Etymotic ER2SE - Natural Brilliance
Updated: Jun 27, 2021
Mention the name Etymotic and more then likely the first response you will get is something in regards to the fit and comfort. There are a lot of different shell styles available in the audiophile universe but Etymotic stands out from the pack and is either a love, hate or meh for you. For me the Etymotic fit isn't an issue and I rather enjoy the snug, deep insertion into the ear canal. But for some, Etymotic can be uncomfortable or even painful. So with all that said, how about a review of the Etymotic ER2SE?
Disclaimer: I purchased the Etymotic ER2SE with my own funds brand new off eBay. I haven't been influenced, paid or sponsored by anyone to do this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 16 kHz
Transducers: High performance moving coil driver
Noise Isolation: 35-42 dB
Impedance: (@1kHz) 15 Ohms
Sensitivity: (@1 kHz) SPL at 0.1v 96 dB
Maximum Output: (SPL) 120 dB
The unboxing experience of the Etymotic ER2SE is simple and basic. There really isn't much at all to discuss. You get the IEM, cable, cable clip, carry pouch, silicone tips, foam tips, cleaning tool and replacement filters. All the accessories, except for the cable come inside a small clear bag that is inside the carry pouch. Seriously, Etymotic could have used a box half the size and everything would have still fit with room to spare. Etymotic managed to fit everything in a tidy, protected way that ensured the customer received the ER2SE without any damage.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Er2SE fit and comfort is a sticking point for a lot of potential customers, which is totally understandable. The build of the ER2SE is identical to the ER2XR other than the model number listed on the side of the shell. The small canister shaped shell is made of anodized metal that feels smooth and light in the hand. They are super small at the nozzle so the majority of 3rd party tips will not fit. I find that the silicon triple flange tips worked best for me for comfort; the foam tips were just a bit too large and I had unwanted pressure inside the ear canal; the foam was expanding and pushing against the inside of my ear canal. Length of listening sessions was easily several hours at a time; I could wear them for an 8 hour work day with no problems. But of course, your experience may be different as we all have different shaped ears. The cable is connected via MMCX and is of okay quality. The cable is light but has issues with tangling and twisting along with a bit of noise while moving when in use. The cable noise isn't the worst I have heard but it can be a bit distracting especially at lower listening volumes. The noise isolation is crazy good on the ER2SE; it is like you are in your own little quiet space. When the ER2SE are in your ears with a proper fit and seal, everything around disappears and you are left with the music and your thoughts. If you are someone who can't stand to hear yourself think then you might want to steer clear of the Etymotic ER2SE. Overall, I find that the build is fantastic, the cable is adequate but frustrating with the slight noise issue and the noise isolation is top notch.
Sound: Overall slight but pleasing warmth, controlled, detailed, airy but intimate sound.
Bass: Somewhat linear, detailed, lacking impact The Etymotic ER2SE isn't going to wow you with the bass impact but it will impress with the quality of detail and resolution. The bass is somewhat linear but does roll off slightly in the sub-bass region but it doesn't lose details. The impact can be on the light side at times and I find myself wishing for just a touch more. But the most impressive part of the bass is the details and resolution that the driver produces; there is refinement and accuracy. I find it very easy to locate and place details and I can determine what instrument it is. The speed and control of the driver is on full display as there is all the attack and decay whizzing around to keep the music energetic and natural sounding without any hiccups.
Mids: Forward, slightly warm, light, airy, natural, lacking a bit of density
The Etymotic ER2SE mids are forward just enough so they are front and center of the show but not enough to be aggressive or annoying. The mids have a natural warmth about them that keeps them sounding realistic and life like. There are details all around and plenty of air, isolation and separation of instruments and vocals; everything just sounds accurate. The only complaint I have, and it is a small complaint, is that the instruments and vocals have a thinness and lack just a smidge of density. I do wish at times that there was a bit more weight and body to the mids.
