Review: Etymotic ER4-XR & ER4-SR – Impressive!

Disclaimer: The Etymotic ER4 XR and SR were sent to us by KS Distribution in Germany. The samples don’t need to be returned.

 

Etymotic

Never heard of Etymotic before? Impossible! Etymotic Research is an engineering-driven research, development and manufacturing company. The name “Etymotic” (pronounced “et-im-oh-tik.”) means “true to the ear.” Mead Killion, Ph.D. founded Etymotic Research in 1983 to design products that accurately assess hearing, improve the lives of those with hearing loss, protect hearing, and enhance the listening experience of musicians and music lovers everywhere.

With deep roots in acoustic research and the hearing aid industry, Etymotic invented insert earphones in 1984. Etymotic’s original earphone design used balanced armature receivers, which established these speakers as the gold standard for high definition in-ear earphones. The first versions were used for diagnostic testing and precision auditory research (ER-1, 2, 3). Etymotic produced the first noise-isolating high-fidelity in-ear earphone, the ER-4 (1991), which became the basis of all subsequent in-ear earphones and in-ear monitors worldwide, and created an entire category of consumer electronics. The ER-4 earphones are still produced and channel-balanced to within 1 dB in Etymotic’s labs in the US.

So we really have a lot to thank to Etymotic!

ER4-Series

So yes, the Etymotic ER4-series are legendary. Mike reviewed the ER4 back in 2010 already and they worldwide are held in very high regards by those professionally working in audio and by music lovers seeking neutrality and detail. If the ER4 still doesn’t ring a bell then maybe a picture will do the trick as the Etymotic design is very typical.

Etymotic has now relaunched their ER4-series with two new editions named the ER4-XR and ER4-SR. SR stands for Studio Reference and XR stands for Extended Response. The ER4 earphones have a balanced armature speaker with precision matched, custom tuned drivers. Each set is handpicked left and right to get the best possible match.

The ER4 has unsurpassed frequency response accuracy and sound quality — 92%+ response accuracy from 20 Hz – 16 kHz and with 122dB they have the highest output sensitivity in its class.

The older models will remain in Etymotic’s inventory and available for sale until late 2017 or as supplies last. There’s an excellent Head-Fi thread on the ER4-Series right here, should you want to discuss this IEM any further.

Build Quality & Comfort

The build quality of the new ER4-series is excellent but I didn’t expect anything less from the US based Etymotic. The inear units have that typical small and long shape and deep insertion the ER4-series is known for. The new ER4 models feature metal bodies with an anodized finish and you’ll find the serial number of each unit printed on the housing, and the measurement of that driver is in the box. The ER4-SR and the ER4-XR have drivers that are unique to their respective models. They are not the same drivers as in previous generations of the ER4.

The cable actually is detachable (MMCX termination) but I haven’t felt the need to try a different cable on these monitors at all. The cable itself is flexible and completely friction noise free. It measures about 5ft and it’s terminated with a 90° 3.5mm plug. It has never tangled up.

The ER4 comes delivered with two types of tip: the typical Etymotic triple silicone tip and the big yellow foam tip. I personally prefer the comfort and isolation of the foam tips most and I have no issues with listening to these for hours without any break. When you’ve plugged the ER4 in your ear you even with no music playing get a very high level of isolation. That means you don’t have to turn the volume up very high to get to your preferred listening volume which of course is safer for your hearing. At the same time do watch out when using these in public as practically all outside sound will be blocked out. Etymotic says that you, depending on the tips used, will get isolation levels between 35 and 42dB, and that’s extreme. (Most CIEM are around 26dB) If you don’t like the feel of custom inears or universal IEMs with a deep insertion, then the Etymotic ER4-series might not be for you. I personally have no issues with the deep insertion myself.

The Etymotic ER4 earphones always come with a 2-year replacement warranty. On top of that the filters, which are used to protect the BA driver from ear wax, are user replaceable. Did you know that the ER4-series are also available with a custom fit molded piece upon request?

