As music lovers, we are always on the hunt for headphones that will increase our musical experience. So you can imagine our excitement when we heard that Etymotic Research was releasing two updates to its classic ER-4 insert earphone, the new ER4SR Studio Reference earphone and ER4XR Extended Response model.
Luckily we were able to get our hands on a pair of each one and we took them out for a 2 week test drive to test their comfort, durability and most of all, their sound performance. Check out our thoughts below.
First thing you’ll notice about the Etymotic headphones is that even the packaging feels high quality. The box itself has a sleek and sexy design and the unboxing felt almost like Christmas had come in March. The hype and excitement at this point is real and fueling our lofty expectations.
The headphones come in a compact protective case with tons of goodies. It has multiple eartips of varying sizes, a 1/4″ jack converter, shirt clip, replacement filters to make sure none of your gross ear gunk gets into your fancy headphones, and a detachable 5 ft cord. All of this comes in its own little compartment in the carrying case, which keeps everything neat and organized.
Fair warning…for these headphones to work perfectly, you need to completely seal your ear which means you will have to experiment and find the right size ear tips that work for you. So both pairs do take a little trial and error to get the performance you are looking for.
Once we picked the ear tips that worked best for us, we picked a couple of current and not so current tunes to test these bad boys out.
ER4SR Studio Reference Model
First up is No Long Talk off of Drakes “More Life”. Right away, the noise cancelation is better than any pair of headphones I’ve ever used, over the ear models included. It blocks out everything that isnt Drizzy’s fake British accent, which really lets you get into the track. The sound is really crisp, it just sounds high quality. The only thing I’m noticing is there isn’t banging bass, so lets try out a new tune.
Turned to moombahton to check out my theory of bass, with an old favorite Sandungueo by Munchi. The sound is still so on point, all the snares and drums are crisp and you really get every note, theres no muddiness (is that a word?) to the sound at all. The bass is less of a big rumble like some in ear headphones, but more like what you would expect out of a desktop speaker. You know its there, but you don’t quite feel it like at a show or in your car.
To round out the test, I’ll go to some weird experimental stuff that has a whole bunch of sounds happening at once to really stress these things out. For that, I hit up Eprom’s track Regis Chillbin. Lots of stuff going on here, cant stress enough how on point the noise cancelation is (I missed two phone calls writing this review, and my phone was in front of me on my desk). This track (and the other three Eprom tracks I listened to after this one) really sealed the deal for me, especially when I listened to them on speakers right after: These headphones are the most accurate representation of the track I can get.
The bass might not be ground shaking, but its there, and the mids and highs are crisp and beautiful, and you get zero interference from outside noise sources. I would give the Etymotic ER4SR a 9/10 for comfort, clarity and noise cancelation.
ER4XR Extended Response
The ER4XR Extended Response earphone is supposed to offer a modest bass boost in comparison to the ER4SR Studio Reference headphones. The first track I went with for this model was Flume’s “Depth Change.”
Like the previous model, the noise cancellation is unparalleled. I was sitting in the middle of a busy restaurant and the noise from the crowd completely faded away and I felt like I was finally hearing the track the way that Flume intended it to be heard. Every single snare, percussion and synth is crisp and fluid and I’m also hearing little things in the track that I haven’t heard before. It’s a solid way to start the sound test but I am wishing that there was more of a bass impact.
I’m a trap queen at heart so for the next track, I’m surfing through RL Grime’s SoundCloud and bumping the trap god’s edit of Acrylics’ “TNGHT.” The intro is sounding crisp but the bass is slightly flat especially at the drop which should be hitting at a massive level. Noise cancellation is still killing the game at this point and I’m switching onto RL Grime’s remix of “The Hills.” The Weeknd’s vocals sound insanely good, every synth is clear but again I feel like I’m missing a lot of bass. The bass is there in the background but it isn’t vibrating as much as I would like it to and isn’t bringing out the 808s that I know are there.
To finish off the test, I’m hitting up Naderi’s SoundCloud and starting with his remix of Big Gigantic’s “All Of Me.” ft. Logic & Rozes for a combination of fire bars, smooth vocals and top notch production. First thing I notice is that the opening tribal drums are sounding awesome. The build is perfect and when Rozes’ voice cuts in, I’m blown away but how fresh and clear she sounds, I feel like she’s sitting right next to me singing.
Logic’s bars also sound amazing, very fresh and the background vocals are really coming through. Each synth sounds lush and bright but I do feel like the bass is still in the background and not taking center stage at the drop.
Overall the mids, highs, synths and vocals on the ER4XR model sound impeccable. I feel like the bass could use some improvement but the noise cancellation is top notch. I’d give the ER4XR model a 7/10 for overall bass quality and a solid 9/10 for comfort, noise cancellation and clarity.
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