Etymotic Research ER4P Headphone Reviews

Manufacturer Etymotic Research Model ER4P
Headphone Type Canal Headband Type None
Weight (g) 28 Driver Type Dynamic
Enclosure Material Plastic Isolation (dB) 20
Impedance (ohms) 27 Cable Length (cm) 150
Frequency Response (Hz) 20 - 16000  
Connector 3.5mm with 6.5mm adaptor Street Price US$219
Buy from Amazon.com  
Average reviewer scores
Bass Extension 6.0 Bass Impact 4.1
Bass Quality 6.6 Mids Quality 7.3
Highs Quality 7.7 Soundstage 5.3
Detail 8.2 Portability 7.9
Isolation 8.8 Comfort 6.8
Durability 6.6 Improvement With Amplification 4.8
Value for Money 6.8    
Overall Score 7.0 Total Reviews 12

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Reviews by our members

Review by Senior Member seanny on 26 Aug 10  08:17
Individual review
Bass Extension5
Bass Impact2
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality9
Detail8
Comfort9
Durability8
Value7

I've been incrementally moving up the Etymotic product line for several years now, from the ER-6 to the 6i, and for the past couple years I've been rocking the ER-4p. Just recently I've ditched it for the ($400 retail) UE TripleFi 10vi, but even at twice the price point, UE's best is still bested by the ER-4p in some respects.

Moving up from Etymotic's cheaper ER-6 series, already known for clear and balanced mids & highs, the first thing that immediately struck me about the ER-4p was its sheer, super dry clarity. It was better able to reproduce high-end texture than its cheaper cousins. Hearing its competitors from Shure & UE, with their comparatively grainy, ringy, comb-filtered (many words for the same thing) highs and comparatively muddy midrange only brought home Etymotic's emphasis on obsessively accurate reproduction. Looking at their legacy products, like professional IEMs and specialty monitors for field recorders & hearing test systems, illustrates where they're coming from.

However, the ER-4p's dry presentation won't be to everyone's taste. It's kind of like plugging your portable music player right into the line-in jack of your brain. You won't feel the music much-- you'll just hear the signal verbatim exactly as the music producers and engineers crafted it. In that sense it's not going to help dull recordings and poorly produced tracks sound any better. However, music that's already brilliantly produced and engineered, with plenty of crisp highs and hi-fi sensibilities, will grant the ER-4p a shining moment of everything it's capable of. In a way, the ER-4p can be characterized as the "studio monitors" of in-ear headphones, something that gets "out of the way" of the audio signal rather than imposing its own character, whereas Shure and UE phones are more along the lines of "home hi-fi"-- delivering a fun, visceral but not necessarily accurate presentation.

The elephant in the room is the low bass roll-off around 100hz. The upper bass, mids & highs past that point are expertly controlled, but the lack of low bass is a deal-breaker for some types of music. EQ-ing the low bass helps a bit, sure, but past a certain point all you're doing is boosting up a muddy sound. You'll be able to hear low bass tones but you won't be able to feel them the way you can with a two-way (read: two-driver) in-ear design from Shure & UE, much less a large diaphragm headphone that can shake your whole head with bass. In other words, if you're a bass head, move on. If you're a true bass head, you may want to skip in-ear phones altogether.

As far as comfort, portability and isolation goes, the ER-4p is a great choice provided you don't have a general aversion to in-ear phones, and you can handle its cable noise / "microphone effect" (joggers move on). The ER-4p is small and very lightweight. It doesn't tug on your ears with gravity, especially with the included cable clip, and there's no around-the-ear cable gymnastics you have to perform like with Shure & UE's larger models. Just stick them in your ears with your favorite tip and you're good to go, no fuss. My favorite is the dual-flange tip, easily created by taking a blade to the included triple-flange tips. The ER-4p isolates as well as any other in-ear phone. Bus/train daily commute is a natural application.

The replaceable filters are a bit of a rip-off, but they're something you'll need to replace every few months as the sound gradually becomes muffled and dull.

Review by Senior Member chunkage on 23 Nov 08  06:03
Individual review
Bass Extension6
Bass Impact5
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality6
Highs Quality7
Detail7
Comfort6
Durability8
Value5

The 4P comes with a variety of tips - and good thing, too. A good fit is crucial, and that's why experimentation is mandatory. My middle ear is fairly big, and foamies transformed the sound completely; this also made for a comfortable fit.

- While the Westone UM2 was bassy to an extreme, the 4P has a tight sound. Clear, but not punchy (quite unlike the Shure E4C).

- The wide diameter of my middle ear made comfortable placement nearly impossible. The Ety is particularly unforgiving with wide middle ears, unlike the UM2 and E4C. Most users need not worry about this, however.

