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Etymotic ER3, the Audiophiliac affordable headphone of the year

The Etymotic ER3 is a bona-fide audiophile headphone, with a very attainable price.

The Etymotic ER3 Extended Response headphones

I've raved about Etymotic ER4 in-ear headphones many times on this blog, because it's one of the most neutral and accurate in-ear headphones you can buy without breaking the bank. Up until now, meet the ER4's even more affordable little brother, the ER3.

It looks similar to the ER4, and like that headphone the ER3 uses a single balanced armature driver housed in a precision machined metal ear piece. The main difference between the two 'phones is the ER4's drivers are made in the US, while the ER3's are made in Asia. Etymotic technicians match ER4's left and right channel drivers to extremely close tolerances, within 1 dB from 100 Hz to 10 kHz., the ER3's driver tolerances aren't specified. 

The ER3 goes for $150 on Amazon in the US, £199 in the UK and AU$325 in Australia, while the ER4 runs $289 on Amazon in the US, £275 in the UK and AU$464 in Australia.

I bet you're wondering how these two models compare? The ER3 sounded crisp and clear, with satisfying bass, and if I didn't have an ER4 on hand I'd say the two 'phones sound alike. Luckily I have an ER4 so I know the ER3's sound is a wee bit leaner in the midrange and less clear overall. Still, ER3 delivers the lion's share of the ER4's sound for about half the price.

The ER3 features detachable and user-replaceable 4 feet (1.2 meter) long cables, and the headphone's impedance is rated at an easy to drive 22 ohms. The warranty runs two years, double the length of coverage of most headphones.

Etymotic offers two versions of the ER3, the ER3 Studio Edition (ER3SE) and ER3 Extended Response (ER3XR), they look identical and sell for the exact same price. The ER3SR has a slightly more accurate sound, with a little less bass fullness than the ER3XR. I auditioned both versions with Aphex Twin's spectacular deep bass antics on his new Collapse EP, and the ER3XR did a slightly better job pummeling my ears. Still, the differences between the two ER3s was subtle. 

Use the included foam or flanged silicone ear tips with the ER3 and you'll bask in the quietude of 35 to 42 dBs of noise isolation, that's so much better than the competition's headphones isolating abilities. There is one catch, to achieve the ER3's maximum noise hushing you'll have to jam the tips deeper into your ear canals than most in-ear headphones' tips. Some folks aren't comfortable with deep insertion, but I didn't mind. Comfort isn't stellar, but the ER3's superior noise isolation on the New York subway was excellent while listening with my iPhone 6S. Sound quality is better than any battery powered noise canceling in-ear headphone I've tried. The ER3 doesn't use batteries, its deep insertion tips hush noise by making an airtight seal.

I love the ER4, so I'm thrilled that you can now get most of its sound quality for nearly half the price in the ER3. Its clarity is most definitely up to audiophile standards, at least for audiophiles who don't yearn for exaggerated bass, both versions of the ER3 (Studio Edition and Extended Response) are truthful messengers of the sound of your music.

The sound is a joy, then add the ability to banish noise and you'll know why the Etymotic ER3 is the Audiophiliac affordable headphone of the year.

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