Treble: Controlled, smooth, detailed, energetic, bright
The Etymotic ER2SE treble is fantastic and a favorite of mine. But do keep in mind that I am a bit of a treble lover; I am a sucker for clean, crisp, energetic, detailed and bright treble that is well controlled. The treble of the ER2SE is bright, crisp, energetic and controlled. There is not a hint of harshness or aggression in the treble unless it is in the recording; the treble is very revealing. Another aspect that impresses is the non-fatiguing nature of the treble even though it is on the bright side. I have not one complaint about the treble, it is that good!
Soundstage: Nearby width and depth, revealing imaging, impeccable layering
The Etymotic ER2SE soundstage is not the widest or deepest. The only way I can explain the soundstage is that it is like you are aware of things nearby but you know you have a second or two before they arrive. They aren't intimate, but they aren't average either, but somewhere between. I actually quite like the space of the stage as it gives off a natural feel but more then likely will be too close for a lot of listeners who enjoy expansive stages. The imaging is revealing and blows my mind at how I can track and place everything on the stage. The layering of the ER2SE is impeccable making it easy to place sounds in front, behind and around on the stage. The ER2SE makes it very easy to diagnose a stage.
Tone/Timbre: Natural, accurate
The Etymotic ER2SE has some of the best tone and timbre I have heard in an IEM. Everything sounds natural and realistic. They make it extremely easy to determine the instrument and then to follow it through the song. The only complaint is that I wish that there was just a smidge more of weight and density, but that is a minor complaint.
NextDrive Spectra X: With a slight kiss of musicality, the Spectra X is my favorite usb-c dongle pairing with the ER2SE. It is an enjoyable, detailed journey of naturalism.
xDuoo Link: A brittle, chilly ride of details in nature. The Link is another pairing that I enjoy but it is borderline too analytical for my preference as it loses that natural aura.
MyTek Liberty: A near perfect reproduction of natural soundscape. This is my favorite desktop pairing and is so close to life like that at times it feels like I am there with the artist. I wish that the Mytek Liberty was portable.
Sony NW-A105 Walkman: My favorite DAP I own and it pairs splendidly with the ER2SE, it is like they were built for each other, There is a warm, natural aura about the music as it flows into your ears; doesn't matter if it is a FLAC or DSD file off the SD card or streaming Tidal. If you have the NW-A105 you should highly consider getting the ER2SE for what I think is one of the best pairings that I have ever heard for a DAP and IEM. This pairing is my solution to missing the Mytek Liberty when away from my desk.
The most obvious of choices for comparison is the sibling ER2XR. The first difference you will notice between the two is the weight and density of instruments and vocals. The second difference is the emphasized bass that doesn't lose the details and resolution. The Third difference is a small shrinkage of the soundstage width but the depth, layering and imaging remains. Overall, the ER2XR is more fun and pleasing and the ER2SE is more analytical.
Obviously the biggest difference is the build and design as the Moondrop SSR is an over-ear IEM that is shaped like a small heart. Please note that I did change the stock tips out for RHA Dual Density tips on the SSR: https://www.rha-audio.com/us/headphones/accessories/ear-tips/dual-density?c=838
There are several differences that standout between the SSR and ER2SE. The mids on the SSR are pushed way more forward and can be too much for some. The upper mids region of the SSR has more harshness tendencies and they will travel into sibilance trouble on random occasions. The treble is slightly more elevated as well which adds a nice touch of extension and air. The soundstage is wider and deeper on the SSR but the imaging and layering is more refined on the ER2SE. Detail retrieval and resolution is better on the ER2SE even though the SSR holds its own, especially at its budget price. Overall the ER2SE is more detailed, controlled and refined and I find it to be more pleasing to listen to for longer listening sessions.
