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March 2010
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Etymotic ER6i In Ear Monitors
Go stick it in your ear!
Review By Jeff Poth

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Etymotic ER6i In Ear Monitors  I miss my office. Sometimes it was peaceful and I had a CD changer and a Van Alstine version Dynaco ST70, a sub and some lovely speakers. Sadly those benefits are gone, as is the supply of Vegex. My new position offers me a cubicle, no unique food products, and a distinct lack of personal space to enjoy music. On the other hand, it's an excuse to get some headphones for use at my cube and in the gym, so we have to look at the hi-fi lining to this cloud!

Enter Etymotic Research. This company was one of the early builders of quality in-ear headphones. Having been in this hi-fi thing a while, I spoke to an acquaintance of mine there who recommended the er6i as being generally preferred to the er6, particularly for portable apps and high-background noise environments. Since I'd be mostly using these in my relatively noisy cubicle *sigh* and the gym, it seemed a perfect match.

Upon receiving the phones and a variety of earpieces (the Etymotic people are wise enough to have a variety of tips available for their phones) I settled on the smaller white ones as the best fit and had at it. Most of my playback was done with an iAudio 7 player. This device was selected for having flac playback and known for high sound quality (including an excellent set of audio options). Flac is my preferred lossless format for the digital rips of my CDs which I playback through either a music server (Roku M500 or Slim Devices Duet) or the iaudio player.

 

IlBuono
Naturally, I was excited to try these out, and the er6i did not disappoint. With a good seal (I have to moisten them prior to insertion for this) the noise isolation is stunning. I can avoid listening to the idiot box that's always on in the gym, or lay down with my headamp by my side, shut my eyes and be totally relaxed and focused on my music, without any distraction. This lack of external noise made an incredibly low noise floor, and thus amazing detail retrieval. This is one of the things that make people want to crank their stereos, is to overcome ambient noise. With the er6i, this was not necessary by any stretch, they were able to sound dynamic and enjoyable at lower levels than I have to use with non-isolating phones (open backed or earbuds). The isolation also enhances some of the advantages headphones have over loudspeakers. They minimize the necessary transducer size and excursion. This is a function that's reached by a combination of noise isolation and proximity to the ear, as SPL is decreased with increasing distance, and headphones are usually hundreds or thousands of times closer to your ears than a pair of speakers. This eliminates the need for multiple drivers and crossovers and the like, all of which push to give headphones significant performance advantages over even the best loudspeakers.

I spend a great deal of time listening via phones. My daily workout is an hour, during long drives I often let the wife drive and pop on some tunes, and on those rare occasions when I have the time to do nothing else I just sit and relax with my phones and some music. Things get more impressive with a more serious amp behind them. For this duty I employed the Bottlehead Enhanced SEX amp, which is a flea powered single-input SET integrated amp with a resistor-loaded headphone output. The 6DN7s give about a watt each, more than enough to drive a pair of headphones.

 

IlCattivo
Due to being such effective isolators, these didn't work for one of my intended uses. In my cube, they were far too effective at isolating me from noise, and I needed to have better audibility so as not to be snuck up on by coworkers, miss a phone call, or my boss hollering at me. The lack of background noise can be disconcerting, and isn't recommended for some environments, or for people who don't do well with sensory disconnects. By that, I mean that humans are aware of the acoustic space around them. We have memories of the way a given space sounds, and have visual impressions that also give us an idea of how a space should sound. With headphones, you're more removed from that acoustic environment, but some people are bothered by an awareness that the space they're in is different than the spatial cues they're picking up from the recording.

 

IlBrutto
Do you like sticking things in your ears? Applying saliva to little pieces of rubber to ensure a good seal? Seeing what comes back out when you remove the in-ears? The actual insertion and removal can be rather unpleasant due to these factors. Case in point, replaceable filters are designed in, to prevent ‘clogging' of the channels or contamination of the diaphragm. There is another challenge with noise isolation as well. If you're going to need to speak to someone, you'll find yourself having to insert and remove these frequently, which isn't the most pleasant process. I find these to be more useful for longer listening sessions.

 

Conclusions
Many of these headphone's strengths are due to the format, likewise, the downsides noted above are the same. Sonically, they are superb, and rate along with the better Stax I've heard in terms of overall sound quality, but with a distinct character of their own. Essentially they're more even-handed and ‘clean' but without quite as much transparency and sense of ease. They're designed with the inside-ear environment in mind, and indeed include a resonant peak to compensate for a loss of said resonance from the ear canal when something is inserted. They're clean, involving, and absolutely enjoyable. I highly recommend these for people who don't have to frequently interrupt a listening session and aren't bothered overmuch by the downsides. A plane, train, or long car ride (as a passenger) makes these phones heavenly, as they dramatically reduce environmental noise. Likewise, for a completely immersive one person listening session they're great. Overall, despite the challenges above, I heartily recommend these, as they're the most performance I've heard at this price point, and punch well above their weight.

 

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: In ear monitors (IEM)
Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 16 kHz
Tolerance: ±3 dB to 6 kHz, ±6 dB to 16 kHz re nominal
Transducer Type: Balanced armature
1 kHz Sensitivity: 108 dB @ 0.1V
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Maximum Output: 120 dB SPL
Maximum Continuous Input: 2.5 Vrms
Weight: less than 1 oz

Included Items:
5 ft. cord with 3.5 mm stereo plug 
Flanged and foam eartips 
2 replacement filters 
Filter changing tool and filters 
Shirt clip 
Pouch

Street Price: $75

 

Company Information
Etymotic Research, Inc.
61 Martin Lane
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

Voice: (847) 228-0006
E-mail: customer-service@etymotic.com
Website:
www.etymotic.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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