In-Ear Fidelity

[Cliffnotes] Etymotic ER2: Market Disruptor

Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard but can’t be bothered to fully review. Thus I won’t get too in-depth,  nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.


Touted as the grandfather of portable audio, Etymotic’s original ER4B and ER4S came into the world in 1991 as the world’s first commercially available universal in-ear monitor. Etymotic continues its legacy with the ER4SR and ER4XR, which are updates to their legacy ER4 lineup with slight tweaks to their target curve to accomodate for more mainstream tastes.

But on the other end of the spectrum, the budget lineup of Etymotic’s product range had historically been an afterthought in the eyes of the audiophile community. Perhaps the most popular of which would’ve been the HF5, but you’re probably not aware that Etymotic had no less than eight lower entry models, which includes the MC series (MC2, MC3 and MC5), the HF series (HF2, HF3 and HF5), the MK5 series and most out-of-place of all, the “Ety Kids” EK5 which is a volume-limited MK5 (if memory serves me correct).

The new ER2 series serves to streamline all of these lower-end models into two signatures, just like the new ER4 and ER3 series. No more confusing jumbles of letters and numbers, just the use of “SE” or “XR” to denote the reference or bass-boosted tuning respectively.

The ER2 takes a significant departure from the ER3 and ER4 in that the ER2 utilises a proprietary dynamic driver, but do note that they are not the first dynamic driver IEM from Etymotic (that honour goes to the original MC lineup). And of course, the significant price cuts compared to the ER3 and ER4 makes the ER2 a much more enticing offer for the masses.

Of course the big question now remains: how different is the ER2 from their bigger, more expensive brothers?

Product pages

MSRP: $160

Driver configuration: single dynamic


Let me begin with a tribute.

Let’s not pretend that the ER4 is a perfect product. My biggest problems with the ER4 would probably be its imaging capability (which is basically nonexistent, the ER4 is one of the most “two dimensional” IEMs I’ve ever heard) and, if you care about it, the “BA timbre” which manifests itself as a plasticky and thin texture to the notes. Those are primary reasons why I don’t own one for personal use despite my massive respect for them.

But make no mistake, the legacy of the ER4 is a long-standing one that is further refreshed by its SR/XR update, and still remains as one of the few benchmarks in my ranking list that has established itself as a solid A-ranker probably for the rest of time. Everyone knows the ER4 for the precision of its notes and its detailing capabilities, and it is probably the ultimate “reference monitor” for anyone who cares for the Diffuse Field target.

So, where does the ER2 sit in this comparison?


Comparisons courtesy of the Graph Comparison Tool

Purely signature-wise, the ER2SE is similar (if not identical) to the ER4SR, and the ER2XR is basically a ER4XR with extra sub-bass tacked on (assuming no unit variation shenanigans).

Your first thought would probably be to describe the ER2 as a cheaper, dynamic driver version of the ER4. And honestly, that’s not too far off. While the dynamic drivers used in the ER2 doesn’t present notes as cleanly or as precisely as the ER4, the timbral improvements in the ER2 are much appreciated especially in the bass. The ER2’s bass isn’t endgame bass by any means, but the fact that it isn’t as one note-y and almost weightless like the ER4 is a huge improvement in my book, even in something that is basically identical on paper such as the ER2SE versus the ER4SR. You get the same great Etymotic tuning with slight sacrifices in raw technicalities, but with (in my own opinion) a much more pleasant and satisfying presentation. Even if it may lose a bit of its “reference” character in the case of the ER2XR.

Now, I know I’ve called the Tin HiFi T4 my $100 benchmark and I still stand by that. Realistically, all other $100 IEMs should be compared to the T4 to judge its competitiveness within the market.

But the ER2… the ER2 is an anomaly. There is absolutely no point in benchmarking similarly-priced  IEMs against it because of how unreasonably high it would set the bar. Now, this doesn’t mean that the ER2 becomes the automatic, default option in its price range because there are absolutely reasons why you would not like it. It is not the perfect, do-everything IEM and there may be others that suit your own personal tastes better than it ever could.

But in terms of the metrics that my ranking list focuses on, the ER2 is just so far ahead of the pack and makes some more expensive choices downright obsolete. What a banger by the folks from Etymotic.

Grade: B+ ★★

More info on the “Stars à la Cenric” award system

Support me on Patreon to get access to tentative ranks! I probably won’t be writing Cliffnotes for every IEM, but you can expect them for the ones that stand out, either positively or negatively.

