What makes these in-ear monitors so special? Are they extremely lightweight and durable, or do they produce the best audio quality possible for under $300?
This company has specialized in audiology since they founded in 1983. They have spent years and years dedicated to the rigorous testing required to perfect each earphone they produce. Does the expert knowledge and special attention to detail pay off?
We think it’s important to provide a detailed inside look, rather than simply repeating all the features you can read on the back of the box. Throughout this review, we’ll do our best to help you understand the best and worst features they have to offer, as well as hopefully answering any questions you have!
If you’re anything like us, you probably agree with the importance of having all the facts before you make your decision! Keep reading our Etymotic Research ER4XR Review to see why they’re such a popular choice for many audiophiles!
Etymotic Research ER4XR Review – Best Audio Quality Under $300?
Basic Features & Technical Specs:
- In-ear canal wearing design
- Features 5 foot detachable braided cable (w/MMCX connectors)
- Includes: 5 pairs of ear tips, 1/4″ adapter, shirt clip, carrying case, & filter removal kit
- Connectivity: Wired
- Driver Type: Single balanced armature
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 16 kHz
- Impedance: 45 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 98 dB @ 1 kHz
- Dimensions: 0.39 x 1.18 x 0.39 inches
- Weight: 0.82 ounces
Before you move on, take a quick look at the links below that you can use to navigate our review. Each section will provide an in-depth analysis for each individual performance aspect.
Here are the 4 most important features you’ll want to consider before making your decision:
- Earpiece Build & Cable Design
- Deep Insertion IEMs & Comfort
- Sonic Performance – Best Audio Quality Under $300?
- Are They The Right Fit For You?
Now that you’ve taken a quick look at the technical specs, let’s start by examining two of the most important features – their earpiece build and cable design!
Earpiece Build & Cable Design
Both earpieces on these ‘phones are made of aluminum with laser-etched branding. They also feature left and right indicators near the back of each housing. When you’re actually wearing them, the indicators will face towards the back of your head.
Each indicator sticks out just enough that you can feel them with your fingertip. If you like to listen to your music in the dark, or have the lights dimmed down at nighttime – it’s fairly easy to identify which earpiece is which.
Each earpiece also has a filter that protects the openings of each nozzle from your earwax. The main purpose of each filter is to keep your wax away from the internal drivers. Then again, if you wear them long enough, some earwax buildup is to be expected. (Which isn’t a major issue, as long as it doesn’t reach the drivers.)
Why You’ll Need The Filter Removal Kit
This brings us to the first included accessory – the filter removal kit. Why do you need filters and a removal kit? It may seem like a slightly foreign concept at first, but there’s a pretty simple explanation.
One of the main reasons these ‘phones require the use of these filters is because they have a ‘deep insertion’ design (which we’ll cover in more detail below). The filter removal kit includes 2 pairs of green filters as well as a proprietary removal tool.
When will you know it’s time to change the filter? Once you start to notice a major decline in volume or sound quality, it’s usually time to replace the filters. After you remove both ear tips, you can see the top of the filter inside each nozzle. Then, you use the included tool to remove each filter.
Once you’ve removed each filter, you can replace them with a brand new pair. You should notice a pretty dramatic increase in volume and audio quality after you replace the dirty filters. It’s also important to keep in mind that you should try to keep the replaceable filters dry at all times.
Why is it important? Well, for one, you don’t want to cause unnecessary damage to your earphones or the filters. Two, if you decide to give them a deep clean after a month or so – there’s no need to scrub them with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. (You can use the link here if you want to learn more about how to clean your earbuds.) Next, let’s take a look at the cable design!
Detachable Proprietary MMCX Cable
These IEMs feature a detachable and partially-braided headphone cable. The upper portion of the cable that runs directly into each earpiece is braided while the lower portion is circular and round (like most other standard headphone cables).
