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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
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?
You should be able to get some ideas from this Knowles webinar video (the Etymotic ER4XR uses Knowles BA drivers and is mentioned in the early part of the video).
 
You should be able to get some ideas from this Knowles webinar video (the Etymotic ER4XR uses Knowles BA drivers and is mentioned in the early part of the video).
Wow, that is a super useful and well done tutorial! Thanks for posting it.
 
Wow, very interesting. Using multiple drivers in the same bandwidth with different responses to create a specific response. Amazing what you can get away with when you aren't worrying about directivity.
 
These were always for the market segment that wanted headphones/iem with that visibly flat FR contour aside from pinna bump, which was quite the rage when they released. Everyone at regular "audiophile" sites hyped that FR from like '07 until very recently like it was great b/c "details = good."

As far as isolation, meh. I put third-party triple-flange tips on anything if I want better isolation and seal (disposable ear-plug style foam tips are disgusting pretty much immediately imo, even in clean ears, and don't last at all). If that anything has reasonably close to Harman bass response or more, then bass porting, which slightly reduces isolation, is a necessity. Without bass porting the pressure waves just fatigue the ear drums and can actually hurt after a while.

Frankly it's amazing how much information is lost in real music with headphones having bass response like these. I recently(ish) upgraded with much cheaper, much closer to Harman tuned sets, to replace failing iems with similar FR, and I've been blown away by all the parts of the music I've been missing for years, with this awful FR contour. Most songs have info I never heard with so called "neutral" iems with similar FR to Ety's.

Sorry, but these and the many, many sets tuned like them were never very good, just hype, imo. This FR is less horrible at super-loud volumes, as the equal loudness contour slightly flattens, but still pretty much garbage FR that makes music unpleasant to listen to, imo.
 
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The Etymotic are some of the most comfortable IEMs I have worn and can wear them for hours. The passive isolation rivals ANC for most situations. The EVO was suppose to make up for the distortion and lack of bass in the the single driver but it didn't get very glowing reviews as I recall. I was looking forward to the EVO but the 500 price point and lackluster reviews killed my curiosity. The ER2XR go on sale for 75 or sometimes less and are a great value.
 
Nowadays this appears like an outdated and overpriced product. Also the flat bass, which is deliberate and their "target", is totally obsolete and just not right.
 
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What is going on at 250Hz and 18kHz+ on group delay graph? I suspect its flaw of balanced armature drivers. I think the cheaper dynamic driver ER2SE/XR would not only have lower distortion, it would have cleaner group delay, especially in treble.

At 250Hz it's just a byproduct of the FR curve (and quite likely a fixture / positioning artefact not necessarily happening in real ears).
At 18kHz+ it's noise.
Both unrelated to the driver per se.
 
Fine if you like that sort of bass response, but with IEMs I prefer a big bass boost, flat midrange (with a rise that comes later than Harman) and fairly boosted treble. I can still hear up to 17kHz but it needs a boost. So very much a U-shaped preference. So these are certainly not my preference.

However, if your listening tastes are fairly narrow i.t.o. genre this may still be a good buy.

Thanks for the review.
 
I’m always wondering how significant is Etymotics’ deep insert. It can be very uncomfortable for some (even unbearable) and ok for others. I’m in the later group, and like the noise isolation they provide.

Subjectively, they also sound better than what the measurements will lead me to believe—not that “bass-light”…

The great isolation cause me to use my ER4XR at lower volume than other IEMs.
The impact of deep insertion on occlusion effects has also been commented before: I believe it has to do with the Ety’s reaching and resting against a bony-part of the ear canal. Probably more important when used as a pro-monitor, but it’s easy to notice when I chew something and listen music at the same time.
I also read comments from bassists saying that the occlusion effect is also important for them (?) and the Ety’s are better pro-monitors…

So after this long intro… here’s my question: does Ety’s deep insert affect the “perceived” bass levels? In other words, is the flat, measured, bass response not as bad as it looks with a deep insert IEM—more perceived bass? Does the deep insert change the Fletcher-Munson typical curves and, at lower volumes, more bass are perceived with the Ety’s as compared to other IEMs?
 
Does the deep insert change the Fletcher-Munson typical curves and, at lower volumes, more bass are perceived with the Ety’s as compared to other IEMs?
I own an ER2XR and a Salnotes Zero both of which I use frequently. Their bass shelves look pretty similar in measurements and to me sound very similar, so I would say no. Also I owned an HF5 for quite a few years until it broke, and I had to dial in a similar bass shelf to get subjectively natural bass response (in classical music).
 
Would never buy any IEMs like these simply because of ergonomics and fit
Excellent ergonomics and fit, very comfortable! And this girl uses them very, very wrong - she put such a huge ear tips that they are not even able to enter her ears. Nothing should stick outside.
 
How come some IEM reviews are capped at 94db for distortion measurements and others range between 94db-114db?
Also just an uninformed question how do we differentiate between THD % distortion and RMS Level dSPL Distortion?
 
