Etymotic ER-6i Review

Etymotic ER-6i

“The sound quality is top notch whether used with an iPod or any other audio device.”
  • Comfortable; great sound quality
  • Flimsy cord; difficult to remove; only available in white

Summary

Etymotic is one of ‘the big two’ in the arena of canal phones. Known mostly for the high end ER-4S cans, Etymotic decided to throw their hat into the iPod popularity ring with the ER-6i. This is slightly confusing because the company also offers a black ER-6 model, and consumers’ first impressions would make them believe that the ‘i’ is just a marketing gimmick aimed at wooing the iGeneration. But, there is a different driver used in the 6i that outputs stronger bass, and is easier to drive. This makes them perfect for mobile device use, and particularly Apple iPod and Sony PSP use. As with all canal phones, external sound is almost completely blocked, so use only when it is safe to ignore the rest of the world.

Features and Design

The Etymotic ER-6i comes in a nicely compact plastic box, and includes the earphones, a soft case, earwax removal tool and foam sleeves. The cord measures 5 feet from buds to plug, and features a clip to lock down the cord to a piece of clothing or other items. One common problem with canal phones is that when anything brushes or taps the cord, the sound is carried up to the ears and produces an annoying thump. Clipping down the cord helps reduce this phenomenon greatly. We were struck by how thin the wires are, which makes these canal phones feel the most fragile of any we have tested. It also increases the tendency for the wires to tangle.

Etymotic ER-6i
Picture courtesy of Headroom.com

Our first pleasing surprise was that the ER-6i are actually very comfortable to wear. The tips, which are inserted into the ear canal, are made of a very soft rubber, and have a flange design. The flange design allows the wearer to essentially use only one set of sleeves for any size, with the adjustment coming from the various stages of insertion. In other words, insert only to the first flange flap if your ears are small, and further for larger ears. There was no pressure on the inner ear, and we could wear them for hours at a time. The only downside to the driver housing design is that they tend to be difficult to remove. The housing for the drivers is very tiny and partially covered by the flange tips, and we found ourselves having to use our nails to get a decent grip on them. We wonder how long the tips will last, since the flanges tend to invert when the buds are removed. Also, while we here at Designtechnica have immaculately clean ears, the choice of white for something that will eventually accumulate some earwax was probably not a good one. Also, it would have been nice to have a tactile method of telling the left from right bud. A faintly painted ‘L’ and ‘R’ are the only distinguishing marks.

Testing

The sound signature is very middle ground. There is no strong emphasis on either highs or lows, except at the lowest frequencies a very slight boost. The bass is tight and accurate, not atmospheric or boomy. The treble is a little bright, which makes the sound slightly fatiguing. Mids were clear and slightly under-represented. The sound stage is a little wide, but not too much so. To briefly compare them to the Shure E2C and E3C, the signature is more similar to the E3C, but with stronger bass. The bass on the ER-6i is even more present when using the foam sleeves, which also offer better sound isolation. Driving the ER-6i was easy for every device we threw at it.

We used the same music from our Shure E2C and E3C reviews for the sake of consistency:

Bjork’s “Vespertine” (DVD-Audio and MP3), Mahler Symphony 10 (Berliner Philharmoniker – conducted by Sir Simon Rattle – DVD-Audio), The Cure’s “Disintegration” (Audio CD and MP3), Gary Numan’s “Exile” (CD and MP3), and Delerium’s “Karma” (CD and MP3) from a SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum (for DVD-Audio, CD, and MP3), iRiver SlimX 350 (CD and MP3), and Apple iPod photo (MP3).  All MP3s encoded with VBR 160kbps-320kbps/44kHz. We decided to add a few new choices as well: “Storm” by Assemblage 23 (Audio CD and MP3), “Futureperfect” by VNV Nation (Audio CD and MP3), and “All Time Greatest Hits” by Louis Armstrong (Audio CD and MP3).

The bass expansiveness during Bjork, as well as the transitions in voice were followed very well. The mids sounded a little flat, and slightly overshadowed by the highs and lows. We are accustomed to headphones where the mids are cleaner and closer. The soundstage created was a little different, with highs and lows closer and mids either directly in line or slightly behind. This setup worked well most of the time, but made VNV Nation, characterized by very deep bass and very high instruments with little mid-range, sound tinny and strained. Assemblage 23 sounded great, coming across very energetic and strong. What really surprised us was the outstanding quality during classical music and jazz playback. The Cure, Gary Numan and Delerium all came across well, if slightly flat. In all, we highly recommend these cans for Jazz, Classical, Synthpop, Techno, and Atmospheric/Ambient. Hardcore Industrial, Vocal, and Rock listeners will be pleased as well.

For gaming we used Half Life 2, Doom 3, and City of Heroes. We also tried the ER-6i with the Sony PSP, playing Lumines and Wipeout Pure. For PC gaming, sound localization was very good. The bass was good, but not a guttural boom most gamers are looking for. The highs came across a little harsh, but the transitions in volume moving toward and away from a sound generating object was very smooth and added to the environment greatly. Environmental sound was extremely clear, as were event sounds, like bullet ricochets, gunfire, punches, and cackling alien voices. On the PSP, we found the sound to be excellent across the board. We would strongly recommend these for any hardcore PSP addicts.

Conclusion

The Etymotic ER-6i are a great all around addition to the canal phone options on the market. The sound signature was a little odd, with strong emphasis on highs and lows, and mids that drifted a little more than we liked, but they are easily driven from any portable device, fit extremely well, and produce excellent sound overall. Sound it very accurate and tight, and while they were great for PC gaming, they really shined on the PSP.

Pros:

–          Fit very comfortably

–          Strong emphasis on high and low frequencies

–          Matches the Apple iPod décor

–          A good all around canal phone

Cons:

–          Can be difficult to remove

–          Durability is questionable

–          Mid-range frequencies are lacking sometimes

–          Very thin cord, prone to twisting

Editors' Recommendations