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April 20, 2004

Paradise for Your Ears

First action you should take after you have just spent around $400 for your new mp3/wma/aac player is dump the headphones. I have yet to see a portable device that comes with a set of decent headphones, and I can't understand why people pay good money for a device but are not willing to invest in the headphones. In my experience a reasonable device with excellent earphones sounds a lot better than an excellent device with reasonable earphones. And most of the packaged earphones aren't even reasonable.

I have had a set of Grado Labs headphones for a few years now, and they are wonderful; very rich sound with incredible detail. But they are open air, so they are not something you carry around to places where you would use a portable player. For a while I had been using in-ear headphones from the Sony Fontopia series, but I was never really satisfied with them, They are much better then what Apple ships with their iPods, but not even close to what the Grados deliver.

Two weeks ago, after a family 'donation', I was finally able to order the headphones I always wanted for the portables: The ER-4P reference-quality earphones from Etymotic Research. They are expensive ($200), but they are absolutely amazing. I am listening to pieces where I am thinking: wow, I never heard that before... The quality completely blows me away, even when connected to my old first generation iPod. There are moments where quality of the music just paralyzes me and you can find me staring into a void (according to my colleagues) . They really give you this 'music inside your head' sensation.

The ER-4 series are noise-reduction earphones that have better reduction result (up to 41 dB) than any of the active noise-cancellation earphones, without the resulting white noise or need to carry a battery pack. A side effect of this is that your player suddenly seems to have a lot more volume, and there no longer is a need for turning the volume all the way up.  They achieve the reduction by using clever ways of closing of your ear canal, in a manner similar to traditional earplugs. They really shut out the rest of the world, leaving you alone with the music.

My ears feel as if they are in paradise...

Posted by Werner Vogels at April 20, 2004 04:48 PM


Excellent choice there!

If others are considering these, take a look at the ER6 headphones also. They're quite a bit cheaper and have the same drivers (wee mini speakers). Etymotic positions the ER4 as a premium product, but the biggest difference is the thickness of the wire, the fancy case the ER4 comes with, and the smaller depth of the ER6 (not as much sticking out of your ear). The extra depth isn't really needed unless you want to get the custom ear molds.

Be sure and try the headphones with the foam tips, not just the rubber plungers. Those really seem to feel better for prolonged use.

And whichever you use, make sure you start using Qtips daily, or plan to be replacing those tips a couple times a month. They get absolutely disgusting. :)

Posted by: McGroarty on April 21, 2004 08:19 AM

Agree w/ ALMOST everything you say: just that it's more accurate to say that the Ety's are noise-BLOCKING phones than noise-reducing... those latex flanges do a better job of keeping noise out than the "active" noise cancellers can do in generating an exactly-opposite signal.

Fair also to say that not everybody likes the feel of these.

However, I've seen complaints that the bass is weak on 'em. That can only be true if you haven't gotten the plugs to seal well in the ear canal. If you're listening to quiet music and can hear anything outside that's only as noisy as a nearby freight train, the seal isn't good and the bass won't do it fo you. Jiggle 'em a bit and love that music.

Posted by: Walt French on April 21, 2004 10:51 PM