- As stated, SQ varies in relation to tips and tip placement. However, the most users will find toamies comfortable - though they will need to be changed on a regular basis.

- Some have complained about "microphonics," but the sound is perfectly acceptable.

- The 4P comes with a plastic case, and a snappy soft case. Winding and unwinding is a necessary evil with any IEM, of course.

Review by Senior Member CookieFactory on 08 Apr 06  12:49
Individual review
Bass Extension7
Bass Impact4
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality8
Detail8
Comfort8
Durability5
Value8

The ER4P is arguably the best universal IEM on the market today (4.7.06)

Review by Senior Member Doug Greenberg on 15 Jan 06  05:43
Individual review
Bass Extension6
Bass Impact3
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality7
Detail8
Comfort5
Durability8
Value8

These have been my main 'phones for several years now. The ER-4S (higher impedance version of the same product) has a slightly cleaner sound, but the ER-4P's convenience (no amp is needed) trumps this for me in most situations.
The sound the ER-4P's produce is highly detailed. Most types of music reproduce well with the ER-4P's. They do surprisingly well with genres that are highly involved and complex, as there is absolutely no muddiness at all. The different musical elements comes across cleanly and distinctly. The ER-4's fall down a bit with respect to music that depends upon bass impact. You can hear the bass and it's tight and quite listenable, but there is no real punch to it. For bass-heavy music I turn up the bass EQ and hope for the best (or else I use different headphones altogether).
Another important issue is that a tight seal (in the ear canal) is absolutely essential to reproduce bass, and also to avoid sibilance and in some cases, shrillness in the higher frequencies. Even still, if the source used tends toward the thin or shrill in the upper frequencies the ER-4's output can become fatiguing.
People have differing tolerance for the insertion of deep-seated canalphones like these. I have always found the ER-4's reasonably comfortable, more so than many full-sized headphones. But some people simply can't wear them. To help in making the product more potentially comfortable, Etymotic includes both triflange and foam ear tips.
The isolation provided by the ER-4's is superb. For airplane travel I have found them preferable to the (few) "noise-reduction" headphones I have tried. Obviously, this means that users have to pick and choose the situations in which they use the ER-4s. I use them during gym workouts, where I enjoy the fact that they block out the bland background music.
Some users have problems with microphonics, i.e., the transmission of sound through the cable that results from its rubbing against one's body. The included shirt clip can minimize this, and Etymotics has improved the cord recently, replacing the original rubberized version with a braided type. Personally, I have never had much problem with microphonics.
To protect the drivers from moisture, ear wax, etc., the earphones incorporate tiny filters that must be changed whenever they clog up. Since this always happens unexpectedly, it's a good idea to carry the included cylindical filter case w/tool whenever the Ety's are used out in the world.
With the advent of the superpremium custom earphones like the UE-10 Pros and the Sensaphonic soft 2X's, these are no longer the undisputed "best of the best" when it comes to IEM's, but the Ety's are solid performers and they can be purchased these days for an amazingly attractive price.

Review by Senior Member slwiser on 17 Jul 05  07:02
Individual review
Bass Extension6
Bass Impact6
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality8
Detail8
Comfort8
Durability6
Value6

Note that my review is in context with a very good amp so this must be a consideration in how you take my informatio. Additionally, my listening style is light jazz, classical, vocals and country.

These were my first what I call high end earphones. They continue to please me for being my portable and office headphone. They isolate very well and sound extremely clear. With good sources and a good amp these phones will please anyone. A small problem is that some people can not take the deep in-the-ear placement. This is not a problem for me but it would be for some. An excellent choice for anyone needing a detailed and crisp sound.

Review by Senior Member null on 21 Mar 05  15:47
Individual review
Bass Extension3
Bass Impact5
Bass Quality5
Mids Quality4
Highs Quality8
Detail9
Comfort5
Durability4
Value7

The ER4Ps are very revealing 'phones and they may surprise you at first. They have weak bass extension, however the bass impact is pretty good and these things are very fun. The key to getting the best out of these little guys is how good you can get them in your ears. Microphonics hinder portability, but if you can subdue it then the ER4ps will delight you with their killer isolation; just be careful you dont crush 'em, because they are small and therefore not the most durable canalphones in the world.

Review by Senior Member TrevorNetwork on 17 Dec 04  11:08
Individual review
Bass Extension6
Bass Impact3
Bass Quality7
Mids Quality6
Highs Quality7
Detail8
Comfort4
Durability4
Value6

The ER-4P are a great deal. Offering great portability, and detail. They are unique in the headphone world. My issue comes from the odd midrange exhibited by the ER-4P. It would seem the frequency changes made by changing the impedence of the ER-4S to convert them to ER-4P are a negative change.

