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Etymotic ER4XR IEM Review

Rate this IEM:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 39 24.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 71 45.2%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 32 20.4%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 15 9.6%

  • Total voters
    157
Very interesting and wonderful to have these tested! These had been my favourite prior to the latest generation -- I preferred them over JH13s etc. But with 7Hz Zero 2 on the market, the only obvious advantage for these could be for applications where you need the barrel shape and deep insertion
I have tried numerous recent IEM's that are popular on ASR and none of them works for me. Part of that is my use-case and perhaps part is my ear canals. For listening to classical music, opera and jazz on a two hour commuter train my Etymotic ER4SR with barrel-shaped foam tips deeply inserted is the only headphone where I can listen at a reasonable volume and still enjoy quiet passages. Train noise is pushed into deep background and music sounds great to me without equalization.

I have tried Comply and other third-party foam tips with other IEMs and none come close to Etymotic for noise isolation. About ER4SR cable noise: I point the stems up and wind the cables behind my ears, which takes care of that problem.

I would like to not be so dependent on a single supplier of tips for a single IEM. I would like a faster, easier insertion/removal routine, but for a long commuter ride that's not a huge burden. I've considered ordering custom ear molds for the ER4SR, but the rated noise isolation is significantly below the barrel-shaped foam tips.

I'm open to any alternative that gets close to 40db noise isolation with good sound quality.
 
Thanks for the review, I have these.

I find they can give nice bass (obviously not massive booming bass) but it does depend on pretty deep insertion and getting a really good seal.

@amirm did you notice any variability in the low end measurements (or listening tests) as you adjusted the fit?
 
interesting that even XR version does not have much bass. wonder how SR would perform.

btw the sound can be tweaked by using different filters on Etymotics.
would be cool to measure that although filters would be ruined, they can't be interchanged without damaging them.
 
interesting that even XR version does not have much bass. wonder how SR would perform.

btw the sound can be tweaked by using different filters on Etymotics.
would be cool to measure that although filters would be ruined, they can't be interchanged without damaging them.
ER4SR bass sounds great to me using the barrel-shaped foam tips. I could never get decent bass with silicone tips, on Etymotics or any other brand.
 
I bought the ER4-P back in 2005 ish to use with my iPod or Iriver H340/Ray Samuels Tomahawk amp after being sucked in by the Headfi fanboys and I think I lasted a few weeks with them, utterly shit microphonic cable so useless for walking around, woefully anaemic sound and “that” fit. Very quickly went back to my sennheiser CX300’s and HD25’s/Koss Porta Pro headphone.
 
I own an ER2XR, which has a proper bass shelf out of the box and just needs to have the bit of extra energy around 2.5 kHz tamed. Given that, it sounds every bit as good as my Salnotes Zero, but certainly not better. So why did I buy it at 5x the price (to replace my old HF5 which finally died)? Because sometimes I want the extra isolation. I would not buy any other Ety.
 
Ive had mine since the late 90s, seemed like alien technology at the time, maybe the only time in my life I have been ahead of a trend.

Then and now, 100% of the joy of these for me is for the great isolation. I used them in the college computer lab to focus on work. Got a 20dB headstart on dynamic range for these in that setting. Ear plugs with built in music feature. So many other options these days though.
 
Our daughter has a degree with honors in Speech, Language, and Hearing Science, and while she is not an audiologist, she learned to examine ear canals before her study abroad trip to India.

She took one look at the deep insertion tips and said that there was a good reason I could never get them to fit. We both have an unusually sharp angle in our canals that prevents it, and she said forcing it in would likely cause injury.

I have the ER3SE and only used them with the Klipsch "black olive" oval tips plus EQ to boost the low end. Now that I have the Crinacle Zero the Etys are on permanent hiatus LOL.
 
I recall this being a pretty good value IEM only a few years back. Over $100 but under $150. Am I confusing it with something else or did the price go way up?
You might confuse it with the ER2XR.
The ER2XR was released later, it has a dynamic driver (ER4XR is Balanced armature) and more sub bass. It might have less distortion.

Personally, I indeed paid for my ER4XR like 120 as it bought it used.

One little but mentionworthy plus for the ER4XR is that you get a little paper with measurements for your personal exemplar which also guarantees that the channel matching does not exceed a certain extent.
 
The John Holmes of IEMs. And it's apparent any number of newer, cheaper designs deliver cleaner, more Harman like performance. Just not worth the pain or the money IMHO.
 
I bought the HF5 and ER4S a decade ago. I keep using them incrementally adjusting EQ, swapping tips, swappign filter until hopefully achieving a good subjective frequency responce. That never really came to fruition so after a few years I sold them. The difference in sound quality between the Etymotics and something like Truthear Red is like the difference between 78rpm and CD to me.
 
