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

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etymotic-er6i-black-crop
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.

[xrr rating=80%]