Etymotic Research ETY-Kids 5 / 3 Review

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Reviewed Aug 2013

Details: Etymotic’s volume-limiting safe listening earphones
MSRP: $49 (manufacturer’s page); $79 for ETY-Kids 3 w/ mic & 3-button remote (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $39 from amazon.com for ETY-Kids 5; $59 for ETY-Kids 3
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 300Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-15k Hz | Cable: 4’ 45º-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock triple-flanges, Shure Olives
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Triple-flange silicone tips (2 sizes), Etymotic Glider tips, shirt clip, and zippered soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (4.5/5) –Though the ETY-Kids are lightweight and made of plastic, the cords are Kevlar-reinforced and well-relieved all around. The cabling is very flexible and doesn’t stick or tangle, making the entry-level Etys feel like a quality product
Isolation (4/5) – Typical of Ety earphones, isolation doesn’t get much better than this
Microphonics (4/5) – Quite low when worn cable-down, nonexistent with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4/5) –The slim housings don’t put pressure on the outer ear and the cable exit angle works well for over-the-ear wear. The included assortment of tips is on the smaller side but it should fit most listeners comfortably as long as they don’t mind the deeper fit of Etymotic earphones

Sound (7.6/10) – The ETY-Kids are the second dynamic-driver earphone from Etymotic Research and the company’s most budget-friendly set yet, marketed to parents as a child-friendly safe hearing model. Volume-limiting earphones are not a novel concept – we’ve previously seen similar designs from brands such as Ultimate Ears and Harman-owned dB Logic. The ETY-Kids achieve this with their 300Ω impedance, which makes it difficult to power the earphone to dangerous volume levels. Unlike headphones with dB Logic’s SPL2 technology, the Etys will still hit high volumes when driven with a powerful enough source, but they do a good job limiting output with conventional mp3 players.

The limited volume of the Etys should be sufficient for most Head-Fiers. At worst, it is a minor inconvenience to turn up the volume, and on more powerful sources such as my desktop amp and HiFiMan HM-901, it is barely noticeable that the volume pot needs another ¼ turn. More importantly the ETY-Kids, low price and all, sound very much like an Ety should. The bass is tight and clean, albeit a touch rolled-off at the bottom. This means the ETY-Kids won’t produce the type of deep, rumbling bass the Beats by Dre generation may be expecting, but it also keeps the tone neutral and midrange free of bleed. In comparison, the VSonic VC02 has slightly punchier bass but keeps it just as clean and controlled as the Etys while the warmer, bassier VSonic VSD1 sounds a bit more bloated.

The midrange of the ETY-Kids is likewise clear and neutral, bumped slightly in presence to make vocals more prominent and intelligible. Due to this, and because of the lack of bass and treble emphasis, the Etys can sound a bit mid-centric – more so, for example, than the VSonic VC02. On the other hand, the fantastic midrange clarity means there is no need to turn the earphones up to discern vocals, which fits nicely in with the whole “safe hearing” push. The ETY-Kids are clearer even than the balanced armature Astrotec AM-90, though they lack some of the warmth and fullness of the Astrotecs as well.

The treble of the ETY-Kids is nicely filled in, though it seems to lack a bit of extension and presence next to the higher-end armature-based Ety models. It is smoother than the treble of the VSonic VC02 and VSD1 but not as smooth as the similarly-priced balanced armature sets from Astrotec and Rock-It sounds. The overall tone of the Etys is a bit on the cool side and the presentation tends to be a little laid-back. Soundstage depth and overall dynamics could be better, but for the price the junior Etys do a great job.

Value (9.5/10) – The ETY-Kids name may be off-putting to some but there is nothing childish about the design or sound of these earphones. Like all things Etymotic, the ETY-Kids are well-built, highly isolating, and boast sound that is clear, accurate, and neutral, though for some listeners perhaps lacking in desired bass presence. They promote hearing safety with a combination of immense noise isolation and volume-limiting impedance. All in all, the ETY-Kids are a great entry-level audiophile IEM that – we can only hope – will help introduce the next generation to Etymotic’s signature sound.

Pros: Stellar noise isolation; solid build quality; clear, balanced, and accurate sound
Cons: Deep-insertion form factor can take some getting used to for new users. Volume-limiting design may be undesirable for some


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

24 Comments

  1. MicaLovesKPOP on

    After researching the list I ended up buying these and I’m going to return them again immediately. None of the earpiece tips muffle sound, and on top of that one of them ripped as soon as I (gently!) put it onto the earpiece.

    “Pros: Stellar noise isolation; solid build quality” my ass

    Quite disappointed and I’m going to have to find something else ASAP or it’ll be too late.

  2. Tarso on

    Hi there! My dog just ate my hf5s. I need a replacement, are these much different/worse? I listen to opera mostly. Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      They retain the Etymotic voicing/sound signature but the driver in the HF5 is noticeably more capable. If you’re on a tight budget these would be as good a replacement as you can get but I’d try to pick up another HF5.

  3. Curtis on

    I bought the ety mc5 about a week ago and so far I’m liking them. However I noticed that today from the phones is that the stereo image has been panned slightly to the right. Is there a way to fix this problem?

    • ljokerl on

      Could be any number of things. Some devices (e.g. iPhones) have a setting that allows you to pan the sound. You can try that (in iPhones it’s in the Accessibility menu I believe). Also I would swap your tips around to make sure there isn’t a rip or tear or something in one of the tips causing the problem. Barring all that, it’s probably an issue with the earphones themselves – either a dirty filter (earwax clog, etc) or something more permanent that needs warranty replacement.

