Etymotic & Westone - Discussion & Impressions (index in 1st post)
Apr 17, 2021 at 1:51 PM Post #31 of 412
I've had the ER4XR for a little over a week now. My plan was to try them for awhile (use case: strictly laptop Youtube & tv shows consumption) then move them on either to a friend or Classifieds. However......man, I really like these. I've never been able to stand Ety ear tips, and I despise foams with a passion (except for a recent trial of Tennmaks), but Final Audio type E's (using their included nozzle adapters) are working great. I have zero interest in parting with these now.
Are you using them connected directly to your laptop audio jack?
If so, I have a great recommendation for you: Audioquest Dragonfly Black. Amazon has it for $99 - see: https://www.amazon.com/AudioQuest-D...eadphone/dp/B01DP5JHHI/ref=asc_df_B01DP5JHHI/
The improvement compared to laptop audio jack is unbelievable!! Just used it to watch Netflix with the ER4SR, and other than need to LOWER the volume (or it is WAY too loud) - the sound is so much cleaner, dialogue was super crisp, and sound effects were way more impressive. Also, much wider sound stage - almost like watching the movie in a little room (laptop jack) --> watching the movie in a theater (with the Dragonfly).
I am curious to try at some point the newer Dragonfly Cobalt (which costs $299...).
 
Apr 17, 2021 at 2:03 PM Post #32 of 412
^^^Headphone jack of my long-in-the-tooth Macbook Pro. I've been eyeing USB DAC-amps, after having sold an old 1st Gen Meridian Explorer and unused DUNU USB devices recently. I'm just somewhat doubting the utility for me and for my use, though I'll keep myself open to it as this space keeps developing.
 
Apr 17, 2021 at 3:44 PM Post #33 of 412
@feverfive Dragonfly Black that I recommended is definitely NOT end-game device. In fact it is a little old and thus uses an older DAC chip inside. Having said that, I think it will surprise a lot of people. First, I think there is some skepticism as to what can be achieved by a $99 DAC/Amp. Second, people new to this hobby come with the mindset that you only need an amplifier to make something louder. "My IEMs are plenty loud out of my laptop headphone jack" is a very common noob misconception (I was guilty of this one, too).
One of the reasons I am a fan of the Dragonfly (and would like to test the Cobalt at some point) is the form factor. You do not need a power outlet for a power supply, no cables to connect to your laptop (unless you need USB-C to USB-A), plug-n-play.
I used to carry the Black in my work laptop bag everywhere. In the old days, when we used to work out of the house... :wink:
 
Apr 18, 2021 at 5:57 PM Post #34 of 412
Etymotic ER20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs - Impressions

Etymotic hearing protection. What do they offer? How does it compare to the run-of-the-mill foam earplugs? Let's find out!

First up are the passive ER20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs, tested with the default triple-flange tips that come pre-installed.
Price is $25 and here is what you get:

1618781681727.png


I used a phone app to measure SPL (noise) levels, in order to have a baseline. More on that later on.

Since I cannot attend a rock concert (or any live performance) due to COVID restrictions - I tested with speakers at home, and compared to standard foam earplugs. Noise level as measured at 75dB standing 3 feet from the speakers.

TL;DR Comparing Etymotic ER20XS to standard foam earplugs:
  • ER20XS do not attenuate quite as much as the foam tips, especially in the high frequencies (treble).
  • ER20XS provided a much clearer (opposite of muffled) musical experience!

Back to the detailed impressions:
I did not want to be a jerk of a neighbor, so in order to test at louder than 75dB levels - I decided to switch from speakers to over-the-ear headphones (Sennheiser HD380 Pro). Using my SPL meter app again, I measured 82-83dB levels. Quick sanity check... the headphones with no earplugs for 2 seconds... TOO LOUD!!!
Granted not quite at rock concert levels, that level was way too loud to enjoy the music! Truth be told, I am a little surprised, because I thought my normal listening levels are mid-80s dB. So, either the phone app is off the mark, or I was wrong in my assumption. I did measure with a 2nd SPL level app, and the results were similar. Maybe it is time to invest in a real SPL meter... :wink:
Since the music was definitely too loud, numeric values aside – that was a good test IMHO.