My usual thanks to my loyal supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys:


39 thoughts on “[Cliffnotes] Etymotic ER2: Market Disruptor”

  1. I love my ER2XR. I was looking for an IEM with a little sub boost but similar tuning to my Fearless S6 Pro and this really did it for me. An organic/natural timber with just the right amount of detail in treble and bass extension. I am really hoping the MoonDrop S8 will be a nice BA version.

  2. Nice review!

    I need to buy one of these…

    Do ety fits smaller ears?
    Only 2 tips available in the box?


    1. I thought I had average ears (I use middle size tips on everything else), but Etymotic’s middle sized triple flanges were super uncomfortable. I switched to the large ones and that did the trick. The fit is nothing I’ve ever experienced so it cannot be compared.

  3. Hello crinacle. I bought one of these and they are so good already. What would you suggest as an upgrade from these.

      1. Hmm so you’d still consider the ER4XR to be a better pick? (Personally owning the SR for ~2yrs but would like to try something with more bass) I’m leaning toward another pair of Etys simply because of their unparalleled noise isolation…

        1. I think the ER4 is ultimately more technically proficient, but I’d rather listen to the ER2 personally.

    1. Why do you need an upgrade? I hear some people say theyre looking for an upgrade. An upgrade in sound quality? Are these that bad that you need to get a new one? Are these only good because theyre cheap for something OKAY?

  4. I was looking for a review (maybe even a cliffnotes) on the ER3 but I haven’t seen one. So what is a better choice between the ER2 and the ER3. Price is about the same in my side of the border so I am only looking at sound quality.

    1. In the other comments crinacle said, that for his personal use he would prefer the er2-xr.
      I own both the er2-xr and the er3-xr and i enjoy the er2 way more. The er4-xr might be technically more proficient, but the er2 listening experience is just so satisfying.

      1. hello, why you prefer er2-xr than er3-xr? In my country I have only a er3-xr new to buy. You think the er3-xr is good for buy or is better buy a er2 imported (more cost)?

  5. Hi Crinacle,
    Thank you for your work!
    It will be nice to know what you think about this Etymotic Research tuning kit for ER series

  6. If I already have the T4’s, would it be reasonable to also buy these? I mean I’d get more passive isolation, but would there be more advantages, if at all?

  7. “worth the blind” he said…so I did. ☺️
    And… yeah, I agree. $100 for the limited edition set, shipped to Malaysia seemed like a fair deal – and the price went up a day later so quite pleased with that.
    Took a while to get used to the fit, although I have used deep fit tips before so I was prepared for the feeling.
    The bass is there (XR set) and pleasingly solid, although a bit light for my personal taste – my primary set is the Sony XBA N3 – but the tonality is excellent. I can put up with having to Eq a bit to get the best sound, but I can’t stand sets like the 1More Triple Driver that just sound “off” tonally and need major work to get sounding close to accurate.
    A nice recommendation, from a trusted source, and they are a great second pair for tonal accuracy and a pleasant easy listening sound. Potential long life with the replaceable cable and driver simplicity, just need to keep the ears super clean because the bore is so tiny.
    Will keep me happy until the piggy bank fills up enough for the Z1 Sony..😁

  8. I’m looking for a nice pair of IEMS, but I would like to know if you recommend me IEMS from IMR, especially the R2 ATEN, someone is offering them for 160 USD, or should I buy the DUNU DK3001 PRO for 350USD? both are used but in pristine condition. Or what IEM will you recommend me (budget up to 4000USD)

    1. I’m confused. You are looking at IEMs for 100-500 USD, but you have a budget of 4000 dollars. I suggest looking at crinacle’s top ranked IEMs, most of them should fall under 4000 dollars.

    1. I have both and Starfield is much more fun sounding however the er2xr is much more comfortable and isolated much better.

  9. How is the imaging? You said the ER4 is basically nonexistent.

    I really enjoy good imaging and don’t want to regret my purchase.

  10. Hi! I picked these up (the ER2SE is here, XR are arriving tomorrow) following your review, and I’m not disappointed in the slightest. This is exactly the sound flavour I’ve been looking for!

    One thing, though – I would like to have a pair of earbuds that works with FiiO’s UTWS3 IEM amps, which require either an MMCX or a 2-pin connector on an IEM facing forward and slightly up rather than directly outwards. Do you know any IEMs that have the same of very similar sound signature as the ER2 (both SE and XR sound will work), and a technical ability that’s also B+ or better? I’m not looking for any particular price range at the moment, just want to know my options.

  11. Which did you prefer the Etymotic ER4SR or Etymotic ER4XR?
    and Which one will you choice er2se, er2xr, er4se, er4xr and why?

  12. Which did you prefer the Etymotic ER4SR or Etymotic ER4XR?
    and Which one will you pick er2se, er2xr, er4se, er4xr and why?

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