It uses MMCX connectors to attach both earpieces. Removing the cable is much more simple than other more-complicated IEMs. Each connector pops directly on and off (you just have to pull them straight out). There’s no need to twist or turn the connectors in any specific direction in order to remove the cable.
Since it is a proprietary design, replacing it won’t be as simple as grabbing a new standard 3.5 mm cable. If the cable does end up breaking for any reason, you’ll want to make sure you buy a model-specific replacement cable (as pictured below).
As you can see in the picture above, these have a right angle 3.5 mm connector at the base of the cable. The black plastic near the base of the 3.5 mm connector is fairly thin which allows for a pretty seamless fit with most smartphones and/or DAPs.
You will also receive a hefty 1/4″ adapter which is useful if you prefer listening to music at home using a DAC or tube amp. The cable itself has an aluminum housing at the y-split with the Etymotic logo laser-engraved on both sides. This is where you’ll attach the included shirt clip if you want to reduce the already minimal cable noise (or microphonics).
The included shirt clip is more compact and ergonomic compared to past models from the company. Now that we’ve covered the proprietary cable, let’s see what else is included in the package!
Logo-Embossed Carrying Case
One of the first things you’ll notice is that the black carrying case is slightly bulkier than many other in-ear cases. It has a semi-reinforced hard shell design with a zip enclosure. (By ‘semi-reinforced’, we mean that it does have a little bit of flex, but isn’t as flimsy as a cloth or nylon carrying pouch.)
The logo is embossed on the front of the case, adding to the professional and “down-to-business” presentation. As you unzip the case, you’ll also notice the mesh pockets on the inside of each half. There are 3 pockets on the right side (2 of which have zippers) and 2 on the left side (without zippers).
There’s plenty of room inside (maybe even more than you actually need) where you can keep your cleaning kit and other accessories. Due to its bulkier design and the extra room inside, you probably won’t be able to fit the case inside your pockets. That being said, it’s small enough to easily fit in the average laptop bag, backpack, or purse.
Extra Attention To Detail Pays Off!
The meticulous design and extra attention to detail definitely paid off in this area. They have a more ergonomic y-split housing, slimmer 3.5 mm connector, conveniently-placed L and R indicators, and improved nozzle durability.
As long as you take care of them and regularly replace the filters – these ‘phones are clearly designed to last for years on end. Does the well-built design also contribute to better overall wearing comfort?
Deep Insertion IEMs & Comfort
It’s important to keep in mind that these are deep insertion earphones. How are they different from traditional IEMs? As the name suggests, they sit much deeper inside your ear canal than other models like the Shure SE215, for example. They fit so deeply, that the end of both ear tips will reach the bony part of your inner ear. (See where the yellow arrow is pointing in the picture below?)
Are there any benefits to such a deep fit? The short answer is yes. At first, it may take some getting used to, but after the first few times – most people find that they start to feel almost weightless.
Aside from the slight adjustment period, here’s one of the main benefits of their wearing design. Since each earpiece sits so closely to your eardrum, it will help minimize the sound of yourself chewing or talking when they’re in your ears.
It also almost completely eliminates the sound of your feet hitting the pavement as you’re walking around. In some cases, you can simply turn the volume up to prevent this type of interference. (Although when you do that, it often times leads to listening at unhealthy volumes.) While the deep insertion fit may be a new experience – it definitely has its benefits.
On top of everything you just read, it also dramatically increases their level of passive noise isolation. How much outside noise will they block out?
Passive Noise Isolation – Strong Or Average?
These earphones are able to block out a very impressive amount of outside noise (especially for a pair of non-noise cancelling headphones). It’s nearly impossible to achieve the same level of noise isolation without a built-in active noise cancellation feature.
That being said, when you’re using these in especially loud environments (like on an airplane) you’ll notice that they don’t block quite as much low frequency noise. In most cases, you will still be able to hear the sound of the engine, although significantly muffled.
