I always wanted to try the Ety, from the very first day of my audiophile journey. Ety has been extremely famous with their audio philosophy and their IEM, the Etymotic Research ER4, the legendary IEM that we should name them ‘father of IEM’, they pioneered the in-ear earphone design, we can see a lot of IEM nowadays and we have to thank Ety for their efforts to provide a selection for audiophiles, the audiophiles world will be so different if not because of them, I would like to take this opportunity to thank their contribution to the audiophiles community, no matter if their effort is business-minded or not, the way they did, forever changed the head-fi world.
I approached Stars Picker Audio Library and asked them if they have any Ety ER4SR or XR that can loan to me for review, you know, one of those chances that I can utilize to fulfill my audio lust, long story short, they don’t have the demo but one of the business owner (also a hard-core Hi-fier, which make sense since they operated one of the largest head-fi related stores in Malaysia) has one Ety ER4S (Red Blue version) and it is his collection item, I shamelessly ask if I can try the ER4, thanks to him and he willing to let me spend few weeks with it.
This review, or you can say it is just my listening experience, is not a background study for Etymotic Research, nor it is an official review since you really can’t buy this babe now (apart from used market), I have not tried the successor, ER4SR and ER4XR, so this review is wholly concerning the ER4s that I have, which is a legendary IEM replaced the even legendary ER4, they always carry the house sound, which people describing them as analytical, bright, cold and thin, it is still the same even to the ER4SR, while they make an IEM for more bass respond (namely the ER4XR), I am happy that Ety keep their house sound. This house sound, is one of the things that I wish we can keep them forever, it is like a home, you can wander around but you will always go home, the home must always be there. Nuff said, now go to the sound quality of it.
I have paired the Etymotic Research ER4s with Venture Electronic Odyssey HD, Stoner Acoustics UDXA, UD125, Centrance DACPort HD, and JDS Labs The Element. Playing lossless and high-resolution music files with Foobar 2K, stream Tidal Hi-Fi and Spotify Premium.
Audio quality is good, exceptionally good. Speed, clarity, details, airy, are the words that came to my mind when I first listening to the Er4s, when I first put the ER4s in-ears I listened to the music 4 hours straight, I love the audio presentation of it and I won’t call it an analytical listening at any mean, for me, it has been blessed with lots of detail but in term of music listening it is still euphonic to my ears, or else I wouldn’t even listening to it for that long during my music listening session.
ER4s sounded different compared to IEMs that I have listened before, I will try my best to describe the sound, now let’s start with the bass first. The bass is definitely lacking body and impact here, there is no sub-bass that I can say, the lacking bottom frequency force enhance the clarity few steps higher though and everything sounded so clean with ER4s, the bass when it strikes, has a good tightness and speed, which is balance armature driver natural behavior, but there is no to minimal of thumping to speak of, if you are listening to hip hop music, you will get a tight and speedy bass, but it is really not much bass body to keep your toes tapping, however, I don’t know why even if I listened to hip hop music with the ER4s, I am still pretty much enjoy the sound, it has so much clarity and everything sounded natural to my ears, with excellent speed and fast decay. No, don’t talk about bass rumble, you will have none. How about something like Cello and drum? Played Bach Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma and Six Evolutions, the string strung with enough of details and it is quite nuanced, you won’t get the air movement of atmosphere kind of bass rumbling of the string but you do get the nuance of every play of the string, it is hard to describe but to my ears, the cello does sound great and I don’t miss anything on it, still, if you are getting used to the low bass sound that rumble and heavy tone you don’t like the Ety, it is nothing like that, the bass is however detailed and has good tightness. Hotel California by Eagles on Hell Freezes Over, when the hand drum start to play you will notice a drum sound but there is not much grunt to speak of, the Poem of Chinese Drum by Hok-Man Yim also strike with good tightness and details, but there is not much ‘atmosphere’ nor ‘air’ that you can feel it, it is different but I wouldn’t say it is a compromise. It let you see more clearly.
The midrange and vocal though are really excellent. You get that natural sense and detailed nuance of the vocal, to be fair it always has some kind of lightness to the tonal, it is not lush sounding kind of midrange like some dynamic driver IEMs, what it lacked in term of the body of sound it makes up with exceptional and crazy level of detail and clarity, it sounded so clear that I kind of remind the Shure SE425 vocal’s experience which has a lot of nuances and very open, but without losing composure. It sounded so damn clear that I really enjoyed like the detail has been thrown at you, felt like everything has been opened up for you to listen, there is no boomy bass to distract you, it is not performed like an analytical kind of sound, to my ears I really enjoy them as a music presentation, take me to the moon by Chang Yu Shen (probably my favorite male pop artist that had long passed away), the vocal of the artist has been blessed with details and the vocal grab a lot of attention here, speed is impressive, not only the vocal performed remarkably well but the cymbal and drum behave nicely too, the bass is tight and has a super-fast decay that left no rumble to it, the treble has a lot of sparkles and has a lot of details in the treble too. You can say the ER4s is a little thin body but I can’t agree if you say that it is an ultra-bright sounding IEM, it might have a brighter respond than a lot of IEM but for me it has enough details and airy enough in that region for me to easily forgive it, to be fair, when we are talking about bright sounding, we have to understand that ER4s is not bright for nothing, it is bright but has a lot of details in that region, so, it is justified. Played the Paganini Violin Concertos 1 & 2 by Salvatore Accardo, what else can I say? Clarity and the airiness of the violin is well proven here, it extends to the end and has a lot of nuance and detail in every strung of the string, I really like the audio quality of ER4s, to me, it sounded really nice.
Soundstaging is nothing to shout at, it is tiny but has excellent instrument separation, can’t say much about imaging though, it is good in term of stereo imaging but nothing spectacular. Speed and timing are expertly good and everything sounded speedy with it.
I love the most when paired with the ER4s to Venture Electronic Odyssey HD, the sound is fuller and less bright. While the Chord Mojo is not with me anymore, but I believe the slightly dark sounding Mojo will well suited the Ety as well.
So is the ER4s perfect to my ears? Hell No, it is not perfect. Like I said the bass lacked some body and I will not be denied this, the sound also lack a little weight and body to let it sounded more full, it is not a full sounding IEM for sure, I can see how people will love it and why some people hate it, if you like the sound you are an Ety guy and I believe you will try very hard to find another headphones/IEMs that sounded anything like it, I really wish to listen to the ER4SR and ER4XR in the future to assess them, but I am really lucky enough to have chance to listen to the Legendary ER4s.
You can’t buy the Etymotic Reseach ER4s now, so it is not important if I recommend it or not, but I really do think that every audiophile should have at least listened to the Etymotic Research once in their life to experience the sound, the sound is nothing like other IEM/headphone that I have ever tested, it has a lot of clarity, speed, details and sounded super airy, if you are sensitive to the treble you shouldn’t get Etymotic Reseach in my honest opinion, but if you are tolerable to treble and has some for examples Beyerdynamics and enjoyed them, then you should try the Etymotic Research. I love them.