The problem with the majority of digital music players is that for the most part the bundled headphones range from below average to downright awful. Unfortunately most users tend to just use what’s given to them, without ever realising just how much better the sound could be from their iPod, Zen, Walkman etc. I can understand why most people don’t want to walk around with huge cans stuck to the side of their head, but these days you can buy some truly exceptional in-ear headphones that will allow you to appreciate just how good your player can sound.
Recently we’ve looked at some high end in-ear headphones from both Shure and Ultimate Ears, and for me the Ulimate Ears super-fi Pros represent the benchmark in this area. Their dual driver design provided superb clarity coupled with strong bass response – exactly what I was looking for from a set of headphones. The Shure e4c set also offered pin sharp clarity, but the distinct lack of bass let them down in my opinion, although Spode is still a fan. Now I have a set of Etymotic ER.4 microPro headphones, which also play in the high end, high cost in-ear headphone arena, and put in the simplest of terms this set sits somewhere between the Ultimate Ears super-fi Pro and the Shure e4c sets.
As you’d hope from a high end set of headphones, they don’t just arrive in plastic, blister packaging – oh no, these babies come in a large presentation box with all the parts laid out like an assassin’s weapon case. The design of the ear buds themselves is very distinctive in a kind of love or hate way. The first thing you notice is that the headphones are not labelled R and L, instead they are just red and blue, with the red one being for the right ear. I guess that this isn’t something you’d forget once you read the manual, but I honestly don’t see why they can’t ALSO have R and L embossed on them.
On a more positive note, the cable is not only very long, but also coated in thick and strong black PVC, giving it an almost industrial look. There’s also a cable clip in the box, so you can make sure that you don’t snag the long cable on anything and pull a headphone from your ear. Continuing the distinctive look are the headphones themselves – I have never seen a set of in-ear headphones that look quite like these. Rather than having a bulbous end with an ear-tip like most in-ear designs, the ER.4 micorPros are long and thin, and protrude a fair way out of your ear. In fact, the headphone casings are so thin, that it’s hard to believe that there can be anything resembling a decent driver inside, but believe me, there is!