Etymotic ER-6i Earphones Deserve Their Mythic Status [Review]

Etymotic ER-6i Earphones Deserve Their Mythic Status [Review]

Image courtesy of Etymotic Research.

“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 Good:

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.

The Bad:

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.

Verdict:

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.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Related
  • prof_peabody

    The five foot cord is a deal breaker for me on these phones.  

    It’s nice to see they also offer white ones on the web site though.  The jazzy styling rules out most alternatives to Apple’s headphones for me, but these ones aren’t so bad (at least in white).  

  • 300AShareMakesMeSmile

    I had a pair for about 3 years but the wires near the ears got all dried out and stiff and both of them snapped.  I tried to repair them with glue and tape whenever they cracked, but eventually the electrical connections severed.  They’re past their warranty but I got plenty of use out of them.  I really liked them because they emphasized the higher frequencies than bass.  I’m thinking of buying the ER23-HF3 model as a replacement.  I still should send the ER-6i model back and get them replaced for a fee since they’re really light and comfortable.

    I did need to purchase a few of those tiny filters and sprung for a pack of extra silicone earbuds.  I made sure I took extra care on cleaning my inner ears with a swab so the filters didn’t get mucked so quickly.  I don’t think it’s the earwax directly that clogs those filters.  It’s more like inner ear moisture that puts a layer of muck on those filters.

  • Chandra

    hey, that’s great, why don’t you post other than apple, i want cult of Mac with all tech news

  • Rocky Carr

    These earphones are GREAT. . . for classical music. For pop, rock, R&B or any other mainstream music, they are severely lacking in the bass department, and turning up the bass only introduces distortion. If the majority of your listening is classical, however, these are the ones to get. They are clear, open, accurate.

  • JadeMonkee

    I gotta say, I bought these earphones and found them to be a terrible disappointment. I could never get decent bass reproduction, I can’t wear them for long periods of time (they get really uncomfortable), and, well, they’re too difficult to pull in and out quickly, and too fiddly to seat correctly to get the ‘right’ sound. Even when I got the ‘right’ sound, it never sounded as good as a decent circumaural pair of cans (retailing for the same price). I put them in my drawer and bought a pair of Sennheiser HD448′s, and never looked back.

  • surferoo

    Do this…. +http://www.instructables.com/i
    and use Shure foam – +http://www.shure.co.uk/product

    Well worth it.

  • Jeff Brodeur

    Just posted a similar review on these, great little ‘phones. http://brodeurj.blogspot.com/2

About the author

Eli MilchmanWhen he was eight, Eli Milchman came home from frolicking in the Veld one day and was given an Atari 400. Since then, his fascination with technology has made him an intrepid early adopter of whatever charming new contraption crosses his path — which explains why he's Cult of Mac's test editor-at-large. He calls San Francisco home, where he works as a journalist and photographer. Eli has contributed to the pages of Wired.com and BIKE Magazine, among others. Hang with him on Twitter.

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