You can tell how successful a product is by how long it stays competitive in the marketplace. Judging by that one criteria, the Etymotic ER4 might be the king of all headphones.
Beginning in 1991 and then updated in mid-2000s as the efficient ‘4P/4PT’ iteration for iPod users, the ER4 has always been one of our top choices for listeners seeking pure clarity and acoustic precision without breaking the bank. Now updated with a deeper bass presence, the Etymotic ER-4XR ‘Extended Response’ model continues to deliver a balanced and clearly detailed sound with the classically crisp Etymotic tone that highlights speed and quickness over low-end impact.
Despite the newly beefed-up bass, the midranges remain linear with a seamless extension into the upper highs that’s among the most dynamic we’ve heard. Vocals are crisp and earthy with exceptional clarity of acoustic/electric guitar tones and brass/horn line textures. If anything given its ‘Extended Bass’ moniker, we would have wished for a bit more assured extension into the deepest lows. Our review team noted a slightly undistinguished tendency in the lowest octave that felt somewhat unresolved at times. That being said, its completely remarkable how the Etymotic ER4XR stays in league with some in-ear headphones at 2X and 3X its price, including even some very pricey custom-molded in-ears.
The Etymotic ER 4XR employs machine anodized laser-etched aluminum earpiece housings that are 100% engineered and manufactured in the USA. True to Etymotic origins, the design remains a balanced armature construction utilizing a single microdriver which Etymotic claims are more seamless and cohesive than multiple drivers given their complex crossover networks and time-phase alignment bugaboos. The ER4XR sound is indeed highly competent and effortlessly coherent with a slightly V-shaped curve that places a mild emphasis at the upper and lower parts of the frequency spectrum. Again, the lowest part of the sub-bass response can become slightly undefined at times but we feel the added heft improves the tonal warmth of the headphones without subtracting too much openness or negatively impacting the clarity of the mids or highs. So for modern listeners wanting a full punchy bass presentation, the ER-4XR represents a noticeable improvement over the more aloof, drier sound of the old ER-4P.
We will again mention that these 100% made-in-the-USA Etymotic in-ear headphones offer perhaps the best audiophile bang-for-the-buck value in all of in-ear headphone land. At this affordable price, we think discerning listeners seeking a serious high-fidelity sound with utmost mids/highs clarity and a lively, cheerful tone will be shocked when comparing these against more expensive earphones in their collection. The ER4XR earpiece snugs deeply into the ear to provide superb noise isolation, but some listeners may also find the precise insertion depth to be a bit uncomfortable after a few hours. It’s important to try all the various eartips provided in the box to determine which set offers the most comfortable fit and best sound quality. Remember a good eartip fit into the ears will also deliver the best bass presence!
The updated Etymotic ER4XR in-ear headphone features the same exacting 1dB match between left and right channels across all audible frequencies to ensure the most perfectly balanced audio performance possible. Individual channel-matching performance charts signed off and dated by Etymotic technicians are included with each pair of new Etymotic ER4 series earphones. Also included in the package are five sets of eartips (2 grey foam sets, 3 silicon triple-flange tips in S/M/L sizes), an eartip filter removal tool, sets of replacement filters plus a soft travel/storage case.
What's in the box: