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The fascination of Etymotic ER-4 tuning

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 
I always try to make the best out of my hi-fi components. With electronics, I don’t feel at home, but concerning sound transducers no one finds mercy from my modifying appetite. And so I reflected how the sound of the Etymotic ER-4S could be improved. I judged the foam plug to be better sounding, but wasn’t convinced of the tiny plastic tube inside of it, which actually elongates the narrow tube of the ER4 transducer. Without that, I reflected, the sound could disperse in a more natural way in the wider ear canal. So I shortened the whole foam plug comprising the plastic tube to the length of the transducer’s tube. That way the sound was very convenient and clearly more natural than originally. I further experimented with noise protection foam plugs: cut to 2/3 of their length and pierced by an awl (their coated original «outside» placed on the downside!), they fitted very well onto the transducer’s tubes – their tip with the filter inside lying open marginally above the foam. Thus the sound was at its optimum: much more natural, without any coloration – very clearly noticeable especially in comparison to the white plastic tips, which sounded «pressed» and narrow in comparison.

Another way of sound improvement, which leaves the appearingly better isolation of the white plastic tips intact, is to cut the latter’s upper lamella away, comprising the inner «tube». Thus the virtual elongation of the transducer tube is avoided. For perfection, the hole can be widened up a bit by a scissor. Thus the sound is improved in a imilar way as the foam alternative, but suffers a trace from a coolish overtone. I’m quite sure that the reason for that is to find in reflections between the smooth surface of the plastic and the ear canal – substantially reduced in the case of the more absorbing foam tips.

Then came the day my new Corda arrived at me. But what a disappointment: today of all days both of the Ety filters were plugged – nothing but a low, dull sound… A necessarily logical scenario when you think of the open lying filter tips… (although my ears are always clean, of course!). Second misfortune: I found only one reserve filter in the filter tool’s hollow handle! What to do now? I’m not a modern man – no mobile phone, no credit card –, so I can’t order some filters from Etymotic Research.

I found a solution: took the filters out of the transducer, took the filter membrane out of their tiny metal tubes… and replaced it by some soft, porous foam (yellow instead of green – who cares!). After some tries, I found the right density: approx. the fivefold of the tube's volume (hard to estimate), pressed into it with the aid of the metal tip of a pencil. By the way: once I dared to listen without the filters – this way the sound is very bright, plainly unenjoyable. Variation of the foam density allows a very fine tuning of the sound balance – the less foam, the brighter –, fascinating! In addition, the sound via such soft-foam filtering has lost the tiny (metallic) harshness at the upper end of the audio bandwidth perceivable with the stock filter – without any roll-off tendency.

Altogether, the sound is barely recognisable in comparison to the original one. It's far more realistic, there's no coloration at all, a more credible soundstage (although ostensibly placed in the head). Considering the Etys' manifest qualities, such as phenomenal transient response, unbeatable resolution and their fabulous intimacy thanks to the immediacy of the sound transmission avoiding outer ear reflections: in one word: nearly the perfect reproduction – if not even more...

Some further experiments with additional coating of the complete outside of the foam plugs (except the one facing the eardrum) using contact glue have resulted in a significant low-bass enhancement – too much for my taste: it reminded me of a slightly mistuned bass reflex system.

Finally, for the protection of the filter foam against dirt, I folded a round piece of nylon gauze over the transducer before putting over the foam tip. By the way, it's important that it isn't tense – otherwise the sound would be damped.

post #2 of 36
I cannot coment on the ETY mods as I have not heard any of the models.
But judging from your profile you like to do a mod or two[ the Stax
for instance] so the next step is surely to build.........



Team flat thingies
post #3 of 36


[totally amazed]

if I ever get Eties, I am NOT going to try that!
post #4 of 36
Man, it takse some serious balls to pull apart a $300 pair of canal phones...
post #5 of 36
Thread Starter 

...it's another thing to build a glass fiber dome tweeter or such a micro-technology inherent headphone system, all the more a canal phone... (Anyway, the motivation wouldn't be missing.)

