ER 6i from Etymotic Research - I can’t hear you! No, really, I can’t hear you!!

by David Parmet Feb 06, 2006

The digital music revolution means for me that I can carry everything I might ever want to listen to with me everywhere I go. More importantly, for those times where I don’t want to be bothered, I don’t have to pretend I can’t hear you because I can’t hear you.

In other words,I am pleased as punch to live at a time where I can carry around the complete works of Joy Division so I can avoid idle chit-chat on planes and trains.

So it struck me, the vast majority of headphone and earphone reviews focus on stuff like audio reproduction, fidelity, dBs (not the band) and bass response. But what I really want to know is will it block out the sounds coming from my kids bedrooms at bedtime?

To test the 6isolators under real world conditions, my lovely lab assistant (wife) put our two test subjects - AKA, my daughters, the twin princesses - into the bath and encouraged them to shout at the top of their lungs. They’re three, they know from screaming.

For this highly scientific test, I put on “Fine Time” from New Order’s Technique album. I am happy to report that in addition to Joy Division’s entire recorded output, I have most of New Order’s as well, on my iPod and ready for any emergency.

The first thing you notice is how deeply you have to put these things in your ear canal. The manual says get them in good, open your jaw, twist and turn them and get them in there until they seal against the sides of your ear canals. If the flanges are too big for your tiny ear canals, you can order smaller ones. Or larger if you care to admit to your overly large ear canals. At first it is a bit uncomfortable but with a bit of time, effort and practice, they get in there without a hitch and feel just fine. If the flanges aren’t a good fit, there’s a pair of foam plugs in the box to replace them with to get a tighter fit.

The second thing you notice is how much of your music you were missing. I discovered that there’s this barely audible warm ambient buzz under “Love Vigilantes” that I never noticed before. Maybe we weren’t meant to know what is going on way down at the bottom of New Order songs. Maybe that’s why Peter Hook plays his bass so high. He’s trying to divert our attention.

But I digress.

The next thing I noticed is that I heard nothing, and I mean nothing, aside from the music. It took a few minutes for me to realize the kids were shouting at me. Waving their arms and shouting and I didn’t hear a thing. A parent’s dream!

At that point my wife wanted to share in the joy. So we traded places. Oddly enough, no matter how deeply she shoved and twisted the ear phones in there, she could still hear the kids. So Eytmotic - time to work on a Mommy filter.

The main downside to these guys is they seem very delicate. I can’t verify if they are or aren’t because frankly I don’t want to pull them out from my ears to see if the cable comes off. But you have to be very careful in pulling them out. Carefully twist the earphones themselves and not the wires to break the seal and then gently pull them out.

If you are an audiophile - the kind of person who bores people to death with lectures on how mp3s don’t catch the full sonic quality of old LPs, ER 6i is for you. Even if you are a casual listener but want something better than the stock earbuds the iPod comes with, you’d benefit by stepping up and getting a pair. They are pricey ($149 at the Apple Store) but so was your iPod. So it’s worth the investment.

In addition to the earphones themselves, the box contains a pair of foam plugs if the flanges covering the earphones aren’t a perfect fit for you, as well as a set of replacement filters. There’s a neat little carrying case to put your earphones in when you are done and a hard plastic thingie to wrap the cord around so it isn’t flopping around.


  • No David, if you are an audiophile (and we prefer the positive definiton of “person who finds enjoyment in high quality reproduction of music”) you buy the Etymotic ER-4P (better), or the 4S (best) if you want to lug a portable amplifier as well. The 4P can be upgraded to 4S simply by adding some impedance (via a cable Etymotic will happily sell you, some amps also have an impedance switch for just this purpose), so the 4P is the most versatile option. They do not come in white though, which is a plus for $300 IEMs.

    Nice PRticle anyway, the word about quality earphones that will even help preserve both your hearing and sanity can not be spread enough.

    Lear more on - sorry about your wallet *g*

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 371
  • On the slightly lower end and a bit more rugged, in my opinion, are the Ultimate Ears Studio 3. They have replaceable cables and provide a better sound isolation experience for me than the ER 6i. Plus they are around $99.

    And you can find more info on them at as well.

