If the Final Audio Design Lab 1 brought us to the upper limits of avant-garde audio, then today’s review will be on a pair of earphones is rooted in its technical capability and accurate reproduction of sound. Welcome to the Etymotic Research ER-4PT.
Etymotic Research is one of the most enduring names in the audio industry. Founded in 1983 by Mead Killion and Edwin DeVilbiss, Etymotic Research originally made its name producing hearing aids and other related equipment. Eventually, that experience would be used to make some of the most famous earphones in audio history. The name Etymotic itself is derived from Greek and means “true to the ear”. It is quite safe to say that their earphones fall nothing short of that.
Currently, Etymotic Research’s top of the line offering comes in the form of the ER-4 microPro Earphone series. According to Etymotic Research, the ER-4 earphones were the “world’s first high-fidelity, noise isolating in-ear earphones”. It might also be interesting to note that with the exception of minor tuning, the ER-4 series has changed very little since it was first released 30 years ago. The three variants that comprise the ER-4 series are the: ER-4PT, ER-4S, and ER-4B. Coming in at 299 USD each, these sit solidly in the mid-range IEM category.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Gail @ Etymotic for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Etymotic Research. All media rights are reserved.
The ER-4PT features one of the most comprehensive earphone packages for its price range. Opening the cardboard box reveals a well-built plastic case with the word “Etymōtic” in red on the lid. The case has a utilitarian, 90s IBM device look that characterizes the practical nature of Etymotic Research’s products. Opening the plastic case reveals the ER-4PT and a whole myriad of accessories. In addition, each ER-4PT earphone comes with a Channel-Matching Compliance Graph.
Starting with carrying case options, the ER-4PT can either be transported in a small carrying pouch or inside the large plastic case. The small carrying pouch will do just fine at accommodating the ER-4PT and its relatively long cable, but not much else. As I use a messenger bag on a daily basis though, I often found that it was easier just to bring the larger plastic case and toss all the accessories/ earphones inside. In addition, the plastic case comes with foam cut outs for the filter changer, 3.5mm to 6.3 mm adapter, 2 sets of flange tips, and the earphones themselves, which makes for much easier access than fumbling around with accessories strewn inside the small carrying pouch.
A wide range of eartips is included with the ER-4PT, including the proprietary glider tips and the black foam tips. However, neither of the above worked very well (glider kept falling out, black foam was a little rough and uncomfortable to wear). The classic triple flange worked brilliantly though, but a little tutorial (for first-time users) is in order. To achieve a good seal with the triple flange tips, gently pull your ear back with one hand before inserting the earphone at a slight angle with the other. Use a twisting motion to ensure the best seal possible. You’ll be able to tell that a seal has been achieved by the fact that you won’t be hearing much of the outside world afterwards. The isolation is so good that I was able to fall asleep on the sub (for the first time ever), during which I ended up missing my stop by several stations.
The last part in the ER-4PT’s extensive package is the ER-4PT to ER-4S converter cable. The ER-4PT features 10dB greater output at higher frequencies and 13 dB greater output at low frequencies than the ER-4S. The ER-4S will generally need an amp in order to be powered effectively. Interestingly enough, the ER-4S and the ER-4PT are being sold for the exact same price (MSRP).
The ER-4PT has a low-profile, cylindrical plastic housing. The stem of the earphone is quite thin, which has caused some users trouble in the past. In addition, as a model-kit hobbyist, I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that plastic flashing/mold lines were still visible on the earphone. However, while plastic isn’t my material of choice, it does make the ER-4PT lightweight (and will ensure that it can survive more than a few drops).
The cable is well built. The top half is braided, while the bottom half is a shiny reinforced plastic similar to those found on flexible bike locks. Strain relief is present where it counts, and the split is robust (if not a little hefty). The 3.5 mm plug is 90 degrees, and similarly durable. My only complaint is that microphonics is moderately noticeable, but that can be easily resolved with the use of the provided clothing clip (albeit not the most elegant solution).
Overall, the various aspects of the ER-4PT’s build work together to create a very coherent design. The weight of the earphones and the thin stem are well suited for the deep-insertion seal, which ultimately betters the sound quality. And that is always a plus!
The ER-4PT defines the classic “Etymotics Sound”. It features an analytical and crystal clear SQ. Be prepared to hear things that you may never have heard before in your tracks, including any imperfections in source material. Starting with the bass, the ER-4PT doesn’t break any conventions. It has good impact and speed, but lacks a certain fullness due to the obvious limitations of a single balanced armature driver in a plastic housing (which helps to tighten decay, for better or for worse). This is perhaps the biggest complaint regarding the ER4 series -that it’s far too tight and clean, and lacks musicality due to its bass signature. I shared similar feelings to start, but extended really began to engage my ability to appreciate the ER4.
The mids are good, with very little coloration and a generally neutral sound. It’s very clean and reminds me a bit of its headphone cousin, the T1. The treble on the ER-4PT is amazingly clear and thoroughly detailed. Unlike some earphones, the ER-4PT is not afraid to establish its treble presence. However, harshness was never a problem with the ER-4PT, and the highs are well connected with the rest of the frequency range (with an amazing smoothness, might I add).
It should thus come of no surprise that the ER-4PT has some of the best instrument separation around. It never failed to render different instruments, no matter how busy or congested a track may be. This may even make for a slightly odd and disorienting listening experience at first! Soundstage is moderately sized, but the instrument separation does help significantly. That said, the emphasis on the high frequency notes, sound isolation, and extreme clarity can make things slightly fatiguing at times.
Popping on the adapter to convert the ER-4PT to ER-4S, I felt that a touch of air was added to the earphones. The same clarity and detail is maintained, but the sound is a bit more neutral. Purists will definitely find this option more appealing. However, this will come at the expense of convenience, as a portable headphone amp is highly advisable with the ER-4S.
Overall, the ER-4PT is a great pair of earphones when it comes to clarity of sound and accuracy of reproduction. And while in recent years, the ER-4 series has faced increased competition in the rapidly expanding IEM market, it’s safe to say that the earphones still offer a truly impressive sound signature. It’s one of those earphones that simply can’t be missed in one’s audio journey, and I would gladly recommend these to users who enjoy an analytical and extremely clear sound.
TYPE: Single Balanced Armature Driver
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20-16,000 Hz
IMPEDANCE (@1kHz): 4B (100 Ohms) 4S (100 Ohms) 4P (27 Ohms) 4PT (27 Ohms)
SENSITIVITY (@1 kHz) SPL at 0.1v: 4B (90 dB) 4S (90 dB) 4P (102 dB) 4PT (102 dB)
WEIGHT: Very, very light.
PRICE: 299 USD