A Lesson in Clarity – Etymotic ER3SE vs ER3XR Review and Comparison

Best Earphones Buy Etymotic ER3SE and Etymotic ER3XR Earphones

Since the early 1980s, Etymotic Research has been developing earphones for audiology auditory brain stem response testing. Since then and evermore, their goals have always had a relationship with truth and precision. Their newest earphones are no exception. But this time, in addition to creating a product that can reproduce utmost detail, Etymotic also aimed to make them affordable. But can a $179 earphone stand up beside Etymotic’s other models? Today I’ll find out with the Etymotic ER3SE and ER3XR review and comparison.

A Lesson in Clarity – Etymotic ER3SE vs ER3XR Review and Comparison

In the Box

Both the Etymotic ER3SE and the ER3XR earphones come with identical accessories and are packaged in the same way. They include:

-the earphones (obviously)

-detachable cable

-detachable shirt clip

-2 pairs of 3-flange eartips (standard and large size)

-1 pair of foam eartips

-filter removal tool and extra filters

-zipped storage case


Buy Etymotic ER3SE and Etymotic ER3XR Earphones


In addition to including the same accessories, the earphones also look exactly the same (other than their model numbers along the driver housing). They are small and lightweight. They are also made of metal and have Etymotic’s legacy behind them which means they are durable and long-lasting. And just like Etymotic’s other earphone designs, they are meant to sit deep inside the ear canal. I personally find this sort of fit rather uncomfortable, so know that I’m biased here, but all things considered, they fit well and stay in place.

Etymotic ER3SE and Etymotic ER3XR Earphones Buy


The Etymotic ER3SE and ER3XR earphones have the strongest passive noise reduction of any earphone reported on the market. They reduce noise by 35-42 dB. This effect is dependent on the fit of the eartips in the ear canal.

Additionally, the Etymotic ER3SE and the ER3XR come with filters to prevent earwax from getting into the balanced armature driver. Good lookin’ out, Etymotic 😉 Additional filters and the removal tool are included in the box.

Etymotic ER3SE and Etymotic ER3XR Earphones Filters Buy


Both earphones have matched drivers, so the result is a super phase-accurate response. As a result, there is no instance of cloudiness audible at all.

When I first began listening, first to the Etymotic ER3SE, I had the feeling that I was looking to my music through a microscope. I was listening to Amos Lee’s “Spirit” album. The record involves a lot of piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin, organ, drums, and the intimate and soulful vocals of Mr. Lee. The earphones performed beautifully with this arrangement of instruments. And while thickness in the low frequencies were not emphasized at all, I new ahead of time that this wasn’t necessarily the point of these earphones. Rather, these earphones have fast transients. They are clear and reveal the majority of their detail in the midrange, particularly the high mids. The ER3SE earphones are more for analytical listening in that range and they perform the function exceptionally well.

Next, I listened to the Etymotic ER3XR. I knew ahead of time that they should have an extended bass response and I was actually surprised because the level of bass was subtler than I expected (and secretly hoping for). I was also surprised because the high mids seemed to be a little softer. Not soft level-wise, but just less in-your-face if that makes sense. The high frequencies seemed to be a little bit more accentuated too. Moving the earphones around in my ear canal, I noticed my perception changed quite a bit, so perhaps the change in fit between the two affected what I heard.

But for the most part, my overall feeling switching to the ER3XR was that despite the light boost around 100-200Hz, these definitely won’t appease folks who like a lot of low end energy in their tunes. Hip-hop, pop, and EDM fall flat. They don’t add enough bass to make low frequencies have impact but their ever-so-slightly softer midrange makes me enjoy the jump in clarity of the ER3SE.

Etymotic ER3SE and Etymotic ER3XR Earphones Best Earphones


Both the Etymotic ER3SE and the Etymotic ER3XR are highly detailed, particularly in the mid range. Folks looking for a good pair of earphones for their acoustic music will find a good match with these earphones, so long as they don’t need much bass. And while the ER3XR does have a slightly bigger bass response, I like the ER3SE better because the midrange feels a tad more intimate to me.

Both the Etymotic ER3SE and the Etymotic ER3XR are available for the best price here:

ER3SE at Audio 46

ER3SE on Amazon

ER3XR at Audio 46

ER3XR on Amazon

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Etymotic ER3SE and Etymotic ER3XR Earphones Best In-Ear Headphones


For both the Etymotic ER3SE and the Etymotic ER3XR

Frequency Response 20 Hz – 16 kHz
Transducers High performance, balanced armature micro-drivers
Noise Isolation 35-42 dB
Impedance (@1kHz) 22 Ohms
Sensitivity (@1 kHz) SPL at 0.1v 102 dB
Maximum Output (SPL) 120 dB
Cable Detachable, 4 ft
Warranty 2 Years
Custom-Fit Option Yes

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Steph is a musician, recordist, mixer, and producer. In addition to longform written reviews, he also handles the MajorHiFi Youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/majorhifi Contact: steph@majorhifi.com