Etymotic Research ER4P

Ok remember when I was rationalizing how getting the EM3s was enough to not get the upper class headphones (e.g. e5c, UE10 pro, ER4P/S)? Well I friggin’ caved! As of tomorrow morning I’m going back to the Norman Audio showroom, to get a pair of Etymotic Research ER4Ps.

These are one of the many “upper class” canalphones I rationalized to be too expensive to invest in (but never did I question their quality), hence settling for the kick-ass FutureSonics EM3s

This has a backstory to it, which of course is a further rationalization of how weak I am when it comes to technolust hahaha. Surprisingly though my mom didn’t question my decision at all… maybe it was because she just bought a digicam for herself without actually knowing what the hell she wanted. We chose for her, and I must say it was a nice Panasonic Lumix (Leica lens) bargain. Anyways, I digress.[graph]: “view graph”


I went to Singapore not really needing anything, but I said to myself that if I should find a supplier of Etymotic Research products, then I would consider it as a sign and shop! Well, that and the fact that it is Singapore and July was supposed to be sale season.

Anyways, so I went to the ER site, and found a Singapore distributor. I mailed first thing in the morning, then we went about our city tour (which prompted me to say that this place isn’t that great for “sights.” No offense to the inhabitants of this fine place, but I think even the Philippines has better places to visit for the sake of visiting.

Anyways, we got back from the tour and there was a response! He said that unfortunately they were out of stock of any ER products and that the next shipment was in 2 weeks. Obviously I wouldn’t be here by then. There is absolutely no distributor in Manila, so the only way I could get the pair is either buying it in a country which has it, or have it shipped. As of the moment, it seemed I was leaning on the second option.

He also invited me to visit their showroom if I wanted to take a look at the ER4Ps (they had a brand new display unit) to “aid” in my decision wether or not I’m set on getting the ER4Ps. It was right beside the Funan IT center (where we were going to shop the next day) so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to swing by and hear exactly what all the audiophiles are raving about.

So everything went according to plan. I swung by, and saw the headphones, it was then Mr. Cheng allowed me to test them! It being a canalphone (a type that you stick deep into your ear), I didn’t have to worry about hygene because it was a brand new unit. I’ll leave the impressions for later. Suffice to say, I fell in love, because it seemed to reinforce my sonic taste. Meaning all the “flaws” I noticed in the EM3s, which I attributed to my lack of audio “conditioning,” apparently were dead-on when taking the perspective of Etymotic Research. Of course it’s just a matter of taste – because wether it’s FutureSonics, Etymotic Research, Ultimate Ears, etc., they all have different takes on an ideal response curve, which we don’t need to mention are ultimately subjective.

Anyways, simply put, the ER4Ps reflected my musical taste to the dot right out of the box.

Another “sign” was when I asked him about shipping arrangements, and he told me that I should call back tonight and check on him, because by then he’ll know wether or not he needed to present the product to other clients the next day. If not, then he said I could just buy the display unit since it was brand new, and was already broken in by me.

I called, and sure enough, I could purchase the unit… and there you have it.

ER4P Quick Intro

First off the ER4 line has 3 models – the B, P, and S respectively. Each caters to different “situations.”

  • B is for binaural, best suited for live monitoring.
  • S is for stereo, which is the actual “reference” model. Made for accuracy, and useful for recording/mastering.
  • P is for “power/portable” which has a higher DB output for portable players.

Of course, for me there’s no question that the S is the way to go, but you’d need a headphone amplifier most of the time. And since I listen on the go more than I actually record, then I followed the advise of a post I read: to get the ER4P, then get the adaptor cable which converts it to a 4S – and just use the cable whenever I need to go “reference mode.”

For those who don’t know, “reference” material (reference speakers, etc. etc.) are devices of a certain grade that is ideal for recording/mixing/mastering in a studio setup.

First Impressions


The ER guys put a lot of thought into every aspect of this. The wire was much much more durable than that of the EM3s (and any other canalphone probably)

The tips are shaped like a gun, which is extremely useful if you’re using foam tips (which require you to squeeze before inserting) A squeezed foam tip when on the ER4, resembles a stick… which is much more easier to insert into your ear before it expands.

There is a specific hardened area where to put the shirt-clip, which guarantees that your wires aren’t subject to any unnecessary pressure. Another bonus of the whole shirt clip concept is that it is very useful for the way I use my canalphones. I like running the wire to my back and inside my shirt, and normally the wires get easily tugged down… the clip will solve that.

Of course on of the main reason why I also wanted the ER4s was that they had washable silicon tri-flanged tips! Hurray!

It also has “filters” which prevents dust and other small particles from entering the soundhole (which will be impossible to dismantle, hence clean)


The big, hard plastic box comes with a myriad of stuff as you will see in the webpage, namely a bunch of extra foam, a bunch of extra tri-flange silicon tips, extra filters, filter changing tool, shirt clip, carrying pouch.


Here’s the deal, as I said, as far as expensive audio stuff is concerned, main determining factors that make me decide to consider a product is customer feedback. Actually listening to the product is a bonus, but for the most part, I can only gauge by reviews.

Suffice to say I have yet to hear real negative feedback on the ER4 series. It seems all people who have actually listened and compared them to other excellent alternatives always seem to all agree that the level of detail these canalphones have are amazing. The only nuance that keeps on popping up is the lack of bass as compared to the ultra-bass configurations of most headphones nowadays. At the worst, they keep both. Meaning no matter how good another product is, the ETYs still have amazing dynamic range that can’t be beat (in its class) that they can’t bring themselves to switch sides totally.

I was pleasantly surprised that all my “problems” with the EM3s, which I initially attributed from my lack of listening experience, were actually spot on. Subjectivity issues aside, Etymotic Research has plotted a [graph][] of an “ideal” response curve that will reflect a transparent sound. It even goes to explain why they chose the said curve as a reference – by taking the average of 5 different, but recommended loudspeaker room-equalized response curves.

On first listen, I was pleased to see that it was close to what I had “originally preferred.” Apparently, the ER4s proved that the EM3s indeed were lacking in the high range. And my taste in bass wasn’t anorexic. Having slowly been getting used to the boombastic bass of the EM3s, the ER4s were definitely a step back, but then I was never a bass person to begin with.

The soundstage and detail were what clinched it for me though, the EM3s already were doing a stellar job, but it turns out that the ER4s had a wider soundstage, allowing a more immersed experience.

And I would have to concur that the only negative thing about it it lacks the bass needed for a “fun” experience. It is truly for reference-type applications, where accuracy instead of visceral punch is preferred.

So what now? I’ll use EM3s if I want booming bass (and treble boost the EQ), or bass boost when using the ER4P. This is of course limited to portable audio (e.g. iPod et all). The two seem to balance out with respect to that, but one major points where the ER4P leaves the EM3s in the dust is its versatility: the ability to be true reference grade when used with the adaptor cable (which I will buy in time), and unmatched level of detail and immersion.

Here’s a really good review that sums up the ER4P quite well, what it is, what it isn’t, what it could be, and why it was built the way it is.

And finally the server has been upgraded, I can now use Ecto again to blog!

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