Reviews by miserybeforethemusic


Headphoneus Supremus
Great Drummer's Monitor Makes a Funky, Bassy Summertime IEM
Pros: Bass that hits and hurts if you want it to, present treble that doesn't fatigue, ergonomic shells, super-efficient
Cons: Funky staging, midrange requires cleanup, picky with sources
I would like to extend my utmost gratitude to @Audio46 for their donation of this review sample. All views and opinions expressed in this review are my own, both good and bad. Please feel free to enjoy this review with an accompanying soundtrack:

It's really not hard to see the foothold Campfire Audio (founded in 2009 as ALO Audio) has managed to take over the IEM market in a relatively short period of time. Since 2015, Campfire has seemingly taken the IEM scene by storm with its unique tunings that either make life-long fans or permanent enemies of the company. While not as polarizing as, say, Tin Audio, Campfire's tunings are certainly unique and they've been able to amass enough variety in those unique tunings to have a little something for everybody.

Why then, with all of this momentum, would Campfire decide to go completely back to the drawing board with entirely new products? The Andromeda successfully sold and re-sold (and re-re-sold) with its variants. Like Pokémon, avid collectors seem intent on buying them all. It's a positively dizzying number of SKUs to maintain. And, yet, that's exactly what Campfire Audio has done in 2021; in the heat of summer, no less. And not with one new model, nay, not even two: Campfire came out with a c-c-c-combo breaker and released four new IEMs, all within weeks of each other.

This review will focus on the Honeydew, one of the two new entry-level offerings from Campfire and hoo boy...a lot of things have changed. For starters, both the Honeydew and Satsuma are technically intended for the pro market. The Honeydew featured in this review was designed as “a fresh take on Pro IEMs,” featuring a tuning that makes the Honeydew in particular an “excellent choice for drummers, bassists, Djs, and electronic beat makers."

Campfire Audio...making pro-sumer IEMs? This is an interesting proposition. In today's environment, when we are having to figure out how to do much more in the home environment that we used to take for granted, even musicians are starting to face the struggle of bringing as much of the studio into the house as they possibly can. While this might be an easy obstacle for engineers and studio techs who already have a pretty good grasp on the available gear to overcome, your average musician tends to have a much harder time piecing together equipment that doesn't instantly max out the credit card, yet gives a solid bang-for-buck solution that can serve its purpose reliably and substantially. In this respect, pricing something like the Honeydew as, say, a $250 drummer's monitor makes a lot of sense.

But is it only a pro tool or is there a little bit of Campfire Audio's fun factor cooked into this IEM? Let's find out!

Oh, and it should be quite apparent at this point where the perspective of this review will come from. There's a reason for that. Tools that are purpose-built for tracking and monitoring tend to have very specific tunings that, while they may be a phenomenal choice for the intended use (say, making sure you can still hear all the other instruments in your band while you're wailing away with 64-count kicks and a really tasty take-out-the-whole-kit fill), but there may be compromises in other areas. There's no more clear example I can think of this as with Shure's IEM line. Fantastic for the stage, but a little lacking in the musical enjoyment category.


Talk about an unboxing experience that lives up to the Campfire name! Not many companies manage to pull off that fine balance between “fantastic unboxing experience” and “economic packaging that doesn't choke up the landfill.” This entire retail box can be returned to a flat-packed state and its internal layout is very well-thought out.


Once the interlocking flaps have been released, we catch our first glimpse of the contents inside. I managed to pull a CA Comet case out so we can see just how different things are with this new generation.


Well that's our first major difference! Gone is the pleather, sherpa-lined zipper case. Long live the canvas, sherpa-lined zipper case! Really, the overall shape and material are the biggest changes here. In terms of internal layout, I found that both cases still have about the same usable real estate. This case is now small enough that it disappears in my pocket in ways that only the Etymotic's neoprene cases were previously able to do. I'd say this is a step in the right direction.


Pack-ins, though not fully-pictured, include a wax removal tool, three mesh “socks” for housing an abundance of tips and the IEMs themselves, and the above 3 sets of tips. From left to right, there's the affectionately-named “marshmallow” foam, Campfire's stock wide-bore silicone, and Final Type E silicone tips. Considering the price (and this potentially going to a brand new market), I'd say pack-ins are comfortable, though market leaders like Dunu do now have the upper hand in this regard.


And here's the main event. Man, these shells are light. I don't mean in terms of color, I'm talking about weight! Turns out there was a practical purpose to ditching shells made of aluminum or stainless steel because this ABS housing is fantastically light. Comfy, too. Not many IEMs pass this following test, but just to be sure ergonomics on the Honeydew were at the top of their game, I recruited a little help:


Turns out they fit 7-year old ears, so I'd say that's another win! My daughter's ears definitely sit on the tiny side; there aren't many TWS out there that will fit the openings of her ears yet, so to see an IEM come in that can handle the task is pretty impressive. I consider myself to have average-sized ears and, despite its small size, these Honeydew managed to stay locked in my ears regardless of which tip I used. Even the marshmallow tips can be worn for hours at a time without making my inner ears sore.

But here's the part of this shrinking effort on Campfire's part, the nozzle shrank as well. This means that some tips that fit effortlessly on Campfire IEMs in the past may fit either loosely or not at all with the Honeydew. I did find that Campfire's stock wide-bore silicone tips really wobbled on the nozzle, but did not affect the fit or seal once inserted into the ears. Users of aftermarket tips should take caution to prevent losing a tip in your ear. It's for this reason in particular that I would not recommend using something like the Azla XELASTEC. If you're particularly worried, I suggest using one of Final Audio's tip adapters, but you'll have to buy a retail kit of their tips for the privilege. Personally, I find the marshmallow foams to be the clear winners for long-term comfort, but don't hesitate to try out both CA's house tips as well as the Final E; in the case of the Honeydew, there are pretty clear sonic changes as a result of tip selection. My ears prefer the Marshmallows for being able to balance overall tonality while providing a good seal and staying comfortable; I believe most listeners will find themselves coming to the same conclusion.