Price & Accessories

Both ER4-models are available for $349 USD and around €370€. In return for that you get a reasonably pretty (yet useless once unpacked) box, the earphones, a detachable 5 ft. Cord, a ¼ stereo phone adaptor, an assortment of eartips, the filter removal tool and replacement filters, a shirt clip, a storage case and the performance certificate with the me measurements.

At this price level that’s a very nice set of extras, especially with the filter tool and replacement filters, although some extra foam tips wouldn’t have hurt anyone.

Sound and a lot more on the next page after the jump HERE or below 

Technical specifications

Frequency Response20 Hz – 16 kHz
TransducersHigh performance, balanced armature micro-drivers
Noise Isolation35-42 dB
Impedance (@1kHz)4XR (45 Ohms) 4SR (45 Ohms)
Sensitivity (@1 kHz) SPL at 0.1v4XR (98 dB) 4SR (98 dB)
Maximum Output (SPL)122 dB
Cable5 ft Detachable
User Replaceable ACCU-FiltersYes
Warranty2 Years

Sound and a lot more on the next page after the jump HERE or below 

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

28 Comments

  • Reply June 6, 2017

    Guntis

    One problem remains — frequency response. 16 kHz is too low. Maybe I can’t fully hear so high frequencies, but I can feel that the treble is lacking the sparkle at the top end.

    P.S. Another possible problem — quaility of the outer isolation material of the cords. I had hf3 headset, after 5 years cord isolation broke apart (headset was kept in its original pouch) and headset becamse useless.

    • Reply June 7, 2017

      Icarus89

      16KHz is all the treble extension you will practically ever need in an iem. And trust me, the ER4 does better in the 10-16KHz range than the vast majority of iems today, most of which usually show a drop off after 10KHz.

    • Reply July 19, 2019

      JP

      16Khz isn’t what gives you ‘sparkle’. If anything, presence above 13-14k gives a feeling of ‘airiness’, where 5-6k and 10-12k are more responsible for high end presence and sparkle. The tuning is usually more at fault than the frequency range covered when it comes to high end perception.

  • Reply June 7, 2017

    Dave

    1) If you think 16kHz is a problem you’re probably kidding yourself. Most males over 18 can’t hear that high; most recordings have little energy above ~10kHz anyway. The usual practice is to quote ’20-20K’ (no +/-tolerance given) because that is ‘the (official) range of human hearing’. It’s always been theoretical more than practical. Etymotic’s spec is based on measurement, not just pulling a number out of a hat. I applaud their honesty. ‘Headphone X’ that lists ’20-20K’ probably is no better in this regard; they’re most likely just saying what they think people want to hear. The ‘sparkle’ probably actually happens at a lower frequency than you think, but may be a valid point.
    2) I have hf’s also (about 2 yrs) and hope they hold up; the user-replaceable cable on these is a very attractive feature.

    • Reply September 5, 2018

      Steven Zore

      I run burn in tones on my Fiios X7 II, using Shure 846’s and I can hear past 20KHz. Not ‘loud’ at that frequency, but I can hear it.

      • Reply July 19, 2019

        JP

        Are you an infant or a mutant? Because thats probably the only way you could hear 20KHz. That said, if you can hear it consider it a privilege. I can sense ‘energy’ up to 17k but tonality starts to fall apart after 16 for me. In a testing environment I can reach a tad higher. I’ve found that nearly all IEM’s, regardless of what the paperwork says, tend to crap out about 15-17k max. Most have very little output past 14k despite saying 20Hz-20KHz on the box. When playing a frequency generator off a pro console through them, almost none give representation at 16k and only one or two pairs could be heard at 17k.

  • Reply June 8, 2017

    NMA

    Hi Lieven,

    Wanted someones professional opinion on this, is there any point getting a pair like these for using mostly with an Iphone on the go? I had a pair of HF3s which were brilliant, and lasted ages. Apart from the sound love the level of noise isolation.

    Now that they have died ive been offered to upgrade to these at decent price – do you think its worth the bother, or will it just be overkill?

