Awesome build quality and compact shell design, Superb tonal cleanliness and separation, Excellent note definition throughout, Sharp imaging, Almost source agnostic
Fit depth can be uncomfortable, Cable is highly tangle-prone and has rare T2 connectors, Intimate soundstage, Below average bass extension, Less sensitive than most IEMs
Like the ER-line before it, the EVO is intimate, hyper-responsive and oh so clean from bottom to top. Years later, the Etymotic sound remains hard come by and has plenty of life and appeal for the modern listener.
We all know Etymotic; the company is a legend in the audio community having developed the very first commercially available IEM in the form of the ER4. In fact, the ER platform remains highly regarded and popular to this day for their religious adhere to the diffuse-field neutral curve and coherent single driver designs. This makes their models excellent reference monitors lauded for their authentic and detailed representation of music. They revisited the line-up with the XR models that provided a bass bump in accordance with modern listener preferences. While the DF neutral curve is no longer the go-to, it remains a very sound standard and the popularity of Etymotic’s earphones sustains, especially the new ER2 which achieved this on a more natural DD platform. The new EVO (signifying the evolution of the brand) is perhaps the biggest launch in Etymotic history following their original ER4. It forgoes the tried and tested cylindrical shell for a more modern concha-fit design. Perhaps most importantly, the EVO is the first multi-driver Etymotic earphone sporting a 2-way, 3x BA driver setup. In so doing, they promise an enhanced soundstage and bass response atop the same legendary Etymotic house sound.
The EVO is available for $499 USD/£499 at the time of writing. You can read more about it and treat yourself to a unit on hifiheadphones.
I would like to thank the team at Etymotic and KS Distribution very much for reaching out and providing me with the EVO for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Transducers: 3x BA
- Crossover: 2-way
- Frequency response: 20 Hz – 16 kHz
- Impedance: 47 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 99 dB @ 1 kHz
The EVO has a chic unboxing experience that showcases the product well. Removing the outer sleeve reveals a split-fold hard box. The two lids pivot open to reveal the earphones and cable coiled within a foam inlet that sits comfortably in the base of the aluminium carrying case. The inlet can be removed or reused to keep the cable organised during transit and prevent scratches on the metal shells. Below is the lid for the case in addition to a separate box containing the other accessories. It folds open to reveal the eartips and replacement filters housed comfortably in laser-cut inlets, I admire the organisation throughout here. You get the classic Ety tip set comprised to two pairs of triple-flange tips in addition to 3 pairs of less intense dual-flange tips. In addition, two pairs of memory foam tips are include though are comically large, likely for listeners with especially tricky ears. The nozzle filters are replaceable as before, and a smart metal screw-in tool is provided to aid safe replacement should the originals become damaged. Finally, a cable tidy is included in addition to a soft pouch.
Etymotic has always upheld strong and well-considered build quality, but this isn’t really showcased due to the diminutive size of their earphones. With the EVO, it is far easier to appreciate Etymotic’s hard work as the shells are larger and shapelier. One thing to note is Etymotic are using stainless steel injection rather than CNC which gives a more even finish in addition to exemplary density. Etymotic has also managed to uphold very tight tolerance making this is some of the nicest build quality I’ve felt on any IEM. This is topped with a light blue satin finish which looks incredible. Furthermore, Etymotic has cleverly hidden the seams of its 3-piece construction along the earphone’s contours. Long, slender nozzles return and are integrated into the inner housing, sharing its steel construction. Though thin, they appear very sturdy as a result.
The EVO has a removable cable but uses unconventional T2 connectors and comes with Linum’s BAX T2 cable. This limits aftermarket options, but some custom cable manufacturers do provide this connector type. As for the cable itself, I’ve never personally seen the appeal. While they are incredibly thin and light, it is to the extent that the cable becomes ergonomically frustrating. The light cable fails to support the heavy steel housings. It has minimal memory and microphonic noise isn’t an issue with the over-ear fit, but the cable is springy and falls off the top of my ears with no memory wire or pre-formed guides to keep it in check. It constantly tangles and, due to its thinness, easily knots making it a headache to live with. A traditional 4-wire braided cable would have been a substantially better choice. I don’t hate it, but it feels like a solution to a problem the EVO doesn’t suffer from, that introduces more problems in so doing.
