Etymotic ER4SR

Etymotic Research, Inc. has some impressive staying power within the head-fi industry. In fact, my very first Head-Fi meet happened at their headquarters in Elk Grove. Tyll Hertsens (then of HeadRoom, now of InnerFidelity) was busy crisscrossing the US with his ‘Traveling World of Headphones’ set up – basically a veritable buttload of high-end headphone gear packed up in the back of a van. I bought my first pair of Ety’s that year, reaching what was then the pinnacle of IEM’s. A few years later, I lost them in a move and basically made-do in the meantime with my first pair of ‘audiophile’ headphones (the Alessandro MS-1’s) until the headphone bug bit me again and I scored a newer, but still used, pair off eBay.

I broke them not too long afterwards while on a business trip. As Homer Simpson would so eloquently put it, D’oh!

They do offer a trade-in program for numbskulls like me who, at the time, had a more cavalier attitude towards protecting precious head-fi gear while on a flight. So I took advantage of that and got a brand new pair. What happened to those? Well, I sold them to a local audiophile friend to fund the purchase of the Audeze LCD-XC’s.

Now, even with the fancy protective case, the LCD-XC’s aren’t what I’d call portable. Once again, with more travel looming on the horizon, I found myself wanting another pair of Ety’s and promptly found another pair for sale on Head-Fi. This time they turned out to be the ER4-P’s. Now, if you’re not familiar with the Etymotic lineup, the ER4-P’s are the lower impedance version of the ER4-S, with a concomitant slight bass boost. It does, however, come with a P to S adapter, basically bringing up the total nominal impedance and frequency response back in line with the ER4-S.

In keeping with my longstanding tradition, I lost that pair by leaving them in the seat pocket in front of me while on the actual trip.

Which is how I came to be the owner of a gently used pair of ER4SR’s, the recently updated version of the ER4-S. It uses a new balanced armature driver with a lower 45 ohm nominal impedance while simultaneously boosting sensitivity 8 dB over the ER4-S so it can be easily driven from your portable device. As an added bonus, the bodies housing the drivers are milled from aluminum, which means that breaking them is pretty much a thing of the past.

Luckily, the local audiophile friend still had my ER4-S’s and loaned them out to me for a short comparison. I listened primarily to two tracks – Rilo Kiley’s “Silver Lining” from Under the Blacklight and Tegan and Sara’s “I Was A Fool” from their second to last album, Heartthrob. I thought that for the most part the previous model and the newer one shared the same overall tonal balance and spatial presentation. However, the ER4SR’s sounded a bit smoother in the presence region and I did end up preferring it over the older model. Otherwise, I’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.

In comparison to other headphones I have on hand, the LCD-XC’s sound a touch more transparent, though with a slightly brighter sound. However, the ER4SR’s can’t stand up to the hefty bottom octaves of the XC’s. The Sennheiser HD 800’s sound warmer, with fleshier vocals that seem to be a result of a slightly more prominent lower midrange / upper bass.

What’s most remarkable is that I find the ER4SR’s to be most like my loudspeakers in terms of the midrange and treble out of all the headphones I own. In other words, after an extended listening session with the Ety’s I can transition to loudspeaker listening after a very short adjustment period. The HD 800’s are fairly close in this regard, the LCD-XC’s less so than either.

The Etymotic ER4SR are certainly a worthy headphone. Reasonably priced with excellent performance, they’re the kind of gear that you can hold on to forever. Unless you’re me, of course.

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