ety8 In-the-Ear Bluetooth Earphones
Price: $299 with iPod Adapter, or $199 earphones only
Late-model iPods are the only ones that can use ER’s 8-Mate Adapter for iPod, so don’t bother trying with your 3G iPod. I did, and flunked. 4G or later, plus all nanos and minis are supported. You can learn about this and everything else relating to ety8 from the links on its informative web site.
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What you really need to know about these new Bluetooth wireless premium in-ear ‘phones:
• AUDIO QUALITY = very good (not excellent — see below)
• SOUND VOLUME = loud and robust (be careful, please)
• BLUETOOTH CONNECTIVITY = almost immediate
• BATTERY CHARGING VIA USB = effortless
• SIZE AND WEIGHT = tiny and lightweight
• IN-EAR COMFORT = good, after break in period
• EASE OF WORKING CONTROLS WHILE IN-EARS = acceptable
• VARIETY OF SIZES OF EAR TIPS PROVIDED = extensive
• QUALITY OF CONSTRUCTION = very good
• APPEARANCE AND STYLING = peculiar but distinctive
• NEED TO BUY IPOD BLUETOOTH ADAPTER = good idea
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I had two concerns before auditioning ety8 in-ear ‘phones from Etymotic Research (E.R). First was that their triple-flange noise-isolating ear tips would be uncomfortable in my precious ear canals. The new design and material used is softer and easier to insert than with the company’s previous products, and the new two-flange tips are just right for this listener/reviewer. Second was Bluetooth (BT) is more hype than performance. I was somewhat correct on this matter. Keep reading.
ER’s products are consistently first-rate. MyMac.com considers ER4-P Micro to be a qualitative standard for $300 in-ear wired ‘phones. See our review here. When the company claims ety8 has “close to ER4-P response,” they are correct. In my A/B comparisons, ER4-P are always excellent across the frequency spectrum. Ety8 have more emphasis in the mid-to-high frequency range than their wired cousins, but audio response is enjoyable, without any obvious bumps in the road. Bass is not booming, but the melody-rich middle zone has plenty of punch. On listener-value-per-dollar alone, $200 US for these wireless in-ear phones is a fair price. Sound isolation is good, but there is a little white noise at all times (not a deal breaker).
You’ll need the most recent Bluetooth technology in your computer, cell phone, or other device for proper connectivity to ety8. BT standards are an evolving terrain, and I am not an expert on this subject. My G4 PowerBook does not pair properly with ety8. Is this a software or hardware glitch? Inexpensive USB/BT dongles are available, and Koss Cobalt’s BT accessories, for example, do the job perfectly. Stop! Etymotic Research tells MyMac.com: “ety8s will not work with the current Mac OS. They will work well with Leopard. We have verified this on prerelease software.” That explains a lot.
Late-model iPods are the only ones that can use ER’s 8-Mate Adapter for iPod, so don’t bother trying with your 3G iPod. I did, and flunked. 4G or later, plus all nanos and minis are supported. You can learn about this and everything else relating to ety8 from the links on its informative web site. MyMac.com suggests you spend the extra $100 for this easy to use iPod adapter, because it has a magical feature. Company representative explains: “The dongle has a unique capability. Not only does the adapter not ‘take over’ the functions of the iPod, like docking stations and other peripherals, the feature allows the user to view adjustments on the iPod display. No other external devices can do that.” For that trick alone, 8-Mate’s price is justified. Using the adapter may cause slight battery drain on your iPod, but this is understandable.
Accessories are numerous, but I don’t like the included leather case. Its shape and construction are not ideal for containing or carrying ety8. This is a minor gripe, but a genuine one. I was told by the company that “We are working on one to offer as an accessory,” so the case remains open on this grumble.
Wireless earphones are miraculous, but Bluetooth range is limited. Forget about 30 feet (10 meters) in real-life interior situations. Up to 15 feet is dandy, but over 20 feet is not. This problem is not unique to ER, because we’ve experienced it using the aforementioned Cobalt and other BT devices.
Speaking of Cobalt from Koss, in our recent review we praised as them the best Bluetooth wireless earphones we’ve tested for audio quality. I’m afraid we have to put that claim to rest. Ety8 sound better, except for the bass range, so let’s issue a revised sonic bulletin: Cobalt from Koss are the best over-ear padded BT ‘phones we’ve tested, and ety8 from Etymotic Research are the best in-ear sound isolating ‘phones, and are superior overall for your BT listening experience.
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Bonus: Pairing with BT-enabled stereo/music phones with A2DP and AVRCP protocols is an added feature of ety8. Let’s take a brief detour to examine this attribute.
Etymotic Research provided a Sony Ericsson Walkman cellular telephone so we could test ety8’s Bluetooth pairing and playback capabilities. After a false start (I accidentally switched the phone’s language to Arabic), Dave from ER walked me through every step for wireless transmission of impressive audio fidelity from phone to ‘phones. Music sounds just as good as from other BT sources. I’ll bet you 99 cents ER is poised to have ety8 perform cleanly and clearly with Apple’s iPhone when that gem appears for real in several weeks.
I was clueless about A2DP and AVRCP technologies and protocols, and Dave explained them briefly. You can learn more by doing web or Wikipedia.com searches for those terms. My hunch is we’ll be hearing a lot about one or both, as more cellphones containing them arrive in the United States. Dave says they are already big sellers overseas. I wondered why my Motorola RAZR cellphone worked with Cobalt from Koss but not with ety8 from Etymotic Research, and if there were other differences I was too ignorant to ask about.
Dave from Etymotic Research clarifies, via email to MyMac.com:
“A2DP and AVRCP are actually not constrained simply to BT-enabled phones. A2DP is required for a device to stream audio to the ety8s (and other high quality stereo Bluetooth devices). This is used by the 8-Mate Adapter as well as many other Bluetooth devices. Without A2DP on the device, it won’t be able to actually stream music to ety8. My guess is that the Koss headphones work with your non-A2DP RAZR because they default down to the standard monaural microphone headset profile (not a bad thing if you have a microphone on the headphones and no A2DP device).”
MyMac.com confirms that ety8 picks up audio perfectly when the cellphone source is itself a high-quality music/Bluetooth combo. Beyond that is beyond the scope of this review. If you want to enhance our knowledge base, please post your informed comments in our Article Discussion area below this review.
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Ety8 “look weird,” as I heard people mutter during demos at Macworld 2007 Expo last January. But they “sound pretty darn good,” according to the same unofficial testers. MyMac.com agrees, and is not going to penalize ER for their taste in design, because ety8’s engineering, performance, and innovation are impressive. Lightweight ety8 were dangling from my neck for five minutes last night before I realized where they were, because I was rummaging through a bag where I thought I had placed them.
I usually don’t read other reviews before evaluating a product such as ety8, and there are many of them linked from Etymotic Research’s site and from a Google search for “ety8 review” (quotation marks not needed). MyMac.com is comfortable awarding these in-ear ‘phones our recommendation, because their strengths strongly outweigh their deficiencies. Ety8 is a new category of audio technology, and we applaud the company for developing these earphones.