While they don’t block as much ambient noise as the Bose QuietComfort 20 noise-cancelling earbuds, they do an awesome job at keeping most unwanted noise out. Finding the right fit using the included ear tips will also improve passive noise isolation!
Triple Flange Ear Tips
If you’ve never used triple flange ear tips, they are cone-shaped and have 3 individual domes. (When you set them on the flat end, they almost look like a 3-domed silicone Christmas tree.) What are the benefits of using triple flange tips?
For one, they are designed to help block out more ambient noise than the standard single flange tips. They also tend to fit better once you find the right size for your specific ear shape. Take a look at the list below to see which styles and sizes you’ll receive:
- 1 pair of Small frosted tips
- 1 pair Medium and 1 pair of Large gray foam tips
- 1 pair of Medium and 1 pair of Large transparent triple flange tips
Unless you already know what tips you prefer, we recommend that you experiment with all 5 pairs until you find the perfect fit. It’s definitely worth some possible frustration that some first-time users experience at first.
If you already have a pair of custom-molded tips, you can also use those instead. Luckily, the earpiece nozzles are extremely versatile since they’re fully-compatible with most other ear tip designs.
If you’ve tried all 5 tips and still aren’t satisfied with how they feel – you can always replace them with a style you’re more comfortable with. Moving on from the ear tips, you’ll probably want to take a look at the best way to comfortably wear them below!
How To Comfortably Wear Them
As is the case with most IEMs, these are usually most comfortably-worn by looping the cable over the top of your ears. Some people choose to put them in their ears first, then loop the cable over the top. Others prefer looping the cable over first, then inserting both earpieces.
Either way, the order matters much less than the end result. The main point is that they will stay much more securely in place if you wear them like this. If you instead decide to wear them ‘cable-down’, you’ll notice that the weight of the cable will pull down on both earpieces.
Most people generally find that the best way to wear them is to loop the cable over their ears. (Then again, it never hurts to try both ways and see which one you prefer!) Once they’re in place, it’s also helpful to slide the cable lock near the y-split up and closer to your chin.
This also usually helps reduce microphonics when you’re listening to music and the cable brushes against your shirt.
The Possible Slight Adjustment Period
Once again, even after the ‘phones are securely in place, you may have to adjust to the new fit. As we mentioned above, there may be a slight adjustment period if this is your first time wearing deep insertion earphones.
Although it does vary from person to person – you will most likely find that they are much more comfortable than you probably imagined. (Some listeners even claim that they wear them in bed while they fall asleep since the earpieces don’t stick out very far.)
We can’t exactly vouch for that claim, but we definitely agree that they’re surprisingly comfortable for extended listening! Speaking of which, there have been some pretty bold claims about their sonic performance. Do they actually produce the best audio quality under $300?
Sonic Performance – Best Audio Quality Under $300?
Before we get into the full details of their sonic performance, it’s important to note that the ‘XR’ in their model name stands for ‘extended response’. Is their entire response extended, or just certain frequencies?
In the past, there were a few complaints about the previous models inability to produce a satisfying low end response. The ER4SR produced impressive audio playback, but featured an extremely smooth and neutral response. (If you prefer a purely analytical and flat response, you might not enjoy the slight bump.)
The company took some notes and decided to custom-tune the balanced armature drivers in a way that would slightly elevate and lengthen the low end. Each pair of headphones was also individually ‘custom-tuned’ to reproduce the sound you hear at a live performance.
Do they succeed at accurately representing the live sound? Is the bass response overpowering? Read our detailed breakdown below to find out!
Bass Response – ‘XR’
Right when you press play, you’ll immediately notice the slightly extended low end presence. There is also a noticeable emphasis on the sub-bass frequencies. Across a wide range of testing tracks, the lowest of the low end remains fairly long and extended.
It manages to remain punchy and extremely accurate without bleeding into (or overshadowing) the mid range. Despite the obvious emphasis on the sub-bass, the mid and sub-bass are both clearly separated.
