- Jan 12, 2008
A few hours ago the UPS guy dropped off my Etymotic ER6is, my first new pair of IEM's in over a year. And while I can't promise to give the best comparisons to other IEMs, I still think I can post impressions useful to anyone considering purchasing these, especially since Joker has not yet reviewed these in his thread, and I can't find any other comprehensive review I am actually planning on splitting this review into three parts - my initial impressions, an initial review, and a retrospective review to reflect my long term experiences.
Part I. First Impressions
After using the ER6is for about 6 hours, I am just now starting to get used to them enough to post my first impressions. They came in a fairly typical (and typically annoying, although better than some) plastic blister package, which made me a little bit disappointed. That said, I've always loved Grados, and they come in a box nicknamed the "Pizza Box" by Head-Fiers. When I saw them for the first time I was shocked at their small size, they are barely bigger than my miniscule V-Moda Vibes. Not wanting to waste any time, I first tried the default, small transparent triflange tips that come on the Etymotics. I was thinking that since I had small ears, and therefore used the small eartips on all other IEMs, that these would work fine, and I could skip trying out all the different eartips because I was an "experienced" IEM user.
How very wrong I was.
The issue with the small triflanges is that they slid into my ear canal with almost no resistance, and it was left to the very rear flange to create even the slightest seal. The sound was absolutely appalling, with no bass, mountains of sibilance, and overall "distant" sound. (This is true of any IEMs with poor fit.) I decided that it might be that my ears don't play well with triflanges, so I tried the more conventional foam tips (the non-porous non-compressing type) but soon discovered that they were far too large to fit in anyone whose ears are smaller than those of an elephant. The memory foam tips, on the other hand, formed a ridiculously tight seal. So tight, in fact, that they put a very uncomfortable amount of pressure all around my ear canal so that I had to remove them after only ten minutes of wear. That wouldn't do. So I went for the last remaining pair of tips: the large triflanges. My first thought was "How can these possibly work, I have small ears," but when I tried them on, I was almost satisfied with the fit. Almost. They weren't terribly comfortable, and the fit was mediocre at best, but it was the best of what I had. But me being a Head-fier, I wasn't content. I went back through all the included eartips a second time, only to come to the same conclusion. Then I discovered that the only way to get a proper fit for me is to grab the top of my ear, pull up, and gently insert the earphone with the other hand while tilting it up and twisting slightly. A bit of a pain, to be sure. But it ensured a good, solid fit while listening. I spent about an hour and a half determining how to fit these best in my ear. If you buy these, be sure to be patient to get the best fit before you give up - these are now super comfortable, highly isolating headphones.
One thing I heard a lot from the legions of ER6i owners/lovers/haters was that the cable was incredibly microphonic, and I would tend to agree, but conditionally. As I'm sure any Etymotic owner can testify, grabbing the cable and shaking it results in horrendous amounts of noise suddenly interrupting your music experience. But see that shirt clip that comes with it? It's there for a reason.
As an experiment, I decided to test the difference between microphonics on either side of the Y-split by grabbing the Y-split with my hand and shaking with the other. Shaking on the earphone side of the Y-split resulted in a mind-numbing amount of cable noise. It sounded like an army of small insects walking on your eardrum. But then I shook the jack end of the cable. Absolute silence. So here's a hint to Etymotic owners. Use that shirt clip. Just do it. It may be a pain, but it makes a world of difference. Also, try wearing over the ear. It's both more comfortable and less microphonic, to me, though they are harder to insert that way, and the cable has a tendency to fall off. If you can't do over the ear, the shirt clip still really helps. Using them like this now, walking around, jiggling the cable, whatever I try to do, results in no microphonics whatsoever.
Now onto what most Head-fiers are really interested in: the sound.
I will admit right off the bat that these aren't really winning me over just yet. Judging by the frequency response curve alone, you might think that the bass-light comments were all made by people who were used to Beats or Darths. They weren't. These really are very bass light, though for the purposes of reviewing, I'm leaving all forms of EQ completely off. Some people say this is a neutral sound. And I can say, assuredly, in my experience, that it isn't. That frequency response curve may be "neutral," but to the ear it isn't. They are quite cold sounding. Even harsh. I'm going to attribute this mostly to recording engineers using headphones or studio monitors that have a less neutral response curve, which makes these sound less than neutral when compared to live sound. But that isn't to say that they don't sound good. They do sound good. Very, very good.
The detail. Oh dear lord. There is so much detail to be had in these things. Listening to complex prog rock/metal and electronica I heard new details in just about everything, something I haven't experienced from any other headphone, including the HD800, until you get to the world of electrostatics. They are super clear at all frequencies, with extremely quick attack and decay. though they have a hint of sibilance from the treble-happy response curve, which ends up causing quite a bit of listening fatigue. As my first pair of balanced armature headphones, I wasn't sure what to expect. But they are a whole other breed from all the dynamic IEMs I've heard. Where I find myself turning Grados up to go with the music, I find myself turning the Etymotics down. The detail is still there at lower volumes, and much of the harshness and sibilance vanishes so that they are more comfortable for long term listening. That said, they're less "sparkly" sounding, in my opinion, than the Denon D2000s. To me, that's a good thing.
Many of the reviews I've seen about these headphones mention a small "soundstage." And while I will concur with many reviewers that you are almost "on stage," I don't think they have a particularly small soundstage. They do stereo separation well. Really well. The headstage is very well presented, with the sound not completely "in your head," even if they do not have as much "air" and openness as many full-size headphones. The soundstage is defined enough to almost allow you to "see" the instrument placement in your head better than many other full-size headphones, and it feels much more natural than headphones with much wider soundstages, such as the K701s.. The soundstage isn't wide, but with this level of detail, I almost don't care.
That said, these are just my first impressions after a few short hours. I'll be sure to update this thread when I get some adequate time with them with a variety of music and sources.
I'm very sorry that my first impressions were so long. Feel free to skip reading the review if you don't feel like it after reading that.