Back to my testing. Music is playing at those too-loud levels, and with the ER20XS back in my ears - I put the headphones back on. Nice! From way-too-loud levels that I could bear for 2-3 seconds, now it is down to very enjoyable listening levels. Easily I could listen like that for a long time.

Now would be a good time to try and explain the "much clearer (opposite of muffled) musical experience" compared to foam earplugs. Here is the attenuation comparison graph that I “borrowed” from Etymotic website:

1618781406598.png


As you can see from the graph, the ER20XS behave pretty much the same as foam earplugs in the low frequencies (below 1200 Hz or so). However, above 1200 Hz – the foam earplugs attenuate significantly more than the lower frequencies. The ER20XS in comparison maintain a pretty flat attenuation around 20 dB reduction. We can learn 2 things from the graph:
  • With ER20XS you hear the music the same as with no earplugs, just at a lower volume level. In contrast, with the foam earplugs, the sound changes (and not in a good way)! For example: if the drums and electric guitars are playing at the same level of loudness – with the foam earplugs you’ll hear the drums much louder, since the electric guitars are much higher frequency and thus attenuated more in comparison. The result is very bass heavy sound, and very muffled vocals. The vocals will be much clearer with the ER20XS.
  • At frequencies above 1200 Hz, foam earplugs provide better hearing protection by lowering the noise levels by 5 to 12 dB more than the ER20XS. For that reason, until I test the ER20XS in a real rock concert – the jury is out whether or not it can replace the standard foam earplugs that I have been using in the past.
Note on changes to vocals due to hearing protection:
Human vocals span a very wide range from 200 to 8000 Hz. That means that even human vocals will change when using the standard foam earplugs. Low male voices would sound louder in comparison to the higher attenuated female voices.
The Etymotic ER20XS will not cause those unwanted changes!

Edit: Read my addendum after testing them in a live rock concert!
 
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Apr 21, 2021 at 6:19 PM Post #35 of 412
Etymotic Music Pro Electronic Earplugs - Impressions

After my impressions of the passive ER20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs a few days ago, I have now tested the Music Pro electronic earplugs. Compared to the ER20XS MSRP of $25, the Music Pro retails for $300. How do they compare? What do I get for 12 times the price and is it worth it? Let's find out!
Here is the content of the box - you get a nice selection of tips and accessories:

1619041614012.png


In The Box:

  • Music Pro earplugs
  • 5 different eartips (3 silicone and 2 foam)
  • Flexible neck cord
  • Filter replacement tool and filters
  • Cleaning tool
  • 4 sets of Batteries (#10)
  • Protective case
  • User manual
Since I cannot attend a rock concert (or any live performance) due to COVID restrictions - I tested the Music Pro (and ER20XS) with speakers at home, as well as over the ear headphones (Sennheiser HD380 Pro) connected to my AV receiver and streaming music videos from Youtube. Some of those music videos are of particularly bad quality and shrill treble, which I thought would be a good test for the earplugs.

Using SPL meter app on my phone - I measured 80dB levels. As mentioned in my ER20XS impressions, I was surprised that at 80dB it was too loud to listen to. I am NOT very sensitive to noise, and suspect the phone app is off mark or the phone’s microphone is not sensitive enough. Either way, I did measure with a 2nd SPL level app, and the results were quite similar. Since the music was definitely too loud, numeric values aside – that was a good test IMHO.