Isolation is excellent, comfort is good, but could be considered below average when compared to other headphones.

Bass impact and extension are lacking. However, bass detail is quite good.

Review by Senior Member jessem on 16 Dec 04  15:55
Individual review
Bass Extension8
Bass Impact5
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality8
Detail8
Comfort7
Durability7
Value7

The isolation on these with foamies is second to none, however they are not practical for on-the-move portable headphones due to terrible microphonics. Perfect for long public transit trips, or sitting somewhere, but not moving around. Soundstage is bizzare in that its quite small, but more precise than anything I've heard.

Review by Member brian199 on 22 Apr 10  13:07
Individual review
Bass Extension6
Bass Impact3
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality7
Detail8
Comfort9
Durability8
Value6

Though lacing in some areas these are, in my opinion, some of the best headphones for the money.

Cons: though the base detail and extension is vary good, the impact is lacking. These are not headphones for someone who likes to "feel" the base in their music. These are great headphones for classical and rock music, not hip hop. The second con is the price of the filter things. $15 FOR 4! Thatís a little ridiculous for a piece of plastic. The third and most forgivable con is the small sound stage. As far as in ear headphones go these are average, but it is forgivable for the amazing isolation and portability.

Pros: as mentioned above the isolation is amazing. I have been waiting for the subway and missed a train because I did not hear it. The clarity and detail are far beyond any other headphones that I have ever heard (keep in mind that I have never heard a $2000 pair of headphones). These phones are very analytic, so have good recordings or they can be fatiguing. The third pro is durability, I have had these for 7 moths and they have not broken yet. This is a new record for me (I beat the crap out of headphones). That said the best thing about these headphones is that Etymotic will repair them when I inevitably break them. When not under warranty new drivers are $85, and a new cord is $50, and when you are me that is a great thing. And as for comfort I think they are great, but to each his own.

Review by Member PhoneFreak on 14 Dec 07  15:41
Individual review
Bass Extension7
Bass Impact6
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality8
Detail10
Comfort8
Durability8
Value7

I have been using these earphones for a little over a year. Most of the people who have experienced this earphone insist that it does not produce good enough bass. In my opinion, the bass produced by these pairs are just how the musicians intended it to sound- it does not falsely "boom" it up.

Moreover, it should be noted that a good seal is imperative for a good hearing experience. I did have to do a little bit of playing around with different sized tips to get the perfect seal, but once I found the foam seals, it has to be the most flawless piece of headphones I've owned.

In one of my 320kbps recording, I could hear the drummer humming along to the tunes of the song- something that I did not hear with my other basic earphones.

The noise isolation of the earphones is astoundingly good. Although it does come at a price- the microphonic effect is very prominent, but I was able to solve that with the included shirt clip.

As for comfort, after getting adjusted to these, I could barely even tell that they were in my ears. But do note that individual ear canals are shaped differently, and what is comfortable for me, maynot be so for someone else.

Bottom line: I would highly recommend getting these pair of earphones if you are looking for reference quality sound from a premium manufacturer. The only downside? The cost- it may make some people back off, but I do not regret my $300 that was spent on it.

Review by Member donaldekelly on 06 May 05  08:35
Individual review
Bass Extension4
Bass Impact2
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality7
Highs Quality8
Detail8
Comfort7
Durability6
Value5

Lacking in bass, ultimately I returned them. Good detail, Very portable.

With the new twisted cable I thought the "microphonics" unwanted cable sounds were not that bad.

Comments are for both with the 75 ohm cable (= ER4-S) and with out (ER4-p).

Review by Member anonymous on 24 Dec 04  06:44
Individual review
Bass Extension8
Bass Impact5
Bass Quality7
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality7
Detail8
Comfort6
Durability7
Value9

Once I got used to the weak bass impact, I fell in love with the ER4 sound. The bass is very controlled, and is actually quite deep- everything is there. The mids are amazingly liquid and free from coloration. Likewise, the treble is good without bringing attention to itself. As have been said many times, the overall sound is neutral, detailed, and analytical.
If the ER4 committed any audiophile sins, they are sins of omission: lack of body in the bass, of airiness and sparkle in treble, and of 'wetness'. Also, the ER4 does not try to present a large soundstage, but it does have precise instrument placement.

For portable use, the ER4 is indispensible. It sounds very good unamped, and provides almost too much isolation (can be dangerous for biking) from outside noises. ER4's only drawback for portable use is that its cord is terribly microphonic; while using the ER4, I can hear my footsteps as if I were a Trex.

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