I have tried numerous recent IEM's that are popular on ASR and none of them works for me. Part of that is my use-case and perhaps part is my ear canals. For listening to classical music, opera and jazz on a two hour commuter train my Etymotic ER4SR with barrel-shaped foam tips deeply inserted is the only headphone where I can listen at a reasonable volume and still enjoy quiet passages. Train noise is pushed into deep background and music sounds great to me without equalization.

I have tried Comply and other third-party foam tips with other IEMs and none come close to Etymotic for noise isolation. About ER4SR cable noise: I point the stems up and wind the cables behind my ears, which takes care of that problem.

I would like to not be so dependent on a single supplier of tips for a single IEM. I would like a faster, easier insertion/removal routine, but for a long commuter ride that's not a huge burden. I've considered ordering custom ear molds for the ER4SR, but the rated noise isolation is significantly below the barrel-shaped foam tips.

I'm open to any alternative that gets close to 40db noise isolation with good sound quality.
Anything non-vented and trying some different style tips like double-flange or foam. Kiwi Orchestra Lite to name one.
 
I recall this being a pretty good value IEM only a few years back. Over $100 but under $150. Am I confusing it with something else or did the price go way up?
Adorama was steeply discounting Etymotics for a time, within the last two or three years. I bought ER3SE there for $50, and I believe the ER4SR was selling for about $140 or so. That's still expensive compared to the competition today. The Etymotics may be bass-light, but the superior isolation helps you hear what bass there is, even in noisy environments.
 
This is a review, listening tests, equalization and detailed measurements of the Etymotic ER4XR IEM. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $300.

View attachment 371943
Perhaps there is no more famous IEM manufacturer than IEM. I think I got my original Etymotics some 30 years ago. The E4XR has slightly higher bass response than the E4SR which I purchased a few years ago.

Different set of tips are provided. For measurements, I used their conical silicone tips which provided a challenge in getting accurate measurements. For listening, I had to use the foam one as the silicon tips have never fit my ear canal.

If you are not familiar with my IEM/Headphone measurements, I suggest you watch this tutorial:

Etymotic ER4XR Measurements
Let's start with our standard frequency response measurements:
View attachment 371945
As expected, we have flat bass response. Compliance then gets good with some extra lower treble response. For EQ development we have the difference between our measurement and target:
View attachment 371946

I was disappointed to see rather high distortion in mid frequencies:
View attachment 371947

We see a large jump at 114 dBSPL with the graph changing shape, indicating limiting. Seeing how we need to boost bass, that concerns me some.

Another surprise was low sensitivity:
View attachment 371948

I expect it to need fair bit of power despite rather low impedance:
View attachment 371949

Group delay was uneventful:
View attachment 371950

Etymotic ER4XR Listening Tests and Equalization
First impression was that the sound was "fine." From experience I know that without a comparison reference, these impressions can be faulty so I developed a set of filters one by one:
View attachment 371951
I first dialed in the bass shelving filter. That added warmth to even female vocals where you don't think you need much bass. I then put in a pair of filters to create the flat top EQ we need for that area. This took away some sharpness that was there without it. Filling the hole at 6.1 kHz is tricky as the two channels don't match so I used a conservative value. With all the filters in place, AB testing shows very nice transformation with EQ, with sound being more full bodied and at the same time, with very nice resolution in higher frequencies. My reference tracks sounded fantastic now. Turning off EQ didn't make the experience terrible but for my preference, EQ made a large, positive difference.

I had to have my RME ADI-2 Pro level where I usually have headphones at some -20 dB. Playing sub-bass heavy track as you see in the above display, causes static indicating that I had hit the limit of performance even though the overall volume was not especially high. Turning volume down most eliminated the static but the notes were clearly distorted.

Spatial qualities with EQ were very good for an IEM.

Conclusions
This is a type of iconic IEM you want to have tested. While some of the performance characteristics such as flattish bass was as expected, the high distortion was not. Nor was the slight treble exaggeration. This is an expensive IEM at $300 with an out of box performance that doesn't satisfy in this day and age. With EQ though it does sound excellent.

I can't recommend the Etymotic ER4XR IEM as is. If you have it, I highly suggest equalizing as it nicely improves performance.
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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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I have these, though I don't use them much anymore. The noise isolation is pretty good for air travel, but they just become too damned uncomfortable after a couple of hours. And yeah, even the XR is subjectively bass-shy.

As much as I hate the bulk, I will spring for a pair of over-ear ANC cans for my next long flight. About all the Etys are good for now is BART rides.
 
I recently stopped using these because I could not put up with the discomfort of the fit anymore. I am one of the outliers who hears Ety bass as neutral/ correct. People should get the 2 series though, as they are cheaper and have lower distortion with the same sound. Maybe the real appeal of these now is the ultra isolation, which is a good thing. I mean, I heard my heart beat and blood flowing through my veins it was so quiet.

As has been said above, the market has moved on......
 
Does anyone know how IEMs are adjusted tonally? Like if you're designing one, and you want to alter the response, what parts of the design do you need to change, and can you predictably alter response by changing parts of the design? I don't believe they have passive filters?
 
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