“If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a phrase Etymotic must have taken extremely seriously, judging by a look at their now-mythic, $99 ER-6i. The set has been around since their release in 2004, after which they quickly became the standard against which all other sub-$100 IEMs were tested. But seven years is an eon for a product to have remained essentially unchanged in the gadget world. Are they still as good now as they were then?
The short answer: absolutely. That’s remarkable, considering their run; even more so is the fact the strengths of this set — sound quality, sound isolation and ergonomics — are still among the best examples of those factors in their class.
The ER-6is come standard with the same set of eartips as the hf2s we tested — one set each of the massive foam tips and the ball-end “glider” foam tips, and two pairs of flanged tips, small and large — and exhibit the same excellent passive noise-cancelling performance (42 dB for the massive foam tips, 35 dB for the others); the only difference is the length of the tips, with the ER-6i tips being a little shorter. This practically rivals the noise-cancelling characteristics of many active noise-cancelling sets.
Sound character from this single-armature set is good. It’s neither deeply bassy nor extremely clear at the high end, yet still manages to impart a pleasing sound due to its strong midrange, with a bit of a bias toward bass. In fact, the contrast between the ER-6i and the hf2 (also equipped with a single armature) in ability to deliver clear highs and expanded range is quite pronounced, with the ER-6i definitely falling behind. The ER-6i is supposed to make up for this with better bass over the hf2, but if this is true, I didn’t notice — bass response actually seemed better from the hf2.
It’s clear that Etymotic designers took a good look at ergonomics when creating the ER-6i. Flats along the sides of each earpiece make them extremely easy to insert and remove; there’s also a cable-saving j-bend where it meets the jack, and the cable itself seems difficult to tangle. And the zippered pocket-case is a nice touch.
These guys don’t come with an inline microphone, at a time when many sub-$100 IEMs do. Also, you’ll have to pop for a $6 set of filters every now and again, depending on how mucky your ears get, after you’ve gone through the first complimentary set that come with the earphones.
Despite its age, the ER-6i manages to score high marks in sound quality and ergonomics, and is still unbeatable at sound isolation among its peers.