    Logan Browne had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I have the ER6i’s. I’ve had them for several months now. I can not claim to be a true audiophile, however, IMHO the ER6i’s are pretty poor. They do isolate very effectively, but what you are then left with is the sound coming from the ER6i’s, and it just isn’t very good. The highs are very harsh and crackly, and there is absolutely no bass. Yes, I have them inserted properly, I have experimented with all the possible inserts and experimented quite a bit with fit. Further I’ve tried uncompressed audio - the problem is not the source material. I’m not a bass-head at all, but there really is suppose to be bass, and the ER6i’s simply don’t reproduce any, or that’s pretty much the case. So basically what you have is harsh, bass-free sound. Interestingly I find the sound quite acceptable for movies - movies for whatever reason do sound good on the ER6is, but music sounds like you are listening to a cheap pair of computer speakers.

    sjonke had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 12
  • I love my ER6i’s, but…

    1) Using them is a commitment. It takes me 15-20 seconds per ear to put them in and 5-10 to take them out.

    So if I’m going to be in an environment where I need to hear anything, or people are going to be talking to me from time to time, I think twice before using them.

    pwbastian had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 3
  • BB - I’ll take the lighter load, thank you very much!

    Sjonke - I heard alot of complaints about the bass, which is why I tried them out on very bass heavy music - I didn’t have that problem. I think you have to really get them in there - deep in the ear canal.

    PWbastian - yep, it’s a commitment.

    David Parmet had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 10
  • D. Parmet - I can assure you that I have had them “deep” into my ear canal. Indeed, once, in my quest for better sound, so deep that I actually seemed to injure my right ear. My ear hurt for several days like an earache. Fortunately it cleared up. It may be that there is something about my ear canals that just doesn’t mesh with this type of earphone, but I tend to doubt that because the isolation achieved is very high. The seal is very effective. Aside from the utter lack of bass, there is also the issue of the highs. The highs are harsh, even crackly at times. For me, at least, the ER-6i’s do not sound good. They seal great, but they sound lousy.

    sjonke had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 12
  • Sjonke, what’s your source?

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I’ve recently bought the E2Cs which I do really like but on piano music there’s masses of “buzzing” harmonics or whatever. I’m not sure if that’s the compression or the ‘phones, but it’s inaudible when playing through my stereo.

    With these I do occasionally notice the better reproduction quality over the stock apple headphones, the balance across frequencies seems better though I can’t say I’m really knowledgeable.

    I’d love to compare the E2C with the E6C some time, unfortunately I can’t afford a pair but I’m definitely going to carry on searching.

    Nice to see you writing about a very under-discussed topic by ipod owners.

    Benji had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Mostly I have used 160 and 192 kbps AAC files, but I also tried ripping a fine sounding CD track (offhand I can’t remember exactly what) to a variety of formats, including 320 kbps AAC and Apple Lossless. In all, including the lossless, I heard the same scratchy highs and lack of bass. Also note that I did not use the equalizer (and normally never do). I sometimes do turn the EQ on and set to “bass boost” when using the ER6i’s because faking bass does at least make the music more or less listenable, if not actually good. I should also note that, in comparison, my Sony in-ear’s sound awful in the exact opposite way - terribly over-boosted, boomy bass and not much else. They’re worse, but at least they were cheap. I greatly prefer the sound from my Sennheiser PX-100’s. Dramatically superior to the ER6i’s, but of course without any isolation at all, so you need a quiet environment.

    sjonke had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 12
  • What’s missing here is burn-in times. I have had several in-ear phones and burn in is crucial. Especially with in-ear phones, they tend to be VERY harsh out of the box. I just got some rather cheap Sony ear-clingers and they were all, but unlistenable until I burned them in for about 40 hours. Took a good 100 before they sounded decent for the price.

    Burn-in, while some folks debate it’s validity, isn’t debatable to me. The LFEs just don’t work out of the box.

    Lastly, don’t underestimate how badly engineered stuff can wreck your listening experience. There is LOTS of badly engineered stuff out there and it is only with highly faithful reproductions using either in-ear phones or very high level circumaural (surrounding the entire ear) phones that it comes out. Most systems just don’t reveal the bad engineering. When it becomes evident, folks want to blame the phones when in fact it could just as easily be poorly recorded, poorly engineered or poorly encoded (every rip is NOT identical).

    Just some food for thought.

    MacKeyser had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 1
  • > ... highs are very harsh and crackly, and
    > there is absolutely no bass.