Braver & Nezer...

...why renounce to exhaust the full potential of the ER-4? And remember: the modification is fully reversible. No risk of throwing away $300...

post #6 of 36
I'd freak out changing the filters on those things...

Also, I wouldn't imagine wanting to mod them as they sound so good as they are. If it ain't broke, don't fix it is my motto on things that cost a lot of money.
post #7 of 36
Go on I dare you
Pick your transducer design and have ago.

You will have a lot of fun I promise!

Become a member of Team Diy Headphone[a very small team]

post #8 of 36
Originally posted by Nezer
Man, it takse some serious balls to pull apart a $300 pair of canal phones...
you know, that's the EXACT SAME THING I thought when I read this post
post #9 of 36
Thread Starter 
Hello people...

...what is that catastrophic on a filter change? Even your $30'000 car needs some from time to time. If you never care about the state of your filter, the sound will get duller and duller over the years, while you don't become aware of it. For that reason, ER has packed that funny filter changing tool into the box, and inside of its handle are a pair (?) of reserve filters. So: no problem at all!

Anyway, my filter trick was born from necessity, not levity. Anyhow, nothing dangerous has happened! Just two waste filters – designed to be trashed – unconventionally fixed.

But the main part of my modification concerns the foam tips. Something everybody could reproduce. And it's very cheap, indead! Just take care (other than I) that the thus exposed filter gets protected – as described.

post #10 of 36
What Jazz is describing isn't really pulling apart the phones...filter change is a normal thing for the veteran Ety user. However modding the filter still requires a lot of guts and handiwork...cause these things are just tiny and it wouldn't be a good thing at all to do a botched up custom filter.

Again the filter is so ridiculously small...I mean only an Ety user knows how small they really are (the tip of a pencil basically?), that I personally wouldn't bother and will let Ety do their thing and look into other things I could see easier custom improvements in...like the cord. But theres no ocean between me and getting new filters.

Also it is important to note that I think you may be comparing your custom filters to old worn stock filters...not necessarily the performance comparison between new stock filters vs new custom filters.
post #11 of 36
"Also it is important to note that I think you may be comparing your custom filters to old worn stock filters...not necessarily the performance comparison between new stock filters vs new custom filters."

Good point.
post #12 of 36
Thread Starter 
«Also it is important to note that I think you may be comparing your custom filters to old worn stock filters...not necessarily the performance comparison between new stock filters vs new custom filters.»
No – I can't compare my old, worn out filters to my modified ones, because they have now become my modified ones. My comparison only relates to the foam/plastic tips – stock against modification. By the way: I made this comparison already long before the filter crash...

Anyway, out of my memory I suppose that some time before the sudden death of the filters the treble has been a little bit harsher – but the filter doesn't bring the great sound progress, it's the widening of the (ear) canal after the transducer's tube, caused by the shortening of the foam (or the white) tip. Just try it by yourself!


(Of course I understand such speculations... for [stock] Ety owners it's not a beautiful idea that their 'phones aren't as good as they could be.)
post #13 of 36
I just tried slicing off the top notch of my rubber tips. No difference in sound that I can detect, it certainly didn't worsen. The fit and comfort however of the rubber tips is much better now though for sure, probably because there isn't that third notch deep in your ear digging around. Those that have heavy earwax though probably shouldn't try this, as it totally exposes the filter.
post #14 of 36
Sorry, but I have to tell your that I'm sure your mods have thrown your Ety's frequency response to hell! All the things your moding (tube length etc) has all been arrived at by sophisticated testing and measurements. I mean, these folks just don't put something out in the market without going through alot of research and development! I'm glad you happy with your mods, but I for one wouldn't do them!
post #15 of 36
maybe I missed something. How do you get the other foam earplugs to stay on the transducers?. Don't they just stay in your ears when you take the phones out? I also prefer the sound with the Foamies.
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