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Customer Review

100 of 113 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Acoustic Sound Reproduction, Lackluster for Popular Music, October 29, 2011
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This review is from: Etymotic Research MC5 Noise Isolating In-Ear Earphones (Red) (Discontinued by Manufacturer) (Electronics)
I should start off by saying I'm a musician in a professional orchestra. Having studied and performed the repertoire for much of my life, I have a good idea of what an orchestra/chamber group sounds like in a good acoustical space. Because performing orchestral repertoire is my job, I often listen to popular music on earbuds, so I need an IEM that can both accurately reproduce an orchestral/acoustic sound and also deliver the punch and excitement of dance/rock music. I ultimately returned these, but they are not without merit.

Acoustic sound reproduction is fantastic. Listening to the recap of Mahler 3 1st mvt, I can accurately hear the warmth, body and burn of 9 Horns at fortissimo and then the woody buzz of the winds as the music fades. The ultimate test I normally put buds through is the opening and conclusion to Mahler's 8th (Symphony of 1000) to hear if it can deliver a sense of spatial awareness and reproduce all frequencies at maximum volume (organ, large orchestra, large choir), and these sound phenomenal. The timbres are accurate, the lows are warm and present, the highs are clear. Listening to Donizetti's Dirti Addio for horn, voice and piano, I can actually hear the performers moving and breathing as they prepare to sing and play. In short, these reproduce recorded sound extremely well, especially for the price.

Popular Music performance: quite flaccid, especially in the bass. I wasn't expecting these to sound like Beats by Dr. Dre, but they make my favorite popular music (Bodyrock remixes, RHCP, Radiohead, Cake, Midlake, Kayne, etc) sound really lackluster. Clarity, yes. Excitement, definitely not, which kind of sucks because that's a large part of what I enjoy about popular music.

For me another problem with these is the eartips. You shouldn't have to stick a rather stiff triple flange halfway to your brain to get good sound isolation from an earbud. Neither of the foam tips or the small triple flange sealed well for me, but the large triple flange definitely did. When you get the right seal, you can hear almost nothing. 35 db of isolation is a lot. After wearing these for a few minutes, I had an indent inside my ear's tragus (the triangular cartilage up from your earlobe) from the flange. Really uncomfortable. I now have a pair of Monster Turbines, which achieve great sound isolation with a simple round rubber tip. If the Etymotics had Monster's tips and slightly better popular music performance, I would have been thrilled with them. Also, I had to have the volume on my iPod turned nearly all the way up, which I definitely shouldn't, given the level of sound isolation.

In the end, amazing acoustic sound reproduction is not worth extremely uncomfortable eartips and lackluster popular music performance for me.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 2, 2012 7:36:39 AM PST
Singlemalt says:
"You shouldn't have to stick a rather stiff triple flange halfway to your brain to get good sound isolation from an earbud." Love that comment! I bought these for my girlfriend last year and she made a similar comment, though much less poetically.

Posted on Aug 8, 2012 7:07:25 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 25, 2015 3:44:45 AM PDT
Androgeos says:
IMHO the only thing this reviewer got right about these headphones is that they're unbelievably accurate. The rest, I disagree with.

The problem here is that you blame these IEMs for your lack of enjoyment of popular music while you should blame the music itself. Your lack of enjoyment is not a fault of the headphones, which do their job admirably: to portray what is being fed to them. (in this case, probably overcompressed garbage). Do a search for "loudness wars" to understand what I'm talking about.

Your review seems to imply that it's the task a a pair of IEMs to provide the "taste" in the music you listen to: I argue it's not. Good IEMs, like these, must do one thing right: let the the music go through without adding unwanted colour.

These Etymotic are so accurate that well recorded music will shine, and badly recorded music will sound like what it is. Garbage in, garbage out they say. The reason why you enjoy acoustic music and classical more through these is because usually much more care is taken in mastering classical music, jazz, acoustic, folk compared to rock/pop. This is because of the different target for these genres. A teenager listening to hip-hop and similar stuff through iphones etc won't pay attention to brickwalling and compression as much as somebody listening to classical cds on a hifi.