      • Curtis on

        Thanks for replying! I think it’s the eartips and they look quite dirty. I’m not sure about them being torn though. I’m going to try the other eartips that the earphones came with. I’ve been also finding them uncomfortable to wear than ever so that also might be a sign that they need cleaning.

  4. Jurij Fedorov on

    I wonder if the low volume will be a minus for audio books? If am getting noise isolating earphones as my Creative EP 630 don’t isolate enough. I listed only to audio books on my Clip Zip.

    • ljokerl on

      The low volume is not a limitation in itself but if you’re in extremely loud environments you might run into the limiter in trying to compensate for the noise.

      • Jurij Fedorov on

        Thanks. Will order them today. I really hope for some great and cheap earphones only for audio books in the future. These suckers cost about 55 pounds on amazon.co.uk

      • Jurij Fedorov on

        Weird site. Cannot write long comments!
        You should consider reviewing the EP 630. Included with their mp3 players, are really cheap, great isolation, okay sound, break after 1 to 3 years.

      • Ulf on

        I just received mine today, and I can tell you that the iphone 6 can not drive these. I have good hearing but I had a hard time hearing the vocals in Carmina Burana, and I know the whole thing by heart. Sadly I will have to return mine. 🙁
        The sound isolation is amazing, I changed the tips to the larger, and I could not hear my kids yelling and screaming in front of me.

  5. Matus on

    Hi, what would be a good upgrade from ety kids? Mine are slowly falling apart, but I like the sound and isolation very much. Honestly it’s the first IEM that fits my canals.
    Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      Not a lot of options with anywhere near that level of isolation. I would probably go with the Etymotic MC5, but if you want to move to a different brand in a higher price range and give up a bit of isolation, you have a few other options for example the VSonic VC1000 (not necessarily more durable than an Ety, but very good sound and somewhat similar form factor), Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII (very similar sound to VC1000 but more expensive), and ACS T15 (wider nozzle than an Ety; otherwise very good)

  6. Dario on

    M1 vs Ety Kids? My mind tells me the Ety’s, but im a little concerned about the volume limiting :c, i don’t have an amp, my main sources to listen to music are my PC and Xperia P (main music player is Poweramp) so im a little worried that if the volume is too low, i may end up turning the gain up, and losing some clarity, so thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      M1 is warmer and more mid-centric, with more roll-off in the treble. The Ety-Kids are flatter, brighter, and more analytical. I thought the volume was sufficient with my Nexus 5 (which is the quietest of all my sources) but them I’m a low/medium-volume listener. The isolation really helps.

      If you want similar performance without the volume limiting, you’ll have to save up the extra $20 for the MC5 model.

  7. Marco on

    I’ve just purchased them and am very disappointed by the ‘tin-can’ sound of the set. There is hardly any bass at all, only if I fully open up the volume I’m getting a little bass.
    Is this part of the burning in? Am I doing something wrong? or should I just find a more V-shaped balanced IEM?
    I’m used to Sennheisers, if that matters.

    • ljokerl on

      From most to least likely:
      1. You are not getting an airtight seal. An airtight seal is important with all in-ear headphones to get the manufacturer’s intended response in the ear, but doubly so with Etymotic Research earphones, which are designed for a fairly deep insertion (ideally to the 2nd bend of the ear canal). Not only do they need to go in far enough, but the sides of the eartips have to seal with your canal all around. See the Instructions for Use section on the product page: http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/ek5.html . The reason I think this is most likely is that unsealed earphones produce exactly the type of sound you are describing (thin, tinny, distant, with no bass).
      2. You are used to enhanced-bass headphones, which are extremely common in the post-Beats by Dre world. You may be able to adjust to less bassy sound given time.
      3. Your audio source lacks the voltage to drive these fairly high-impedance headphones. The reason I think this is unlikely is that even iPhones have enough power for one of these, given a sufficiently high volume setting.

  8. markuz on

    ETY Kids $32
    MC5 $38

    Which one is the best option?

    • ljokerl on

      MC5. Totally worth $6 more – you get a set of spare filters with it and the sound is a little smoother as well.

      • markuz on

        Thanks.

        Back to the eartips, you suggested Shure olives, I said I’d wait my earphones arrive to test the sizes, but they didn’t arrive and I think they won’t, so I’m planning to reorder. That said, do you think there’s a way to find which size of the olives would be better for me from distance?

        • ljokerl on

          I guess if you have some other set of IEMs you can estimate based on the size of your favorite eartips – i.e. medium olives if the mediums fit best, etc. Not a great method but it should work well enough.

          • markuz on

            They finally arrived, kudos to Etymotic, great customer service.

            As they are my first IEMs, and I’m using them for the second time, I feel burning, but that’s ok, right? Just getting used.

            Using tri-flanges, nice seal, good isolation.

            I’m a little worried about wax. Do you suggest a website about cleaning the IEMs? Thank you.

          • ljokerl on

            They’ll “burn in” as you use them whether you like it or not. I don’t recommend doing anything specific.

            As for wax, the EK5 doesn’t come with replacement filters but you can keep the stock ones clean pretty easily. Even if you have excessive wax it’ll have to travel through the eartip down to the filter so just make it a habit to clean the center channel of the eartips once in a while. Silicone eartips like the triple flanges can just be removed from the earphones and washed (make sure to dry them afterwards). You can even soak them in hydrogen peroxide to dissolve any accumulating earwax.

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