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.
The Etymotic ER4XR have a straightforward, wired in-ear design with no controls but a sturdy and premium-looking build quality. They come with a thick cable that is durable and replaceable and the earbuds are dense and sturdy enough to withstand multiple accidental drops. They also come with two cases that will easily protect them when carrying them around in your bag or pocket and their relatively unique in-ear fit makes them stable enough for most activities like running and working out. Unfortunately, this in-ear fit may not be as comfortable for everyone even fans of in-ear designs since they go fairly deeply into the ear canal. But on the upside, they come with a lot of tip options, so you can eventually find a combination that works for you.
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.
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 Etymotic ER4XR is a mediocre sounding pair of closed-back in-ears. They have a consistent bass with an average amount of body and punch, an even but forward mid-range, and a bright sounding treble. This results in a bright and slightly mid-rangy sound profile, which may not be best for bass-heavy genres or critical listening, but they will accentuate vocals quite a bit. Additionally, they have excellent imaging, mediocre distortion, and a small and inside-the-head soundstage.
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 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 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 harmonic distortion performance is below-average. The amount of THD produce in the bass and treble ranges is very low, regardless of the load, which is great. However, the mid-range shows a significant bump in THD centered around 800Hz, which could make the sound of that region a bit harsh and brittle.
The Etymotic ER4XR are great passive isolating headphones. Their unique in-ear fit goes very deeply into the ear canal which creates an excellent seal that does not leak and blocks a lot of noise. They perform better than some of the best noise canceling headphones we've tested, and if you use the foam tips, you get even more isolation which makes them an excellent choice to use on loud, noisy flights or on a busy commute. They're also a good choice for the office since you can play your music at max volume and not distract your colleagues.
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 are passive, wired headphones with no active features.
These in-ears have a simple and straightforward 1/8" TRS audio cable with no in-line remote or microphone.
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.
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 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 ER4XR 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.