Overall, the added extension and depth is very smooth and never veers off into muddy territory. Also, keep in mind that if you consider yourself a bass-head – you may still find yourself wanting a little bit more.
Mid Range Hump
In the mid range, there is a slight hump that adds more detail and clarity. The vocal precision across a wide range of tracks is definitely one of the stand-out features in this area. You can clearly hear the nuance of fingers sliding across guitar strings as well as softer background vocals.
Highs – Naturally Dynamic
In the upper range, the highs are also very clean and detailed. The treble is extremely dynamic without producing any sharp peaks whatsoever. Out of all 3 frequencies, the highs are easily the most natural-sounding.
They tend to have a slightly flat or dry quality that isn’t exactly rough, per se. (Maybe ‘raw’ is a better word.) Both the mids and highs are somewhat transparent. This adds to their noticeably more natural and true-to-the-recording tone.
Overall Sound Signature & Tonal Quality
Overall, they usually tend to lean on the brighter side and have an extremely cohesive sound signature. (This is especially noticeable when compared side-by-side with many other popular IEMs.)
The raw grit of each instrument and vocal passage gets pretty close to hitting the nail right on the head. If the goal was to accurately represent the live experience, they came pretty damn close. That being said, the single balanced armature drivers do have one minor drawback.
Due to their somewhat limited design, they slightly lack in terms of imaging depth. Whether or not you agree will ultimately boil down to your personal preference. After all, they are in-ear monitors but we still think it’s worth mentioning.
Before you look at our final overview, it’s also important to note that you will not need to pair these with a powerful DAC to experience everything described above. They are extremely easy to drive right out of the box with your smartphone or MP3 player.
There’s also one more accessory that’s directly applicable to their frequency response. You will receive a detailed performance graph that shows you where any bumps or dips usually occur. Not everyone enjoys studying graphs that outline the details of their headphones, but hey, at least that way you don’t have to take our word for it.
If you made it this far, you’re probably wondering if these are the right fit for you. Read the final section below to see our final rating out of 10 (and why we think they deserve it)!
Are They The Right Fit or You?
Most people who really enjoy these headphones fit into one (or more) of a few different categories. You’re either a budding audiophile, seasoned audiophile, audio professional, or someone who’s interested in experiencing a high-quality IEM for the first time. Do any of those describe you?
If not, maybe you’re someone who’s tried past earphones from this company and weren’t completely satisfied with the low end response. These would be a great match for you if you’re a fan of a highly-accurate mid-to-upper range response – but also enjoy a slight bass bump. (Once again, when we say ‘slight’, we do mean slight.)
Here’s the bottom line: it’d be next to impossible to find another similarly-priced IEM that can stand neck-and-neck with these. Although it may seem like a bold claim – we think these really do produce the best audio quality under $300.
If you’re someone who’s thinking about taking the next step towards trying a time-tested IEM, you’ll want to take a quick look at the review table below. There, you will see the main pros/cons as well as how we calculated their final rating out of 10.
Now that you’ve read our entire Etymotic Research ER4XR review, what do you think? Should you add these to your personal audio collection? Do you think you’ll be able to adjust to the deep insertion design, or is it too much of a hassle?
If you’d like to see more information before you decide, click the link below!
Let us know what you think by leaving a question or comment in the section below! We always do our best to respond as quickly as we can! Thanks for stopping by to take a look at our review, we look forward to hearing from you!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.
Etymotic ER4XR In-Ear Monitors
Proprietary MMCX Cable Design8.5/10
Long-Lasting Wearing Comfort9.0/10
- Unmatched Audio Quality At This Price Point
- Raw Acoustic Clarity & Slightly Elevated Bass Response
- Authentic & True-To-Life Playback
- Extremely Easy To Drive (No Amp Required)
- Perfect For Audiophiles With Any Level Of Experience
- May Be Slightly Uncomfortable For First-Time Users
- L/R Indicators Can Be Hard To See Under Low Light
- Requires Regular Filter Replacement