Before I get too far into the sonic notes, I wanted to discuss the type of driver used. While the Comet (and Satsuma) feature a familiar and skillfully-tuned balanced armature, the Honeydew presents a first for Campfire by bringing in one of the latest buzzwords in driver selection: a LCP dynamic driver. LCP, or liquid-crystal polymer, has been adopted by folks like Moondrop for the Aria and tend to spark a bit of mixed debate in terms of whether driver break-in is required. For the sake of everybody's sanity, I'm leaving that debate out of this review as well, but will say that my experience here could lend credence to the idea that there's more to the story.

What I can say, however, is that my experience with the Honeydew's frequency varies wildly from source to source. According to Campfire's spec sheet, the Honeydew features a nominal impedance of 17.44 ohms at 1kHz and my experience has shown that IEMs sitting in this 20-ish ohm impedance category do tend to be a little more source-dependent than those with a nominal impedance closer to the 1-ohm mark. Similar to the Tin P1 I have been experimenting with off on the side, the Honeydew really does seem to require the right source to really shine. On the wrong one, bass and sub-bass uncompromisingly take the entire show. If tonal balance is even remotely your concern, source pairing will be paramount.


Make no mistake: when it comes to tonality, the Honeydew is appropriately named. This is not the sort of IEM one buys when they're looking for a neutral bass response. This isn't even the sort of IEM one should consider if they want a mild bass lift. The Honeydew is unapologetically boisterous; sub-bass and midbass dominate the frequency response. There's enough of a notch cut between the sub-bass and lower bass to prevent bloom from saturating the signature and treble makes a healthy appearance, so thankfully things never veer into to dark a territory. On the right source, this notch is barely perceivable and you end up with a sub-bass that simultaneously slaps and booms in abundance. Do not consider the Honeydew if you're after a low-fatigue bass response; you will not find it here.

Midrange is a mixed bag with the Honeydew. While it's perfectly serviceable and, at least as far as all IEM companies go it's pretty great, I find midrange response to end up behind the curve to even the veteran Comet. Unfortunately, Honeydew's healthy low end translates to portions of the mids getting sucked out of the mix. On one hand, this keeps drum tracks glued in a center image that all other instruments seem to revolve around. For a drummer's ego, this IEM is one heck of a trip. I feel like everybody else is going to have a problem with that, though, especially because so many of the spatial cues required to transform recorded material into “take you there” material just won't be hit with these IEMs.

And it's that sense of a realistic connection to the music that keeps me from making the Honeydew an easy recommendation. The wall-of-sound effect that you'd think an IEM like the Honeydew can give out in droves is, instead, stunted by funky staging because the drums simply won't diffuse into the track. Again, if you're a session drummer and need that sort of signature, this is perfect for you. If you don't follow drum tracks in your music, it won't be a problem either. Enjoy being walloped by bass, follow the melodies, and disregard any of this as a negative. Don't let me yuck your yum. However, for those who favor technicalities over tonality, especially with timbre and spatial positioning, the Honeydew is going to drive you nuts.

Luckily, you can combat some of this effect with source pairing. Going through the full gamut of sources I had on hand, I found that swapping from single-ended to balanced did not produce much of a sonic benefit. In any case. For full transparency, the 788's noise floor was quite audible using the Honeydew balanced and I would suggest folks using that combination stay single-ended only. To date, this is the only IEM I've plugged into the 788 and been able to hear that noise floor. And, truth be told, it was one of those setups were I really didn't enjoy listening to the Honeydew.


But this...woah momma I'm willing to go out on a limb and say the Qudelix 5k makes just about the perfect pairing for the Honeydew. It's not horribly expensive, deeply customizable, and now features the AutoEQ library, meaning you should be able to apply compensation curves for the Honeydew effortlessly thanks to a recent firmware update. Honestly, though, stock tuning is phenomenal with this combination. Bass is fat, but tighter than with the other setups. Mids are just a little bit sweeter. Treble extends just a little further and never get fatiguing. Using the 2.5mm connection isn't a requirement, but I would suggest taking advantage of the Qudelix's ability to dish it out.

It was with this combination that I proceeded to listen to that playlist I linked at the beginning of this review about a good eleventy billion times, not because I was listening for something new, but because I simply wanted to hear it again and again and again. In the quest to make Honeydew a fun, summertime IEM, mission accomplished. Sadly, it will never be a transformative, “holographic” IEM where you just close your eyes and you're in the studio/concert hall/etc. I found, however, that one can take advantage in playing material that is usually deficient in the same regions the Honeydew is boosted and end up with a really good outcome. Synthwave and Progressive rock/metal, in particular, benefit most from the Honeydew's tuning. Atrey's Dark Prince (Final Cut) runs ripe with oscillator drift; the kind of drift that's just addictive to listen to with this combination. If you're a fan of late-night runs, this might make a stellar combination for you as well.

But would I buy it for myself? Sadly, no. My quest for a fun-tuned IEM continues, but I consider the Honeydew a very worthy offering at the $250 mark. I find the pro focus a refreshing change for Campfire and hope they continue to pursue it, though I do recommend they make it a little more obvious to prospective buyers if this is the case. Perhaps we'll see stage CIEMs coming out of Campfire's repertoire next.
Another fantastic review my friend! I especially love that you "recruited" your daughter for this one... What did you have to give her to bribe her to do it? :)
@samandhi she's easy to please. Only wanted a hug :)
Awww! Don't count on that lasting forever (I can vouch for my own statement here)...

