Etymotic mc3 Review
First impressions: For Ety’s these actually look really quite attractive but what I am seeing that I am most certainly not liking is that these appear to be shaped more like the ER4. This means that they pretty much demand to be worn down. WTF Etymotic? I just know this is going to pee me off as it undoubtedly will give microphonic issues, shame on you!
Shape aside they on first listen I can’t say they are impressing me terribly, nothing horrid but not impressed. Anyway to burn in you go.
Source 1G iPod Shuffle with a 75 ohm adapter added
Lows: Well they are there and on paper are pretty decent. They however lack the fast snappiness that Etys usually have in the lows, instead replaced with some halfway house. It doesn’t have the speed and tightness of balanced armatures nor the fullness and expansiveness of most dynamic drivers. It isn’t of a terrible quality but it’s so uninspiring. A favourite test track of mine “Chiara – What if we” is one I like because it has huge, powerful lows and fantastic vocals. It’s a song that can often send a shiver down my spine as the big lady from Malta belts it out but with the mc3 it sound so unimaginably lifeless. It’s boring and dull, no passion, no energy, no fire at all. The mc3 only vaguely hints at the power of the lows here and noticeably struggles to attempt them, the rest of the range fluctuating in volume as it has a bash at hitting a low note. Amping them and adding impedance really, really helps it but not utterly turning things around and on “The Beautiful South – Your Father and I” the same fluctuations are there. It’s not terrible and some other single driver IEM’s do it but these stand out more due to their flat dry presentation. I feel like I’m being a little hard on the mc3 but as Etymotics first dynamic driver IEM many were expecting they would add some more robustness to the low end and it really hasn’t. All it’s done is aim for the same quantity but with greatly reduced quality.
Compared to its rivals it can’t hope to compete with the quantity many of you may want but with those at a similar level, primarily I’m thinking of the M1, PL-50 and SE110 they all beat the mc3 on quality. The PL-50 has such speed and tightness in the low end, the M1 has much better depth and consistency and easily just as a good control as the mc3. Even Shures much bashed SE110 manages to fare better in the low end for both control and depth than the mc3 do.
Mids: Here things get a lot better. While they don’t have the crystal clarity of balanced armatures these do put on a fine show. Head to head these really can stand up to the mids on the M1, and I guess that’s as big a compliment as I can give them. I’m sure many will be aware of both Shure’s and the PL-50’s reputation for having the best mids out there. I really just don’t know what to say about these. They are the same flavour of mids as you get from other Ety’s with the same ultra neutral uncoloured, flavourless, dry presentation. These just have no passion or spark. I cannot find any vocalist that sounds bad or incorrect but likewise I cannot find one that makes me want to sing along. How Ety, how have you managed to suck the joy and passion out of every song I hear?
The mid range here is technically proficient; it has fair clarity and accuracy. It is even and balanced. Oh and it bores me to death.
Highs: This is where traditionally Etymotic’s strengths lie and here I think is where these could make or break. Getting the highs done right is the hardest part to do and there is nothing so horrifying to me as brutal, scratchy treble. So thank god the highs here are good. They manage to give a fair amount of clarity and abundance without becoming offensive. The abundance will be more than many used to cheap dynamics but the highs have to make this more tolerable on the ear taken away all the edge and bite Ety’s usually have. That’s right boys and girls, no sparkle, no shimmer, no energy and no brutality. So I guess that’s a good thing, if they still had that hard edge I’m sure I would have found it to be most offensive on the ear and launched into a thorough bashing of them. As it stands I can’t bash the highs on the mc3 but I can’t really find much of anything to praise about them either. I could see these making decent cheap monitors for people but god damn it I want a little sparkle! I want to enjoy things and the mc3 just is so bland I find it staggering.
Soundstage: Nothing wondrous going on here. Etymotic are usually quite in the head and while they do sound outside they are extremely narrow. Not very exciting really.
Comfort: I often say just because something doesn’t suit me doesn’t mean it won’t suit you. Etymotic has a longstanding reputation for not being the most comfortable things ever and Ety are really on form here. I cannot say I liked these even with Shure olives on them, they simply became tolerable with them. Being an Ety they do want to sit so far in they touch in the middle of your skull and on the thinner balanced armature siblings this is more or less okay. On these relatively fat, dynamic based Ety’s it’s not something I can say I found comfortable at all. YMMV
Fit: While these were easy to get seated properly I greatly dislike that they more or less required to be worn down. You may be fine with that but I really hate it. I was however very impressed, nay astonished, that these gave me no driver flex or air pressure / venting issues. I have not the faintest clue how Etymotic have managed that when every other dynamic maker seems to have nothing but trouble with it. How they managed this miracle but failed so much elsewhere I don’t know.
Cable: It’s the exact same one on its stable mate the hf series. It’s good, nothing spectacular but I’m betting it will stand up to more than its fair share of wear and tear. I do like the 45 degree angle jack too, maybe they could use one on the ER4?
