The Etymotic ER2SE is a special Studio Edition single driver universal IEM specifically tuned for referencing and studio monitoring. It is priced at £169.
Disclaimer: The Etymotic ER2 Studio Edition was sent to us in exchange for our honest opinion. Thank you to Etymotic and Hifiheadphones.co.uk for giving us this opportunity.
You can read more about other Etymotic products reviewed on Headfonics here.
Note, this 2-page review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
Etymotic is a 36 years old company in the audio field and is well known as a pioneering developer for accurate performances as well as their signature deep insertion design.
They have a very long product cycle and I don’t think anyone in the hobby could miss their ER4(s), a 29 years old product series debuting in the early ’90s. A monitor that is still considered competitive nowadays in isolation and accuracy.
With a very legitimate background, Etymotic fits the new generation ER2 Studio Edition with a dynamic driver, enabling lower distortion at a higher volume when compared to BA based models. It is quite intriguing when the company that consistently uses BA drivers switches to dynamic options as a reference model so read on and we will see how it works!
SE and XR
We are reviewing the SE (studio edition) this time, however, there is another XR version which, like the ER4XR, focuses more on the lower frequencies and comes closer to the Harmon curve on paper.
The Studio Edition we are reviewing is built for monitoring/ mastering and aims to deliver clear and accurate sound. I do prefer dynamic drivers when it comes to monitoring, as sensitive BA configurations may distort when you fire up the volume.
DD based designs are always not as fast and extended while multiple BA with more crossovers is always expensive. It is fun to see how the ER2SE is priced and positioned, curious to see what can it achieve and if it is even accurate or close to the ER4(s).
Despite being built from metal the ER2SE is surprisingly light. Similar to the ER4 series design language on the ER2SE is minimal, with Etymotic’s consistent cylindrical design and smooth anodized finish.
You can see Etymotic’s logo and model number laser-etched to the indigo blue housings clearly and the brand logo is also lasered on the y-splitter. Cables are detachable with MMCX connectors and a locking mechanism to prevent the MMCX connector from spinning. It is a much more attractive design when compared to the professional-looking ER4 series.
Etymotic provides a two-year warranty so heavy users don’t need to worry and if you break the cable you may have to purchase the original cable as aftermarket options may not fit.
Comfort & Fit
One of Etymotic’s achievement is their documented highest noise isolation of any earphones or headphones on the market today. The insertion depth, close driver positioning to the nozzle and enhanced isolation gives the system perfect seal and reduces sibilance.
Looking at the default tri-flanges you should know this is no common earphone. The insertion goes really deep, halfway through the ear canal into the second band, as deep as custom monitors.
According to the official site, the supplied tips could provide up to -42 dB isolation. There is even more isolation with the foams, designed for mixing engineers so they don’t need to turn up the music loud to hear detail. When you wear it straight down the ER2SE rests comfortably on my ears with no pressure.
The illustration explains how you should insert the ER2SE. Pull the upper side of your ears., twist the earphone into the ear canal while inserting, until outside the noise is blocked out. On official documents, there is a tutorial titled ”3-flange ear tips: Moistening eases insertion”.
A useful trick but do it at your own risk. Remember not to pull on the cables or to remove the earphones too quickly or it may hurt. Instead, gently twist gradually to take out the earphones. It may take a while for you to get used to the fit. The experience is similar to what 3M foams/ custom monitors offer which block out noise nicely even when you are on transportation.
Packaging & Accessories
The ER2SE packaging is a professional, blue-themed design. Taking away the sleeves you will find a black inner box and the ER2SE sits right on the first layer, with tri flange pre-installed. You will find user manuals, carrying pouch and accessories beneath.
If you are new to the hobby you may be screaming at the accessories supplied. There are two memory foams with a size much bigger than the earphones, also some filters, a metallic tool, and tri-flanges in another size. No normal ear tips are supplied which reveals Etymotic’s determination in their design. You could always snap on other tips with a small-bore such as Westone or Shure tips if the stock tips are not to your liking.
I had a sense of déjà vu seeing the same storage pouch from the ER4 series. This is a very handy case and it allows you to store the other accessories in its compartments. There is a shirt clip supplied which I recommend to use to reduce microphonics.
Two extra filters are supplied just in case they get dirty and stinky. You can remove them with the screwdriver provided then squeeze a new set in WITHOUT the tools by pushing them against any hard surface.
The filters are officially explained to smooth out the frequency response and dirty filters will reduce the earphone output. You should have them replaced when the sound quality or loudness decreases and there is a guide that can be found on Etymotic’s website explaining the process.
It is very intriguing when I see the ”SE” label on a dynamic product from the brand. Etymotic has always been a leading balanced armatures user and this a very ambitious attempt to make dynamic product into their sub-flagship reference range.
Putting the ER2SE on you will hear Etymotic work their magic even when they switch to dynamics drivers this time around and not BA. Their in-house or signature clean treble performance is still there.
There is a hint when you measure the ER2SE which shows a curve much like a Knowles 29689 design. This is the driver used in the ER4 series. Measuring like a less bassy ER4XR/ ER4B, the ER2SE delivers clean and fast bass, with very clean and unaltered vocals out of the box.
It shows an extended and carefully controlled response that can reproduce decent subbass, treble detail and good seperation in the vocals. The excellent isolation and well-controlled bass quantity allow you to hear hidden subbass details while keeping treble clean and effortless.
This actually tricked some of my friends into believing this is a BA/Hybrid IEM. Remarkably, a lot of vocal detail is picked up and the treble is quite controlled, never getting hot with decent extension thanks to the deep insertion that keeps sharper frequencies from peaking, I find it more alike the ER4B’s presentation but it could handle more power and higher volume while the ER4B has a faster response and denser bass texture.
