Etymotic Research ety8 review

I have to admit, I’m often biased… There are some manufacturers whose products I’m more likely to value by default – I’m an unabashed Apple, Nokia, and Honda fangirl, for example!,

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.

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One Response to Etymotic Research ety8 review

  1. BR3NDA says:

    you’ve explained rather succintly what i was trying to get across to a colleague about the quality of the “transmission” source.

    I have the plantronics 590c bt headphones. they’re teh best quality sound i’ve found and reasonably confortable to wear — and the quality difference between the bundled dongle, and any audio device’s builtin bluetooth is very marked. When my colleague borrowed the headphone to try with N81 8G, she was not impressed… If only she’d tried the dongle too.

    I hope phone manufacturers quit this and put a less lossly encoding into their bluetooth smarts soon. — it’s the A2DP that’s a bit part of the point of using bluetooth headphones.

    so… you say these do the A2DP for you? how? does the dongle wire into the device audio at the same time as connecting up bluetooth? that souds like a reat workaround…

    I’m not sure i was sound isolation (dangerous while walking to work in traffic), so i hope other manufactuers of more traditional forms catch on soon. I want the higher quality sound, i dont want wireless audio to be a compromise.

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