Review: Etymotic ER6i headphones

2007-01-30

in Geek stuff, Music

Now that I’ve had these earbuds for about five months, it seems worthwhile to make a few comments. While they have their peculiarities, these are acoustically excellent devices. The noise isolation is so good that I use them to sleep on planes and buses. Indeed, when wearing them I am unable to hear whether my cell phone is ringing in my pocket (save for the very slight buzzing the radio transmission seems to induce in the connecting wire).

Admittedly, it takes a little while to get used to the unique flanges that make these earbuds look so distinctive. To begin with, I didn’t think they fit me very well. You gradually learn how to insert them to the proper depth, and with an appropriate air pressure between your eardrum and the earbud. Now that I have, I loathe the times when I need to use the awful default iPod headphones. (Given how well the ER6is exclude noise, cycling with them in would be somewhat reckless.)

The best things about these headphones are the excellent sound fidelity, the small size, the effective sound isolation, and the surprisingly good customer service provided by Etymotic. The sound fidelity is such that you can easily hear the minor differences in playback between a G4 iBook, a fourth generation iPod, and a first generation iPod Shuffle (especially in the bass range). As for the size: even in the carrying case they come with, they are small enough to carry everywhere. An iPod Shuffle fits neatly into the case with them, and then into a small pocket. In my experience, the Etymotic staff as very helpful. If you call their customer support line, you will be speaking to a real and knowledgeable person immediately. When I called them because I thought the flanges fit badly, they sent me a bunch of alternative sizes to try out for free.

The problematic things about them are the time lag before their particular style of seal begins to feel natural and the cheap looking – but seemingly durable – wires. Since the very rapid failure of the wires on my old Sony Fontopia earbuds was the reason I switched to these, I am happy they haven’t frayed in any visible way so far. As with any headphones, there is also the danger of pushing up the volume too many times over the course of a few hours of listening, then finding yourself struggling to hear those around you. Of course, sometimes that is just the price you need to pay for comprehensive musical immersion.

If these got stolen, I would buy them again.

I am even considering spending $12 on their fancy earplugs. When you’re trying to sleep on a plane, the last thing you want is to be hassled about turning off electronic devices. Additionally, these would be a good counter to the champion snorers that multi-bunk hostels seem to attract.

[Update: 17 January 2008] I replaced my second filter today. I also changed the white eartips. The old ones were getting pretty grungy and yellow. Ordering supplies from Etymotic involves very high shipping fees, so I bought them on eBay instead. I had to spend an awful week listening to iPod headphones; I am so glad to be back in the world of beautiful sound.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 30, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Those interested in a comparison may want to have a look at the Shure E2c Sound Isolating Earphones. They are probably the most relevant competion.

Anonymous February 1, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Here is a more comprehensive review.

“If you’re looking to for a really sharp upgrade for your iPod or other portable player, and you can deal with wearing earplugs and blocking out all other noise, the Etymotics are a seriously good set of earphones. The sound quality is great and really can make the most of your portable players’ abilities, without having to add an external amp or a big pair of headphones to clash with your pretty white iPod.”

Another

A more critical review

Milan February 1, 2007 at 4:15 pm

Here is a good technical review of these earphones, including some audio charts.

“At their $129 street price, the Etymotics are more or less in the middle of the range for in-canal earphones. They aren’t perfect, but they’re the best in their price range. If you want to hear what they can really do, invest in or build a headphone amplifier. You’ll be amazed.”

Meghan February 1, 2007 at 6:10 pm

Those earplugs would have served you well in the Venice hostel. Have you ever encountered snoring to equal that experience?

Milan February 1, 2007 at 6:22 pm

Meghan,

That does stand out as a singular experience. One night in Dublin had comparable snoring, and several others were louder for other reasons.

Milan February 22, 2007 at 11:26 pm

They seem to be breaking now. More news soon.

Milan March 14, 2007 at 4:43 pm

[14 March 2007] My replacement Etymotic headphones arrived today. Reading in coffee shops is possible again, and none too soon.

Milan June 6, 2007 at 12:25 am

There is another ER6i review at Cool Tools.

. July 14, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Best Headphone Recommendations

My friend Jon Callaghan asked me what I recommended in terms of audiophile headphones, so I thought I’d share my answer with the world here under the Ask Matt category. I use three headphones on a regular basis, and they fall pretty nicely into low, mid, a high-end. There’s a super-high end I’m not going to cover here, because once you get into the world of headphones requiring amps you might as well just build a good open air system. I’ve tried probably two dozen headphones ranging from $50 to $1,200.

Milan August 21, 2009 at 7:55 pm

This discussion includes some good information on headphones.

I want to get some Sennheiser HD-595s.

. February 4, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Harmon Kardon Soundsticks, my love of which I’ve written about, a daisy-chained bevy of external hard drives (mostly archival, mostly Lacie and G-Drive), a Time Capsule for my nightly backups, always with the latest iPhone on day one, a Kurzweil sp88x fully-weighted digital piano for scoring, an M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB audio interface, and an M-Audio Nova mic for podcasting with my friends Scott and Merlin.

I also have a Jambox, which is incredible as advertised subtle plug.

My headphones of choice are the industry standard Sony MDR-7506, which have none of that silly noise cancelling, but they feel and sound damn good.

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