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Etymotic Research ER.4 microPro Headphones review

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8

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!

XiaXueYi

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 Head-Fi.org, 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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