The only other cable I had access to with the T2 connector was Linum’s own T2 SuperBaX which is a 4-wire version of the regular BaX cable with half the impedance. The 4-wire construction especially makes it far easier to live with than the BaX, as it handles more like a lightweight regular cable and isn’t as tangle-prone. While Linum do recommend this model for multi-driver earphones, I actually did prefer the sonic pairing with the regular cable. The SuperBaX was brighter and had a tighter bottom end, but I found this pushed the EVO too lean. The BaX cable provided a more balanced sound to my ears. Considering tonality is such a concern of this earphone, do consider cable pairings if you decide to swap the stock cable out, a copper cable will be a good match.
Fit & Isolation –
Despite the redesign, returning fans of Etymotic will have a familiar fit experience on the EVO – that being, a compact shell suitable for small ears and an especially deep fit. The new shell design is larger and now assumes an over-ear fit. However, they have very slender proportions and remain smaller in all dimensions than the majority of competitors. This means they are a good choice for smaller ears, however, if you do tend to struggle with most IEMs, I would still recommend trying a set before purchasing. While the build feels fantastic, their construction means they are astoundingly heavy at 25g per earpiece. With the signature brain-tickling Ety nozzles identical to those on the ER-earphones, the super deep fit and well-sculpted shell permit the EVO to be a very stable-fitting earphone.
I had no issues during daily wear, even running. In addition, the compact and well-shaped housings gave me perfect comfort over extended listening and a noticeably more locked-in fit than past Ety earphones. I also found that the multi-flange ear tips do provide less wearing pressure than single-flange tips at such fit depths due to the progressive increase in diameter at each depth. With the fully sealed design, deep fit depth and dense metal housings, the EVO isolates like few others, almost as much as a custom. This makes them a great choice for use in louder environments.
Tip Selection & Mods –
Usually, this lies in the sound section, but I felt it was more apt to discuss this as an extension of the ergonomic experience as tip selection is especially pertinent on the EVO due to the nozzle design. Firstly, it is long for a reason, you will experience a noticeable drop in imaging acuity and high-frequency extension if you do fit them shallow. I have measured above, the difference it makes to the FR when it comes to fit depth, other factors will exacerbate these changes. Etymotic have a clear focus on tonal accuracy on all of their earphones, and the deep fit does contribute, granting a more consistent sound amongst various listeners by bypassing variations in individual canal anatomy.
The sheer depth of the fit did take me a few days to acclimatize to and if you are sensitive to this, you’ll want to investigate other options. I found Klipsch dual flange tips to offer superior comfort and seal to the stock tips for my ears and minimal impact on the sound, these were the tips I used during testing. The length of the nozzle means it will protrude from most traditional tips. Only longer tips like dual-flange or Westone STAR tips will fit. you can cut the stem to make adaptors for tips with larger bore sizes such as Final E-tips.
Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.
Though no longer the gold-standard, I am still a big fan of the diffuse-field neutral sound signature that Etymotic has always had a strict adherence to throughout their line-up. Like many others, I did find this tuning a bit lean and analytical for general listening but found their bass enhanced XR models to be a tasteful adjustment. The EVO takes this premise one step further, adding just a few dB to the low-end. The bass boost is reminiscent in execution to the XR models, with emphasis increasing linearly towards the sub-bass, retaining a clean tone and emphasis on separation and miming overall tonal colouration.
The midrange tuning is very similar as is the treble; there’s a hint less 3kHz presence shifted towards the 4kHz region and the middle-treble is a touch more present but not especially so in the grand scheme of things. Altogether, the EVO is surprisingly robust in the bass for an Etymotic earphone but is still very much an Etymotic earphone being defined by wicked cleanliness throughout. The new driver setup provides a slight bump in end-to-end extension though it also doesn’t excel in this regard relative to competitors. Despite this, I did find myself greatly enjoying the voicing and fidelity on display signature to the company, that are difficult to find from IEMs of other brands.
