Hey everyone, John here. Etymotic is possibly a brand that a lot of you haven’t heard. Don’t be mistaken, though: Etymotic has been in the audio game for over 35 years. They are acoustic research and hearing aid specialists, and this always comes across in their products. The scientists of the world of portable audio, Etymotic strive to create earphones that deliver clean and undistorted audio as well as market leading isolation and hearing protection. Introducing the ER2-SE and ER2-XR earphones.
As you may have guessed from my intro, Etymotic are not ones to cut corners. The build quality on the ER2s is superb. The housings are made of anodized metal with a blue finish; this makes them feel good to touch, and I really like the blue finish. The ER2s come with replaceable cables, which connect using MMCX connectors and have obviously been built to last. Both strain reliefs on the connectors and 3.5mm jack are solid, and the cable itself is flexible with a nice smooth finish. The yoke, or y-split, is covered in the same metal as the housings, which adds to the durability and looks pretty good too.
Comfort is an area that will split opinion when it comes to Etymotic earphones. The ER2s are no exception. These earphones are designed to be inserted deep into your ear canal; this is how you will get the most from the 35dB of isolation that can be achieved. The ER2s come supplied with a selection of different ear tips including Etymotic’s own triple flange and foam eartips. For me, the foam tips work the best, but I recommend you try all of them to find the best fit for you. Once your chosen tips are fitted, this is where it can get tricky. And for some... uncomfortable. The ER2s have a long sound tube which is designed to go deep into your ear. With the foam tips, I pinch them so they go as flat as possible, then gently ease them into my ear and follow my ear canal as deep as they can go. (You’d be surprised how far they can go.) When the foam expands, it creates a perfect seal and along with the built in isolation of the earphones. The ER2 provides the best isolation I have experienced from a universal earphone. The trade-off here is that you have an earphone stuck deep in your ear, which can take a while to get used to. Even though I am fine with it, I can imagine a lot of people will find it too uncomfortable. Fear not, you can wear these earphones without jamming them far into your ears. Just be aware that you won’t be getting as much isolation and therefore the full potential of the ER2.
The ER2 earphones have a fairly low impedance of 15ohms and a sensitivity of 96dB, making them easy enough to drive from a laptop or smartphone. In my experience the ER2 sounded great out of my laptop, but when used with a dedicated portable audio player or headphone amplifier, the extra power and quality provided better soundstage and dynamic range overall. Etymotic has used custom-tuned dynamic drivers for the ER2 models, a change from the balanced armature drivers used in the previous ER3 and ER4 models. This to me suggests that Etymotic are looking to appeal to a wider audience and along with the £170 price tag. I think they have achieved this. The high isolation rating of 35dB means that you don’t need to play your music as loud as some other earphone models. Background noise is greatly reduced, and having such a good seal means that no audio is lost.
Now onto the sound quality, another thing about the ER2 that will split opinion. Technically, both the ER2-SE and XR are faultless in terms of sound. This isn’t a quality everyone wants, though. The Etymotic signature has always been flat and neutral, and even with the use of a dynamic driver as opposed to a balanced armature used in both the ER3 and ER4 models. There may not be enough boom and sizzle for lots of people out there. For me, the sound is amazing. It comes across extremely effortless allowing you to hear what I can imagine to be as close to what was made in the studio as possible. Both models provide bass when there’s meant to be, and just the right amount. It manages to go very low without being pushed up. The XR version does, however, give a slight boost to the low end, just enough for those that prefer a warmer sound with more bass presence. Because of the low end control, mids ease through the mix, never sounding too harsh or recessed, providing an uncluttered and dynamic listening experience. Then the treble extends endlessly and brings space and definition. Soundstage is also very impressive, and with no particular frequency being pushed; you get a clean, engaging and intricate sound with no distortion.
At £170, there isn’t much competition out there for the ER2s in terms of sound quality, and if sound is your priority then I would highly recommend these. Due to their unique design and fit, they won’t be for everyone, and brands like Shure, Final and Flare Audio are making some very good earphones at this price with a more conventional design.
The Etymotic ER2-SE and XR are very much a Marmite earphone: you’ll either love them or hate them. The fit won’t be for everyone and I think that you will need to have a real appreciation of good sound quality to be willing to get used to the unique fit. Saying that, if you do get used to it, you will be one of the lucky ones.