Details: First dynamic-driver earphone from the pioneer of universal in-ear monitors
MSRP: $79 (manufacturer’s page) / $99 for MC2 with mic & 1-button remote (manufacturer’s page) / $99 for MC3 with mic & 3-button remote (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $59 from amazon.com for MC5; $69 for MC2; $80 for MC3
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 100 dB | 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 (4/5) – Triple-flange silicone tips (2 sizes), Etymotic foam tips, Etymotic Glider tips, replacement filters (1 set), filter replacement tool, shirt clip, and zippered soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (4.5/5) –Though the MC5 is lightweight and for the most part plastic, the outer (colored) bits of the housings are aluminum and the cables are Kevlar-reinforced and well-relieved all around. The slightly rubbery cabling is very flexible and doesn’t stick or tangle and the entry-level Etys really feel like a quality product all around
Isolation (4.5/5) – Typical of Ety earphones, isolation just 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) – Depends on the eartips used but the included assortment should fit most people. With a good fit the slim housings don’t contact the ear and the cable exit angle actually works for over-the-ear wear, making the MC5 very comfortable for those who can handle deep-insertion earphones
Sound (7.8/10) – First, a note on tip choice – though the included foamies and Glider tips were very comfortable for me, I settled on the triple-flange silicones and my trusty Shure olives for sonic reasons. The Gliders, though comfortable, seem to accentuate the weaknesses of the MC5 and the stock foamies simply have no comfort advantages over Olives and muffle the top end more.
Though the dynamic driver used in the MC5 is a departure for Etymotic, the audio engineers managed to develop a moving coil transducer that, for the most part, conforms to the Ety mold. The MC5 really does its best to emphasize no one frequency range above others and covers enough of the frequency spectrum to compete with most earphones in its class. The dynamic transducers move more air than the balanced armatures used in other Etymotic earphones and as a result the low end of the MC5 is a bit more punchy and tactile but not as textured as those of the higher-end ER4 and HF5 sets. The bass is tight, controlled, and quick for a dynamic-driver earphone but lacks the reverb and sheer presence of some of the bassier dynamic earphones in the price range. Extension is quite linear down to about 40Hz and drops off gradually beyond that, though the earphones do respond well to equalization. Naturally, the low end of the MC5 is never intrusive and imparts no coloration on the midrange – the MC5 invariably remains calm and composed no matter how bassy the track.
The midrange of the MC5 comes with fewer caveats than the bass. Due to the extremely balanced nature of the MC5, they can seem a bit mid-centric at times but in reality there’s not much emphasis on any part of the middle registers. The mids produced by the MC5 are clear and detailed but not as crisp as those of armature-based Etys and can still sound quite dry. With a poor or shallow seal, the upper mids can step out of line on occasion, bringing with them bouts of vocal sibilance but with well-fitting tips sibilance is not an issue with well-mastered recordings. Moving on up, the treble of the MC5 is accurate and prominent but not hyper-detailed as it tends to be on analytical armature-based earphones such as the Etymotic HF5 and Phonak PFE. Compared to the HF5 and even the RE0, the treble of the MC5 is not as crisp, bright, or energetic, instead appearing softer and more controlled. It isn’t what I would call ‘sparkly’. Still, the MC5 is definitely not for the treble-sensitive.
Etymotic earphones usually do a good job of separating out individual instruments but aren’t known for providing the most three-dimensional presentation, and the MC5 is no exception. The soundstage has good width but only average depth. There are earphones that provide a more immersive experience for the money, such as the Fischer Audio Silver Bullet and Head-Direct RE-ZERO. The RE-ZERO is especially interesting since that is the one dynamic most likely to be compared to the MC5 and for me, despite sounding more intimate on the whole, the RE-ZERO has the more natural presentation by a margin – better height, better depth, slightly better positioning and imaging – the presentation of the RE-ZERO is simply bigger and more true to life. The RE-ZERO also has better dynamics to my ears, though not by much.
Tonally, the MC5 is not as cold-sounding as the higher-end armature-based Etys, not as clinical. It is also slightly more forgiving of low-bitrate rips and poor mastering but the whole garbage in = garbage out adage still applies on the whole. Clipping, distortion, sibilance – any and all mastering artifacts will be made apparent by the MC5 but not to the same degree as with the HF5 and ER4. It should be noted also that the MC5 is not a very efficient earphone – much less so than the higher-end HF5 or the HiFiMan RE-ZERO. On the bright side, the MC5 cuts hiss well when used with sources that have a high noise floor.
Value (9/10) – The Etymotic Research MC5 is a capable dynamic-driver earphone from a company that doesn’t normally do dynamic drivers. Like all things Etymotic, the MC5 is well-built, well-packaged, and highly isolating but requires deep insertion to sound its best, which may take some getting used to for those new to Ety earphones. The sound is clear, accurate, and neutral but for many the MC5 will lack the desired bass presence and treble energy. Even those who like a highly analytical sound may find the MC5 slightly boring, slightly inept at conveying energy and excitement. I, for one, can’t help feeling ever so slightly underwhelmed every time I use them and keep picking the RE-ZERO up out of the drawer, except when isolation is a priority.
Pros: Stellar noise isolation; solid build quality; fairly clear, balanced, and accurate sound
Cons: Deep-insertion form factor takes getting used to