When I was growing up, music played a big part of my life – as is the case with my daughters now. Back then, the Sony Walkman cassette player was the hottest technology of that time. And the earphones we used were just as important. I recall that back then, we had to turn the sound up to fairly loud to be able to hear the music (and block out the ambient noise). More than 10 years ago, I had bought a Sony MP3 player, and needed a good pair of earphones to go with it. After all the research, I decided to buy the Etymotic ER4P earphones.
So what are Etymotic earphones?
They are noise-isolation earphones i.e. they block the ambient noise getting into the ear, while being capable of producing music of extreme clarity. If you factor in that these earphones have been in production for more than 19 years now, and have not changed much in terms of construction – it tells you that Etymotic have got its design correct right from the start. Do bear in mind that the ER4P were made for musicians and audiophiles, and hence are not cheap; the price has improved as previously they used to sell for £199, but now costs £159.
Why is noise-isolation important?
People have a tendency of increasing the volume if they cannot hear the music clearly. If there is more ambient noise, then the music needs to be turned up loud in order that the music can be heard over the noise. With good noise isolation, the volume does not need to be turned up as loud in order to hear the music. You will then be less likely to damage your hearing through exposure to loud volumes for extended periods of time (can you put a cost on preserving one of your senses?). It is interesting that they also make models for children, to prevent them damaging their hearing – these cost much less than the ER4P.
Now the Etymotic ER4P comes in a plastic case which has packing foam designed to hold the earphones and its accessories. It comes with various kinds of ear tips for fitting to ear canals of different sizes; in fact, it is possible to get custom-made molds to fit your ear canal (through a custom-fit audiologist). These options all allow for each person to find their best fit and get better noise isolation and improved bass.
Previously I used the small beige foam eartips as I felt that they were able to block more noise. But as the foam will compress down with time just like foam ear plugs and need to be replaced, I have changed over to the triple flanged white eartips which fit just as well and also block noise sufficiently. In fact, I find these works extremely well when I travel in the London Underground, as I can listen to music with barely any noise from the trains coming through.
They also come with wax filters (one set in the earphones and two pairs as spares) to protect the earphones when in use. These are parts which need to be replaced every few months and spares can be purchased separately. I did change the wax filters for the first time recently, having never noticed this until recently. There was a definite improvement in clarity of the music coming through – so glad I did that.
Having used many different earphones in the past including some of Sony’s top models, I would say that this earphone tops them all in terms of clarity and balance. They do have a model ER4S which has the top end slightly toned down, tailored for those who mainly listen to music on CD – but I do not find the treble too harsh on the ER4P. These earphones have lasted me many years, so I have not needed to buy any more earphones over the last 10+ years. That to me means it was money well spent. My only regret is not having had earphones this good when I was growing up – it could have helped preserve my hearing (my family keep telling me that my hearing is not good at all).