Etymotic ER3SE IEMs – Deep Connection
Etymotic ER3SE is the answer if you ever wanted to have a really deep seal IEM. Etymtoic used to be and still is your best choice for detail too. They make some interesting IEMs that are basically good hearing aid models, but can also be used to listen to music. The ER3SE is priced at 95 USD on Amazon at the moment of writing this full written review, so they will be compared to other entry-level IEMs like Shouer Tape PRO, Hiby Seeds II, and 1Custom Junior.
Etymotic is a huge name in audio basically because they are attached to the idea of a BA driver or Balanced Armature. Those are the smallest type of drivers that have some inherent advantages like extreme speed and revealing abilities, but poor dynamics, and limited headroom. Etymtoic works on creating the best Balanced Armatures though, so they try to gather as much as they can on the pros and have as little drawbacks as possible. Designing an entry-level IEM is a really hard job in today’s market, so I will be especially harsh with ER3SE, as there’s quite a lot of competition from the Chifi Market in that price range.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Etymtoic, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. I’d like to thank Etymotic for providing the sample for this review. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it. The purpose of this review is to help those interested in Etymotic ER3SE find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
I did some really poor quality photos on my ER4XR review, since I was a beginner back then, but I did good shots of the package on my ER3XR review. Now that I reached the ER3SE, I have to say that those photos are not mine, but Haru‘s, my current photo artist and editor.
The package of the ER3SE is decent, good set of extras, it comes with that soft pouch, 4 sets of double flanged tips, 2 sets of triple flanged tips, and one set of foam tips.
I personally just used the default medium sized triple flanged tip that it comes with by default.
Depending on how long you’ve been reading Audiophile-Heaven, you probably heard that I’m not such a huge fan of Balanced Armatures, as I listen really loud and like to do some light EQ, both of which BA don’t do so well. At least when it comes to EQ, ER3SE has almost no headroom for it, so you either want and like their default signature, or you get something else. In terms of overall signature, the sound of the ER3SE is a really specific one too.
Back to comfort, I remembered ER4XR to be uncomfortable, but today when I put the ER3SE in my ears, they were ok. Very deep fit, so right in the brain, but the comfort after inserting them is actually ok. The wearing can be both straight-down and over-the-ear, but the IEMs are really more designed for straight-down and stay strange when being worn over-the-ear.
This is important, because there is cable noise or microphonics while wearing the ER3SE straight-down. There’s no driver flex, but the fit has void, as the driver has a really tiny micro chamber. This being said, unless you rip them out of your ears, they cause no pain upon insertion and exertion, because the long and thin tips will not keep the fit while you move them. It takes some wiggle to actually create the proper seal and fit.
In terms of power, ER3SE eats A LOT. I’m shocked to say this, but using Lotoo Paw 6000, I’m around 77 for my typical listening experience, which is more than any IEM I have in my collection right now. On the other hand, this also means that I have some good news. The headroom for volume is great, no distortion, no problems even loud. All in all, I’m happy with the fit and listening volume with zero distortions.
The isolation is ok, but nowadays, after having experienced countless other IEMs, I would say that is average with the silicone tips. The isolation gets awesome only if you use the foam tips which compress a ton of foam in your ear canals, but isolate beautifully. With the silicone tips, I can hear my girlfriend much easier than when using Unique Melody 3DT, although ER3SE leaks almost the least out of everything I tested over the past year.
In terms of sonics, ER3SE can be described as really neutral, flat in the bass, forward in the midrange, with a smooth textured midrange, no grain, no sibilance and no harshness, and with a smooth and rolled off treble. The soundstage presentation is intimate and somewhat narrow, but can present an ok layering, with excellent separation and detail. The sound gets more exciting and more V-Shaped with volume, but does not get distortion at any listenable volume. Very good for monitoring, mixing and mastering if you’re used to flat / reference tunings.
The bass is actually able to go deep, but has a very neutral presentation. Works exceptionally well for quick music, like technical death metal, and is satisfying enough for EDM, Techno, and most pop, but is not thick enough for Classical and Rap. The bass is extremely fast and has a very quick speed, which means that ER3SE is able to keep up with basically anything, and even with contemporary pop, it can make the bass pop with texture and actual detail rather than random driver distortions. It won’t satisfy any basshead for sure, but it is perfect for an audiophile and refined experience. Bass guitars are really great through the ER3SE, while electronic bass can be a bit too low in quantity. I was able to achieve a really good fit and seal before writing this part too.
The midrange is actually surprisingly good. I am in love with the resolution and the detail, but also with the overall neutral presentation. The mids are forward and somewhat aggressive, but they are also really really good with the tonality. No odd colorations, no dips, no peaks, just a perfectly transparent midrange. ER3SE is excellent for monitoring, and is probably the cheapest in-ear monitor I would actually recommend for proper monitoring, mixing and mastering. You can hear some soundstage, or at least layering, with the cymbals usually being in the back, voices being up front, and with everything else in very well defined layers in between. I was surprised to notice zero distortions regardless of the volume I was listening at. Textures in guitars, pianos, everything, including room echo and voice harshness are evident, and really easy to distinguish.
