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Etymotic ER3 XR Earphone Review

by David Lloyd - September 3, 2018, 7:03 am PDT
Total comments: 3

A non-audiophiles take on professional grade earphones that you wouldn’t associate with video games.

It’s been 18 months since the release of the Switch, and something I never would have anticipated prior to the Switch’s release is my preference to play in handheld mode. With its big beautiful screen and the freedom to play wherever I please, I’ve found that I just spend most of time with the Switch in my hands. Playing in handheld mode isn’t without its downsides, however, with the most egregious being a subpar audio experience. To say I’m frugal is an understatement. Up until recently, my audio solution on Switch has been to use the earbuds that came with my iPhone, and it’s safe to say they do not do justice to the hardworking composers and audio engineers that create fantastic soundtracks.

In my assessment of what it would cost to get a good set of earphones, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on a decent pair. But that never prevented my curiosity from wondering if I was missing out on a worthwhile experience. Thanks to the folks over at Etymotic, I no longer have to wonder if I’ve been depriving myself of audio bliss. After having used their ER3 XR earphones for the past couple months, I now have a baseline threshold of audio quality that can no longer be satiated by budget earbuds.

I won’t pretend to understand all of the science behind the technology. Looking at the stat sheet that came with my review copy of the ER3 XR earphones, I have no idea what any of these numbers really mean. 102 dB SPL sensitivity at 1 kHz at 0.1 mV just sounds like the teacher from Peanuts to me, so I’m going to leave all the tech jargon til the very end. What I’ve never experienced before is listening to the Mitsuda composed masterpiece, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 soundtrack, with a pair of earphones that makes it seem like a little orchestra is sitting in my ear.

What stood out to me was the clarity. I felt like I could hear each individual instrument and still enjoy hearing an Ardainian soldier shout “Don’t forget me.” The audio seems to come into my ear differently than from any earphone I’ve used before. It has a more natural sound to it, like the sound is in the room with me. The most impressive experience came while playing Fallout 4 on Playstation 4. Having been so impressed with my new earphones I connected them to my PS4 controller and immediately felt like I was standing in the ruins of Massachusetts. The clarity of the sounds around me was astounding: the rattling of my gear, the gurgling of the nearby enemies, and most impressively the wind gusting in my ear.

What I take away from my experience with the Etymotic ER3 XR earphones is that having inferior audio really detracts from the overall experience. The Switch screen may provide an excellent on-the-go experience, but by using cheap earphones I was missing out on a whole other pleasure. For those that invest in mid-to-high end earphones, before you drop a few hundred dollars on the latest Beats by Dre, it might be worth taking a looking at Etymotic’s ER3 XR earphones.

Review copy of ER3 XR earphones provided by Etymotic

Tech Specs of the ER3 XR Earphones

  • Achieves highest output sensitivity in its class with 102 dB SPL sensitivity at 1 kHz at 0.1 mV
  • High performance, precision matched, balanced armature drivers
  • 35 dB - 42 dB noise isolation
  • Documented highest noise isolation of any earphones or headphones on the market today
  • Precision machined metal bodies with anodized finish
  • Assortment of noise-isolation eartips ensures proper seal and comfort
  • CUSTOM•FIT option available
  • Detachable, 4ft. cable allows for easy replacement


NintendoDadSeptember 03, 2018

What is the price? When I googled the name what I found was $180. Too much for me, if that’s what these are.

As someone who is also extremely frugal about my PC accessories (I've been using the same basic scroll wheel mouse for about 4 years now...)... I have to admit this gets me wondering what it is I'm missing.

I believe the $180 cost is accurate. I wouldn’t have paid that much for earphones either... but they are really good. Quality earphones are one of those luxuries where now that I’ve experienced the difference in sound it’s really noticeable. Since it’s more than half the cost of the Switch, I can totally get the reservations.

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