Etymotic Research is another manufacturer whose products I’ve used (and liked) for years. Who is Etymotic and why should you care? Etymotic is relatively new to consumer and personal audio but very well established (and respected) in hearing research and professional audio circles.
Long before Ultimate Ears and Shure, when it came to canal earphones, Etymotic was the name of the game.
Their in-ear (canal) transducers are known for their ultra-accurate frequency response, and have been used in audiology for years – I discovered Etymotic while working in hearing research 15 years ago.
Their ER.4 line of professional-grade canal earphones is popular amongst audiophiles (especially those who fly often), and is one of my reference listening devices (the other being the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro).
Like the wired ER.4, the wireless ety8 are not suited for all people in all situations.
Think of them as earplugs with built-in transducers, which have to be inserted deep into the ear canal in order to attenuate outside noise properly and reproduce audio accurately…
Not everyone is comfortable wearing them and not every activity is safe when isolated from the world!
When it comes to sound quality, I’m picky. My standards are much higher than average but not quite as stratospheric as most audiophiles. I value mobility and simplicity – I favor devices with minimal processing.
As a result I’ve always avoided wireless earphones and headphones (especially Bluetooth ones) for being too much of a compromise, and this has been validated by my experience so far.
Ditto for active noise-canceling earphones and headphones.
Enter the ety8. Since Etymotic was kind enough to provide a review unit and since I already enjoy the ER.4, it was easy to take the plunge :)
I first tried them with my Apple iPhone, using the supplied iPhone/iPod Bluetooth dongle (since neither of these devices natively support the A2DP profile)…
I was blown away – the ety8 sounded as great as the wired ER.4!
Next I tried them with my Nokia N95, using the built-in Bluetooth radio (native A2DP profile). The ety8 sounded only average, with a lot of quantization noise and artifacts.
Ditto with my Apple MacBook Air.
Bluetooth wireless devices rely on lossy compression to transmit the audio signal. The transmitter must compress the audio signal, then the receiver must decode it, convert it from digital to analog, and amplify it.
That complexity, combined with packaging and power consumption constraints, typically makes the receiver the weak link with Bluetooth wireless devices.
But clearly that’s not the case with the ety8. The difference in sound quality can only be attributed to the difference in transmitters – Etymotic’s supplied iPhone/iPod Bluetooh dongle vs. the built-in Bluetooth radio and native A2DP profile of the N95 and the MacBook Air.
Perhaps Etymotic’s dongle uses a different Bluetooth profile (or implementation) to transmit the audio signal, thus avoiding lossy compression?
Perhaps the ety8 only support the A2DP profile for the sake of broader compatibility and should be used primarily with the supplied iPhone/iPod dongle?
No matter – the ety8 have changed my assertion that wireless earphones and headphones (especially Bluetooth ones) always represent a compromise in sound quality.
In addition to being wireless, another nice feature of the ety8 over the ER.4 (and most other wired earphones and headphones) are the built-in controls for volume up/down, play/pause and next/previous track, that work with both iPhone/iPod (via Etymotic’s dongle) and devices using the A2DP profile (like the Nokia N-series phones or Apple laptops).
I’ve been enjoying the ety8’s for over a month now and I’ve used them on two trips:
– On the positive side, the ety8 sound amazing (when used with Etymotic’s dongle), are very convenient, and have extremely good battery life
– On the negative side, the ety8’s design is a bit unusual and will not appeal to everyone’s tastes (take a look at my unboxing pictures)
Overall, I highly recommend the ety8.