The treble is the least interesting part of the ER3sE because it is smooth and not very exciting. Them extending up to 16kHz as stated in their own paper is about right, and to my ears, it rolls off after about 7kHZ, where the hottest point is. This being said, the treble is zero metallic, has zero overall fatigue, and works great for long hours of listening. ER3SE can get fatiguing in the mids, but only if you listen really loud. Compared to other variants I reviewed from Etymtoic, ER3SE is actually quite ok, as it won’t become fatiguing due to grain or “too much detail”. The dynamics are ok, great for a BA, but not as good as they usually are with dynamic drivers. At 100 USD, it beats most IEMs in terms of dynamics, detail and resolution.
In terms of comparisons, I decided to go for Shouer Tape PRO, Hiby Seeds II, and 1Custom Junior. The market in the ~100 USD price range is way too crowded and it can be really hard to tell apart IEMs, and make a choice, so I am trying my best to focus on comparisons, leaving little for the pairings since especially for lower priced IEMs and Headphones, you are going to pair them with whatever you have on hand, unless there’s something exceptional that you need to know about an IEM or can. The price of ER3SE is normally 150 USD, but they are sold for 95 USD right now on amazon.
When finding a source for ER3SE, please make sure it has enough driving power. Anything that is too low powered will be frustrating, and won’t produce a loud enough sound. In fact, this just came to my mind, but this is most probably how Etymotic managed to alleviate the terrible headroom BA usually have, by making ER3SE really hard to drive. I tested ER3SE mainly with high-end DAPs like iBasso DX220, Lotto Paw 6000, and FiiO M11 PRO. All were able to drive ER3SE beautifully. If you need something entry level that can do the job nicely, you can always rely on DACportHD from CEntrance or Earstudio HUD100MKII. Qudelix 5k is also a great option, since it is priced nicely, and has enough power, thing about which I did complain in my video review about it.
Etymotic ER3SE vs 1Custom Junior (150 USD vs 150 USD) – The size of 1Custom Jr. is much larger than ER3SE, so it will be much more obvious with small ears, but it has a shallower fit and is much more comfortable for me, as I can’t quite deal with really deep fitting IEMs. The overall sound is far more detailed, clear, clean and analytical on ER3SE. 1Custom Junior has slightly better dynamics, and more bass, but the bass of ER3SE is much more clean, detailed, quicker and revealing. Pretty much the sound of ER3SE is much better, as long as you don’t mind the neutral character, since technically they are quite potent. On the other hand, the comfort is better on the 1Custom Junior, as some folks will have some kind of curves inside of their ear canals that may make the fit of ER3SE uncomfortable. Your ears also grow and change in time.
Etymotic ER3SE vs Hiby Seeds II (150 USD vs 130 USD) – The comfort is actually comparable, as Seeds II is quite heavy, being what I would call the heaviest IEM I reviewed thus far on Audiophile-Heaven. The overall build quality is much better on the Seeds II, and so is the cable, but the sonics of the eR3SE are better. I prefer the overall detail, clarity, resolution, and even bass presentation on ER3SE, as it reveals much more content in music. The midrange is great on both. Although the treble can be a bit hot on Seeds II, I prefer it as I’m a bit of a treble addict, and if Etymtoic ever makes an IEM with more sparkle in the treble, I would be first in line to get it. Bottom line, if you want neutral and detailed, and if you don’t mind the deep fit, go for ER3SE, it is a great deal.
Etymotic ER3SE vs Shouer Tape PRO (150 USD vs 150 USD) – The comfort, design, and overall build quality, including cable quality is far better on the Shoer Tape PRO. The sound, on the other hand, is quite colored and uneven on Tape PRO, while it is really natural, flat and detailed on the ER3SE. I am really caught in between, because I prefer the overall fit and comfort of the tape PRO, at least for my ears, but I am writing this with ER3SE in my ears, as I simply appreciate their detail, resolution and natural tonality for the midrange. I can’t lie to you, the comfort is just ok, but once you hear them, you may end up going for ER3SE as well.
Value and Conclusion
Regardless whether we’re talking about the 95 USD price point that ER3SE has right now, or the 150 USD typical price tag, they are good value, and general a recommended IEM if you’re looking at what’s the best resolution, clarity and detail you can get from your IEMs at a given price point.
The package is good, the build quality is ok, and the comfort is ok, as long as you can deal with deep-fitting IEMs. On the other hand, the sound is actually something I would get the ER3SE for. The sound is clean, detailed, analytical, and much more resolute than everything else you can generally find in this price range.
At the end of today’s review, I am happy to recommend the ER3SE, as a really clean, detailed IEM, neutral, great for both mastering and listening, and even good if you enjoy loud volumes with zero distortion.
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Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. I recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music! The playlists are different for Spotify, Tidal and Youtube, and based on the songs I enjoy and are available on each!
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