There are plenty of different ways to make a good pair of earphones or “canalphones” while hitting the right sweet spot on price. You can focus on good design, add some enhancements to make the pair “cooler” or more marketable or you can simply focus on quality engineering and craftsmanship to get the best audio quality. Etymotic Research is focusing on the latter and its flagship earphones product – the Etymotic ER-4PT commands a pretty high price tag. But that also gives the ER-4PT plenty of room to breathe when it comes to getting the hardware right. The question is, can it best the fierce competition as well?
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Design and Comfort
No matter what type of expensive earphones you are making, you really need to get the design and comfort right because nobody will put on the earphones for more than a few minutes if they are unpleasant to wear or easy to ruin. But the Etymotic ER-4PT tackles that head on by including 6 pairs of ACCU-Fit eartips. All of them sport triple-flanged designs so you’ll have to get used to the procedure of putting them properly which could require you to moisten the eartips prior to insertion. If you don’t get the desired comfort from say the silicone rubber tips, you can also try the foam ones which are included. Both of these ACCU-Fit tips are specifically designed so that you don’t hear any noise aside from the music you are listening to. You can also opt for custom-fit earmolds from Etymotic Research although it will cost you quite a bit extra.
In terms of design, the ER-4PT isn’t exactly a pretty pair of earphones to wear and show off to your friends. The all black design and strange-looking triple-flanged eartips really show how technically-included this flagship product is. Perhaps the only other eye-catching thing on this pair other than the eartips is the braid-reinforced cable.
Prolonged usage of a pair of earphones will lessen the earphone output. While this is true with the Etymotic ER-4PT as well, the company devised a way to keep the frequency response smooth by offering user-replaceable ACCU-Filters. The filter is designed to make sure earwax and other unwanted debris get into the earphones. After some time, you will end up with clogged filters instead which will still affect the output. But the beauty of this system is the ease of removing the filter using the included tool so you can replace it with a fresh set of filters. A spare set of wax filters is included and you have the option to buy more. It is not recommended to clean the filter and use it again.
To make the $299 set seem less like a cheap cash grab, Etymotic Research decided to throw in a few other nice extras. This includes a traveling pouch which is a common inclusion to Etymotic Research’s earphone and headset products and it certainly makes travelling with the eartips and earphones a lot easier. The more impressive thing about this whole package though is the storage box which has secure placeholders for the eartips and other components. Since the ER-4PT is the travel model of the ER-4 MicroPro series, an airplane adapter is included as well.
It is important to note that the Etymotic ER-4PT is not a headset as it does not have a built-in microphone so it may not exactly be the best friend of your smartphone unless you frequently use music player apps. The lack of functionality also means that the Etymotic mobile app won’t work with the headset as the app does tap into microphone.
As mentioned earlier, the ER-4PT is part of a family of similar products. The Etymotic ER-4PT is the newest member and it is the ideal choice for any sound engineers or audiophiles on the go. It can also match the ER-4S in terms of response accuracy by using a special inline adapter sold separately.
On the performance end, the Etymotic ER-4PT has about 10 dB more output at the high frequencies as well as 13 dB more output at the low frequencies. This makes nearly all genres of music a joy to listen to. Compared to some competing models, the bass of the ER-4PT is a bit lacking although it is primarily because competitors use fancy algorithms to bring up the bass to make mainstream music sound more intense. The Etymotic ER-4PT cares more about natural sound and clarity which are both things sound engineers prefer. The braided cable also inhibits microphonics.
$299 is a huge investment for a pair of earphones like the ER-4PT but for critical folks looking for near-perfect noise-isolation and superb audio quality, the Etymotic ER-4PT easily makes it to the shortlist and that is a major feat. Also remember that Etymotic Research practically invented the whole idea of noise isolation so those eartips don’t disappoint. All they need to work on now is the bass and it isn’t even that important.