Etymotic ER3-SE and ER3-XR Review
Not content with the splash it’s made with its updated ER4 designs of late, Etymotic is back with more! Or is it less? The ER3 models cost a good chunk less than their ER4 counterparts, so what does this mean in terms of value?
- Classic Etys for the price
- Removable cable
- Crystal clarity
- Carry case
- Basic selection of tips
- Etymotic deep fit not for everyone
Design and appearance
The ER3 versions are slightly more sensitive than the ER4 versions, with half the impedance too. This may have been done with an eye on the portable market, where some handsets may have struggled to get up to a good volume with the ER4 type.
Accessories are minimal with the ER3-SE and ER3-XR; along with the earphones themselves, we get a case and three pairs of tips. The two sizes of Etymotic triple flange, and a pair of ER38-14F type foam eartips.
Durability & build quality
The capsules are the most obvious change, with plastic-coated aluminium being used instead of the glossy metal look of the ER4. The cable has a good strong, but pliable feel to it, but it is a bit thinner and is not braided at the top. Apart from the slightly lighter weight and less glossy look of the ER3-version capsules, things are much as we’d expect from the ER4-XR and ER4-SR.
No change here; Etymotics need to be inserted deeply to be at their best, and people either love the isolation they bring or hate the deep insertion of the eartips. Fortunately we love the isolation enough to ignore any initial discomfort, and the eartips seem to settle into place after a few seconds.
Like the ER4 designs, there are two flavours of ER3. The Etymotic ER3-SE is the more strait-laced and neutral of the two, with the ER3-XR giving a little more bass warmth. Both however sound a little more gentle in terms of the midrange than their ER4 brethren. Where we sometimes get the feeling of jeopardy with the ER4 models, with an errant xylophone or female vocalist threatening to poke us in the ear, the ER3 versions are a little more laid back. Etymotic’s clarity has not been sacrificed though; the midrange presence is just a little more humane.
Sub bass on the ER3-SE gives a nice bit of wobble which is low in the mix, but there alright. The rest of the bass is as well controlled as expected, but understated; bass junkies need not apply. There’s some great control here though. Meanwhile, the ER3-XR has more of that skull-rattling sub bass and more slam generally. We’re still not in basshead territory, but if you like your sound a little warmer with more weight given to cellos and drums then the ER3-XR may be for you.
Mids are always a treat as far as Etymotic’s offerings are concerned, and the ER3-SE does not disappoint. While the midrange level is slightly lowered when compared to the ER4-SR, all the other attractive features are there along with a wonderful sense of spaciousness. Details are well rendered, though not with the sharp relief of the ER4-SR. Many will feel the ER3-SE has more comfortable sound when compared to the ER4-SR in terms of the sound, but with all its harmonic and spatial treats largely intact.
With the ER3-XR the extra bass presence vies for attention along with the midrange, so the midrange seems to lose its power slightly. The spaciousness of the ER3-SE is tempered, and the extra bass warmth takes its place. The ER3-XR is still excellent when it comes to midrange action and detail, but is arguably the better all-rounder of the two as the tuning works well with genres such as modern dance music.
The ER3-SE does not sound treble-heavy but there is some nice extension up top. If your recordings were made on analogue tape, you’ll probably know about it from the tape hiss coming through. Treble is at around the same level as the midrange after a smooth transition, and consequently does its job well whilst keeping the midrange in the spotlight.
The ER3-XR has the same treble presence as the ER3-SE, but the fatter low end gives the tuning a warmer feel.
Soundstage & Separation
With the detail and midrange clarity on offer from both these models, we can say that both soundstage and separation are a treat. The sound has a nice ‘out of the head’ feel without seeming unnatural and with good depth too. Separation and imaging are near perfect, if a bit toned down when compared to the dazzling ER4 designs.
Music genres good for and why
The ER3-SE is a great choice for acoustic music, classical and opera. With modern pop and dance genres, it can depend on your sensitivity to the upper midrange frequencies as to whether they work or not, along with your taste for bass. The ER3-XR is good for any genre you can throw at it, and we went through many!
Etymotic’s ER4 models are now available for cheap (albeit under the ER3 moniker), but their character is largely intact. Those who like to hear the smallest thing within their music needn’t study the fine print of credit card agreements in order to afford the ER3-SE and ER3-XR.