How do the Music Pro electronic earplugs work? There is a microphone on the outside, which samples the noise level around you, and a driver that works just like in IEMs. The electronic circuit is sampling the input from the microphones continuously, and “plays back” into your eardrums a "processed" version of that outside sound. There is no audible lag. How does it "process" the outside noise / music / voices into your ears? To answer that, let me tell you a tale of 2 modes, since the Music Pro has 2 modes of operation:

1. Natural Hearing with 15-dB Sound Reduction
In this mode, Music Pro plays back at the same levels as the surrounding sounds, so you get natural hearing (as if there is nothing in your ears) until sound exceeds safe levels. Then, the hearing protection kicks in, and it starts playing back at 15dB lower than surrounding sounds and noise.

2. Enhanced Hearing with 9-dB Sound Reduction
In this mode, the Music Pro doubles as hearing assist (or hearing aid) as well as hearing protection device. You will get 6dB gain for soft sounds, which automatically turns into a 9dB protection when hearing is at risk.

Here is the attenuation comparison graph that I “borrowed” from Etymotic website:


1619042603811.png


Let me start by describing the behavior at lower noise levels (60-65dB). This is the level of normal face to face conversation.
  • Natural mode: did I hear everything completely natural, as if nothing was in my ears? Not quite, but close enough! I could hear some artifacts and some voices sounded a bit metallic and un-natural, but in general the experience was good enough. It is a price worth paying, for having the hearing protection at the ready for the second noise levels become too high.
  • Enhanced mode: in this mode, softer sounds and conversation are amplified. In fact, now I could hear my refrigerator and other “house noises” louder than I am used to… 😊 This mode is quite useful, especially for people with minor hearing problems.

Now, let me describe my experience when trying the Music Pro with my Sennheiser HD380 Pro headphones playing music too loudly, simulating a live performance:
  • Natural mode: in this mode, as you can see from the graph above – you get approx. 15dB of noise reduction. This attenuation of 15 dB is lower than the passive ER20XS which provide attenuation of 20dB. The music sounded good – much better than standard foam earplugs, and a little better than the Etymotic ER20XS.
  • Enhanced mode: now, with attenuation of only 9dB – I felt the music was too loud for me. Not as loud as no-protection, but I much rather have the 15dB protection of Natural mode, or 20dB courtesy of the ER20XS!

Do I recommend this product? Who is it for?
  • If your wife complains that you do not hear her, and you actually WANT to hear her – get those and use the Enhanced mode! 😊
  • For musicians - that is a great solution (in Natural mode). No other hearing protection solution comes close to hearing your music in a natural way while protecting you from hearing loss or damage.
  • For live acoustic / unplugged performances, and for performances at venues that do not blast the music – absolutely! (again, in Natural mode)
  • I will NOT recommend those for attending rock or metal concerts. Unfortunately, venues tend to blast at 90-100dB levels with peaks reaching 105-110dB! These levels are very bad for your hearing, and I feel 15dB is just not enough attenuation for such high noise levels. Get the ER20XS or even standard foam earplugs for that purpose instead.

Special Etyotic promotion for Head-Fi users
Starting today (April 21, 2021) and until Sunday (April 25) - use the coupon code "headfietyfans" for 15% off hearing protection products!
Free shipping on orders over $30 (within the US).

Enjoy the music, and keep your hearing intact!
 
Apr 21, 2021 at 11:28 PM Post #36 of 412
Owned both. Glad to see that the Music Pro comes with more than one set of batteries because they drain them like there's no tomorrow. That was the only con with them as there's no on/off switch and as long as the batteries are inserted, after 3-4 hrs, the units are dead. I can't imagine trying to swap out the batteries in a concert.

Getting custom made ear plugs with attenuation filters are the best route, IMO.
 
Apr 22, 2021 at 12:09 AM Post #37 of 412
Owned both. Glad to see that the Music Pro comes with more than one set of batteries because they drain them like there's no tomorrow. That was the only con with them as there's no on/off switch and as long as the batteries are inserted, after 3-4 hrs, the units are dead. I can't imagine trying to swap out the batteries in a concert.
I have played with them for 1 to 1.5 hours (so far). When I was done, since there is no "off" switch - I opened the battery door.
For what it's worth - when the battery die, it is supposed to behave like passive earplugs! So at least you still have hearing protection.
 
