Etymotic Research ER3SE Studio Edition Earphones Review

Written by Pete Anthony 
Last updated on:

Specs at a glance:

  • price point: ~$200
  • driver type: single armature
  • weight: ~0.5 oz
  • response range: 20 – 16k Hz
  • impedance: 22 Ohms
  • sensitivity: 102 dB/MW
  • wireless: no
  • warranty: 2 years

out of the box

I first got the ER3SEs several months ago and have no idea where the box and packaging went (I forgot to take photos initially), but I know they come in a nice box with sufficient protection (a picture from their website).

Included with the headphones:

  • one set of larger replacement tips
  • one shirt clip
  • one soft carrying case with an inner mesh pouch
  • one pair of replacement dampening pieces for the nozzles, and a tool to remove or place them
headphone front and back

Fit and comfort:

The ER3SE is primarily designed for isolation and blocking as much outside noise as possible, and part of how that is accomplished is with a deep fit into the ear canal. They even have instructions on how to properly insert their tips, which is generally important when it comes to hearing protection equipment functioning properly.

While the fit does feel super secure, it’s not the most comfortable – some people might find the depth of the tip and/or the pressure it exerts to be intolerably uncomfortable. I use these earphones a lot and I did find the fit a bit uncomfortable and odd feeling at first, but I did eventually get used to it.

wire and joint

Cable:

The cabling is pretty basic but feels nice and sturdy and not prone to tangling. No discernible microphonics either which is always a big plus, though probably a de facto requirement for studio grade headphones. The included cable is around 5 ft, which is a little short, but is detachable via standard mmxc connectors if you want to get a longer one or need to otherwise replace it. There’s no available mic or in-line controls available but those features don’t make sense for this kind of earphone anyhow.

3.5mm plug

The right-angled plug is nice and sturdy and connected to all my devices with no issues.

Sound And Performance

Before getting into performance specifics, it’s firstly important for context to explain what these earphones are exactly and what they’re designed for. The ER3SEs are professional grade earphones (hence the appending “studio edition” descriptor) that are designed for monitoring. Meaning, the goal is to reproduce a sound that is as accurate, detailed, and neutral as possible, and not necessarily that’s “nice.” These are meant to help people critically listen to, analyze, and work on tracks or systems. Add to that industry-leading isolation and noise reduction, and you’ve got the kind of earphone that a club dj or a sound engineer at a live concert wants to use.

General impression:

The ER3SE’s have the best neutral and detailed sound that I’ve ever heard from an in-ear headphone. You can really hear every single individual sound and instrument easily, and no part of the range is compromised at all. They’re pretty harsh and sharp though, likely in a way that most people won’t be used to.

Sound signature/response curve:

Bare bones neutral, with no kind of styling at all. The curve feels dead flat – like I said, you can really hear every little thing in a way that makes any individual instrument easy to focus on.

Any specific issues:

None really that I could discern, though I would have been surprised to notice anything from this brand at the ~200 dollar price-point.

Sound staging:

You don’t really start to see legitimate staging in headphones until you’re somewhat into the triple digit price range, but the staging of the ER3SEs is pretty incredible yet still for their price. I distinctly remember playing Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” when I first started listening to these – there’s a sound of an empty bottle tipping over and clanging on a hard floor during the guitar bridge, and I swear when I heard it, I actually glanced over my right shoulder because for a moment I actually thought a bottle had toppled over behind me. If you close your eyes while listening, you really can picture what feels like a drummer over here, a guitarist over there, etc. It’s quite easy to focus on individual instruments with how good the detail, separation, and overall staging is.

Bass:

Nothing noteworthy here because there’s no bias in these headphones. Bass might seem slightly de-emphasized due to how crisp and harsh the mids can be, but, you can hear the detail of the bass just as well.

Compared to monitors:

Well, at the time of this writing, the ER3SE actually is my decided reference/monitor set for in-ear headphones – A/B testing with these is how I discern the nuances of any earbud I review. So they’re pretty darn good, like, literally the best because if there are better monitoring in-ear headphones I haven’t found them.

Power/Volume:

Excellent, which begets a warning: BE CAREFUL WITH THESE! They can get up to 120 dB with the seal, which is as loud as standing next to a jackhammer with no hearing protection – that’s loud enough to potentially cause damage in under ten minutes. The ER3SE has a comparatively high sensitivity and low resistance rating, meaning they should work fine on pretty much any device and don’t require an amplifier.

Isolation:

Top notch, industry leading – Etymotic Research primarily makes professional grade hearing protection and audiology equipment, and has been a pioneer of hearing protection research and development for decades. The seal/isolation is good enough that you won’t be able to hear someone talking in front of you. Good isolation also promotes ear/hearing health because it prevents the otherwise natural urge to crank up the volume to drown out background noise.

Warranty:

Two years, which for the price is a little short in my opinion, but decent coverage nonetheless.

Overall Take, As Compared To The Competition

As fantastic as these earphones are, I generally would not recommend them for extended recreational listening. Firstly, some people will find the fit intolerably uncomfortable – you really have to get the tips fairly deep into the ear canal and you’ll definitely feel pressure with a seal. Secondly, the neutral response with no styling can make the sound feel very harsh and sharp.

But the ER3SEs aren’t designed for extended recreational listening – they’re monitors designed for critical listening in a professional capacity. That said, some recreational listeners might want to really be able to experience the full detail of their music, and the ER3SEs are most likely, at the time of this writing, the best way to do that if your medium of choice is an in-ear headphone.

The other major benefit of the ER3SEs is the industry leading noise isolation, which is good enough to all but eliminate the background noise of a car or airplane. Worth mentioning though is that you can also get this benefit from their MK5 earphones – they have the same design and isolation as the ER3SE’s but cost less than a third of the price. The MK5’s sound is also more aimed toward recreational listening. You can check out our full review of those here.

Get the ER3SE earphones on Amazon