Etymotic Research ER.4 microPro Headphones - Etymotic Research ER.4 microPro

By Riyad Emeran



Our Score:


The ER.4 microPros ship with three sizes of triple flange silicone tips, none of which I found comfortable. I couldn’t manage to get a good seal with any of the triple flange tips, but then I don’t even like double flange tips and far prefer single flange designs. Thankfully you also get five pairs of foam tips in the box and these work very well indeed. The sound isolation is first rate using the foam tips, and I also found these headphones very comfortable to wear for extended periods using the foam tips.

Also in the box is a 3.5mm to full-size headphone converter, in case you want to use these with your home hi-fi. But it was the inclusion of a little plastic tube containing four tiny metal cylinders that confused me at first. A quick flick through the instruction manual revealed that each headphone is equipped with a tiny filter, ensuring that no ear wax or dirt ever makes it near the driver. If the filters become clogged or blocked they can be replaced with the spare units in the plastic tube – there’s even a specific tool provided for replacing the filters. I have never seen anything like this before, and it means that you don’t have to dig around inside the headphone to clean it when it gets dirty, thus saving your expensive audio device from any inadvertent damage.

When it comes to sound quality the ER.4 microPros don’t disappoint. Once I’d switched to the foam tips, the noise isolation was excellent and the bass response much improved. Etymotic market these headphones as “the next best thing to live music”, which is a pretty bold claim. With this in mind I fired up the Rolling Stones classic, Paint it Black, having heard it played live at the Millennium Stadium only a few days ago. The result was very impressive – the guitar intro comes across as subtly haunting, just as it should do, while the vocals are strong and incisive.

Next up was the live rendition of Hotel California by The Eagles, and again the ER.4 microPros did themselves proud – every pick of every string on every guitar could be separated from the next, while the percussion was strong but not in any way overwhelming. Spybreak! by the Propellerheads showed that these headphones don’t suffer from a lack of bass response like the Shure e4c set, although the sound still wasn’t as full as with the Ultimate Ears super-fi Pros.

But where these headphones really excel is when they have to cope with a wide dynamic range. I found myself listening to Breath Me by Sia over and over again. The solo piano intro is crystal clear, while the sound of Sia sighing before drawing a breath to begin singing is easily audible, while on other headphones it can sound muffled. The introduction of the xylophone adds weight to proceedings and again, each strike can be picked out over the piano and vocals, without intruding on them. As the song builds to its crescendo ending, you can still pick out every single instrument, despite the fact that your whole head is just awash with sound.


December 13, 2008, 10:07 pm

If I'm not wrong Etymotic Research products (or IEMs because I don't think they hav cans yet) are well-known for "recording-standard music reproduction". That means that while the music may or may not be as warm compared to other IEMs like the UEs, Shure or Westone, the ER IEMs stay faithful to the source of the music.

You don't even need to turn up the volume to that 'comfortable' level and you can hear all the details in the music. Be careful with these though - as with high-end earphones, the "rubbish in, rubbish out" will come in. Etymotic Research IEMs are especially unforgiving, they will duplicate not only your superb guitar riffs and saxophone blowing, but static and artifacts caused by file compression will ALL come out. Yeah, I'm not kidding. I own a pair of ER-6is, the cheaper (and slightly weaker of course) version of the ER-4 series (together with the ER-6), and while being a little more than twice as cheap, their music reproduction was top-notch. So I would go out of my way to say that whoever are looking for note-for-note reproduction of their music, will not be dissatisfied with the ER-4 'phones, whether it be ER-4P, ER-4S or ER-4B.

One final note to whoever reviewed this product and to potential buyers - the triple flange sleeves may be comfortable to some, uncomfortable for larger ears. BUT, one thing these "Christmas tree" sleeves guarantee is near-total passive noise isolation. Go on an aeroplane or a subway train, the most you'll ever hear (or feel) is vibration from the transport in question. The foams also do the same to a certain degree, but I personally prefer the silicone sleeves. They give greater clarity and isolation, while the foams are, I heard, known for giving warmer sound and better-sounding bass - and the ER IEMs are known to be generally bass-deficient somehow, and therefore not recommended for bassheads.

As for this sentence "The Ultimate Ears provide a more powerful sound than the Etymotics, meaning that you don’t need to crank the volume quite so high", the ER-4 series have considerably higher impedence, i.e. more electrical resistance. While portables like the iPod can drive the music fairly well, it is recommended you get an amplifier to compliment an ER-4S/P/B. And so I've heard in places like, that the only amplifier reviewed in this website, the Graham Slee Voyager, is a great match with the ER-4s! Some even go so far as to claim that they are a "pair married in heaven".

But as far as hi-fi audio goes, it is said that your ears and your heart are your best friends. Try them out at a retail store if you can - or otherwise, hunt down those reviews. But PLEASE take them reviews, and notwithstanding my comment here, with a pinch of salt. Your ears are different from mine, and you might find something I didn't.

Enjoy your ER-4!

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