Rants, rambles, news and notes from another geek

Researching New Headphones

I love my iPod Shuffle. I’ve always got it with me. I use it in the car (I’ve been told this is illegal, but I’m not sure about WA), at work, doing yardwork, doing housework, etc. I love it.

But I’m not so in love with the iPod Earbuds that ship with it. Most people apparently aren’t all that impressed with them. So I started doing some research on replacements. I love my Bose Quiet Comfort noise cancellation ‘phones, but they are a little less portable than earbud and in-ear headsets.

Over at HeadRoom I found a nice little tool called Build-A-Graph that shows side-by-side comparisons of different models. But before building graphs, I did some digging on a couple of online forums and spent a few minutes looking at the HeadRoom In-Ear Canal Product Listings page. From that&nbsp_place_holder;research, I picked four models that I wanted to compare: Etymotic ER-6 (MSRP $149), Etymotic ER-4P ($330), Shure E2C (MSRP $119), and Sure E3C (MSRP $179).

Frequency Response

In order to have a baseline to compare to, let’s start by looking at the Frequency Response Graph for the Apple iPod Earbuds:

&nbsp_place_holder;Frequency Reponse Graph: Apple iPod Earbuds

OK. Now I can see why the Apple iPod Earbuds sound so bad. There is no bass! And that curve is far from the kind of flat curve I’d like to see.

By comparison, here is the Frequency Response Graph of the four I’m considering:

Frequency Response Graph: Etymotic ER-6, Etymotic ER-4P, Shure E2C, Shure E3C

Up through the midrange, these four models are all pretty darn good. The Shure E2Cs are a bit high on the low end, but as a bass lover, I may like that. They all get some interesting peaks and valleys up in the high end, but that wasn’t all that unexpected. To my (untrained) eye, the Etymotic ER-6 looks the best, but for the price the Shure E2C ain’t all that bad.


The other thing that is important to me (as you can tell by the fact that I own the Bose Quiet Comfort) is how well the isolate me from the noises around me. I don’t travel as much as I used to, but there are always noises and such that get in the way. Turning up the volume is only an option to a point, as either your hearing will suffer or the amplifier in your device will start to show its lack of power. (Yes, I know all about headphone amps, but that is yet another thing to carry in my pocket–no thanks.)

Here is the Isolation Graph for the same four models:

Isolation Graph: Etymotic ER-6, Etymotic ER-4P, Shure E2C, Shure E3C

The Shure E2C isn’t shining all that well in this category, but it is certainly better than the graph for the Apple iPod Earbuds. Again, to my neophyte eye the Etymotics look better than the Shure, with the ER4-P slightly outshining the ER-6.

All in all, I’m leaning toward Etymotics. The Shure E2C looks pretty good for the price, but the ER-6 only list a few bucks more and it looks like they sound so much better. So it looks like it will come down to this question: Do I want to spend $300 for the ER-4P or do I want to spend $100 for the ER-6?

(If anyone has any experience reports&nbsp_place_holder;or recommendations, I’d love to hear them. Please post in comments so everyone else can share too. Thanks.)

UPDATE: I just found this article on ecoustics.com that explains Frequency Response Graphs, specifically what matters and what doesn’t on the graphs.