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Etymotic Ety8 In-the-Ear Bluetooth Earphones w/ iPod Adapter review: Etymotic Ety8 In-the-Ear Bluetooth Earphones w/ iPod Adapter

While they're very expensive and a bit ridiculous looking, Etymotic's Ety8s are the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones we've tested to date.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read

Senior editor Phil Ryan contributed to the review.


Etymotic Ety8 In-the-Ear Bluetooth Earphones w/ iPod Adapter

The Good

Wireless Bluetooth operation; excellent sound; tight seal effectively blocks out external sound; and the headphones ship with a nice carrying case.

The Bad

Very expensive; funky design may make you feel self-conscious; not suitable for sporting activities.

The Bottom Line

While they're very expensive and a bit ridiculous looking, the Etymotic's Ety8s are the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones we've tested to date.

Ever since the first Bluetooth headset for cell phones came out, plenty of folks have been eager to see the day when Bluetooth audio made the transition to stereo sound, so you could ditch that wire connected to your iPod--or other portable music device--and feel, well, a bit more liberated. That finally happened last year, and now several new Bluetooth stereo headphones are trickling their way onto the market. The only problem is, most of them don't sound all that good, which is why we were pretty excited to hear that Etymotic, which is known for its high-performance wired earbuds, was getting into the wireless game.

With a rather hefty price tag of $300, the company's Ety8s can only be described as premium Bluetooth headphones. They come in two models: the model reviewed here comes with a Bluetooth transmitter/dongle that attaches to the bottom of your iPod, while a second package contains only the wireless 'buds themselves (if you already have a device with built-in Bluetooth) for $100 less. Etymotic says the Ety8s are compatible with devices "supporting Bluetooth specification 1.1 and higher, as well as A2DP and AVRCP for profiles for stereo listening," and have a wireless range of about 30 feet. They come with a leather storage case and custom USB cable to juice up the headphones' internal rechargeable battery, which delivers about seven hours of power.

Distinct design
As you might have gathered from its picture, the Ety8s offer one of the most distinct headphone designs ever created, and when you see them you realize there's a fine line between really cool and really ugly. For starters, what's unusual about the Ety8s is they're indeed true earbud headphones. Until now, most Bluetooth stereo headphones offered some sort of over-the-ear design that often included an around-the-head "street-style" neckband. Part of the reason behind that design choice is that Bluetooth headphones require a certain amount of power and a not-so-tiny battery to keep the wireless tunes flowing.

For better or worse, Etymotic has made earbud-style headphones that essentially have the battery graphed right onto each 'bud (Etymotic reps told us the external part of the earbud is in fact the exact shape and size of the battery). In short, this is currently just about the smallest possible design you could have for Bluetooth headphones. The only problem is it's just not all that attractive.

Modeling the headphones around the office, this reviewer got a few laughs from co-workers, who thought it looked as if he was wearing giant square earrings. Perhaps some folks might find the look sexy in a sort of geek-chic way, but there's a higher probability you get some disparaging comments and you may feel self-conscious wearing them. Of course, if you're comfortable with your inner geek--and want some extra attention--you might be fine with the Ety8s' design. (Note: a trip on the New York City subway with the headphones didn't provoke any stares or smirks from fellow riders, but that really isn't saying much in a city that's used to seeing funky styles everyday.)

...Now the good news
OK, so that's the bad news. The good news is the Ety8s sound really good and they're comfortable. Similar to Etymotic's wired premium earbuds, they come with various rubber and foam tips you can swap onto the 'buds cylinderical posts until you find one that fits your ear best (the 'buds are connected by a cord you wear loosely around the back of your neck or below your chin). We're more partial to the foam tips, but whether you go with foam or rubber, you're going to get a very good seal that blocks out noise as well as active noise-canceling headphones such as the Bose Quiet Comfort series.

Though there isn't much competition in the premium Bluetooth headphones market today, we can say that the Ety8s are the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones we've heard to date. Similar to all Bluetooth stereo headphones and many mono cell phone headsets, these aren't immune to interference and signal dropouts; they also take a few seconds to pair up with your iPod once the dongle is clipped into the player's universal port.

Etymotic reps warn that since Bluetooth doesn't transmit all that well through your body, you should ideally keep your iPod in a pocket (or armband) on your right side, which ensures a better connection with the Bluetooth receiver in the right earbud. That right earbud is also where you'll find some small buttons that are essentially a basic remote control. You can play and pause tracks, advance tracks forward and backward, and raise and lower volume levels. It is worth noting that when you press the buttons a loud clicking sound reverberates in your ear, which is a bit bothersome. It pays to remember that the volume control on the right ear bud is the real volume control--not the one on your iPod. At lower volume levels, the amount of useful bass drops off noticeably.

Impressive sound
As we said, the headphones sound very good. Etymotic says the Ety8s sample sound at a 44.1 kHz sampling rate, with 16-bit resolution, and we really didn't feel we lost anything by going wireless, which is rare. The Etymotic Ety8s seem as if they have a slightly flatter response than Shure's high-end wired earbuds (the e3c and e5c), which give more emphasis to lower (bass and lower midrange) frequencies, as do most consumer-oriented speakers. So, some nitpicky listeners might find these headphones slightly bass deficient when compared to a pair of full-range tower speakers or higher-end, over-the-ear headphones. That said, the earphones got a comfortable, if not overpowering amount of bass, and tons of detail in the upper-mid and higher frequencies. They do an admirable job of delivering lots of complex musical information; that is, they don't mush up in the mids, so when you have a bunch of instruments playing at the same time, as in Buena Vista Social Club's hit El Cuarto de Tula. Each of the guitars, the percussion, and the voices retain their individuality and sound clear while combining, rather than blending unintelligibly into a cohesive musical unit.

In the end, we really liked the Ety8s--we just weren't so keen about how they looked. If they cost closer to $150, we'd be more forgiving of their unique design, but at $300, you start to get pretty discerning. As it stands, however, if you're an early adopter with high-end tastes, you won't be disappointed by the sound or comfort level of these headphones. Of course, Bluetooth stereo is still in its early days, so we expect to see even better Bluetooth headphones from Etymotic and others in the not-so-distant future. Whether you want to wait will most likely be tied into how much disposable cash you have to burn.

Editor's note: In our tests, the dongle (and headphones) did not work with the 3G iPod, but they worked fine when tested with more recent models, such as the 4G Photo, Nano, and 5G iPod with video.


Etymotic Ety8 In-the-Ear Bluetooth Earphones w/ iPod Adapter

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9