Apr 22, 2021 at 2:08 PM Post #38 of 412
I guess 3-4 hrs is fine as I've never attended a concert that lasted more than 3 hrs. You're right, when the batteries go dead, they are passive earplugs, but then I found the sound being muffled and on par with $1 foam plugs.

There's a $399 model that charges the units inside the li-ion dual battery case and lasts much longer. I might invest in those once concerts become available again. Nothing beats live performances.
 
Apr 22, 2021 at 3:02 PM Post #39 of 412
There's a $399 model that charges the units inside the li-ion dual battery case and lasts much longer. I might invest in those once concerts become available again.
If you plan ahead, and buy now (before Apr. 25) - you should be able to use the coupon code "headfietyfans" for 15% off :wink:
 
Apr 25, 2021 at 7:49 PM Post #40 of 412
Etymotic 2.5mm Balanced cable - impressions and comparisons:

Cables. Do they make an audible difference? Single Ended (SE) vs. Balanced?
Those subjects are often polarizing and cause audiophile debates…
Today, I am posting my personal impressions and opinions on Etymotic own 2.5mm balanced cable for IEMs with user-replaceable cable (ER2, ER3, and ER4 series).

1619393544146.png
1619393576714.png


For my tests and comparisons, I chose to use the ER3XR. To be able to compare SE vs. balanced on the same source (that support both) – I used FiiO BL35 (3.5mm male to 2.5mm female adapter).

1619393733128.png


Source used:
HiBy R6 DAP using its 2.5mm balanced headphone jack with the balanced cable plugged in directly, and using its 3.5mm SE headphone jack with the FiiO BL35 adapter.

Package and accessories:
That one is simple. Inside the tiny package is just the balanced cable itself. That is it.
My only comment here: I wish it came with a small zippered case, like the ER2/3/4 or MK5 IEMs. Why do I need a case for a cable? So I can use it to store the SE cable that came with my ER3XR, after swapping it out in favor of the balanced cable.

Build Quality, Fit and Comfort:
The balanced cable looks and feels identical to the stock ER4SR/ER4XR cable, except for the plug (obviously) being 2.5mm balanced instead of 3.5mm SE.
Strangely enough, at the time of writing this (Apr. 2021) – replacement stock cable is $10 more expensive (at $80) than the balanced cable (at $70).
You can expect the same high build quality. Same splitter and twisted wire pair from the splitter to the MMCX connectors. Same materials and thickness.

Balanced cable compared to ER3XR stock cable:
I do not believe the balanced cable sounds better, when used as SE (with the FiiO adapter). Some people with golden ears might claim they hear a difference – I am not saying they’re wrong, but the difference would likely be very small.
The balanced cable is a little thicker, has nicer splitter and feels better build quality overall. Also, it is less prone to getting tangled.

Balanced cable compared to ER4SR stock cable:
The balanced cable looks identical to the stock ER4SR cable, with the exception of the plug being balanced 2.5mm instead of SE 3.5mm.
I am convinced even golden eared people won’t be able to tell the difference this time around (when used with SE source)!

So why should I buy a balanced cable if there is no audible difference?
Mind you my claims above were based on using the balanced cable with SE 3.5mm source. That changes when using the balanced cable with a real 2.5mm balanced source (such as my HiBy R6 DAP 2.5mm headphone jack).
The first thing you’d notice is… your IEMs are LOUDER now! That is caused by the fact that balanced sources have more power compared to the same source in SE output.
In many cases, and that is specific source dependent – the sound stage feels wider / bigger, and the instrument separation gets better. Many sources also achieve "blacker background" (lower noise floor) when using the balanced output.
In summary: balanced output vs. SE output is source dependent, and in most cases it sounds better! You buy a balanced cable so you can take advantage of this superior output option.