As for the LCP driver, the Chaconne has it as well, and I can't say definitively anything about burn-in, but I CAN say that they are also picky with sources, and material as well. This actually surprised me with the likes of an earbud AND a single DD. Connection to LCP? I dunno', you be the judge....


Headphoneus Supremus
Great Promise, Funky Implementation, Vaporware Support
Pros: Stable, adjustable crossovers, wireless charging, great battery life, good comfort
Cons: Needs aftermarket tips for stable fit, seemingly abandoned support, impossible UAT implementation
This review has been a long time coming. I originally purchased the WH3 from MusicTeck, with my own funds, back in April and have been using it on and off over the three months since. Considering there has been no new development for the WH3 in my entire demo period, I have chosen to remove a star from the rating. At this point, I think it's safe to assume there will be no further updates for this product.

The TWS market is saturated, perhaps beyond any reasonable measure. It seems that everybody and their mother came out with a set of True Wireless buds. Some might be hoping to capitalize on their existing name and pedigree. Others are looking to become the name in True Wireless Audio. And while some have come close, I don't think anybody has managed to meet the cut of "best all-around EDC true wireless bud." Either the interface is non-existent or poorly implemented, the buds themselves are tonally off, or they sound incredible but might be plagued with stability/connectivity issues.
Enter the WH3 (featured with the Azla Crystal TWS tips). Coming in at $159 as of the time of this review, the WH3 is HiBy's hybrid TWS featuring 1 dynamic driver and 1 Knowles-branded balanced armature driver with an in-app adjustable crossover (more on that later). Supported codecs are SBC, AAC, aptX (no LL, HD, or Adaptive) and it does conform to the TWS+ standard meaning, should your host device support, each bud will receive independent left and right audio streams from your source device.

The WH3's case is surprisingly practical, though it tests the limits of what I would consider "pocketable" due to its overall thickness. It's similar in form factor to the Noble Falcon 2/Pro, though just a little wider and taller. You do feel that in your pocket walking around. HiBy might have been able to shave the size down a bit, but it would have most likely come at the expense of losing wireless charging, which works flawlessly every time. From completely empty to fully charged, it usually takes me about 2 hours of charging time on a ZeroLemon-branded wireless pad.

While HiBy could have chosen any form factor for the buds themselves, they settled on a stemmed solution for folks looking to cut the wire. Even if you're stem-averse, I recommend giving the WH3 a shot as I found them surprisingly ergonomic with Azla's Crystal tips. The stock tips, while perfectly serviceable, didn't work very well with my ears and were constantly slipping out or breaking seal. Tip-rolling is strongly recommended with these from just a comfort/fit perspective alone and the majority of my TWS-specific tips worked in the HiBy case without needing to be removed from the earbuds (major plus). Foams, unfortunately, continue to be a problem and there's only a small handful of TWS cases that I think comfortably fit foam tips without needing to be removed. I would not consider that a major negative.

Pairing the WH3 is painless; simply remove the buds from the case and they will automatically enter pairing mode. After the first pairing, the WH3 seems to automatically reconnect to the last paired device. If no such devices are around, it re-enters pairing mode.


This is the exact sequence of operation I prefer as dealing with reset buttons and combos is less than ideal (it usually doesn't work nearly as well as intended anyway). Each bud received an individual pairing on my OnePlus 8T and I can use each earbud independently of the other.

This is an example of HiBy's interface via the HiBy Blue app. While it's not the fanciest UI out there, it's plenty serviceable and gets you all your necessary adjustments at a glance. Included is a 10-band GEQ and settings to adjust what double and triple taps on the touch surface (through which all commands are input to the TWS) actually do.

Perhaps the most exciting feature, though, is the Digital Crossover. In a sense, it's a good thing I took so long to write this review as, for the longest time, there were no other products that I knew of that took advantage of such a concept. To my knowledge, the only other product that features user-adjustable electronic crossovers is the Qudelix QX-Over, which requires the 5K and its accompanying app. Unlike HiBy's offering, the QX-Over uses a pair of dynamic drivers and comes in at about 30 USD. While I do not currently have the QX-Over, I do have it in the plans to get a set once shipping isn't 20 USD from Korea direct.

Within the HiBy Blue app (and only for the WH3 as of right now, though one variant of the WH2 will also have this capability), users have the ability to adjust the point at which the BA and DD hand off duties to each other. If selecting a random crossover frequency is too cumbersome for you, HiBy has also provided 3 presets to get you started:
  1. Dynamic (18000 Hz) - Favors the dynamic driver
  2. Hybrid (10 KHz) - Uses the DD and BA in equal amounts
  3. Balanced (2.7 KHz) - Favors the balanced armature
And before this starts to read like some sort of gimmick, understand that these crossover adjustments resulted in major changes in overall tonality. The dynamic driver inside this set is no slouch and it is capable of producing plenty of bass/sub-bass information when the Dynamic setpoint is selected. On the other side of the spectrum, Balanced gives up most of the dynamic driver's strength (a plus, in this regard) and puts the emphasis on the Balanced Armature's ability to provide clear definition. While the BA inside the WH3 is a Knowles product, it has to be one of the least refined offerings from the company I've heard to date. Still, it's in my opinion the better of the two drivers included in the WH3. Your mileage may vary.

