Ety­motic ER3 Ex­tended Re­sponse Head­phones

Ac­cu­rate Sound For­ever


Have you no­ticed that most head­phones, in­clud­ing plenty of mod­els with au­dio­phile as­pi­ra­tions, have pumped-up bass and highs? That in­ten­tion­ally less-than-ac­cu­rate sound is likely due to their de­sign­ers know­ing that most peo­ple en­joy boosted bass and the ex­tra “de­tail” of tipped-up tre­ble. Ety­motic is a com­pany that doesn’t play by those rules, and its new ER3 Ex­tended Re­sponse (ER3XR) is just the ticket for any­one who craves ac­cu­rate sound from in-ear head­phones.

Ety­motic also of­fers a sec­ond ER3 model, the ER3 Stu­dio Edi­tion (ER3SE), that shares the same $179 price as the ER3XR. Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that the ER3XR pro­vides a slight bass boost for “lis­ten­ers who pre­fer a stronger low end re­sponse.”

Ety­motic’s stance on neu­tral sound was cod­i­fied by its ER4 head­phones that de­buted in 1991. The ER4 re­mained the com­pany’s flag­ship model with only slight changes for a quar­ter-cen­tury, un­til it in­tro­duced the ER4 Stu­dio Ref­er­ence and Ex­tended Re­sponse in-ear head­phones last year. Those mod­els weren’t wildly dif­fer­ent than what came be­fore, just a lit­tle bet­ter in ev­ery way. So, I won­dered, how would the new ER3XR com­pare with the ER4XR?

Both mod­els use a sin­gle bal­anced ar­ma­ture driver housed in a pre­ci­sion-ma­chined ear piece, but they have dif­fer­ent driv­ers . The ER4’S driv­ers are made in the U.S., the ER3’S in Asia. The ER4’S left- and right-chan­nel driv­ers are matched to ex­tremely close tol­er­ances— within 1 db from 100 Hz to 10 khz— while the ER3’S driver tol­er­ances aren’t spec­i­fied. Here’s one “spec” that we can all re­late to and

un­der­stand: the ER3XR sells for $179, and the ER4XR for $349.

I spent weeks lis­ten­ing with the ER3XR. It sounded pris­tine, pure, and clear— so much like the ER4XR— un­til the mo­ment of truth when I com­pared the two head­phones. Even then, the ER3XR’S sound was aw­fully close to the ER4XR’S, but a tad leaner in the midrange, and less clear over­all. Still, the less pricey model gets you 80 per­cent of the ER4XR’S sound.

De­pend­ing on the user’s choice of foam or flanged ear tips, the ER3XR will pro­vide 35-42 db of noise iso­la­tion. Those num­bers hand­ily ex­ceed the com­pe­ti­tion’s iso­la­tion abil­i­ties, but max­i­mum qui­et­ing re­quires push­ing the tips deeper into your ear canal than you would have to with most other in-ear head­phones. That might be a deal-breaker for some folks, but I didn’t mind. The ER3XR isn’t the most com­fort­able in-ear model I’ve tried, but its su­pe­rior noise iso­la­tion on the clan­gor­ous NYC sub­way was much ap­pre­ci­ated.

I started my lis­ten­ing ses­sions with the ER3XR plugged into my iphone 6S play­ing Miles Davis’ Big Fun al­bum, a tasty col­lec­tion of his early 1970s tracks. The sound­stage width ex­tended past my ears, and the re­ver­ber­a­tion seemed to come from above my head! One track in par­tic­u­lar, “Yaphet,” to­tally sucked me in, with the per­co­lat­ing key­boards and per­cus­sion that un­der­pin the grooves leav­ing plenty of room for Davis’ silky horn runs.

Ry Cooder’s solo gui­tar score for the film Paris, Texas sounded so much bet­ter on the ER3XR head­phones than it ever does on speak­ers, all of which fail to de­liver the pal­pa­ble sense of fin­gers mov­ing over strings. This al­bum has a sound you can lose your­self in, with the low string rum­blings seem­ing to go on for­ever.

Even with its slight bass boost, the ER3 Ex­tended Re­sponse fol­lows other Ety­motic head­phones in be­ing a neu­tral trans­ducer. It tells it like it is, but that doesn’t guar­an­tee you’ll like the ER3XR’S sound. You might pre­fer another head­phone with more siz­zle, a bet­ter abil­ity to rock, or a more ro­man­tic sound. Give the ER3XR a lis­ten and you’ll know right away what ac­cu­racy sounds like, and if that’s some­thing you ap­pre­ci­ate.

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