    I’m on my 4th set of Etymotic ER-4’s… so I know a bit about the company & its products. These plugs let me hear my music more clearly than my home stereo, and do so even when I’m jammed next to a screaming kid in coach. (I fly weekly.) In two words, “sweet music!”

    I have yet to find ANY product from ANY firm that’s always perfect. So I value a firm with good service. While Ety might treat purchasers of the more expensive ER-4 series nicer, they have been perfect with me. (Yes, the 4 include replacements for a problem.) Meanwhile, you are putting up (why?!?) with awful sound. There is no way that any firm would sell the POS that you describe. Certainly not one catering to high-end customers.

    SJohnke, Something is wrong with your approach. Either (1) you have a bad sample & the vendor should replace it post haste, (2) you need to badmouth a product to feel superior, despite how good it actually is, (3) you need to play the martyr, or (4) these plugs just don’t work right in your ears & need to go back.

    Maybe something else. But for the cost of these phones, this discussion oughta be “how excellent,” not “skanky.” The Ety’s should deliver for you.

    WaltFrench had this to say on Feb 07, 2006 Posts: 5
  • I was thinking (4), as in your 4 replacements for a problem.

    sjk had this to say on Feb 07, 2006 Posts: 112
  • I guess sjonke just prefers a more visceral bass. Etys have audible bass, and usually a very deep one. Properly amped, my 4S will reveal frightening depths in bass. Yet is will not be a “slamming” bass that you could actually feel, as you would with supra- or circumaural phones such as the PX100 since they can move more air. To some this kind of reproduction is a aquired taste, some never like it. I tend to mix.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 07, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I was initially disappointed with the bass response from the ER6i’s and my 5G.  After a bit of research, I bought a PA2V2 amplifier from (for 60 bucks, excellent value) and it transformed the ER6i’s from IMHO a very accurate set of headphones which lacked bass (and distorted the bass if it was boosted) to now a richer sound with much better bass response.  I also went from using the silicone flanges to the foam plugs, but now I’m back on the flanges as they seem to fit better and further into my ears and seem to sound better too.  The quality of the recording/engineering is more evident too, crap music will still sound crap, but well recorded stuff is wonderful. - Jas

    Jas had this to say on Feb 07, 2006 Posts: 1
  • It may seem that I just want to slam the Ety’s, but I’m just trying to relate my (counter) experience with them. Admittedly my frustration with them has made me rather bitter about them, and that is probably coming out.

    Anyway, this is not a “there is no slamming bass” issue. This is a “there is no bass” issue. There is decent/good midrange, but harsh highs and almost no bass at all. I definitely do not want “slamming bass”, although if I had to choose, I suppose I’d take that over no bass at all, which is what I’m getting with the ER6i’s. Drums, for example, sound a bit like they are being played underneath a blanket. Also, again, there is the issue of the harshness of the highs. So both the highs and the lows do not sound very good (the lows are worse than the highs), and that doesn’t result in a satisfying set of headphones, to say the least!

    As I noted, I’ve experimented quite a bit with the fit, including getting all the different sizes of foam and flange inserts, and inserting them at one point to the point of minor ear injury. With the medium foam inserts I do get a very good seal, but the sound quality isn’t good. The flange inserts seemed to seal almost as well, but while at first they seemed more comfortable, I found that they have a discomforting pressure effect when I use them on the train (which is where I wish to use them) rather like the pressure you feel when landing in an airplane. Breaking the seal intentionally (by pulling on them slightly) temporarily alleviated the pressure, but within a minute the pressure returned. Needless to say, I went back to the foam inserts.

    I guess it’s possible I have a bad set of ER6i’s. Hopefully that is the case. I will contact Etymotic and see if they are willing to exchange them, though it has been a number of months since the purchase. If so I’ll give that a shot.

    The amplifier idea has occurred to me, and interestingly enough I’m using a 60 GB vPod as well, so perhaps it is an issue of the vPod not really being able to drive these headphones, but the amplifiers I’ve seen were either very expensive as well as large, or cheap but didn’t even claim to improve sound quality (only make it louder and/or allow sharing with multiple headphones). I wish I could try one out before buying it. $60 is definitely more reasonable, though, and if replacement ER6i’s don’t work out or don’t improve things, I may take a chance on that amplifier.

    sjonke had this to say on Feb 07, 2006 Posts: 12
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