Etymotic was one of the pioneer companies that introduced in-ear earphones and in-ear monitors to the world. Consequently, it is one of the brands by which others are judged. Until now it has produced single-driver earphones. So the Etymotic Evo multi-driver in-ear earphones are something of a departure for the company.
- The Etymotic Evo earphones are wired earphones with three balanced armature drivers
- Metal injection moulded bodies (formed from metal power and resin)
- Made in Vietnam
- Two of the BA drivers are for bass, one for midrange and high frequencies
- 20 to 16,000 hertz rated frequency response
- 99dB SPL for 0.1 volt at 1kHz rated sensitivity (works out to 106dB/mW)
- 47 ohms nominal impedance
- Four sizes of dual-flange silicone ear tips, two sizes of triple-flange silicone ear tips, one size of memory foam ear tips
- 0 grams each (disconnected, with no tip fitted)
- Removable 1.3 metre Linum BaX cable; 3.5mm single ended plug at source end, T2 connectors at earphone end
- Hard carry case included
- The Etymotic Evo earphones produce a lively, penetrating sound. Their moderate sensitivity and impedance makes them an easy load for just about any source. But I did find that they needed a fair bit of EQ for a natural tonal balance. Since the buds are fairly large and heavy, they should be tried out to make sure they work for you.
- Price: $849
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here
More about the Etymotic Evo earphones
All the facts and figures are above. But a few additional observations are in order. First, the 1.3-metre cable uses, I think, the thinnest wire I’ve ever seen. The wires are a twisted pair from the 3.5mm gold-plated plug to the point at which they divide, about three quarters of the way to the earphones. Each of these is, according to my callipers, about 0.9mm in thickness. A sliding clasp lets you choose how close to your throat you want the two wires to remain together.
Ooh, I realise that I’ve been consistently using the word “wire”, where normally I’d used “cable” at least part of the time. They don’t seem to be thick enough to warrant the use of “cable”. All that is intentional by Etymotic, of course. As it says, the “Linum BaX T2 [cable] reduces microphonics thanks to being extremely lightweight, while maintaining reliability and durability.”
I can attest to the microphonics part. I hate earphone cables that generate noise when brushing against your clothes, since this is mechanically transmitted straight into your ears. These earphones produced virtually none of that. The downside was that they did tend to get tangled a little more easily than most. But, hey, if you’re using in-ear earphones, you’ll be used to untangling cables!
The cable can be disconnected from the earphones. It uses “T2” connectors. These are similar in style and look to the more widely used MMCX connectors but are somewhat smaller in size. Etymotic does not yet appear to have replacement cables available, but I imagine it will make them available in due course.
Initially I assumed “Linum BaX” was just one of those cool terms that companies sometimes come up with to describe their technology, but it turns out that Linum is a Danish brand that specialises in producing low-weight, high-end cables for IEMs. You can purchase cables direct from them – 79 Euros for suitable replacements for the ones with these earphones. The company specifies the cable impedance at 1.5 ohms. That seemed a little high to me, but my measurement confirmed it. The cables use silver-plated copper Litz construction with 84 strands.
The earphones themselves are quite heavy compared to most. I weighed them at precisely 13.0 grams each, sans cable and tips.
The case is a hardish cylinder. I think the idea is that you use the foam insert around which the earphones are wound when delivered. This fits into the cylinder. I was initially sceptical, but it soon won me over. It keeps the cable orderly and pretty much eliminates storage tangles.
Also provided are a pair of green replacement “filters” and an aluminium filter replacement tool. The Etymotic Evo earphones have an extremely tiny outlet for their sound. A filter – the purpose of which I’m not entirely certain – sits inside this. It’s kind of a ring through which the sound emerges. I suppose having a spare set is useful.
Listening with the Etymotic Evo earphones
I spent quite a bit of time trying out the various tips. I actually wasn’t keen on going for the memory foam ones, even though that’s generally what I prefer these days, because with their tin can shape, they looked as though they might be rather brutal to the ears.
But I couldn’t get a decent seal with any of the dual- or triple-flange silicone tips. I wasn’t all that surprised. For some reason multiple-flanged tips don’t seem to work well in my ears, regardless of brand. It wasn’t just a matter of the seal, either. Most of them tended to loosen their grip within a few tens of seconds and I’d have to push them in again. I think the incompatibility with my ears and the fairly heavy 13-gram weight of each earbud caused that.
So, since there were no basic silicone singles provided, I decided to give the memory foam tips a go.
