The idea of writing this review came up after we have finished writing the review on the Fischer Audio Eterna. The Eterna opened my eyes how I was able to get so much sound for not so much money. IEMs are getting cheaper and sounding better, on a different level from 4 years ago when IEM market were dominated by Shure, Etymotic, and Ultimate Ears. New IEM manufacturers like Phonak, Fischer Audio, Hifiman Sleek, Jays, many others, and even Monster have produced IEMs that can be mentioned in the same sentence as the offerings from more established companies.
Since the last review we had done was on relatively bassy IEMs, for this review I am assembling a trio of relatively detail-oriented IEMs that shines on the mid to upper part of the frequency range, while keeping the bass on the tight side, a nice way of saying not so much bass. They are not going to produce thumping bass, but I will take good sound across the frequency range anyday over a one-trick bass pony. Keep in mind that if you are listening to a lot of dance, trance, and bass beats driven music, the bass presentation of these three IEMs may not be optimal for those music, as it punches more than it thumps.
Etymotic Research ER4
First one up is the Etymotic ER4, which I owned for 3 good years till I sold it last year. One of the first mass-produced IEM, the ER4 has been an old mainstay in the IEM market. It has amazingly retained the same technology and design since the first time it was introduced in 1991. And they are still considered by some to be among the best-sounding IEM in what they do. The version I’m using for this review is the ER4P, pairing it with a DIY 75 ohm impedance adapter to turn it into an ER4S. Etymotic Research has acknowledged that the difference between the ER4P and ER4S models is just their impedance rating. So basically, by adding impedance in the signal path, you can virtually convert an ER4P into ER4S.
One of the features that I like about the ER4 has that is still unmatched by other universal-fit IEMs is its great isolation to outside noise, 35-42db outside noise reduction as claimed by Etymotic. Because of this, they are ideal for subways and airplane flights, but walking around in the street with the ER4 on is hazardous as you’ll be partially unaware of your surroundings. Its sheer isolation really transports you to a music chamber of your own. This tradeoff is that the ER4 is not terribly comfortable. Microphonic is also an issue with the ER4, and you can hear some sound your foot stomp if you’re walking with the ER4 on.
With the RE-0 being priced at $79 and the planned lowered price of the Phonak, the ER4 is the most expensive IEM in this comparison. However, I would say that the extra money might be worth it for Etymotic’s warranty and service. I have excellent experience with Etymotic’s repair service; they have lots of ER4 parts ready and offer all kinds of repair at reasonable price even for out of warranty ER4s. However, the reliable service center is located in U.S., and outside U.S., you may have to ship your ER4 in, adding to the cost.