The Etymotic ER4XR are decent mixed usage headphones thanks to their compact, durable design and excellent isolation. They have a unique in-ear design that blocks more noise passively than some of the best noise canceling headphones we've tested and they barely leak so you can use them in quiet and loud environments alike. They're also stable enough for sports. Unfortunately, their fit won't be as comfortable even for fans of in-ears and they do not have the best sound for critical listening which is their intended purpose.
Decent for mixed usage. The Etymotic ER4XR are fairly straightforward headphones that block a lot of noise passively with their unique in-ear fit that doesn't leak. They're also very portable and will easily fit into most pockets so you can have them on you at all times. This makes them an above-average choice for commuting and traveling and a decent option for the office. They're also stable enough for sports. Unfortunately, they do not have the most balanced sound for critical listening which is their intended use case and they have no control scheme which is not ideal when on the go.
Below-average for neutral listening. They have a decent representation of the mid-range but push instruments and vocals a bit too forward in the mix. That and their slight lack in bass and pronounced treble range make them sound sharp and slightly bright. Also since they are small in-ears that go deep into the ear canal they do not interact with your outer-ear and therefore cannot create a soundstage that feels like your listening to good speakers set-up in a good room. They won't be the ideal headphones for more neutral listeners.
Above-average for commuting. The ER4XR have the best passive isolation that we've measured. They block noise better than some active noise-cancelling headphones and would be a good choice to use in the loud environments involved in commuting. They're also very portable and come with two travel-friendly cases. Unfortunately, they have no control scheme and their fit may not be the most comfortable to wear for the entire duration of a long flight or bus ride.
Above-average for sports use. They have a stable in-ear fit with many varying tip sizes. They're also very easy to carry on your person at all times. Unfortunately, they do not come with a cable that has an in-line remote so you will have to change songs directly on your phone or audio device. Also since they are wired headphones they may get yanked out of your ears if the cable gets hooked on something.
Above-average for office use. They prevent a lot of noise from seeping into your audio and do not leak so you won't distract your colleagues even at higher volumes. Unfortunately, they have a mediocre sound and their unique in-ear fit may not be as comfortable for everyone during long listening sessions.
Sub-par for gaming. The Etymotic ER4XR have a wired connection with no latency and will provide audio when connected to your console controllers. Unfortunately, they have no mic, no customization options, and they're not the most comfortable headphones to use for long gaming sessions. On the upside, they block a lot of noise and don't leak so you can be fully immersed in your game.
These headphones have a pretty straightforward design that looks fairly high-end. They have a long and thick audio cable that feels durable and is also detachable so you can replace it if ever it gets worn out. The earbuds, though relatively thin and compact, are dense and made from mostly metal which makes them durable and also looks premium. The earbuds won't standout when compared to some of the other flashier looking in-ears with a distinct style like the Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear, but the understated design will work for most.
The Etymotic ER4XR have a somewhat unique in-ear fit. They go into your ear canal much deeper than typical in-ears which aren't the most comfortable even for fans of in-ears designs. However, they do come with multiple tip options including foam and silicone tips of different sizes that may help mitigate this issue. They're also very lightweight, so once you get the right fit, you won't notice them as much. They won't be the ideal headphones for very long listening sessions, but if you're used to in-ears, you can eventually find a tip combination that will work for you.
These headphones do not have any controls.
Like most in-ear headphones, the Etymotic ER4XR are very breathable. They only trap a negligible amount of heat within the ear canal which shouldn't make you sweat more than usual when exercising. They go in deeper into the ear canal than most in-ears, but your outer-ear remains cool in all conditions, which makes them a decent choice for sports or extended listening sessions, as long as you do not mind the in-ear fit.
These headphones, like most in-ears, are very portable. They have a small footprint, and you can fold them to fit into almost any pockets. They're super easy to carry around on your person and come with two carrying cases for commuting and traveling.
The Etymotic ER4XR come with two cases. A big hard case (measured here) and a smaller soft case that will easily fit into your pockets. The big case is sturdy and will protect the headphones from all impacts and drops and also has enough space to carry all the accessories. Unfortunately, it does add a lot of bulk which makes them less portable. On the upside, you also have the smaller soft case which is not as sturdy, and you can't carry all the accessories with you, but doesn't take as much space so you can have it on your person at all times.
These headphones have a durable in-ear design that should last you a while. They have a thick, braided audio cable that is also detachable so you can replace it, if ever it gets damaged. The earbuds are also fairly dense and made from a good combination of metal and plastic which is durable enough to withstand multiple accidental drops. The Etymotic ER4XR are comparable in build quality to the Shure SE425 and the Westone W40 but do not include an additional cable in the box.
These headphones do not have any stability tips but go in deeply into the ear canal which makes them stable enough for most activities. Once you get the right fit, they will rarely slip out of your ears even during more intense exercises at the gym, unless the cable gets hooked on something. Unfortunately, since they are not wireless, this may happen occasionally. Overall though, unless you physically pull the buds out of your ears, on purpose or by accident, they will not fall, which makes them a good options for sports.
