Etymotic needs no introduction, so I’ll make this short and skip the historical babbling.
Arguably the brand when it comes to neutral tunings, Etymotic had always been characterised by their insistence on the single-driver formula. For the longest time, every single model from Etymotic had a singular driver unit, the ER series, the MC series, the HF series, every single one.
That is of course, until the EVO. And Etymotic not only increased its per-channel driver count, but tripled it. Three balanced armature drivers are running the EVO, and while most may expect this to be a bass-mids-treble triple crossover setup, the EVO instead utilises a a far simpler 2-way setup with a double-woofer stack handling the low frequencies.
But at this point you all probably know that I’m no believer in newer being better. In fact, it’s probably closer to a 50/50 tossup under IEF metrics. So while the average layman may assume the EVO to be Etymotic’s best work, you ask (and I answer) the question that no one else dares to ask:
How good is the EVO actually?
Driver configuration: 3BA
Special thanks to “Infoseeker” for loaning me this EVO.
The ER4 is no doubt a legendary IEM that deserves all the praise it gets. An audiophile staple since its creation in 1992, it wouldn’t be out of place to say that, at least in the context of the IEM market, the ER4 is the best thing since sliced bread.
The EVO, on the other hand, is canned bread.
As far as tuning goes, it’s your usual competent Etymotic Diffuse Field-ish tuning (competent being emphasised due to the existence of the ER4P and ER3 which have their treble responses compromised for the sake of drivability) so there’s nothing much to say in terms of tonality that I, or everyone else, had already said. Solid balance of frequencies, amazing even, and the one thing you can expect Etymotic to nail time and time again.
But really, tuning shouldn’t be the reason you get a more expensive Etymotic IEM. Else you might as well spring for the cheaper ER4XR, or the far cheaper ER2XR.
So really, the thing that differentiates all these models (by price, no less) would ideally be their technical performance. I’ve considered the ER2 series to one of the best IEMs you can get at MSRP (and at their current street prices, it becomes even more of a no-brainer) but it’s still somewhat limited by its resolving ability, especially next to its ER4 brothers.
I make this comparison to show that, within the realm of Etymotic’s own lineup, pretty much the only reason to “upgrade” would be for more technical performance. So, does the EVO have better resolution than the ER4? Better imaging? Wider soundstage?
Kind of. But also not really.
Alright, if you’re one of those people who insist that “more drivers = more better”, click away now.
In a direct A/B comparison, the ER4 (XR, because it’s closer to the EVO in terms of tonality) actually comes off as slightly cleaner with better clarity around the notes. In terms of resolving ability I’d be splitting hairs, but considering that the EVO is nearly double the current street price of an ER4 it’s not exactly a good look.
There are some improvements to be noted, for instance the in-your-head congested feeling of the ER4s now sound like average IEM imaging instead (it’s an improvement, but it’s not amazing either) and the bass response is a little better as well. Though if you’re looking for proper bass, the ER2 would run circles around the EVO in terms of realism and actual weight.
Now, the ER4 had been a masterclass in price-to-performance around $300 so naturally an IEM that performs about the same at $500 would still get the one-star “Worth it” approval under IEF metrics. But really, at the level that the EVO is right now… the big question that swirls around my head as I listen to it would be “why do you exist?”
Canned bread. Sums it up best.
Overall Grade: A- ★
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