Those of us who like accurate reproduction of music through a hifi and would not want added colour will enjoy these Etymotics. The bass is absolutely *brilliant*. I'm listening now to Eberhard Weber and I've rarely heard bass as clean and tight as this from an IEM (and I've owned several, even 4X the price of these). Jazz bass sounds tight, punchy and textured. Well recorded Rock (Mobile Fidelity, Japanese SHM-CDs, DCC, etc) sounds *amazing* through these.

As for the eartips, your comments are unfair: there are several after-market alternatives which will fit these without going as deep as the triflanges (which I find extremely comfortable). And the isolation provided by the Monster turbines is not nearly as good as what these provide.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2012 7:35:58 AM PDT
Rauch386 says:
I guess everyone's entitled to their opinion about a pair of earphones. If you want a really accurate pair that produces hardly any bass and is uncomfortable, more power to you; I just don't think that's what people are looking for, and it's why I returned mine. I really wanted to like them, but I remain unconvinced these earphones are either comfortable or appropriate for any kind of music other than that which has been acoustically recorded. Read the reviews, I'm not alone in saying this. Listen to any high end audio system, and any type of rock/popular music sounds balanced. It may sound compressed or unclear, but that's a different issue. My experience has been that on big-ticket, high quality components, you can hear the actual recorded sound much more clearly, but it still sounds balanced. I would argue that these sound neutral, but not balanced at all; the shape of the sound profile is more like inverted pyramid than a sort of rectangle.

Specifically regarding the eartip: it's not the tip that's the problem (which could be addressed with aftermarket alternatives), it's the actual device, which has a thin, protruding tube which the tip fits around. You literally have to stick this thing all the way into your ear canal. I still think it's a terrible design.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2012 8:12:26 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 8, 2012 8:17:22 AM PDT
Androgeos says:
"Listen to any high end audio system, and any type of rock/popular music sounds balanced"

I'm afraid that's not true. As soon as you start going up the hi-fi chain you start becoming painfully aware of how poorly mastered and overall bad sounding actually most pop/rock cds are. Most decent middle-fi systems will reveal immediately shortcomings in the recording/mastering process.

As for the bass. I repeat, my MC5 sample produces all the bass I would ever want, nothing more, nothing less. Are you sure you didn't get a problematic/broken/fake sample? Are you sure you obtained a perfect seal? Also there's a possibility that differences in middle-ear conformation could play a role in the enjoyment of these.

"Read the reviews, I'm not alone in saying this."

Are you suggesting we should all stop trusting our own judgement and evaluate headphones by reading "the reviews"?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2012 8:26:16 AM PDT
Rauch386 says:
Unless Amazon is sending fakes, then, no I'm sure mine were genuine. I definitely had a proper seal. I realize that any idiot can go online and write a review of something, but reading a large number of reviews can be helpful in identifying a consensus on a certain product. These aren't very expensive, so if someone is dying to know if these are good or not, they can just buy a pair and judge for themselves. My opinion of them remains unchanged, and I don't recommend them.

Posted on Sep 2, 2012 12:02:35 PM PDT
Sean Snyder says:
I agree with all your observations. I've honestly never heard "life" in classical instruments through headphones before, until I listened to these. However, popular music sounds really flat. As for the ear tips, the large triple-flange ones worked best for me (along with the large foam ones). You're right, though, they actually begin to hurt after a while. My solutions were-use my EQ to pump up the highs and lows for popular music (it now all sounds great), and spend the extra money for the ACS custom ear molds (the info should've been included); they are one of the best investments I've ever made. I'm a full-time student, and have to study in public spaces most of the time. I can spend hours with the custom tips in my ear and hear nothing but my music, and they're so comfortable I barely even notice they're in.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2012 6:28:04 PM PDT
Rauch386 says:
Yeah, the custom ear molds would make a big difference in terms of comfort. Would be worth a shot.

Posted on Dec 19, 2013 2:31:41 PM PST
Manuel says:
Reviewer forgot to mention that the Monster Turbines cost 3-4 times as much as the Etymotic mc5. Might that be an unfair comparison?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2013 2:58:39 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 19, 2013 3:00:04 PM PST
Rauch386 says:
Right now on Amazon Monster Turbines are $99, the Etymotics are $59. I bought a pair of Turbine refurbs last December for $53, and the new price on them has been in the $70 range within the last 6 months. So, in response, the Turbines are currently more expensive, but not even 2x.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 19, 2014 5:01:29 PM PDT
How DARE you sir?
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