When Etymotic announced a new pair of earphones intended for audiophiles on a relative budget, I was elated—we’re just not seeing many top-notch, affordable in-ears lately. At $179, the ER3 XR earphones aren’t cheap, but they’re significantly less expensive than their five-star sibling, the ER4 XR. Etymotic also offers the new ER3 SE earphones, which sell for the same $179. Essentially, XR stands for “extended response” (boosted bass) and SE means “studio edition” (flat response). We’re awarding the XR our Editors’
The fit, whether with the foam tips or the flange tips, is quite secure. Getting it just right with the flanges can be tricky at first, but the audio performance that they facilitate is top-notch. If you feel like the
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The four-foot cable is detachable, which adds tremendous value. Replacing a cable is easy—and cables will typically fail long before drivers do, assuming normal usage. The cable also has an included cinch slider and a snap-on shirt clip. Unfortunately, there’s no inline remote—all audio control will need to be done on your device itself, and there’s no mic for fielding phone calls.
Internally, the earpieces house balanced armature micro-drivers that deliver a frequency range of 20Hz-16kHz, with an impedance of 22 ohms.
A quick word about fit, particularly with the flange tips. It is essential that the first, smallest part of the tip enters the canal enough to make a solid, stable seal. It shouldn’t hurt, and as long as you’re not jamming the thing into your ear canal, it’s safe. Without a secure fit, the earphones will sound thin and lacking in bass.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones are no slouch in the low-frequency response realm, but if you’re looking for booming lows and boosted bass, you’ll be disappointed. The sound signature is precise, and as long as you’ve secured a proper in-ear fit, the depth is undeniably there,
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track can sound thunderous on some in-ears, but here they get an ideal amount of thump without ever veering into the unnatural boosting we often encounter. The drums sound full, round, and lively, and the higher percussion hits have a bright, snappy attack. Callahan’s baritone vocals are delivered with an ideal mix of low-mid richness and definition in the high-mids.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives the perfect amount of high-mid definition to keep its attack precise and punchy, while the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with some rumble—but an accurate level of depth, and nothing like the thunder you’ll get from a bass-forward in-ear pair. The vocals are delivered with excellent clarity: crisp, without a hint of added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound phenomenal through the ER3 XR. The lower register instrumentation is pushed forward somewhat, ever-so-slightly. The stage still belongs to the higher register brass, strings, and vocals, which remain crisp, bright, and exceptionally clear. The lows are subtly more present here than they are on the ER3 SE—while that pair may be for purists, this is the pair that will appeal to the widest audience.
Etymotic’s ER3 XR earphones are some of the most accurate we’ve tested in recent years, with just the right amount of bass depth to make modern mixes pop. The RHA CL750 earphones are less accurate, though we love the way they sound, and you might prefer their subtle sculpting and