etymotic er-4

Will Monster's new in-ear headphone dazzle audiophiles?

I'm hoping the whole celebrity-branded headphone shtick will soon run its course, but I have to admit Monster's new Earth Wind & Fire Gratitude in-ear headphones are pretty spectacular.

Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the most popular funk bands of the 1970s, so naturally they were primed to attach their name to a headphone. That's fine, but I have to judge a headphone on its build and sound quality, and the Gratitude is a very decent headphone indeed. The heavy gold accents on the earpieces were a little gaudy for my taste, but that's … Read more

A sweet-sounding USB digital amplifier for headphones and speakers

The nice folks at Parts Express sent over an amazing-sounding little amplifier, the $129 Topping TP30. It's a tiny desktop Class T amp design, with one analog RCA stereo input and one USB connection (the TP30 has a built-in digital-to-analog converter). The amp delivers 15 watts per channel to 4 ohm-rated speakers (10 watts into 8 ohms), and has a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the front panel.

With its extruded aluminum chassis, 8mm thick, CNC-machined front panel, and solid-metal volume control knob the TP30 wouldn't look out of place in a high-end system. It even feels expensive, but I have just one nitpick: the illuminated blue LED ring surrounding the volume control knob is too bright. I wish there was a way to dim it or turn it off. The amp measures a tidy 4.13 inches by 1.77 inches by 8.07 inches.

The USB interface utilizes standard Windows audio class 1 drivers (it worked fine with my Mac mini). Internal parts quality is superb; the TP30 boasts Elna capacitors, Dale resistors, and an ALPS volume control. The Burr-Brown USB digital-to analog converter chip accepts up to 48 kHz sampling rates with 16-bit resolution.

I compared the sound of the TP30 with my Audioengine N22 amp ($199), and they're both pretty good. The N22 has a fuller, warmer tonal balance, but the TP30 has a more immediate, detailed sound with more tightly controlled bass. I used my Audioengine P4 speakers for all of my speaker-based listening tests. It's interesting, the TP30 is a digital amp and takes digital signals "straight-in" via its USB port; the N22 is analog-only and is a more traditional Class A/B amplifier design. It sounded softer, and a wee bit less defined than the TP30.… Read more

Etymotic ER-4PT review: 'Very accurate' earphones

First, a bit of clarification. In case you didn't realize it, Etymotic has four versions of its ER-4 MicroPro series earphones, each of which retails for $299. We're not going to overwhelm you with all the details of each model, but Etymotic say the ER-4PT, which delivers excellent sound with very accurate tonal balance, is made for "the professional traveler who uses his or her earphones on planes as well as professionally."

The first thing you'll notice about these Etymotics is that the earphones themselves are somewhat long, slender cylinders that make you feel as … Read more

Etymotic ER-4 MicroPro

The Etymotic ER-4 MicroPro series is the company's top-end in-ear headphone line. Currently, the series consists of four models, each of which retail for $299.

According to the company, here's how the differences break down:

The Etymotic MicroPro ER-4B is "for binaural recording monitoring and used in professional settings."

The Etymotic MicroPro ER-4S is the company's "stereo monitoring earphone and geared to those listening through a powered recording or 'front of house' monitoring board."

The Etymotic MicroPro ER-4P is the most mainstream of the bunch, designed for those using a portable audio device … Read more

Etymotic ER-4: Original in-ear headphone still a serious contender

The name "Etymotic" means "true to the ear" and is pronounced "et-im-oh-tik." Mead Killion founded Etymotic Research in 1983 to design products that accurately assess hearing, improve the lives of those with hearing loss, and protect hearing. His first in-ear headphone designs--the ER-1, 2, 3--were used for diagnostic testing and precision auditory research. The company's first noise-isolating in-ear earphone, the ER-4, debuted in 1991. I remember hearing an early ER-4 and it was radically better than any other portable headphone at the time.

The original ER-4P, which was designed for use with portable cassette and CD players, came out in 1994, long before the iPod catapulted the headphone market into the stratosphere. It was priced at $330, making it a very expensive headphone for the time. The current ER-4 models go for a little less, the ER-4PT runs $299, but Etymotic also offers a broad range of less expensive headphones.

ER-4 headphones are still made in Etymotic's Elk Grove Village, Ill., factory, and the left and right drivers are hand-matched to within 1 dB of each other. The headphone comes with a two-year warranty, double the length of most high-end headphones. If an ER-4 is returned for service, factory technicians confirm the left and right channels still match within the original tolerances before the unit is returned to its owner. Also noteworthy: each ER-4PT is shipped with a "channel-matching compliance graph," signed by the Etymotic engineer who precision matched and custom tuned the balanced-armature drivers.

The ER-4PT is very similar to the ER-4P, but the new model comes with extra mobile adapters, a large plastic storage case, a small travel pouch, and accessories for travelers. The braided cable and earpieces look slightly different than my old ER-4P. I have unusually shaped ear canals and don't always have the easiest time getting a good, air-tight fit with many in-ear headphones, but Etymotic's Triple Flange ear tips work like a charm. True, they must be deeply inserted into my ear canals, but they never accidentally fall out. … Read more