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?
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 obselete. What a banger by the folks from Etymotic.
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