Review: Etymotic Research ER-6i Isolator earphones

By SteveJack

Etymotic Research’s new ER-6i Isolator earphones arrived a week ago. The earphones come in a small package featuring a photo of ER-6i’s plugged into an Apple iPod. The ER-6i is identical to the Etymotic’s ER-6 earphones, but have an 8 dB greater overall sensitivity and 8 dB more bass, are white instead of black to better match the iPod, and feature 3-flange eartips instead of 2-flange eartips. Both feature a pair of foam eartips, a 5 ft. cord with a 3.5 mm stereo plug, 2 replacement filters, a filter changing tool, shirt clip and a carrying pouch.

I’ve been using Apple’s standard iPod earphones exclusively for well over a year. I gave the new ER-6i earphones a full week of use and found out a few things. First, I ditched the included pouch immediately because my 3G CEO Classic iPod carrying case from MARWARE includes a pocket for earphones. I also quickly moved to the ER-6i’s foam eartips because I found the flanged eartips let in too much exterior sound and seemed to lack bass compared to the foam option. The foam eartips fit better, made the earphones sound better, and stayed in while I pounded the treadmill. Also, Etymotic’s recommendation that the flanged eartips be moistened prior to insertion is impractical in everyday use out and about. The 5-foot wires on the ER-6i seemed thin upon first inspection, especially compared to the wires on Apple’s standard iPod earphones, but I found they fit better in my iPod case when coiled and seem no worse for the wear so far.

How do the ER-6i’s sound? After a week, I can report they sound amazing. I cannot listen to my old Apple iPod earphones anymore because they sound like mud. In fact, after the first 30 seconds of listening to the ER-6i’s, my first words were, “wow, wow, and wow!”

I will warn you, going from Apple’s standard iPod earphones to Etymotic Research ER-6i Isolator earphones is shocking. You will also ask yourself immediately, where is the bass? The answer is that the bass is there, but it’s there in the correct amounts, as the artist intended. You’ll feel the need to experiment with the iPod’s EQ at first, but you’ll end up turning it off: the ER-6i earphones don’t need help, you just have to acclimate your ears a bit. Apple’s earphones, while pretty good, tend to over emphasize the bass and introduce a muddy tone throughout. The ER-6i earphones are all about clarity and definition, featuring crisp, clean, accurate reproduction of sound. You will hear things within the music that you simply cannot hear with Apple’s standard earphones. I cannot recommend the ER-6i highly enough. The improvement in iPod’s sound is dramatic.

True, at US$149 a pair, these earphones cost more than the included Apple iPod earphones, but I think the ER-6i earphones are worth the expense. After all, why pay for an iPod and not be able to hear the sounds it produces with such clarity and correctness? Within a week, I’ve adjusted to the flatter, truer frequency response of the ER-6i earphones and I can no longer bear to listen to the Apple iPod earphones. I only wish I had the ER-6i’s earlier. If you want crisp, clear sound from your iPod, Etymotic Research ER-6i Isolator earphones are an excellent choice.

More information about Etymotic Research ER-6i Isolator earphones and photos here.

MacDailyNews Note: This article is a reprint of the review originally posted on September 10, 2004 in response to many recent email inquiries about quality third-party earphones for iPods.


  1. I have the ER-6, and would give the same review. But to reiterate,
    -I use the foam plugs for the same reasons
    -Bass is great, as you’ve said, once you learn not to expect the the over-inflated base most earphone/bud/headphones give
    -even my big sony head phones (that I’ve loved for years) sound muddy to me now, especially in the bass
    I wonder how different the ER-6i’s are in practice. There too expensive for me to own both.

  2. Got my ER-6i’s last week as well – I still have my ER-6s (and have had them for over a year), but wanted to try out these guys that seemed more taylored for the iPod. I use the flange tips (without moistening, thank you very much) and have no problems with fit or comfort. Because they block so much sound, I like sliding one of them just out so I can hear people talking if I need to – the amount of sound these and the ER-6s block is amazing. Your music becomes your all-encompassing soundtrack to your travels/routine!

    Anyway, the ER-6i seem just a bit superior to the ER-6 – barely noticeable, but still different. If you already have some ER-6s then maybe it would be better to hold off (unless you want the white cord!)

    I highly recommend these to anyone who is serious about music (which should probably be most iPod owners, one would think!), as like the reviewer says, it will blow the Apple earbuds out of the water (even though they are still really good!)