After spending about a month or so fiddling with this crossover (as well as giving the dynamic driver as much time to "loosen up" as possible), I settled on a crossover point of 2875Hz. Amazingly enough, one can go granular down to 1 Hz increments on selecting a setpoint, meaning one could easily adjust for pinna gain. In my experience, a setpoint of 2875Hz manages to put the crossover point right where my ears would normally pick up a peak, showcasing the strengths of both drivers. It also does a decent enough job of hiding some of the shortfalls and provides a dynamic representation that's enjoyable across many genres. The WH3 can produce booty-shaking bass, but that's not typically my flavor and it very quickly overwhelms just about every track I tried it with.


3 months later, how does it sound? Pretty darn good, to be honest. While it certainly won't win any awards in technicalities, I believe the WH3 manages to provide a well-balanced sound signature that at least rewards in tonality, even if timbre leaves a little to be desired. The fundamentals are properly represented, but I get very few of the overtones. When you're talking about genres like synthwave, you really need those overtones to sound right. The end result is an overall bland representation that I've seen sound a lot better that competitors in the price range seem to better easily, even on single-driver offerings. TWS sets like the Ultimate Ears FITS serve up a more balanced tonality, which should help with longer-term listening.

I did most of my listening using playlists I made myself from Spotify, Amazon Music HD, or Qobuz. An example can be found here:

The good news is, thanks to that crossover setpoint of 2875 Hz, everything in the playlist was pretty well-balanced. Unlike the Campfire Honeydew (which will be reviewed separately), I didn't leave my listening session feeling like my skull got hit repeatedly and I think that shouldn't be overlooked. Bass, mids, and treble all seem to have room to shine here, but the overall stage width is relatively narrow which leads to instruments sounding like they're right on top of each other (if not drowned out entirely). None of the axes stretches out very far and, though some tracks did manage to portray a stage that went ear to ear, the ability to do so was wildly inconsistent. I don't think this isn't a question of mastering quality; something about the WH3's audio processing just leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps, with sufficient time spent on EQ, you could wring out more definition than these buds seem capable of presenting.

Left: EPro TW00, Right: Final TWS. The bore length for both tips were too long for the WH3 and result in too much smearing of the upper frequencies. I recommend the Azla tips instead.

Swapping out stock tips for the Azla Crystals also helps the WH3 sonically. I attribute this to a much shorter distance between the mesh grille and the end of the nozzle bore; less reflections around the tip nozzle cleans the upper midrange and treble frequencies to my ear, making them a must-have to enjoy the WH3. As mentioned earlier, the stock tips work but showcase a few midrange spikes that led to early fatigue. I get none of that with the Azla Crystal and have the added bonus of a tip that manages to stay practically glued in my ear once I've put them in position.

As mentioned earlier, the WH3 claims to support HiBy's own UAT Hi-Res codec. For the life of me, I could not get UAT to activate, no matter what device I used. I believe this compatibility issue is one of the reasons HiBy included LDAC support for the newer WH2 models. Perhaps HiBy just couldn't figure out how to fix UAT and has just left it as another vaporware codec that will never make it to primetime. If you are buying the WH3 to utilize UAT, I wish you the best, but don't think you'll have much luck.

And here's where things get supremely frustrating: I have been stuck on the same firmware version since receiving my WH3. Considering HiBy's update cycle for their DAPs, I would have hoped to see quite a few more updates here. Cambridge Audio, for example, have been making minor tweaks to the overall sound signature of their Melomania Touch after a regular string of updates; I would have liked to see that same approach with the WH3. If all of the promised features worked (UAT, I'm looking at you), perhaps this wouldn't be necessary. I hope I'm wrong, but the lack of updates would suggest to me that HiBy considered the WH3 as a proof of concept rather than a market product. Instead of continuing WH3 development, it seems HiBy is only focusing on the WH2. If this is a sticking point to you, I would suggest looking elsewhere. Long-term support does not look like one of the WH3's strengths.

Call quality, on the other hand, is plenty respectable. Truth be told, the WH3 is my preferred pair to pick up for VoIP calls (WebEx, Skype, etc). There's something about its ability to render voices that sounds more natural and less bloated than most of its competitors (even Jabra, to a certain extent). There's also a significant advantage in the pickup microphones for both buds being at the end of the stem, meaning they're closer to your mouth and less likely to pick up ambient noise. Callers across the board preferred when I used the WH3 over just about every other pair of TWS in the stable (and I've got a decent amount). In the age of work-from-home, this shouldn't be understated.

While I didn't spend much time talking about battery life, I do want to mention that the WH3 claims 5 hours of use followed by another 24 hours of charge in the case. In all my testing time, I don't think I ever ran into an issue where the battery died on me mid-listen. Marathon listeners should look elsewhere, but folks who only listen for a couple hours at a time should be more than happy here.
So who is the WH3 for? In a nutshell, I'd recommend this set of TWS if you meet the following criteria:
  • You need UAT and are willing to fiddle around with a HiBy DAP to make it work (will not work on smartphones yet)
  • You want a hybrid TWS with the ability to adjust crossover settings based on genre
  • You want a VoIP-friendly set of TWS that handles conference calls, but also renders music well
In full disclosure, the lack of UAT support almost became a total show-stopper for me. At one point, I was working through the returns process with MusicTeck since I thought I wouldn't be able to enjoy what I paid for. Luckily, aptX performance has been great, though I still wish for something that sounds a little more open than the WH3. It remains on my recommended list, but there are a lot of "flagship" TWS out there that are starting to come down in price and would earn my recommendation before these. I suggest you look into alternatives from established TWS manufacturers before making a blind purchase.


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Can you elaborate on which options you're missing? Wasn't aware there were any differences in UI between platforms, so not sure what you might not be seeing. As for the Cayin DAP, I'd say that's a function of the version of Android run (considerably older). Haven't tried running this off the N5iiS, so can't really tell you what to expect from that.