The Moondrop Aria is a newly released IEM that is of the over-ear shell design. Just like the sibling SSR the Aria has a lot of differences when comparing to the ER2SE. First and foremost is the significant bass boost that gives the Aria a huge advantage in the slam and impact category. But the ER2SE is more defined and controlled in the bass as the Aria tends to sound a bit more loose and boomy. The other major difference is that the Aria has a lot more treble and is a lot brighter than the ER2SE, with it comes some harshness and aggression. The soundstage of the Aria is wider but not as deep and doesn't have the pin point imaging and layering of the ER2SE. The Moondrop Aria is a fun and engaging IEM but lacks the refinement of the Etymotic ER2SE.
Tin Hifi T3:
The Tin Hifi T3 has been around for awhile but still remains as one of my all-time favorite IEM. The Tin Hifi T3 is one of the closer sound signature comparisons to the Etymotic ER2SE. Please note that I did change the stock tips out for RHA Dual Density tips on the T3: https://www.rha-audio.com/us/headphones/accessories/ear-tips/dual-density?c=838.
There are a few small differences but the similarities are plentiful. First the T3 has a slight boost in the bass that gives a little more impact. The mids are slightly recessed in comparison to the ER2SE that is mostly noticeable in the vocals as instruments will be a tad more accentuated. There are a couple of peaks between 7k-12k that brings in a bit of aggression and forwardness on the T3. The upper treble is rolled off slightly on the T3 and that removes just a smidge of air in the presentation. The stage is wider and deeper on the T3, with the imaging and layering very similar, but presented in a brighter tone. Tone is similar between the two but timbre is slightly metallic on the T3.
Overall I find the Etymotic ER2SE to be a complete package and well worth the money. I have a hard time choosing between the ER2SE and the ER2XR. Depending on the mood and task at hand. I will grab for the ER2SE when I need to be a bit more critical or when I just want a tad more stage. I will grab for the ER2XR when I want to relax and get a bit more bass and density. If I had to say which one is the more technical; I'd have to go with the ER2SE. If I had to say which one is the more musical; I'd have to go with the ER2XR but if I accidentally said the ER2SE I wouldn't correct the error. Honestly, they both are great and I more and more lean toward the ER2SE as my preference.
YouTube reviews: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs
DBS Tech Talk research and review process: https://youtu.be/UkSnoZZNyYc
Audio Terms and Definitions: https://www.stereophile.com/reference/50/index.html
Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean
Hifiman Ananda: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/290
Sennheiser HD660s: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/hd-660-s
MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version) https://danclarkaudio.com/
Meze Rai Penta: https://mezeaudio.com/collections/all/products/rai-penta
Meze Rai Solo: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-solo
Moondrop SSR: https://www.moondroplab.com/ssr
Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 788: https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=24459
Mytek Liberty: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/
Soekris DAC1421: https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line/dac-1421
Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#
Massdrop THX AAA 789:
Grace Design SDAC-B: https://drop.com/buy/drop-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S
Geshelli Labs Enog 2 Pro: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/enog2-pro-dac-metal-case
Geshelli Labs J2: https://geshelli.com/jnog
Geshelli Labs Erish: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/erish-balanced
https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/5bbf80ce-33f3-4222-a1fc-6539a95415d6 (in order of playlist)
Tingvall Trio “Beat” - piano tonality
Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - multiple layer soundstage
Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - female vocal tone
Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - male vocal tone
Eric Clapton “Change the World” - soundstage, layering and placement
Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - acoustic instrument timbre
Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - acoustic instrument timbre
Pain of Salvation “Stress” - percussion balance
Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - orchestral dynamics
Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - sibilance check
Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - shouty upper mids
Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - imaging
Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - sub bass extension
Marcus Miller “No Limit” - bass control
Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- bass check
Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- orchestra and bass dynamics
Hans Zimmer :2049” - sub bass extension
Cher: Believe - sibilance
Stanley Clarke - Passenger 57 main title - percussion, bass, seperation and placement
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - The Pine of the Appian Way - soundstage, imaging and seperation
Houston Person - You are my Sunshine - tone and timbre
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