Etymotic ER-6 series
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
The name Etymotic means "true to the ear" and is pronounced "et-im-oh-tik." We're huge fans of the company's ER-4P headphone set, but it retails for a whopping $330; the ER-6 Isolator, meanwhile, carries a list price of $130 and is designed to offer most of the performance and features of its pricier sibling for a lot less money. The original Isolator model was only available in , but iPod completists can now opt for its all-white doppelgänger, the ER-6i.
The ER-6 comes with both silicone rubber and foam eartips, which the user can swap. They're designed to fit into your ear canals, like earplugs, to block out ambient noise. We judged their effectiveness to be the equal of active or battery-powered noise-canceling headphones. There's just one caveat: some buyers, particularly those with smaller ear canals, may find the eartip insertion rituals a bit daunting or unpleasant (you really have to jam them in). Also, the rubber eartips in particular have a tendency to attract earwax and will have to be cleaned regularly. But this reviewer found the ER-6 to be highly comfortable--arguably more so than other top in-ear headphones, including the Shure E3c or the Etymotic ER-4P. On the other hand, some CNET editors preferred the fit of Shure's E3c and Sony's less expensive MDR-EX71SL.
As with those in-ear models, when we walked or moved, we heard the ER-6's wires rubbing against our clothing. You get used to the sounds over time, but they're there, and the ER-6's very thin and superflexible wires are prone to tangle; ours did, even after we carefully stowed the headphones in their carry pouch. Also, many will find the 5-foot cord length to be too long--especially if they use a player with an in-line remote.
Ah, but the ER-6's sound is extraordinarily fine. Because of its noise-isolation attributes, on a roaring NYC subway train, we were able to listen to our iPod at very moderate volume levels; we didn't have to blast our ears to enjoy our music. Then again, if you want to play loud, the ER-6 can achieve fairly high levels with a portable MP3 player, though the ER-4P was able to play louder.
Listen, and you'll hear a purity to the sound that few 'phones can match; we were constantly surprised by the ER-6's ability to resolve even the most subtle details of our music collection. Bass response is excellent--deep and well defined--for an earbud-type headphone. Bass buffs will be happier with a full-size Grado ($69), our iPod headphone champs. However, overall the ER-6's sonics are cleaner and far more resolved than the SR60's. As always, your buying decision is a matter of identifying your priorities.
Etymotic ER-6 series
Best Headphones for 2020All best headphones
Sony WH-1000XM3Starting at: $169.00
The third iteration of the WH-1000X is more comfortable, sounds slightly better and features...
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700Starting at: $299.00
The successor to the QuietComfort 35 II cost $50 more and have an all-new design. We put...
Jabra Elite Active 65tStarting at: $80.00
The sporty version of Jabra's already wireless earphones have a few extras that put it...
Apple AirPods 2019Starting at: $49.00
Those looking for a major AirPods upgrade, particularly to their sound and design, will...
Bose QuietComfort 35 IIStarting at: $199.00
With a new button that links directly to Google Assistant on your phone, Bose's otherwise...
More Best ProductsAll best products
Best electric bike for 2021
These electric bikes will help you get around while public transit is limited. And we've...
24 of the best movies to watch on Amazon Prime Video
Amazon's gradually stacking up a pile of excellent flicks.
The 42 best movies to watch on Netflix
Stuck in the endless Netflix scroll?
Best dating sites for 2021
24 best TV shows to watch on Amazon Prime Video
Amazon's TV game is solid.