Despite the look, I think they’re just about the best that I’ve used. Of course, memory foam can’t be brutal on your ears. You squeeze the foam down, stick them in and wait for a few seconds while they attempt to resume their former shape. These ones worked perfectly. Perhaps the lack of shaping contributed to that. Perhaps it was that the extremely small outlet at the end of the tube from the earphones allowed a tighter scrunching prior to insertion. Whatever, it simply worked.
With that sorted, it was time to start listening. Summary, before we get into details: incredibly detailed and revealing, and once your ears adjust, almost like being right there with the artist. Why that “ears adjust” remark? Because the frequency balance is far from natural. Despite the use of two balanced armature drivers for handle the bass, it is quite recessed.
Whizzing through the Album listing on the SE180, I first settled on 10 000 Hz Legend by Air. I play this way too often for the simple reason that it’s near the top of the album list. Snappy, precise and rather light in tonal balance. I was still not critically listening – at least, intentionally – at that point. The next was the original Best of the Bee Gees from 1969, something with which I’ve been familiar since not many years after its release. Again, the sound was truly penetrating into everything that was there, but the tonal balance simply didn’t work for me. Which means that it was quite different from what most gear produces.
When I switched over to some David Bowie, I decided to do something I rarely do. That is, I decided to EQ the sound. I used the parametric EQ feature in the Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 DAP. Indeed, I used it with wild abandon. I pushed the sub-200 hertz frequencies to the maximum permitted – +5dB – and pulled down the upper midrange/low treble (ie. around 4kHz) by almost 4dB. That kept the virtues of the Etymotic Evo earphones – a superb insight into the music – in play, while delivering something approaching a realistic tonal balance.
As I said, I rarely do that. I think that each component in your audio chain ought to be linear. After I’d changed the equalisation, I restricted my listening with these earphones to the SE180 rather than going back to the earphones’ native tonal imbalance with other gear which didn’t have EQ features. What follows is how things sounded with the SE180 and those EQ settings.
I have to say, given all those provisos and settings, these earphones sounded kind of wonderful. Without the distraction of a tonal imbalance, the ability of these earphones to penetrate into, and fully reveal, the essence of the music to which I was listening was simply excellent.
Perhaps surprisingly, all that boost in the deepest four octaves seemed to have no effect on distortion. Turned up to an appropriately loud level, the all-important bass line in Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” was tight, controlled and clean.
“Tales” from Uriah Heep’s The Magician’s Birthday was delivered with the opening acoustic guitar sounding beautifully precise and rhythmic. With the drum kicks in a minute or so in, it’s tight and powerful. That track finishes and the title track begins. I assume that readers aren’t interested in how the kazoo solo in that track sounds (yes, there really is one!) What was noticeable, was a slight level in background noise in this track of which I’d previously been unaware.
Switching (quite substantially) to some DSD128 jazz captured by Kent Poon (the track is called “3 and 1 (Take 2, v.05)”), there was remarkable presence, along with an unsparing presentation of everything in the recording. But since this music was so perfectly recorded, I got to wondering about that “unsparing” adjective that popped into my mind. How about some “unsparing” revelation of less-than-perfectly-recorded material. Well, I’d already been through some Bee Gee tracks from 1969 or earlier. But a real challenge is Melanie’s brilliant song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”, which if not handled well with very effective drilling into the various strands of the sound, collapses into an irritating mess. Streaming a decent version from TIDAL on the SE180 with EQ engaged, this was powerful, controlled, and presented with the all-important bass line fully intact.
Finally, let’s spend a little time with Billie Eilish. Bass? Solid, extended, controlled and entirely satisfying.
The nominal impedance, at 47 ohms, presents a fairly easy load to most devices. Of course the SE180 was fine with it. And so was the Lightning headphone audio adaptor on an iPhone. With a nominal impedance at this relatively high level, the effect of a high output impedance from the headphone amplifier should be relatively muted. Still, it was worth checking out:
Feeding the signal via a 466-ohm inline load, the internal impedance of the earphones did have a marked effect, leading to a nearly 6dB swing in signal level, with higher impedance at the bass end and a minimum in the midrange. With a decent, low-impedance headphone output stage, there’s going to be virtually no effect on the frequency balance of the supplied signal.
The significance of all this is explained here.
The Etymotic Evo earphones would seem to be a good beginning for the company with multi-driver earphones. They certainly produce sound that’s remarkably revealing, although I would have far preferred a more natural tonal balance. And even though I had trouble with some of the ear tips, most people seem find the dual- and triple-flange tips effective. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking in this price range.