Review: Etymotic – ER3 SE and ER3 XR – Buyers Guide!

Etymotic ER3

Disclaimer: The Etymotic ER3 XR and SR were sent to us by KS Distribution and Etymotic. I will be keeping the ER3 XR with me for future reference.



Who doesn’t know Etymotic? 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.

After renewing their ER4-Series just last year, Etymotic is back now with the new ER3 series. I first heard these at the Headphone Heaven show in Rotterdam, where they were being shown to the world for the very first time. Then later at Canjam Europe I listened to them again, and like with the ER4, we just have to review these, as they’re really good.


Just like with the ER4-series, Etymotic has two version of the ER3-model. First of all there is the SE or Studio Edition. This version is the most neutral/reference tuned and then there’s the XR or Extended Response version which has a little more bass impact. The ER3 uses a single Balanced Armature Driver.

The ER3XR Extended Response offers a modest bass boost, building on the sound quality of the ER3SE, while providing a slight bass boost for those listeners that prefer a stronger low end response. The ER3SE Studio Edition provides a high level of sensitivity, making it a perfect match for the portable media players on the market today. The ER3SE offers audio professional grade sound reproduction at an affordable price.

The ER3-drivers are precision matched left to right, just as with the ER4 series but this time you don’t get the performance certificate with the driver’s measurements. Etymotic IEMs are known for their excellent noise isolation and these deliver a very impressive 35 to 42dB noise isolation when used correctly. If you know that Custom IEMs most of the time offer a -26dB isolation, then you immediately know these Etymotic IEMs are very special. These ER3 and ER4 IEMs simply are the best isolating IEMs in my collection. Actually they have the highest documented noise isolation of any earphones or headphones on the market today. Very impressive! Do watch out when wearing these outside on the go though, make sure to pay attention to traffic at all times.

Build Quality & Comfort

Great build quality yet again, but we’re used to that from Etymotic and you get a 2-year warranty on the units. The earpieces have precision machined metal bodies with an anodized finish and they look and feel very nice. The serial number is printed on the body like with the ER4. The ER3 ear pieces do look more plastic than the ER4 ones, which have a more metal look to them.

The 4ft. cable still is removable/detachable (MMCX) and as such can easily be replaced should it ever malfunction. The cable compared to the ER4 is one ft. shorter and it has a 2-wire cable where the ER4 has a double one.

The ER3 IEMs as well as the cable are very light so they’re very comfortable. In order to get the best possible isolation, the ER3 does require deep insertion into your ears when using the silicon tips. With the Etymotic foam tips it’s more comfortable but you don’t get the comfort of Comply tips or a custom monitor of course. You always feel these in your ears but that’s about all I can say about it. They don’t hurt, annoy or itch and you can easily use these for long listening sessions without any discomfort.

Because of the deeper insertion the filter at the end of the earpiece can get clogged up with earwax, but the ER3 come with a filter removal tool and one extra set of filters.

If you’re not familiar with Etymotic IEMs, you can find the insertion instructions here:

And if that’s not enough, you can have a look at this video as well;

As a matter of fact, the ER3 IEMs are also available in a custom fit option. So if you want the ER3 to be even more comfortable, there is a way.

Price & Accessories

The Etymotic ER3 IEMs go for $179 (without VAT) in the USA and €229 in Europe (Amazon Prices).

The ER3 comes in a simple but nice box. On the inside you’ll find:

– the earpieces,

– the 4ft cable,

– a shirt clip,

– a soft carrying pouch,

– 2 sets of Silicone Tips

– 1 set of Etymotic Foam Tips

– filter removal tool

– 1 set of filters

The review continues on Page 2 of this article, go there by clicking HERE or use the jump below

Technical specifications

Frequency Response 20 Hz – 16 kHz
Transducers High performance, balanced armature micro-drivers
Noise Isolation 35-42 dB
Impedance (@1kHz) 22 Ohms
Sensitivity (@1 kHz) SPL at 0.1v 102 dB
Maximum Output (SPL) 120 dB
Cable Detachable, 4 ft
Warranty 2 Years
Custom-Fit Option Yes

The review continues on Page 2 of this article, go there by clicking HERE or use the jump below

4/5 - (40 votes)

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.


  • Reply January 9, 2018

    Rasmus Horn

    Great review. I agree with the comparison between the ER4(XR) and ER3(XR). I hear the same differences when I listened to them at CanJam in Berlin. I bought the ER4XR because it just offers more sparkle and lifelike sound.

  • Reply June 16, 2018


    Enjoying my ER3XR very much. Acquired through Massdrop for a great price. Bought mostly for their isolation properties and they are very effective. They are replacing Klipsch X-10’s that I have had for many years. I like these better by a lot. If they have sins it is the sin of omission compared to high end products and listening in quiet environments. They sound great in their element. I prefer the foam tips. They give me a better seal than the flanged tips and the seal is everything with these IEM’s. Make sure to try all the supplied tips with these. I bought more Etymotic foams and filters on Amazon but I may also try comply tips if they are available for these. I use them in my other IEM’s.

  • Reply March 14, 2019


    I have owned Etymotic HF5’s for some years now. I am very happy with them, but find the bass just a bit too thin. Would you consider the ER3-XR to be a good upgrade, or is the sound quality comparable?

    • Reply July 19, 2019


      Jeroen, I’ve tested the ER3’s and the HF5’s and the XR will definitely be a good upgrade in the low end. I think the SE version would be too but it wouldn’t be as different as the XR, I’m liking the XR a lot. If Shure is more your thing, you might try the SE 315 too. Its about the same cost and offers a slightly different tuning, the mids are a bit richer, the lows hit slightly less hard and the highs are about as detailed but softer in the 315. So far in my testing the 315 plays nicer with multiple media (makes it easier to use for both enjoyment/critical use) where the ER3XR can be pretty unforgiving.

  • Reply April 4, 2019


    I have the er4s, still considering er3xr or er4xr, if I choose er3xr is it a downgrade or not?

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