And, yeah, those stock tips leave a lot to be desired, but it's where I see about 99% of these folks reign in costs. Best stock TWS tips I've come across so far are the ones that come with the Technics AZ70W and ADV M5-TWS (2nd Gen). Both were clearly purpose-built for the device and trying to swap them out with anything else seems to cause some really funky changes to FR overall.
I dont have the 10 band eq and the upgrade option either. I tried using spin-fits and they stuck out of my ears like 2 feet (you know what I mean). So I purchase some inexpensive tips from amazon and the largest I could find (silicone) and they work great. My ear canals are HUGE...HUGE no exaggeration.
Weird. Wonder if there's a minimum OS version required to run the full suite for HiBy Blue or whether it's a TWS+ thing (which my phone supports). Would assume you'd have the EQ at a minimum.

Yep, Spinfits are a no-go on the WH3 for me as well. Halfway tempted to go a size down with the Crystals, even.


Headphoneus Supremus
As the Name Implies, A True Evolution of the Etymotic Sound
Pros: Fantastic fit, finish, and included pack-ins. A unique, reference-grade sound signature that has the potential to grow with you for life.
Cons: Not everybody will appreciate the deep fit or tuning.
Disclaimer: The EVO used for this review was provided by @Zachik and Etymotic as part of a World Tour performed in conjunction with the EVO’s release. All views and opinions contained within are my own, were not made under the direction of any third party, and no company shall be held liable for any claim or statement made within the body of this review. I did not keep this product after my demo period was complete.

Additionally, all listening impressions for the EVO were performed using the following playlist, which I have purpose-made for this set of IEMs. I encourage everybody to enjoy the contents therein, especially if you happen to have a set of EVO to demo with!

Note: due to differences in file libraries between streaming services, there may be slight variations from one playlist to the next. For example. Qobuz only hosts a remix to CloZee’s “Secret Place” and does not host White Willow’s “The Crucible.”

Part One: The Prologue


Imagine, for a moment, you’re Mead Killion, Ph. D. and co-founder of Etymotic, reflecting on your time in the industry. Not in your wildest dreams could you have imagined that your small earphone company would have ever taken off the ground, let alone enjoyed over a 30-year foothold in the consumer IEM market. Or that it would establish a stronghold in the head-fi community as a potential gold standard for neutrality. Or even that there were ways to further improve upon that standard.

As early as 1984, Etymotic was already pushing the envelope and creating their first insert earphones, the ER-1, ER-2, and ER-3. A far cry from the consumer-level gear we own today, these early earphones were used for diagnostic testing and precision auditory research.

It wasn’t until 1991 came along that Etymotic brought along the introduction of the ER-4, the world’s first consumer earphone to feature a balanced armature driver. Since then, we have seen the ER series evolve into many variants, each offering a slightly different flavor based on the required user application, yet the ER series has managed to keep Etymotic’s name firmly planted in the industry as a reference-grade solution for the analytical consumer who wants to hear exactly what the artist intended...nothing more, nothing less.

But, for many listeners, Etymotic has always had one relatively large hurdle to overcome: how polarizing its tuning has become. How do you manage to take that “true to the ear” sound and give it…soul? Does the introduction of the EVO, Etymotic’s new flagship, manage to change that paradigm? Let’s find out!

The EVO is Etymotic’s first foray into a multi-driver architecture, incorporating three balanced armatures in a compact, stainless steel chassis. While this may seem relatively groundbreaking for Etymotic, other manufacturers have been using multiple-driver arrangements for years now and hybrid/tribrid/quadbrid/superduperbrid configurations are completely commonplace. How can the EVO even compete when it seems outnumbered and outgunned?

Quite well, it seems.

Part Two: The Packaging

While I wish I could make remarks about the full retail kit, or the product that you (the potential customer) will be receiving, those of us on the review tour were given something a little more spartan. Had we waited for the full retail package, it’s likely all of you may still be waiting on these reviews! I think Etymotic made the right choice 😊

What we received were:
  • The earphones themselves
  • 1 twist-top metal earphone case with molded padding on the inside and a built-in cord winder
  • 1 Linum BaX cable, terminated in 3.5mm and T2/IPX connectors
  • 1 Etymotic-branded microfiber pouch
  • Eartips in various sizes


Based on photos from Etymotic’s site, consumers will also receive a product card, a couple replacement nozzle filters, a tool to remove and insert new filters, a Velcro cable tie, and a variety of tips, along with the previously mentioned microfiber pouch. For a (as of this writing) $500 set of IEMs, I believe this is a more than fair number of pack-ins and in line with similarly priced offerings, minus the inclusion of a cable with modular plugs. Estron does, however, offer a cable with balanced terminations for those who feel so inclined, and that already-thin BaX cable can be upgraded to a Super-BaX if your pocketbook happens to be sufficiently deep.

And, honestly, I think that microfiber pouch is the real unsung hero of this package. It runs about the size of a typical eyeglasses pouch, but Etymotic added function to form by making the entire underside of that pouch a higher-pile microfiber. This pouch can now serve multiple purposes:
  1. Protect the puck-style case
  2. Serve as a storage pouch for your accessories
  3. Potentially serve as an emergency beacon, should you find yourself stranded on an island (not effective, don’t recommend)
  4. Sock puppet = instant friend anywhere
  5. Clean screens

Oh, and clean screens I did. I honestly couldn’t have predicted that I would use that microfiber pouch to clean whatever screen I had nearby, even if I wasn’t using it, but I was doing it constantly. At some point, I must have turned it into a game, trying to find out if there was a single device screen at my desk that wasn’t yet clean. It’s just very, very effective. And fun.

