Etymotic ER-4 MicroPro & Shure E3 Earphones

by | Aug 7, 2005 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

1) ER-4s in case
2) ER-4s close up
3) E3s 
Etymotic ER-4


SRP: $250

Response Accuracy:
    ER-4S MicroPro Earphones: 92%
    ER-4P MicroPro Earphones: 86%
Noise Isolation: 35-42 dB
Frequency response: 50-10 kHz ± 2 dB; 20-16 kHz ±4 dB
Acoustic polarity: + electrical = + acoustic
Transducer type: balanced armature
1 kHz sensitivity (ER-4B/ER-4S): 108 dB SPL for a 0.79 V input
    (90 dB @ 0.1 V; 100 dB @ 1mW)
1 kHz sensitivity (ER-4P): 108 dB SPL for a 0.2 V input
    (102 dB @ 0.1 V; 106 dB @ 1mW)
Impedance (ER-4B/ER-4S): 100 Ohms nominal
Impedance (ER-4P): 27 Ohms nominal
Maximum output: 122 dB SPL
Maximum continuous input (ER-4B/ER-4S): 3.0 Vrms
Maximum continuous input (ER-4P): .75 Vrms
Weight: less than 1 oz.

Shure E3

1(800) 25-SHURE
SRP: $199.00

Transducer Type: single low mass/high energy
Sensitivity (at 1 kHz): 115 dB SPL/mW
Impedance (at 1 kHz) 26 ohms
Output Connector: Gold-plated stereo, 3.5 mm (1/8-inch) phone plug
Cable Length: 1.57 m (62 in.)

Testing equipment:

SanDisk Sansa MP3 Player
Apple 20 GB iPod M9282LL/A
Dell DHP with SoundMAX Integrated Digital Audio

week my peace of mind was saved by audio technology. I was sitting in a
barber chair and a three-year old got into the one next to me. From the
way this little bugger screamed, you would have thought he was getting
a tooth pulled without Novocain. Two people left the shop in disgust. I
didn’t. I donned my Etymotic Research ER-4 MicroPro earphones, jamming
them so far into my ears the triple-flange eartips tickled, and played
Frank Zappa’s Roxy And Elsewhere on my SanDisk Sansa MP3 player. I
smiled as I sat in the chair next to this pint-sized caterwauler. I
could hear nothing but “Penguin in Bondage.” “We cannot bid the ear be
still,” says Wordsworth, but now we can certainly choose what goes in.
We can sound-isolate.

Two earphone sets are leaders in this field and both surpass the
default earphones that come with the Sensa and the iPod. First, 
the ER-4s. They are a good choice for the relatively new field of sound
isolation. Etymotic’s marketing literature talks a lot about
“transparency” and “reference quality” when it describes them. The mid
and high tones are excellent. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto came through
with such pristine tones I could hear the percussion more vividly than
through my large Grado SR 225 headphones connected to my home theater.
Alas, the bass response leaves something to be desired. [When I
reviewed the Etymotics some years ago I found they had much greater
bass response than the Grados or any standard headphones – if inserted
tightly into the ears.  However, I had a clicking in one ear for
several days after a plane flight with them…Ed. ]

Their external noise exclusion — 35 dB with triple-flange eartips, 42
dB with foam eartips – is quite impressive. Some may find the
triple-flange eartips hard to get used to. I did, so I switched to the
ones that came with the Shure E3s, not included of course in the
original package but readily available on the Internet. I find them
more ear-canal-friendly. The cables leading from the ER-4 phones are
somewhat too thin, so they transmit noise more easily than most. I use
them more as sitting-still computer headsets than as walking-around MP3
player earphones. If you do, note that the green splitter is heavy, so
use them with the provided clothing clip. Unlike other earphones, you
can’t loop them easily around your ears to reduce weight drag. Use the

The set comes with an impressive case containing spare foam and
triple-flange eartips. It even has a cleaning tool and filter changer,
two items you may not need much if you keep your ear canals clean.
(Don’t use Q-tips–purchase an over-the-counter liquid or mix 50/50
solution of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol.) The Shure E3 earphones
were a pleasant surprise. At about $50 cheaper than the ER-4s you’d
expect them to be deficient in some way? Not so. They come in two
colors, the E3c (white) and the E3 (gray), which I tested. The box is
quite a struggle to open, so get some strong scissors and find a good
storage case for the accouterments, because you will destroy the case.
The earphones weigh less than an ounce and come with a sturdy,
reinforced carrying case, but no clothing clip. Normally inferior
headphones give me a headache after forty minutes, but these, like the
ER-4s, didn’t. They also are packaged with more comfortable sleeves.
The soft edges of the gray ones seem to accommodate my tender ear
canals better than the triple flanges that come with the ER4s.

Note that these sleeves are easy to change. For example, I removed the
ER-4’s triple flanges and replaced them with the transparent semi-hard
enclosures that also came with the E3s. They aren’t as sound-isolating
as the triple flanges, which in turn aren’t as isolating as the foam
sleeves. The earphone is also bent forward at an angle, so it not only
stays securely in the ear canal, it also allows you to wrap the wire
around your ear. Some have reported success with this configuration,
but I found the wire kept unwrapping unless I held it in place with my
wire rimmed glasses.

The sound is superb. They seem to have more punch both at the low end
and in the midtones than the ER-4’s. This makes them excellent choices
for those ultra-compact MP3 players that compromise some sound for
miniaturization, like the diminutive SanDisk Sansa. On the Apple 20 GB
iPod M9282LL/A the sound was more transparent and clear. For classical
music like the new Universal recording of Benjamin Britten’s Cello
Sonata (Opus 65), the instruments came through as if I was listening
with my Grado SR-225’s (actually at bit better). I kept finding new
details, particular in the piano accompaniment. I got similar results
listening through my Dell computer. Don’t expect sizzling highs and
booming bass, though. You’ll need over-the-ear models for that. With
both of these earphone, note that it takes about seven days of wearing
them to get the best seal. You will get better results with the foam
sleeves, but they stiffen with age and must be replaced more often than
you’d like. These earphones go in deeply, so keep your ears clean of
wax, or you’ll end up having to dismantle and clean them often. [The
popular stipulation against using cotton swabs is a bit extreme to my
thinking; just use them to carefully clean the sides of the ear canal
and don’t push them in…Ed.]

– Peter Bates


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