The frequency response consistency is excellent. If the user is able to achieve a proper fit and an air-tight seal using the assortment of tips that come with the headphones, then they should be able to get consistent bass and treble delivery every time they use the headphones. However, if a proper and air-tight seal is not achieved with these headphones, the user will experience a significant drop in bass delivery.
The bass is about average. LFE is at 85Hz, which is quite high. Also, low-bass, responsible for thump and rumble common to bass-heavy music and film scores, is lacking by more than 5dB. Mid-bass, which is responsible for the body of bass guitars and the punch of kick drums, is underemphasized by about 3dB. High-bass however, responsible for warmth, is over our neutral target by about 2dB.
The mid-range of the Etymotic ER4XR is good. Low-mid shows 3dB of overemphasis. This is actually the continuation of the high-bass bump and adds a bit of muddiness and clutter to the overall mix. High-mid is over our neutral target by more than 4dB, which adds excess projection and intensity to vocals and lead instruments.
The treble performance of the Etymotic ER4XR is decent. Low-treble is overemphasized by more than 4dB, which makes vocals noticeably bright sounding. Mid-treble, mostly responsible for sibilances (S and Ts), is relatively well-balanced but uneven.
The imaging performance is excellent. The weighted group delay is at 0.06, which is one of the lowest we have measured so far. The GD graph also shows that the entire group delay response is below the audibility threshold. This ensures a tight bass and a transparent treble reproduction. Additionally, the L/R drivers of our test unit were very well-matched, which is important for the accurate placement and localization of objects (instruments, voice, footsteps), in the stereo image.
The soundstage of the Etymotic ER4XR is poor. This is because creating an out-of-head and speaker-like soundstage is largely dependent on activating the resonances of the pinna (outer ear). The design of in-ears and earbuds is in such a way that fully bypasses the pinna and doesn't interact with it. Also, because these headphones have a closed-back enclosure, their soundstage won't be perceived to be as open as that of open-back earbuds like the Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds, or the Bose SoundSport Free.
The isolation performance of the Etymotic ER4XR is great. These in-ears don't have an active noise cancelling (ANC) system, and achieve this level of isolation passively. In the bass range, where rumble of airplane and bus engines sits, they achieve about 22dB of isolation, which is very good. In the mid-range, important for blocking out speech, the isolate by about 29dB, which is excellent. In the treble range, occupied by sharp sounds like S and Ts, they achieve more than 48dB of isolation, which is outstanding.
It should also be noted that these headphones were measured with their silicone tips. Their comply foam tips provide significantly better isolation.
The leakage performance is excellent. These in-ears barely leak, so you don't need to worry about disturbing people around with your music, regardless of the volume you listen to your music at. With the music at 100dB SPL, the leakage at 1 foot away averages at 20dB SPL and peaks at 28dB SPL, which is roughly as loud as a quiet whisper.
The Etymotic ER4XR do not have a microphone so the recording quality has not been tested.
These headphones do not have a microphone so the noise handling has not been tested.
They are passive headphones and do not require a battery.
The Etymotic ER4XR have no compatible app support.
The Etymotic ER4XR are wired and do not have a Bluetooth connection. If you want a versatile wireless Bluetooth headphone for around the same price, consider the Bose QuietControl 30.
The ER4XR have negligible latency since they're wired, so they are a suitable option for gaming and watching movies.
These headphones do not have an in-line remote or microphone on their audio cable. This means they are not OS-specific and will only provide audio when connected to your console or PC.
The Etymotic ER4XR do not have a dock. If you need a headset with a dock that also has a wired connection for gaming or watching movies, then consider the SteelSeries Arctis 7.
The Etymotic ER4XR are well-built but average sounding in-ears. They have an excellent noise isolation performance which makes them a good choice for almost every environment. They block enough noise passively for commute and travel, and since they do not leak, you can use them at the office and not distract the people around you. They have a good build quality that feels premium and comes with a detachable cable that can be replaced and they're stable enough for the gym. Unfortunately, their in-ear fit won't be as comfortable as some of the competing wired in-ears below and their sound quality is not ideal for critical listening despite being their intended use case. See our recommendations for the best earbuds for bass, the best earbuds and in-ears, and the best noise cancelling earbuds.
The Etymotic ER4XR are better critical listening headphones than the Etymotic Research HF5. The ER4XR have a better more premium build quality with dense durable earbuds and a detachable, braided audio cable that you can replace if it ever gets damaged. They also have a slightly better sound than the HF5 with more bass. However, the HF5 are a better value for your money since they cost much less for a similar sound. They also isolate as much as the ER4XR in noisy conditions which makes them a great choice for loud noisy environments and for commuting.
The Westone W40 are slightly better-wired in-ears than the Etymotic ER4XR. The Westone come with an additional cable in the box. The extra cable also has a mic and in-line controls, which makes the Westone bit more versatile than the Etymotics. The Westone are also a bit more comfortable since they do not enter the ear canal as deeply as the Etymotic with their in-ear tips. On the upside, the Etymotics have better isolation thanks to their unique in-ear tips, which makes them a lot more suitable to listen to in noisy conditions. They also have a slightly better sound than the Westone with a bit more balanced mid-range and a slightly better treble.