    • Reply June 12, 2017

      Lieven

      No I do think you should upgrade to the XR. 🙂

      • Reply June 13, 2017

        NMA

        Thanks, thats what I wanted to hear 😀

  • Reply June 18, 2017

    Hynek

    Hi Lieven,

    thanks for such a nice review. I was wondering, if you could compare these to Etymotic’s hf5. I have had hf5 for few years (and I’m quite happy with them, I like the sound and the overall build), but you know, always looking for something better :-). Is XR or SR is closer to hf5? My primary source is usually ipod classic, sometimes paired with fiio e07k.

    Thanks!

    • Reply June 20, 2017

      Lieven

      I’m sorry but I don’t have the HF5

  • Reply June 24, 2017

    riku

    Great review Lieven.

    I would agree that the XR are far from being just analytical and are incredibly musical to listen to. I’m not sure whether I prefer these or the new q-jays though, both with incredible separation for the price. I would love to know how they compare to the Final F7200, if anyone has them.

  • Reply September 4, 2017

    Ben

    Compare with UE TF 10. Etymotic can be better for rock music ? Can you give me any option.. Tks

  • Reply November 28, 2017

    Richard

    Hi Lieven – I have the ER4 XR and love it, what do you think would be the next ‘big upgrade’ for people who love the ER4 XR? I’m finding the jump into the $1k+ does not bring more clarity or detail, maybe a little more separation, definitely more sound stage/ imaging and definitely more defined bass. It is definitely not like the jump from $100 IEMs that I experienced going to the ER4 XR.

    • Reply November 28, 2017

      Lieven

      That is difficult as the Etymotic is so unique in what it does. Have you tried the Beyerdynamic Xelento?

      • Reply November 28, 2017

        Richard

        Hi Lieven thanks for replying – well the alternative question might be ‘if I kept the ER4 XR’ what would be the high end complementary IEM?

        I have auditioned the k10 encore, andromeda, Vega (not resolved enough). The andromeda was very fun with a much deeper bass than the k10 – the k10 is like a full sounding ER4 in many ways.

  • Reply January 7, 2018

    Jonathan

    How would these compare to the Westone W30?

  • Reply January 9, 2018

    Petros

    Hello , which version is like HD800 and can be used for classical music?

  • Reply July 13, 2018

    Augusto

    Cable is melting away, I have 10 dllr headphones not suffering from this issue…what a shame for otherwise great headphones

  • Reply September 18, 2018

    Steven Zore

    I have the XR and I am not a fan. This sizzly high end sounds like someone put ground glass in my ear…. Yuck!

    • Reply September 18, 2018

      Lieven

      It’s a matter of getting used to it. Or just get old, like me 😉

      • Reply September 18, 2018

        John Churn

        Haha I second that & I have tinnitus too. High end sound tame to me.

  • Reply October 22, 2018

    Ralph Gerard

    Interesting, the build is a tad better than the x10 image I own.

  • Reply November 6, 2018

    GPW

    Which one would say works best with X5iii? the XR or the SR?

    I bought fiio F9 Pro’s for my X5 iii but I’m now regretting it and your review is making me seriously considering switching to the ER4

  • Reply November 12, 2018

    Sagar Shah

    Can you compare etymotic ER4-XR with A&K billie jean?

  • Reply May 20, 2019

    Howard Olsen

    I came across these ER4XRs while trying to decide if I should go for the new BGVP DM7s. I’ve got the Shure SE535s with a new set Knowles filters in them and they do sound very good but I started toying with the idea upgrading to the S846. but then come along these DM7s and In my research I found several comparisons between them and 835s and the Etymotic ER4XR …. so now I have decided I’m going to get a new set of IEMs and convert my 535s to BT with a ES100 for use in Gym and Cycling…… If you could only have 1 IEM and your choice was the ER4XR, DM7 or SE835 which would it be? I think we’ve reached the place where price can no longer be considered an indicator of SQ (at least in this $300 to $800 range). Thanks

    • Reply May 22, 2019

      Lieven

      well they’re very different in sound and budget. IF I would get to choose just one, it would be a custom IEM to be honest. But hmmm, Etymotic!

  • Reply May 25, 2019

    Howard Olsen

    Done.. Ordered! Thank you. I love the 535s can’t wait to hear the Etys

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