    One warning to others like me in Canada – I got hit with an $86 brokerage fee importing them directly from Etymotic. Wait and get them from a dealer from within Canada!

  3. Amazon has these for $129. No free shipping ($3.54 to St. Louis)

    I had a pair of ER-6’s for about 10 months before one phone broke (never pull on the cord!, pull using the phone base). They were great. You insert them into your ear canal. A concept far different from the standard iPod phones — and you will find to quickly be a major pain if you frequently get interrupted (and have to pull them out).

    I will be buying a pair soon.

  4. My concern with this kind of headphone, after trying out some recommended Sony ones earlier in the year, is that although they block out external sound, all they do is emphasise internal sounds, like breathing, sniffing, chewing, swallowing. In fact, so much so, even though they were �35 (about $60), I threw them away after about a week.

    The other really annoying sound was walking. Each step was a loud thud, so although they were, I suppose “walkman” headphones, they were utterly unsuited to using on the move.

    Having wasted �35, I got some �20 Sennheiser MX500s, which are probably similar in cost/quality to the original iPod ‘phones.

    I’d be very reluctant to spunk $150 on these without being able to try them out extensively first, which seems unlikely given their in-ear nature. You can’t exactly take ’em back to the shop !

  5. I just thought I should mention that I’ve been using the ER-6’s for a couple years now, I treat them very badly as I leave them attached to my backpack so they get crunched under the backback and even stepped on when my pack’s on the floor. Over a year into their use something was damaged and Etymotics repaired them for much less than replacement cost even though they were well out of warranty. I too find it difficult to go back to “normal” earphones now though the earplug style does take a little getting used to at first. I’ll also mention I use an AirHead amp from which I also don’t like being without now. Of course it’s not convenient to carry without using my backpack.

  6. Have replaced my ER-6 filters once about every 6 months or so. Of course, I use Q-Tips daily. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

    I’m going to get a pair of ER-6i’s now because I want the increased sensitivity and bass. After reading the above review, they sound like they will be perfect for my iPod and they will be a smooth transition from my ER-6 earphones.

  7. Etymotic will repair a broken set of ER-6s? That ‘s great, because I just broke the left side of my pair. Still want to get a pair of the ER-6i’s, though.

    Hywel – Took me just a little time to get over the internal noise as well, but now I can’t go back as the other headphones that I have just don’t compare with the outside noises unattenuated.

  8. I use the Future Sonics Ears model EM3, a similar kind of product similarly priced.

    I really like them. Apple’s ear buds don’t stay in my ears very well, nor do they isolate external noise well. The Ears do both fine. The Ears also sound terrific, a natural unforced sound that never fatigues me. Unfortunately, their wires are very thin and I got a sporadic signal in the left ear bud, probably breaking the tiny wires inside their plastic sheath. Even though I was two weeks past my warranty, Future Sonics replaced my Ears (not my ears!) for free. The Ears use foam as well, which I find the best fitting for a non-customized ear bud.

    Hey, MDN, why not do a review comparing all the quality ear buds out there? It’s hard for us to compare the models.

  9. the question is how much better are the ER-6s compared to the sony earbuds, the pair i have from sony sound very nice and were only $33, now all i have to do is find some foam inserts instead of the rubber ones…

  10. what if you like bass? its all personal preferencve it sounds like these things deliver no bass, that seems to be the consensus in all the reviews ive read. by the way, no one can know what the artist “intended.” dont kid yourself, just because you spent a lot on ear buds doesnt mean they give you a direct feed to the artists mind. cds are mixed in front of studio monitors, not er-6is. anyway whatever you want as long as it sounds good to you

  11. I was not happy with how muffled the low mids and bright the highs were in the Ety ER6i or Sure E3c that are supposed to be iPod specific. I don’t think so. Flat or dialed, they just don’t sound real. I have my Sennheiser IE3 that completely blow them away and I just got fitted for molds for them at AES show. Same as the Future Sonics Ears from what I see online and I am really happy with how much they really sound like what I like – live sound. I could survive without the fugly color but I can’t live without my IE3 for sound.

  12. Don’t you all feel that it’s kind of ironic that you’ll buy decent quality headphones, only to listen to compressed music??

    I find it all quite amusing.

    I have a pair of Beyerdynamic headphones (full size, ear muff types – DT 990) and they are the best set of cans I’ve ever owned. I would love to try these ER-6i’s out to see how good they are.

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