Conclusions & recommendations:
  • If you have (or consider buying) a source with balanced 2.5mm output jack – definitely buy a balanced cable! You will improve your sound overall. By how much? That depends on the quality of your balanced source.
  • If you have ER4SR or ER4XR and no balanced source (or plans to get one) – don’t bother! You will need an adapter, and the sound would be identical.
  • If you have ER3SE / ER3XR / ER2SE / ER2XR and no balanced source – consider this cable as a "look and feel" upgrade from the ER3/ER2 stock cable. You will need an adapter for SE output, though.
 
Apr 25, 2021 at 9:56 PM Post #41 of 412
Etymotic 2.5mm Balanced cable - impressions and comparisons:

Cables. Do they make an audible difference? Single Ended (SE) vs. Balanced?
Those subjects are often polarizing and cause audiophile debates…
Today, I am posting my personal impressions and opinions on Etymotic own 2.5mm balanced cable for IEMs with user-replaceable cable (ER2, ER3, and ER4 series).

1619393544146.png1619393576714.png

For my tests and comparisons, I chose to use the ER3XR. To be able to compare SE vs. balanced on the same source (that support both) – I used FiiO BL35 (3.5mm male to 2.5mm female adapter).

1619393733128.png

Source used:
HiBy R6 DAP using its 2.5mm balanced headphone jack with the balanced cable plugged in directly, and using its 3.5mm SE headphone jack with the FiiO BL35 adapter.

Package and accessories:
That one is simple. Inside the tiny package is just the balanced cable itself. That is it.
My only comment here: I wish it came with a small zippered case, like the ER2/3/4 or MK5 IEMs. Why do I need a case for a cable? So I can use it to store the SE cable that came with my ER3XR, after swapping it out in favor of the balanced cable.

Build Quality, Fit and Comfort:
The balanced cable looks and feels identical to the stock ER4SR/ER4XR cable, except for the plug (obviously) being 2.5mm balanced instead of 3.5mm SE.
Strangely enough, at the time of writing this (Apr. 2021) – replacement stock cable is $10 more expensive (at $80) than the balanced cable (at $70).
You can expect the same high build quality. Same splitter and twisted wire pair from the splitter to the MMCX connectors. Same materials and thickness.

Balanced cable compared to ER3XR stock cable:
I do not believe the balanced cable sounds better, when used as SE (with the FiiO adapter). Some people with golden ears might claim they hear a difference – I am not saying they’re wrong, but the difference would likely be very small.
The balanced cable is a little thicker, has nicer splitter and feels better build quality overall. Also, it is less prone to getting tangled.

Balanced cable compared to ER4SR stock cable:
The balanced cable looks identical to the stock ER4SR cable, with the exception of the plug being balanced 2.5mm instead of SE 3.5mm.
I am convinced even golden eared people won’t be able to tell the difference this time around (when used with SE source)!

So why should I buy a balanced cable if there is no audible difference?
Mind you my claims above were based on using the balanced cable with SE 3.5mm source. That changes when using the balanced cable with a real 2.5mm balanced source (such as my HiBy R6 DAP 2.5mm headphone jack).
The first thing you’d notice is… your IEMs are LOUDER now! That is caused by the fact that balanced sources have more power compared to the same source in SE output.
In many cases, and that is specific source dependent – the sound stage feels wider / bigger, and the instrument separation gets better. Many sources also achieve "blacker background" (lower noise floor) when using the balanced output.
In summary: balanced output vs. SE output is source dependent, and in most cases it sounds better! You buy a balanced cable so you can take advantage of this superior output option.

Conclusions & recommendations:
  • If you have (or consider buying) a source with balanced 2.5mm output jack – definitely buy a balanced cable! You will improve your sound overall. By how much? That depends on the quality of your balanced source.
  • If you have ER4SR or ER4XR and no balanced source (or plans to get one) – don’t bother! You will need an adapter, and the sound would be identical.
  • If you have ER3SE / ER3XR / ER2SE / ER2XR and no balanced source – consider this cable as a "look and feel" upgrade from the ER3/ER2 stock cable. You will need an adapter for SE output, though.
Who's the hockey player?
 