For anybody concerned about me passing all those germs on to @rantng , rest assured, I hand-washed the pouch in soap and very hot water. A lot of yuck came out. Multiple rinses confirmed everything’s gone. So the case is also washable, but oddly absorbent. Nice.

Part Three – The Build

The Etymotic ER4, upon release, looked quite…alien to consumers. 30 years later, it looks like they’ve still got it.

Etymotic veterans are familiar with the type of build quality one can expect from the company, but for those who aren’t, understand this: your IEMs are built by a team of engineers who seem to have a design philosophy of “build it better than it needs to be” and a quality of work that makes me so, so happy. The entire casing of the EVO shell is now stainless steel, nozzle included. That’s right. Steel. Cold, smooth steel that feels substantial in the hand, if not considerably heavier than Etymotic’s previous offerings. What honestly blows my mind is how 90% of the IEM shell is one singular piece, meaning the same structural rigidity you have on the case extends all the way through the nozzle. Like I said, overbuilt, but in the best way possible. This extra weight brings added confidence as I cannot imagine how one would be capable of breaking off any part of this IEM body. It is simply built to withstand a beating.


Am I doing this right? Yes, the puck will fit inside, but it’s a tight fit.

It's also quite a bit larger than the cylindrical canisters of previous Etymotic products and it has to be. Instead of a single wideband BA, the EVO utilizes three. Two alone are responsible for bass. The last BA is free to cover the remainder of the musical information, theoretically from the bottom of the midrange up to the treble. More on that in the listening notes.

While the ER series IEMs might have utilized a MMCX connection, the EVO yet again dares to be different and now includes Estron’s Linum T2 connectors (also known as IPX). While this standard has been utilized by some CIEM manufacturers in the past, this is the first time I’ve seen one of the more recognizable names using them as standard equipment on a universal IEM. I’ll cut to the chase: I wish everybody used these connectors on IEMs. No worries about polarity. The tips of each connector are color-coded, red for Right and blue for Left. Connectors unplug only when you want them to and stay plugged in otherwise. While I may not advise it, one could reasonably connect both IEMs to the cable and treat the whole thing like a sling without any ill effect and they would stay plugged in. They’re that good.

And they’re comfortable. Let me clarify that statement, however, with the following warning for those who have never tried a set of Etymotic earphones: these will test your comfort level regarding deep insertion and there is a process involved. You do get used to it. I strongly suggest, before going straight to the EVO, that you try one of Etymotic’s less expensive offerings to build comfort with deep-insertion IEMs as well as learn the process for finding a secure fit without being too deep or too shallow.

Unlike the ER line, however, you no longer can choose your insertion depth on the EVO. It’s an all-or-nothing affair, I’m afraid, and must be fully inserted until the shell sits flush against your outer ear. While not doing so may work for listening sessions when you’re sitting idle, any movement will cause the EVO’s shells to bounce around your head in a very unwelcome manner (I call this the ”Ety bounce”). Luckily, the EVO disappears into my ears well enough when fully inserted, something I again would never have anticipated just going off sight. If you are already comfortable with a proper ER fit, the EVO should be no problem for you.


The included puck-style case, designed for housing the earphones when not in use, may potentially cause the most controversy for Etymotic veterans. For decades, previous owners have been able to utilize a small, easily-pocketable neoprene case. In that original case, with a little spatial planning, one could reasonably house a set of the Etymotic ER series earbuds, cord and tip attached, and still have enough room to house the Etymotion module and maybe an extra set of tips.

This new case is not pocketable. Well, perhaps it would be if you are one of those folks who still walk around in cargo shorts or JNCOs (I’m not knocking your hustle if you do). For the rest of us, I cannot see a pair of pants that would reasonably fit this case without looking...awkward.

What you now have is a metal, puck-style case with foam cutouts for each earbud as well as room to wind up the earphone cable inside. Learning exactly how to insert your earbuds and wind this case up was a walk in the park, though, so those who have had a nightmare of a time using similar wind-up style cases in the past should feel comfortable in maintaining some sanity. While I might prefer the old style out of habit, I imagine that one could get used to this new style over time.

My only suggestion, however, would be that Etymötic line the lid of that case with foam. Even babying these IEMs, never putting them or the case in my own pocket, I noticed a small dent in the top of the EVO case was starting to form just from the earbuds knocking around. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it in photographs, but it is definitely noticeable in person. Maybe a small piece of foam, affixed to the underside of the lid, could cover that air gap and prevent this from happening in the future. I strongly suggest Etymotic attempt to figure out how to account for this.

Perhaps even more controversial than the EVO's case will be its cable. While Etymotic has always favored low-weight, high-durability cables, the Linum BaX cable, produced by Estron (more information can be found here) manages to do both “thin” and “light” in a way that I didn’t think was previously possible!


As you can see in the above photo, the BaX is thin. It’s thin by any measurable standard. For those who own a set of the ER4SR or ER4XR, the plug end of the EVO’s cable is about as thick as the IEM end of your ER4's. The IEM end of the EVO's cable is thinner than my patience leaving the parking lot of a major festival. I hope you can sympathize.

One might assume that this super-thin cable is also super-fragile, but I offer the following counterpoint: I have seen this type of cable construction (analogous to the BaX, not the BaX itself) in only one other place during my entire engineering career: in switchgear onboard nuclear submarines. It’s chosen because that equipment needs wiring that can handle tight spaces, a huge tolerance to bending over its lifetime, and has amazing tensile strength. There is no room for “well, we can replace it later if we have to.” It must work from the moment it’s installed until the moment that equipment is shut down the last time for removal. If a cable like the BaX is strong enough to handle those environments, I think it's safe to say the BaX should handle IEM applications pretty well. Despite its miniscule diameter, this cable reminds me more of spider’s silk than silly string.