Microphonics: It sucks. It sucks great big donkey parts. Yes you can largely cure it by using the shirt clip and garrotting yourself with the slider but if they shaped these to allow you to just wear them up if you wanted then there would be no issue. Dear god Etymotic why do you hate IEM’s being worn up so much? Every other manufacturer (decent manufacturer that is) either shapes things to be worn either way or specifically over ear.
Amped/Unamped: Since I have already mentioned these loved both amping and impedance you already know they want them both. As with the hf3 if you do either you of course lose out on the point of getting the mic and controller functionality. Given their price point I don’t really think these are so likely to encounter such exotics in the wild anyway, well maybe a FiiO E3 or E5 perhaps. If you have gone for a pair of these then you may very well like the bass boost of the FiiO’s which really do make the mc3 sound much fuller. In fact they respond rather well to a bass boost which I found surprising given their lacklustre low end behaviour. Still, a bass monster a FiiO shall not make.
Iphone Use: Should you be so afflicted as to use a phone for your music, a touch screen phone no less. My own short time with one was most infuriating being unable to control the volume and skip tracks whilst the said device was in my pocket pee’d me off no end. The little attached mic and control do dah does what it claims and does it pretty well. Volume up, down, next, back, pause, you get the idea. Persons could hear me clearly while on the phone and I could hear them perfectly too. Being Ety’s they blocked out the rest of the world so I could hear nothing but the person on the phone. If that’s something that matters to you then these are pretty much at the top of the heap.
Acoustically the audio performance was fine. These don’t have the resolving power to really show up how lacking the Iphone is is terms of audio performance. They do warm and soften a touch but I don’t think these really need warming or softening as it is however they do get the job done. Naturally they blow away the junk buds apple give away with ipods. Don’t get me started on the use of a £600 phone and using 20p headphones, gaaaaaaa!
Build Quality: It’s an Ety. Etymotic are famous for both their build quality and the support on the ER4 and ER6, I see no reason why this should be any different and the mc3. They feel solid, well constructed and able to stand up to pretty much any amount of abuse. They come with a 2 year warranty too which for this price I think is pretty spectacular.
Isolation: Traditionally this is the one thing no one disputes and Ety reign supreme here. I assumed that being a dynamic these would be a great deal less isolating and there really isn’t anything like the difference I expected. In fact I’m not sure there is any! These isolate like mofos! If you’re used to it it’s amazing and if you’re not you will really, really quickly, if you don’t you get hit by a bus. The level of isolation is simply stunning and can drown out any noise you can think of be it a jet engine, tube train or pneumatic drill 3 feet from you. Do be warned though, you will not hear traffic. You have to learn to look carefully if crossing a road or you will go splat, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Accessories: It really isn’t a great bunch you get, you get 4 pairs of tips that I’d recommend not using and immediately going and buying a Shure fit kit. In particular Shure olives which may be the best tips on earth (the black foamie tips, commonly called olives because, guess what, they look like black olives.) It’s slightly disappointing that the case these come with isn’t the usual Ety case but a much less padded (if nicer looking) little baggy. I’m sure it will do but id still rather a small hard case. Thankfully ebay can provide these for a few £.
Value: Hmm I’m not sure. If everything these offer is something you want then yes. For just shy of £59 if you want the mic, and the controller, and that utter shed load of isolation then you simply won’t find that for anything like the cost of these. In fact you find it all till you jump up to their siblings the hf3. If you’re looking at the non mic’ed version then things change. The hf5 aren’t a million miles in price from the mc5 and I can think of no reason whatsoever to get the mc5, not one and anyone who does deserves to be beaten with a stick. So while I cannot come close to saying the mc5 is good value, the mc3 actually is pretty decent if you want its features.
Conclusion: The more time I’ve spent with these the less I have disliked them. The human ear and brain will adjust over time and most normal people don’t listen to a different earphone everyday (or every 20 minutes for that matter.) The simple fact is if you bought these and used them I don’t think you would hate them. Now that I’ve not heard anything else for a few hours these sound okay. The bass sounds halfway decent, mids are pretty clean and clear. The highs seem pretty clear and defined too. While I’m not loving anything I’m not wretching in horror either. I know its poor praise but I really can’t seem to hate these as much I don’t really like anything they do. If there was one thing I could say I hate it’s the drop off whenever they are asked to do some proper lows. The whole frequency range manages to stay even but the volume just drops of a cliff. Okay so maybe I’m being a little dramatic but it’s there and it makes me frown. I’m sure when Etymotic made these they set out with a clear objective in mind, that being acoustic accuracy and while it does maintain its chosen frequency response curve it fails big time elsewhere. If you want a really cheap isolating monitor then maybe these will suit you but I cannot for the life of me see any compelling reason why anyone would choose these on the music performance alone. They suck every ounce of life and joy from it and the volume dropouts are unacceptable.
As a stereo headset yes it works well and isolates spectacularly. As something to enjoy music with I really cannot see why anyone would choose these unless they really, absolutely, must have the most isolation possible and they can’t afford to move up the range. Sorry Ety, I just don’t know what you were thinking with these.