Apr 25, 2021 at 11:03 PM Post #42 of 412
Apr 25, 2021 at 11:49 PM Post #43 of 412
And I totally agree with you. The need to use Balanced cable should only be applicable if the source are properly implemented to operate in such manner. Quality wise a balanced cable itself is no different from a normal single ended cable in Etymotic case, because they are essentially the same material. Fiio BL3 adapter is just an utility to allow for convenience so that we can use one 2.5mm cable on wide variety of ports. In my case all of my cables are 2.5mm four poles terminated and I will use either 4.4mm adapter or 3.5mm SE adapter depending where I plug it into.

On the subject of usage, the good thing is your Hiby R6 utilize true dual mono circuitry where each channels get their own DAC and their own pair of Opamps or commonly rereferred to as discrete design where they are powered exclusively on each channel with separate grounds. And this is evident when you look at the 300mW output delivered on the balanced port as opposed to 120mW on the SE side. So expectedly when you use the balanced 2.5mm port you get to hear the improvements you mentioned. I can attest to this as my own Cayin N6ii and N3 Pro both are fully discrete with even higher output level up to 1200mW (N6ii) and 800mW (N3 Pro). The N3 Pro was my first ever experience listening to balanced output and my jaw dropped as how much different it sounded as compared to the SE side. ER4SR was quick to exhibit audible improved separation, layering, spacing and fuller presented dynamics. Since then I was convinced going discrete balanced is the only way I will settle for.

However, there are devices out there that offer balanced ports and yet they operate integrated DAC and Amp circuitry. I haven't have ample enough chance to try them out but I believe there will be compromise to the perceived balanced experience
 
Apr 26, 2021 at 12:19 AM Post #44 of 412
I'm going to interrupt this Ety celebration. My first IEMs, back when there were hardly any except Ety and Shure, were Etys, and the analytical clarity was really something. I used them until the hard-wired cords gave out. But then I switched to Shures (pretty much the only other choice at the time) for the warmth and heft. Yes this was a long time ago.

All the recent Head-fi enthusiasm led me to try the Ety ER4SE from Adorama.

I got them, tried the triple flanges, the foams, my own Complys and Shure Olives for fit. I ran a calibrated sine sweep through them from my Macbook. And WHOA!!!! Somewhere above 1000-2000 Hz they just got WAY LOUDER AND STARTED TO SCREAM. It was anything but flat/reference/clear; it just escalated. I tried with other tips. I tried with a Schitt Magni 3. They were still screaming. I returned them.

I like that they are so small and straight. But no matter what tips/amp/player combo I used, they had crazy exaggerated highs and not much bass. I sent them back. I would love to get clear flat reference IEMS, especially at the Adorama discounts. But actual experience says otherwise.

OTOH, I also have the Ety generic earplugs and they really do drop the volume and keep the clarity like nothing else.

I borrowed some electronic Ety pros back in the concert days and they weren't much use. Still, can't wait to go back to a live show.
 
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Apr 26, 2021 at 1:14 AM Post #45 of 412
The N3 Pro was my first ever experience listening to balanced output and my jaw dropped as how much different it sounded as compared to the SE side. ER4SR was quick to exhibit audible improved separation, layering, spacing and fuller presented dynamics.
I have N3Pro as well, and should get a 2.5mm (female) to 4.4mm (male) adapter VERY soon. I will then test the Etymotic balanced cable on the N3Pro as well :)
Specifically with the N3Pro - I just LOVE the tube modes. Unfortunately, balanced works in solid-state mode only. So, I will compare 4.4mm balanced to 3.5 SE in solid-state mode, to keep additional variables (tubes) out of the equation...
 

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