Etymotic mc3 Earphones: The Silencer [Review, $100 IEM Week]



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 Good:

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.


The Bad:

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.

[xrr rating=60%]

The large foam tips, mushroom-shaped Slider tips and the larger flanged "Christmas tree" tips


  • Steve

    Looks so ugly 

  • Brianna Wu

    I have to say, I disagree. I LOVE these headphones, and I’ll tell you why. They excel at blocking out sound. That makes them invaluable for an airplane, working in a coffee shop with chatty teens or for husband snoring. The sound is that much richer because of it. 

    The construction is actually not that good. If you use them as heavily as I do, expect the wire to start fraying in about 6 months. But, I also sleep with them in to cut out the noise of my husband’s snoring. The headphone controls will eventually fall apart. 

    They also sell modular kits for these, so you can replace the other components as they die. 

    I think they are a brilliant tool for a gear bag, but opinions differ. If you want to work undisturbed, these are the best on the market for their price.

  • prof_peabody

    Sooo ugly.  Looks like your sticking a phaser in your ear.  

  • TechTeich

    Want looks? Go for Beats and look like a douche. Want sound? Go for something else.

  • elimilchman

    Thanks for the comment Brianna. I agree — it’s pretty much gospel that Etymotic has the best-sealing non-custom eartips in the biz. Problem is, they’re also among the most invasive. I like them too, but they took some getting used to; and people who don’t like things in their ears often seem to really dislike them. 

  • Brianna Wu

    That’s fair enough. I can see why someone wouldn’t groove on them, and you’re right that they are quite invasive. But sometimes function is the most important consideration. 

  • Dyoll_uk

    From your review I can tell that you didn’t have the right eartips in. The foam tips are no good. The flanged silicone tips, if you can fit them properly, give the best noise isolation and then the sound from these earphones is magnificent – all the bass comes back and it’s better bass than anything else unless you pay three times as much money. Mids and highs are far more accurate than comparable earphones.

  • Rbmccaslin

    I strongly disagree. First off, mixing silicone and foam is going to sound terrible as the two materials absorb frequencies differently. As for the bass, I don’t know if you were expecting colored earphones like beats or Bose ie2s, but when your company advertises its self as “the worlds most accurate”, I don’t think it’s fair to give a negative review because you didn’t hear a “Thumping dance floor in your ears”. While I understand that personal preference does play a part in every review, this one is tainted by it. I for one think that these buds are excellent and provide exactly WHAT THE ARE ADVERTIZED to do. The are also moving coil drivers and should be burned in before expecting there true sound, something you clearly did not bother to do judging by the competing bass complaint. Maybe if you had worn them for a month instead of immediately ripping them out of your head and stomping on them, you wouldn’t have hated them so much.