Impedance and sensitivity
15ohm and 96dB sensitivity makes the ER2SE fairly easy to drive. The high sensitivity favors lower output impedance outputs to achieve good impedance matching. Small DAPs and phones will still be able to sufficiently drive these earphones loud and fairly dynamic. However, you will definitely hear better bass density and tonal balance from sources with lower impedance and a well-controlled amping stage.
Komplete Audio 6
The Audio 6 is a USB powered 24/192 supported interface from Native Instrument, well known for its virtual instruments packs. This is a popular device for digital audio workstations and its output power is average being powered by USB.
Plugging in the ER2SE and firing some tracks on foobar the output sounds clean and fast without any unpleasant spikes. The output on ER2SE is very coherent, vocal sounds natural with a slight hint of warmth from the dynamic driver. There is good separation from the backing music and the lower frequencies can be heard clearly with light punches. It would be nicer if there is more juice from the output or better decoding power to give the mid-bass more texture.
Treble on the ER2SE in this setup is slightly darker compared to more powerful sources. It is still well-controlled and not peaky at all while being decently extended, with good vocal separation and weight however staging may be restricted like in a recording room.
Putting the ER2SE on USB powered interface shows the dynamic driver characteristics on this IEM. When you put it together to the BA based models such as ER4SR/XR you will notice that BA IEMs are more easily driven to sound fuller and more textured in the mid-bass. The dynamic based design allows ER2SE to hold its ground when the volume is turned up. The ER4(s) will distort whilst the ER2SE still sounds detailed and controlled.
On Macbook Pro
The MacBook Pro could well be a music producer’s everyday workstation and it always works great with sensitive IEMs thanks to its very low output impedance. With the ER2SE there is more body in the bass than the previous interface setup. Vocal sounds natural and there is no noticeable background hiss being picked up.
The output is very clean and extended with no sibilance. Alike on an interface, the ER2SE puts you in a small room-sized staging, much alike in a recording room with the bass damped but all instruments are controlled and clearly positioned.
Dynamic drivers based IEMs always scales up with better power, such applies to the ER2SE as well. Putting the IEM on QP2R in low gain mode there are overwhelming details in the vocal, it is one of the swiftest, unaltered mid-treble performances I have heard on a universal in-ear product. No matter light or dark, the voicing has the right weight replayed with no spike at all.
On higher gain the treble will be brighter and the vocal performance is sweet. The mid-gain option hits my sweet spot and I only wish the bass punch could be more solid. There is great synergy with the AKM AK4490 based DAPs and I recommend all QP2R owners or Lotoo Paw Touch owners to try the ER2SE if you want to experience a complete, unaltered vocal tuning profile.
FA1 is a well balanced single-BA iem with a Knowles ED33357 driver. You will first notice the FA1 being much more sensitive than the ER2SE and their tuning focus is clearly different. The FA1 has a shallow fit and a mid-low frequency focus with energetic bass while the ER2SE has a mid-high focus and much better separation in the vocal range along with the deep insertion.
The tuning allows FA1 to sound energetic out-door compensating background noise while the bass presence and shallower fit limits treble details and extension. The output is also grainier than the ER2SE with sibilance tones.
You will notice how much more ER2SE picks out the treble details but the lower mid-bass presence makes it less engaging than the FA1. We don’t have the other version, the ER2XR to test and it would be quite intriguing to see if ER2XR can keep the clean vocal while breathing more life into the mid-bass.
The ER2SE sounds more balanced and extended in this case but it sacrifices some comfort and looks. If you want the boom & pow in your bass/ acoustic instruments intensive tracks go for the FA1 and clean vocal, string instruments lovers shall find the ER2SE more pleasant company.
We covered the Final B2 earlier and it is a mid-focused IEM with a stylish design. The B2 has a much shallower fit and tamed treble compared to the ER2SE, which goes really deep in your ear canal to extend its treble effortlessly.
The B2 carries more energy in its mid-lows, more warmth in its tuning and slower bass decay than the ER2SE which sounds very clean. The ER2SE doesn’t give me any fatigue playing songs with high pitches while the B2 sounds more rounded/ less airy but it shapes certain voices sweeter with the roll-off, working great with pop songs and streaming content.
Final B2’s better energy in the mid-lows also favor outdoor listening more compensating noise in the surrounding while its fit with their own E tips is definitely more comfortable. It is fun when the B2 is tuned towards reproducing dynamic driver’s thicker mid-bass and the ER2SE sounds more like a BA based design with light bass and higher treble reach.
The ER4b has long been a beloved item in my collection with its special history and its all-rounded performance. On the QP2R you will hear cleaner pin-point instrument positioning and better dynamics than the ER2SE.
The ER4B sounds more effortless and opens up in the treble with more energy in the lower mids as well. However, when volume goes up you can hear the treble starting to get peaky and distorted. The ER2SE has better separation/body in the vocals, there is more bass resolution and sub-bass extension without bleeding into the vocals which makes it more capable for monitoring.
More noticeably the vocal peak in ER4B is gone in ER2SE but it depends on listening preferences to pick out the better match, also if you prefer the openness on ER4B or the control on ER2SE.
Once again Etymotic proofs that implementation is the key, I have tried many DD IEMs that claim to be reference sounding and do not achieve the speed, the extension and mind-blowing treble swiftness alike the ER2SE priced around £169. I am looking forward to hearing better mid-bass density also dynamics on Etymotic’s higher-end models also the XR which shall sound fuller in the bass.
The ER2SE is a new and fun approach as there aren’t many DD designs that go deep into your ears while sounding very balanced and extended. The fast bass attack, detail retrieval power, deep extension and complete, controlled vocal performance with the affordable price tag makes ER2SE a true monitoring tool. What I really hope is the provision of shorter stock tips that goes less deep while achieving the same sound!