Sound engineers, musicians and audiophiles require the greatest fidelity when recording or listening to music. Etymotic's ER-4PT MicroPro earphones represents the company's top-of-the-line set of earbuds, and, at $299, cost less than other competing brands. Our full review will tell you what--if anything--you give up for a lower price tag.
As with other custom earbuds, we first had to get molds of our ears made by an audiologist. Unlike the sessions with Altec Lansing and Ultimate Ears, the Etymotic audiologist took two molds of each ear, one with our jaw closed, and one with our jaw opened. Each took about 10 minutes to make. Then, after the molds are shipped off, Etymotic "averaged" the two to make our custom tips.
The molds themselves cost about $100, which is not included in the cost of the earphones. After waiting about two weeks, the molds arrived along with the ER-4s.
When we received the ER-4s, the custom in-ear molds almost seemed redundant, as they come with seven different pairs of tips. Also included in the large black plastic carrying case is a lapel clip, a filter removal tool and a quarter-inch adapter. We liked the ER-4's long 50-inch cable, which was much longer than those of the Sonomax eers PCS-250.
Design and Fit
The one advantage of the ER-4's custom molds is also their chief disadvantage. Unlike most custom earbuds, the custom tips are not permanently molded to the earbud itself, so it can be used with several different Etymotic earphones. This makes it hard to determine the correct orientation by feel alone. As a result, it often took us upward of 30 seconds to correctly insert each piece into our ears, much longer than with competing custom in-ear molds. While they were slightly less snug, the Sonomax eers PCS-250s went in much easier.
Also, while the Etymotic molds are made of a soft silicone like Altec Lansings, we found them to be more abrasive. In fact, because of the constant adjustments needed to insert the earphones, we experienced mild skin irritation on our ear.
To test the ER-4s, we listened to a variety of tracks though our Mac, some of which were MP3s recorded at no less than 160 kbps, as well as FLAC and Apple Lossless files. We also listened to a number of records played on a Technics SL-QD33 and a Panasonic SA-XR55 amplifier.
For the most part, the ER-4s held their own against the $499 Altec Lansing A1, although we noted that the latter had much brighter mid-range tones. John Coltrane's sax came through much louder on tracks such as "My Favorite Things," though the song sounded slightly warmer through the ER-4s.
On classical tracks, such as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, we picked up a greater level of detail on the A1s than the ER-4s; the roar of the cannons was much sharper and distinct. Compared to the Sonomax eers PCS-250s, the ER-4s delivered greater depth and detail across low and mid-ranges, though the two were overall pretty close in performance.
While the Etymotic ER-4PT MicroPro earphones offer excellent audio quality, we found the custom molds difficult to insert. Still, if you don't want to spend more than $300, we prefer the sound from the ER-4 more than the Sonomax eers PCS-250. We recommend skipping the custom molds, though. With the plethora of tips that come with the earphones, you'll most likely find a set that fits just fine without having to spend an extra $100 for the molds.