Unfortunately, the massive reduction in cable weight is a double-edged sword: there is no way that I could find to have both IEMs attached to the cable and perform one-ear listening when out and about. Normally, I can just loop whatever spare IEM I have around my ear, making it easy to reinsert when I’m ready to go back into stereo listening. Due to the relatively large weight of the shell, the earbud tends to continue drooping, as if drifting along a pulley, until it inevitably sits very uncomfortably against your chin. I ended up just unplugging whatever earbud I wasn't using as a result; the ease of the T2's connecting/disconnecting more than made up for the extra steps. Easy fix, but it does mean your habits may have to change.

Part Four: But How Does It Sound?

If you want a completely unqualified, over-emotional statement regarding the EVO’s sound, I’ll present you with this:

The EVO, simply put, took everything I admired about the Etymotic ER series, refined it, gave it just a little bit of fun, and brought their signature tuning into a $500 IEM.


See, I had the hardest time trying to figure out how I was going to present my listening impressions of the EVO. It’s certainly an improvement over the ER4 series to my ears, but what does that mean to someone who’s never put on a set of Etymotic IEMs and everything that comes with it? I'm not perfect, so I can’t tell you what’s so tonally unique about their version of diffuse tuning. Moondrop brings in stiff competition with their VDSF target, which is similar in nature, but it’s not the same and that’s what’s eating at me. Decades of listening later, I simply cannot find a replacement for Etymotic’s sound signature. It’s far from perfect. The treble is rolled off earlier than some of the competition. Timbre is mostly there, but it’s not natural in the breath-taking sense. These things change drastically depending on the conditions of your inner ear and positioning of the IEMs, too, which only makes things more confusing when you’re trying to get it right.

I encourage you to try, though, because an EVO that is fit properly will give you a listening experience that I honestly don’t think can be replicated elsewhere. How on earth did Etymotic manage to make a 3-BA monitor that sounds this bloody coherent?! I hear zero dips. None. Nada. Sub-bass digs respectably deep and with authority, not just by Etymotic standards, but by mid-fi IEM standards in general. I believe a lot of that can be owed to Etymotic's choice to dedicate two BAs to bass alone. There is incredible depth and clarity here, almost like the EVO simply puts a magnifying glass over the region. Midrange resolution is a noticeable step up from the ER4 and my ears can detect a bit of a warm push, but only relative to the ER4. Most impressively, there's even a little sparkle in the treble.

The more I listened, the more I realized that Etymotic's BA bass held up surprisingly well when compared to the DD-based units. While it obviously lacked the raw oomph of a dynamic driver, it still had plenty of boom and punch without the bleed one would usually associate with a DD that might have those qualities. It was like I was hearing all of my electronic music tracks in HD. Synth textures took on an entirely different character than I had previously experienced and it's honestly addicting to re-listen to some of those playlist tracks just to focus on different synth overtones each time. Both the Moondrop and the Dunu couldn't give me this much resolution down low, so while I might have had a bigger boom, I really didn't hear anything more specific than that until I listened with the EVO.

As previously mentioned, the EVO's midrange does have a slight warm push. I would say it's warmer than the ER4XR, but in no way does it come across as molasses. Everything in the midrange keeps its speed, distorted guitars maintain their crunch, and drums come and go with plenty of realism. The whole stage feels just as wide as the ER4XR's (ear to ear, in my experience), but now has a slight amount of depth and height, which allows everything in the track just a little more room to breathe than it did before. I still recommend the ER4SR for folks who need something that renders midrange info with surgical precision, but detail freaks should not be dismayed by hearing that the EVO is warm.

Likewise, I could not imagine the EVO having any other treble presentation after my time with them. IEMs like the Comet and Noble X (and, God forbid, the T2 Pro) certainly extend farther than the Evo. Trebleheads who are used to pairs like the Comet will have to adapt to the more toned-down treble response of the EVO. The tradeoff, however, is that you get a fantastic diffuse field. Every instrument just sits a little further out from the listener than you're used to. That vocalist is just another half step back than they usually are. Nothing is ever so sharp/sibilant that it hurts, but it’s a far cry from dark. This is my preferred kind of treble when I want to listen all day as it simply does not fatigue. Keep in mind there is still treble presence, but it's neutrally-done and not as boosted as some of the competitors.

I'm also very impressed with how the EVO seemed to take on whatever character the source it was connected to possessed. If I wanted to go super-analytical, the E1DA 9038D and ddhifi TC35B gladly served it. Something with a little more punch and power? Don't even need to break the bank, a Shanling M0 was more than up to the task. Etymotic has always been known as an IEM that isn't very source-selective, so it's nice to see that legacy continue.


But man, oh man, did that EVO enjoy tubes. Once I set up a Little Bear B4-X, upgraded with Burson V5i-D OPAMPs (many thanks to @John Burson for providing the review sample) on my desktop, the EVO just completely came out of their shell. This was that soul I was trying to find in Etymotic. I must have listened that way for hours. Honestly, if you have the equipment, I suggest you try it. The ER4XR wasn't anywhere near this receptive to tubes and everything just kinda got messy. It works so well with the EVO. Just...tons of detail, a wall of sound, and plenty of grunt. Win-win.

Don't have the time for tubes? My next favorite sources were the Shanling M0 and Astell & Kern SR25. Seriously, it's really not a picky IEM and sounded great on everything.


