Etymotic ER4XR review
5 Jul 2016

How do they sound?

Pretty much as you’d expect ER-4’s to sound. Flat, with very well defined treble. Compared with the original ER-4P, the ER4XR has much more ‘present’ bass. It’s not overwhelming or boomy. It’s just there. You don’t have to search for it like with the ER-P.

I got the ER4XRs to replace some broken UM3xs. The ER4XR seemed to have very harsh treble initially, but this settled down after a few minutes of listening. This isn’t surprising as the UM3x has fairly muted treble. It’s probably a psychological effect.

The UM3x has much more powerful bass than the ER4XR. Whether it’s better would be a matter of personal taste. I did enjoy the bass of the UM3x, but I also enjoy the treble of the ER4XR.

The ER4XR bass can surprise on occasion. The bassline of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘The Getaway’ gave some unexpected thrills. On the other hand, I found the drums in Tool’s Forty Six & 2 to be a little underwhelming; they’re pretty fantastic on the UM3x.

iPhone has a ‘Bass Booster’ EQ option. It’s a little too much, but it helps some tracks. Forty Six & 2 goes back to punching me right in the eardrums without losing too much midrange. On my Mac, I boost the bass with AU Lab and they respond extremely well.

Input level

No complaints. About 13 on my iPhone is comfortable for regular listening. The UM3x was extremely sensitive, and this was a nuisance.


I fly a lot and have noisy children, so isolation is very important to me, even more than sound quality.

The ER4XR has the same great isolation that you’d expect from the ER-4, of course. It’s far superior to what you get with the UM3x. I could hold a conversation with my UM3xs inserted; that’s not possible with the ER4XR.

It’s also easier to get good insertion depth with the ER4XR. I found that the body of the UM3x got in the way.

I use foam pads, and they fit securely on the barrel of the earphones. I feel comfortable inserting the pads right inside my ear canal. With the UM3x, pads would sometimes slip off the barrel and get lodged in my ear canal. (I eventually painted some nail polish around the barrel to thicken it, which helped a lot.)

Microphonics and cabling

The top segment of the cable (beyond the splitter) will induce a lot of noise. If I pull the splitter tight up under my chin that eliminates most of it, but that looks silly and gets in the way.

What does work well for me it running the cable over my ears, behind my neck, left over my left shoulder and clipping it to my shirt. I get no microphonics and it’s out of the way.

I do miss the over-the-ear cable from the UM3x. It was also possible to lie on my side with those; it’s impossible with the ER4XR.

One major plus to having a straight (not over-the-ear) design is that there’s a lot less tangling of the earphones themselves.

The cable is nice and long. I had an aftermarket cable for UM3x which hardly tangled at all, but the ER4XR one is pretty good. It’s not braided all the way, which helps.

After about two years the cable has become damaged at the earphone strain relief points. This is a bit disappointing, especially as the cable is expensive to replace (USD50/EUR50). I was able to repair and reinforce my old cable, color-coding the left and right in the process. I tried some aftermarket MMCX cables but none work as the ER4XR’s MMCX connector is recessed into the earphones.

The price

I paid AUD$200 for my old (used) ER-4Ps; I paid probably AUD$450 for the UM3x. The ER4XRs were AUD$539 landed due to the exchange rate and UPS international shipping.

This sounds like a lot, but:

The pads

Comply pads don’t last very long. They’re quite soft and tear easily under normal use. I can wash a pair once (just soak in boiling water) but they don’t survive a second wash.

Etymotic pads are a bit rougher, but once inserted there’s no comfort difference.

Comply do offer multiple colours. I use the audiologist convention of blue pads for the left ear and red for the right. The ER4XR markings are difficult to see and you can’t get different colours.

Apparently soaking the pads in hydrogen peroxide will remove the earwax without drying out the pads. I haven’t tried it yet.


The ER4XR plug tip is narrow, so it’ll fit your iPhone while it’s in the case.

The cable clip is too loose – it slips off and gets lost. I wrap tape around the clip to stop it coming apart.


These are great earphones. There’s very little that I could suggest to improve them.

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