Special thanks to Anthony of Audio Discourse for sending these out for me to play with. Be sure to check them out here for more great audio reviews.
When the notion of value comes up in the IEM world, the word “Chi-fi” is generally what follows – but screw that. Instead, let me introduce to you Etymotic, a renowned hearing-aid and IEM company based out of the good ‘ol USA. I’ve avoided the Etymotic lineup for some time because of their, let’s just say, unique form factor. They insert deep into your ear canals, and I mean real deep. People even joke about losing their ear’s virginity to Etymotic’s infamous triple-flange tips; frankly, the thought revolted me. But I have zero regrets having taken the plunge with the ER2XR – let’s discuss why.
- Drivers: Dynamic
- Frequency response: 20 – 16kHz
- Impedance : 15-ohm
- Sensitivity : 96 dB
- Noise isolation : 35 – 42 dB
- Weight: ±2g per earpiece
- MSRP: $170
Yeah, I ended up buying my own. Nothing’s really given me that itch since the Moondrop Blessing 2, so I guess that’s saying something, huh?
Fit, Isolation, and Comfort
I’ve skipped this section in a lot of my previous reviews. Fit is generally 100% subjective to an individual, but I need to make an exception here. You will need to get accustomed to the way these fit because of how deep they go. A good seal is also crucial; it’ll sound like you’re listening to music out of a telephone and the bass will be attenuated without it. A nifty trick is to “twist” them as you insert them into your ears. While I initially had some trouble inserting the ER2XR, once I figured it out, I’ve never had any comfort issues – the stellar isolation is just the icing on the cake.
There are some people who can cram the ER2XR all the way up to the wire. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with such “chad”, blackhole ears and this is where ends meet.
I will note that I intentionally use the larger, triple-flange tips (and they stick out even more than what’s pictured). This is because the soundstage depth seems to collapse somewhat with the smaller ones, likely a product of the insertion depth changing.
The juicy, juicy stuff. Sound is what matters most to me, and if the lackluster accessories or the fit seem daunting, fret not. The ER2XR’s sonic qualities more than make up for it. Etymotic is following the Diffuse-Field target curve, and I hear the ER2XR as being slightly dark and warm.
Starting from the low-end, it’s quite good even by DD standards. I’m no expert on graphs and all that stuff, but I think that this is technically more bass than Diffuse Field is normally known for – this is also the “XR” model after all. Anyways, count me in. It extends well with a tight, controlled attack. Smearing is minimal, and “clean” is really the only word that comes to mind. I’ll note that it’s lacking some texture, but seriously, this is a breath of fresh air from a lot of the stuff I’ve heard lately. The ER2XR punches well-beyond its price point here.
Moving to the midrange, there’s really nothing praiseworthy, but it doesn’t do anything wrong either. That’s basically a complement at this price point! To this effect, I’ve never noticed any sibilance and it’s fairly natural.
But where the ER2XR falls short is in the treble. It sounds eerily similar to the Apple AirPods Pro’s, and a quick look at their frequency response graphs confirmed my suspicion. It’s certainly smooth and doesn’t offend, but there’s a lack of weight, a hollowness to it, that robs the ER2XR of detail. Extension also seems to be an issue, hence the aforementioned smoothness. And as a result, for some, the ER2XR might come off as boring or lacking engagement.
Let’s talk technical performance. First, it’s not lacking depth – not by a long shot. The vocalist and the center diffuse reliably from the the head-stage for me. A good example is Sawano Hiroyuki’s “e of s”. Its opening percussive hits and when the vocalist, Mizuki, briefly enters at 0:38 really make clear how deep the stage extends. I’ve found few IEMs – even those many times the ER2XR’s price – with so much depth. This is a distinction of that engagement factor I often write about.
But the soundstage itself is very, very narrow width-wise. It too often feels like you’ve been placed smack-dab in a hallway. As a result, the ER2XR struggles to create that elusive, “holographic” image that so many seem to love. And unfortunately, I’m assuming that this is just a consequence of how deep these things go in your ears.
The other drawback, of course, is going to be pure resolution. This isn’t a very fast IEM, and notes tend to come off with a little less edge than I’d like. But seriously, a little. There’s a plethora BA IEMs that are resolving and fast, but simply don’t sound natural. And to this effect, the ER2XR’s DD timbre mitigates a lot of the things that I would normally nitpick. The dynamics are also pretty darn good for the price, it layers well, and it has no issues with coherency. So for what it is, I’m not going to hold it against the ER2XR.
The ER2XR’s brother, the ER3XR, uses a single BA instead. They follow a similar tuning, so how different could they be? Turns out quite a bit in practice. The ER3XR is darker with a slight edge in speed and resolution. But as I alluded to earlier, the hallmarks of a BA are all too present: Namely one-note bass that lacks dynamic slam and a slight plastickyness to the timbre. To be fair, I’ve heard much worse when it comes to these issues. But take my praise of the ER2XR’s depth and flip it. The ER3XR hits the sonic wall far too quickly; vocals sound like they’re coming from inside your head, and imaging severely lacks dimension as a result. While the ER3XR’s still pretty alright, it’s also more expensive than the ER2XR. So no thanks.
Cheaper IEMs have taken a backseat for me these days because, well, they’re often disappointing. Every time I review one, I have to temper my expectations and keep the price in mind. But how can I when there’s stuff like the ER2XR? It takes the aforementioned notion of “value” and simply knocks it out of the ballpark. Slap on the fact that you can buy a pair for ~$100 off of Amazon, and it isn’t even fair.
Of course, this isn’t the end-all, be-all for IEMs at this price point. I’m sure there are things that one could take issue with given personal preference. And hell, maybe you just don’t take kindly to having your ears violated. I don’t blame you. But just in general? The ER2XR should be the first IEM on your list if you want price-to-performance.
|ER2XR||5.5/10||Excellent tonal balance and dynamics that leaves something to be desired in the treble.|
|ER3XR||4.5/10||A darker ER2XR with cutbacks in dynamics, timbre, and depth that outweigh its slight edge in speed/resolution.|
This is where I plug my reminder that my scoring only takes into account sound-quality. Price is not a consideration. So despite what many will perceive as a “low” score, the ER2XR really stands head-and-shoulders above pretty much everything else in its price bracket. I’ve only heard one other IEM, the Moondrop KXXS (and Starfield by extension) that really plays ball at this price.