Part Five: The Competition


I compared the EVO to what I thought would be fair competition:
  • Etymotic ER4XR
  • Tin HiFi T2 Pro
  • Campfire Audio Comet
  • Noble X
  • Moondrop Blessing 2
  • Dunu DK-3001 Pro

The EVO simply has better bass and treble extension, better bass resolution, and a lusher midrange than the ER4XR. Folks looking for more clarity over warmth in the midrange would be happier with the ER4XR but would lose a lot of the technical improvements brought in by the EVO. The ER4XR is still a fantastic starting point for those who are unfamiliar with the Etymotic sound and could benefit from learning about proper Ety fitment before making a larger investment on the EVO.

EVO vs T2 Pro

This is just a one-sided fist fight in favor of the EVO. Turns out it wasn't fair competition at all. The T2 Pro is a very treble-forward, polarizing sound signature that effectively ditches any reasonable bass response, even if the port is plugged. Nothing about the midrange manages to impress me, at least not enough to overcome my concerns about its ridiculous lack of tolerance to sibilance in a track. The EVO suffers from none of these issues. Ergonomics on the T2 are also abysmal in comparison (how do you manage to get the red and blue side indicators on the wrong side?!). Honestly, I wouldn’t even buy the T2 Pro as a budget pick. There’s just better stuff these days.

EVO vs Comet

The Comet strikes me as an ER4 with more treble, a smaller stage, and some of the same sibilance issues that the T2 Pro possessed, but now only on poorly recorded tracks instead of just about everything. The Comet does have considerably more stage height than the EVO, but this fails to improve the overall staging effect and therefore isn’t really a positive for me. If you can handle the occasional treble-related discomfort, you'd be fine with a Comet. I'm more treble-sensitive and would rather go with the non-fatiguing option. For me, the EVO wins.

EVO vs Noble X

The Noble X, surprisingly, does a pretty admirable job trading blows with the EVO. I chose to do my listening with Noble's blue-stemmed tips from their own universal kit. The X's dual-BA setup, tuned with filters, carries much of the same tonality as the EVO. It was my preferred pair for listening to prog rock that didn't have a lot of sub-bass information. For most everything else, especially tracks with a prominent bassline, I preferred the EVO.

EVO vs Blessing 2

Ah, the battle of the diffuse field. I think which you prefer is really going to come down to personal preference. The EVO focuses on detail whereas the B2's strength lies in its musicality. The B2's shells feel huge comparatively and it’s notoriously fussy with tips. Its cable certainly doesn't compete, but there are plenty of available aftermarket options. I honestly thought the B2 would come out a bit better than it did, especially given its reputation, but I simply favored the EVO more. The EVO simply was more fun to listen to. Even at its most raucous, the Blessing 2 never got me up and dancing. To date, it still strikes me as my most relaxed pair. This was an easy win for the EVO for me, but you will have to look at what you want out of an IEM. I have no listening experience with the Dusk.

EVO vs DK-3001 Pro

This was probably the most formidable foe, both in terms of price and target market. The 3001 Pro resolves remarkably well and, like the B2, deciding between it and the Evo is more a matter of preference than it is technical superiority. I do like the small size of the 3001 Pro's shells and their relative ease of insertion/removal. Both cables are fantastic. Pack-ins from both companies, in my opinion, are the standard by which other companies should follow (not factoring in the high-end IEM market).

The tuning is what's so wildly different for me and I'm not sure whether I prefer Dunu's more direct monitor-like tuning or Etymotic's more spacious diffuse tuning. Dunu has far more authority in the bass, but Etymotic again takes it in resolution. Dunu's top-end has more sparkle, but the stage is also more compressed. Midrange really is a wash between the two. This one ends in a tie. I think you’d be happy with either pair or even both, if your pockets are sufficiently deep. Really, you can't go wrong with either, but it does seem that it's getting harder to find a set of 3001 Pro new. That being said, I would not hesitate to recommend them should you come across a good deal on the used market.

Part 6: The Conclusion

I enjoyed my time with the EVO much more than I anticipated. Etymotic has managed to create a very successful evolution of themselves (therefore making the EVO product name extremely appropriate) as a brand and technical performer in the consumer IEM space. I have absolutely no reservations recommending the EVO, even if it is the most expensive Etymotic to date. Folks on a tighter budget could get reasonably close with the Noble X or something like the Audiosense T800.

Rest assured: for $500, this is a pair that you could buy and keep throughout your entire listening career and constantly find new things to admire about it. While I only had a week with, I would have loved considerably more time to really learn how much they have to offer. The EVO, like the Etymotic models that preceded it, have the potential to stay in your collection and grow with you. They’re the type of IEM that doesn’t shy away from taking on the character of whatever source it’s plugged into, but it doesn’t need a crazy esoteric source to work. Two thumbs way, way up for the Etymotic Evo!


One final note: according to Etymotic’s website, the EVO carries a 1-year warranty. While this may be shorter than the warranty given on previous offerings, my physical inspection of the unit leads me to believe that any apparent issues with the IEM should manifest well within that time frame; I see a very low risk of failure past that point unless an owner was being deliberately abusive to these IEMs. I would not let the shorter warranty period bar you from buying these IEMs.


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Great review. My first decent earphones were er6s, and I currently have er4xrs. Ironically I also have B2s, dk3001 Pros, and a set of Tins (t4 instead of the t2 pros). Pretty sure I would love the evos, but I wouldn't trade all of my iems for them, which is about what would be required. On the used market these are all pretty high-value pieces, and I am pretty sure I will buy the evos used down the road. Just can't swing new pricing for iems, and I hope Etymotic doesn't become the next purveyor of $3k iems.
These look simply painful lol
thanks for the great review!