncompromising, but worth savouring if your palate suits.
This sort of signature risks becoming tiring or a little harsh after some time, which is something I've found to be true of the lower-end Etymotic MK5.
This isn't the case here. While the ER4PTs don’t have the silky-smoothness of earphones with a bulkier sound, there’s no sense of sibilance or hard edges to the treble or mids. I'd expect no less at this price.
The question is whether you want what they’re selling. The Etymotic ER4PT offer true high-end sound, and – contrary to some reports – aren't anaemic at all. However, on occasion I did miss the extra sub-bass power heard from rivals such as the Sennheiser IE8i and Shure SE425.
While the ER4PT are capable of pumping out low bass frequencies, the volume at which they do so is generally lesser than most.
When asked to thwack out more aggressive or forceful music, the Etymotic ER4PT can seem a little restrained. They lack some of the power of, for example, earphones with secondary drivers whose entire remit is dealing with those lower frequencies.
One interesting extra bundled with the ER4PT in the UK is a converter cable that turns these earphones into the Etymotic ER-4S. This significantly reduces the output and flattens the frequency response even further. The character of the sound is similar, but it's worth checking out if you have a particularly loud source or are using a headphone amp of some kind.
Should I buy the Etymotic ER4PT?
The Etymotic ER4PT aren't high-tech earphones, at least not in a way most people will appreciate. There’s clever engineering at play to get the earpieces so slim, but the fit is unusual and the lack of a remote/hands-free may be a deal-breaker for some.
However, they still have great appeal for the audiophile crowd, which has always been Etymotic’s core audience. Good refinement and a zero-fat policy helps to deliver a clean, clear and detailed sound that's a great pairing for close listening.
That they exist is all the more important now that the somewhat comparable– but admittedly cheaper – Phonak Audeo PFE 112 Earphones are no longer available.
Elegant-sounding earphones for those willing to trade power for precision.