Review by Kelly Keltner
Let me begin this review by saying, while I’ve found some love for certain models, I don’t really care for most canalphones: They’re uncomfortable, and while I love the idea of plugging a foreign object into my ear and having that object deliver magical sounds just like an owl delivers a Howler, I usually wind up being disappointed with either the sound or the fit. So, with that in mind, it was time to try the Etymotic mc3 ($100).
This set, with a three-button remote on the cable and four sets of super-sealing, deep-seating eartips (two flanged, two foam), was now tasked with being tested by me. May the Force, that I’ll probably have to use to shove them into my ears, be with them.
The sound is decent. Not great, not good. Just decent. To achieve the best sound, I had to mix the eartips — one flanged tip (or Christmas-tree tip, as I like to call it) in the right and a foam tip in the left. With this set-up, I achieved what was probably going to be the best sound I could get from these ‘phones. As long as your music isn’t too ambitious, you may not have much issues with the sound. Vocals sound good enough, and at times, I was even convinced that the sound was good. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen often.
The tips do block out most noise around you, something Etymotic tips are renowned for (these are the same used in almost all their IEMs), the large cylindrical foam ones doing the best job out of the four.
The construction also seems pretty solid. Pulling, stomping and attempting to bend pieces that shouldn’t bend proved that this set should hopefully stand up to some heavy use.
Now that the good is out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the review, because I’m not going to lie: overall, I hated these things.
First of all, the earbuds jut-out like the antenna rods from a Cyberman’s helmet. If you’re wanting stylish canalphones, go elsewhere. Run, fly or roller skate to another set that doesn’t stick out of your ears like antennas from the top of an alien space craft in a bad 1950s sci-fi flick.
Secondly, let’s go back to that decent sound. I couldn’t say the sound was good, and definitely not great, because of the issues with the bass. The bass isn’t always bad, but when it’s bad, it reeks. Some drumbeats are magically transformed from magnificent to sounding like they are played on a child’s toy drum. Electronic beats that would normally sound like a thumping dancefloor in your ears suddenly sound like they come from a cheap 80s synthesizer bought at Wal-Mart (had one; recognize it). Some orchestral pieces had their basslines magically deleted. And God forbid someone strike a cymbal at the same time someone’s attempting to do something that registers on the low-range (fix it). It’s like the whole song just magically unravels. However, this is not standard across the board. It seems to depend heavily on how much competition the bass has within the song. But the point is: If the bass has to put up a fight, it’s gonna lose. And it’s going to be bloody.
Then there’s the cable. If you’re talking on the phone with someone, you don’t notice how much noise cable movement factors into the sound. However, engage the music and then you hear it. Swish, Swosh, Woosh, Swash. Somehow, I don’t think Johnny Cash intended that to underscore “Ring of Fire” (Note: I’ve never heard “Ring of Fire” sound more tinny and uninspiring than I did in these ‘phones). If you’re being active and bouncing up and down, be prepared for a bit of extra bass from the thump-thump made by the cables as you bounce. Who knew you were such a musician?
Let’s talk about the controls now. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with the controls. Until you realize exactly where they fall on the cable. Right at your mouth. On the surface it makes sense because – hey – there’s the mic! It’s right at your mouth! Brilliant! Unfortunately, so are all your controls. You can’t see them and they’re always bumping right up against your face. While I’m sure this looked good on paper, it works out about as well as a nice, soothing boat ride did for Fredo Corleone.
Finally, the thing I hated most about this set were those legendary eartips. The foam ones were large and, even with ample squeezing and teasing, they were still uncomfortable in my ears. Have small ear canals? You’re probably going to hate most of the tips with this set. The one tip that fit most comfortably in my ears (the small flanged ones) didn’t fare well with me either. After about 15 minutes in my ears, the material began to irritate my ears and cause a bit of itchiness. Get these things out of my ears!
If you’re someone looking for good canalphones and don’t normally use them, you probably won’t find a friend in these. Similarly, if you’re an audiophile who loves injecting music directly into your ears, go elsewhere.