I bought ER4S in 2005, so soon they will be 20 years old. I also have ER2SE, ER3SE which are very similar between each other.
ER4S was the best audio purchase ever as they still work and are used to this day.
The type of tips is very important. Standard foams or Comply P100 give the best isolation and best sound.

In the right situation they give a feeling of only "you and music" and music forming a contious sound field around you with subtle details easily perceivable. At night, their bass levels are sufficient. Etymotics also have this effect that certain sounds or music elements can be perceived as if they happen around you and not in record. So several times I was spooked with this.

No other headphone or IEM ever did this.

For me they beat HD600 and Audeze LCD2.2 that I also have.
And I never listen to my two Harman based transducers, K371 and Truthear Zero:Red. Very bland and boring.
 
How come some IEM reviews are capped at 94db for distortion measurements and others range between 94db-114db?
From what I can tell, Amir tests all IEMs at 94, 104, and 114dB SPL.

You can click through all IEM reviews here to confirm:

Also just an uninformed question how do we differentiate between THD % distortion and RMS Level dSPL Distortion?
Not sure what you mean by differentiate.

THD % is simply the gap between the fundamental dB SPL and THD dB SPL, converted from dB to %.

It's the same data, presented in a different manner.
 
At 250Hz it's just a byproduct of the FR curve (and quite likely a fixture / positioning artefact not necessarily happening in real ears).
At 18kHz+ it's noise.
Both unrelated to the driver per se.
It is absolutely related to the driver. Etymotic ER3 and ER4 have brickwall-esque roll off past 17kHz. You actually might be right, it might be noise macking the group delay graph go crazy becose once there is insuficient signal amplitude, the group delay calculating algorythm will grab onto anything that its recievewing and that will in case of ER4 be ambient and electronic noise.
 
Wow, pretty surprised to see these measurements not pan out in a stellar way. I had a pair of these (somehow lost them, what a dumbass) and I have to say I prized them for their clarity, so the relatively high distortion is a surprise. Lacking bass is not.


Maybe the sense of clarity I remember comes from shoving them a hair's breadth from your eardrum. I don't know of another IEM that feels as much like brain surgery as listening to music. :)

Or, perhaps the excellent isolation they offer (really, better than ANC on an airplane) makes the sound seem so clear? Or maybe I just like a little midrange distortion and I'm rationalizing.

Well, thanks for the review... stuff to think about here.
 
Wow, pretty surprised to see these measurements not pan out in a stellar way. I had a pair of these (somehow lost them, what a dumbass) and I have to say I prized them for their clarity, so the relatively high distortion is a surprise. Lacking bass is not.


Maybe the sense of clarity I remember comes from shoving them a hair's breadth from your eardrum. I don't know of another IEM that feels as much like brain surgery as listening to music. :)

Or, perhaps the excellent isolation they offer (really, better than ANC on an airplane) makes the sound seem so clear? Or maybe I just like a little midrange distortion and I'm rationalizing.

Well, thanks for the review... stuff to think about here.
What anc have you compared them to? Anc to me is the biggest step forward in fidelity I've experienced in many years, and I'm curious how well these work in that regard.
 
What anc have you compared them to? Anc to me is the biggest step forward in fidelity I've experienced in many years, and I'm curious how well these work in that regard.
I haven't heard the absolute newest stuff (XM5, newest Bose) but I have a pair of the Sony WH-1000XM4, and the Etymotics are (IMO) no worse in practice, actually I think better because I think the isolation is less frequency dependent. The cost: shove IEMs further into your ear than initially seems prudent.

If you look up the claims of dB isolation / cancellation, you'll also see that etys are objectively in the same league or better.

I personally wouldn't call ANC a step forward in fidelity per se, but a whole new category of functionality that I personally really like. But it's sometimes hard to beat a good old fashioned seal.

FWIW anecdote: even distinctly non-audiophile friends who travel a lot have confirmed that the Etys do really well in terms of noise isolation.
 
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(If I were to share my experiences carefully) I used er2xr, and I honestly don't know the quality of ety's sound compared to hiditions VientoB Ciem, which takes equally deep insertion depth. Also, maybe it's because the East/Western people's earholes and the width inside the ear canal are different, but ety's three-speed ear tip was a good fit, but it always left damage to the ears. It seems that this is because the skin before the second bend is very sensitive and weak, and the silicone ear tip scratches on it, so it can't be helped.
 
It is absolutely related to the driver. Etymotic ER3 and ER4 have brickwall-esque roll off past 17kHz. You actually might be right, it might be noise macking the group delay graph go crazy becose once there is insuficient signal amplitude, the group delay calculating algorythm will grab onto anything that its recievewing and that will in case of ER4 be ambient and electronic noise.

That's indeed what is happening, hence why I wrote "per se". Another IEM with, let's say, another type of driver, would have the exact same problem if the signal / noise ratio wasn't any better, whether because the signal is too low or the noise too high :D.
 
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