The Etymotic ER3 SE earphones are the companion pair to Etymotic’s excellent, Editors’ Choice-winning ER3 XR. Both are priced at $179, and both offer
The ER3 SE are not stylish earphones. But they provide a lightweight, ergonomic, in-ear fit that angles upward when the flange
The fit, whether with the foam tips or the flange tips, is about as secure as in-ears get. Getting the right fit with the flanges can be tricky, but the audio performance that they facilitate is top-notch. If you feel like the
In addition to the
In a move we rarely see in sub-$200 earphones, the four-foot cable is detachable, which adds value. The cable lacks an inline remote—an omission that doesn’t seem in sync with the year 2018. All audio control will need to be done on your device itself, and there’s no mic for fielding phone calls. The cable has a built-in cinch slider and a snap-on shirt clip.
Internally, the earpieces house balanced armature micro-drivers that deliver a frequency range of 20Hz-16kHz, with an impedance of 22 ohms. Both pairs of ER3 earphones share the same frequency range—they are tuned differently, however, and thus have different frequency responses.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver a clarity in the low frequencies we rarely hear. The sub-bass presence is there, but it isn’t dialed up to thunderous levels. Just as clear and present are the high-mids and highs, providing contour and definition. Lovers of booming bass will find the ER3 SE’s bass response lacking, but this is the real thing—flat response can sound strange in our current bass-boosted era.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the ER3 SE’s general sound signature. The drums, which can sound defiantly thunderous on a bass-forward in-ear pair, seem staid and dialed back here—not thin or brittle, but not powerful or round. Callahan’s baritone vocals fare better—they get some low-mid richness that gives them a bit more presence, but mostly, this is a crisp affair. His vocals get
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence to accentuate its punchy, sharp attack. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are not as intense as we might typically hear them. Plenty of studio monitors use this type of frequency response, but as more music incorporates sub-bass as a natural element in the mix, not being able to reach down to the deepest lows and deliver them clearly, with the intended effect, feels like a bit of a limitation.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound wonderfully balanced. The lows and highs sound as they should, and nothing is pushed forward in the mix. If you have the correct in-ear seal, the lower register instrumentation has some notable presence at times, but it isn’t due to boosting—that’s how the piece sounds. Some listeners may find this sound signature slightly thin, but lovers of classical music and jazz will likely appreciate the clarity and accuracy.
Compared with the ER3 XR, it’s possible that even some engineers and musicians will prefer the XR over the SE’s flat response. The bass depth is extended somewhat through the XR, allowing for a slightly more round, full bass presence. Between the two, it’ll come down to personal preference, and we prefer the XR earphones as they can push out a little bit more of the bass depth modern mixes often apply in bulk.
As far as other models in the general price range, RHA’s CL750 are less accurate, though we love the way they sound, and plenty of listeners will prefer the subtle sculpting and boosting applied across the frequency range. For more money, the Etymotic ER4 XR and ER4 SR are both excellent in-ears that deliver even more accuracy. For the price, however, the ER3 SE in-ears are a fantastic, accurate tool that will be invaluable to many sound professionals and music aficionados who seek