It is important to note that my mention of bass boost here is relative to a DF neutral earphone, a standard considered to be especially lean in the modern day. This means, the EVO is in no way a bass heavy or forward earphone, I would say lows sit just behind the midrange but are never overwhelmed. The tuning is also atypical but voiced incredibly well. The tone is immaculately clean, and notes have an appropriate size, being just a hint bolder than dead neutral. As expected, bloat and congestion are absent in entirety, separation operates at the highest level without sounding lean or diminished either. The new driver setup does indeed provide a slightly deeper reaching sub-bass and more defined rumble. However, this still isn’t an especially well extended or powerful sounding earphone so don’t expect pressure or an assertive slam. It has a nicely balanced bass with emphasis towards superb cleanliness over huge dynamics.
And when listening to a complex or bass heavy track, you can see the upsides. The EVO provides some of the best separation in the bass I’ve heard with special mention going to its highly articulate mid-bass. No doubt, this is aided by its very high note definition throughout. However, in addition, as sub-bass isn’t pressurised and doesn’t sit especially forward due to the roll-off, it doesn’t detract as much from mid-bass separation as on many competitors. Of course, dynamics aren’t especially impressive in turn, the EVO has a rapid, tight attack and is equally fast in decay. The fuller tuning gives it a bit more texture than past Etymotic IEMs, but it doesn’t have those lingering, textured notes as you’d find on a dynamic driver or even some BA competitors. Combined with the still modest quantity, this IEM is clearly geared towards those wanting the best bass quality and responsiveness, not including extension, with which it is hard to beat regardless of price.
The same qualities extend to the midrange which is appropriately separated from the bass and experiences zero tonal colouration in turn. In addition, the midrange tuning itself leaves little to be desired, being exceptionally linear and even-handed. Accordingly, vocals and instruments achieve perfect harmony and both male and female vocals are flattered. While relative to many competitors, the EVO is on the leaner side, it isn’t dry or cool, it simply sounds clean and clear. I don’t find the 4kHz region to affect the timbre too heavily either, as it isn’t especially forward and the 3kHz region isn’t over-forward either. In turn, the midrange on a whole does sit further forward than the bass and treble but suffers from zero strain and minimal intensity. It is voiced almost perfectly in terms of tonal transparency and upholds an accurate and natural timbre on a variety of mastering styles.
Perhaps we can attribute this to the lower-treble tuning which is a touch smooth and takes the edge off articulation. As the upper midrange has plenty of presence, this isn’t to the detriment of clarity nor openness, sounding well-extended. Midrange resolution well exceeds almost all competitors, which surely contributes to this impression; small details have a great sense of immediacy and clarity, note definition is excellent as is layering. This has always been a strength for Etymotic and their mastery is showcased here to an even greater degree. With such a strong technical foundation, the company hasn’t needed to compensate with boosted brightness or clarity which can introduce odd timbral properties. The EVO, in turn, is one of the best choices for vocal lovers on the market.
By now, you’ll be seeing a consistent theme throughout this review. That being, the EVO doesn’t have a coloured nor instantly gratifying tuning but performs very well with timbre and resolving minutiae – the top-end tells a similar story. The lower treble is a touch smooth but upholds impressive linearity, never sounding blunted to my ears. It sits on par with the bass and, similarly, just behind the midrange. The transient response is sharp so, as below, note definition is excellent. Though not the crispest tuning, the EVO does have quite a lot of bite to its notes, making the smoother lower treble tuning in good taste to my ears. This means it does retain strong foreground detail presence, being clean and well-separated. Where the EVO excels is with fine foreground detail retrieval which performs near the top of its price class from what I’ve tested so far. As the tuning isn’t too sharp yet notes are well-defined, instruments are well-bodied and small textures come through with aplomb.
Simultaneously, there’s minimal brittles or glare. Getting into the more subjective qualities, I do hear a touch of grittiness, meaning it doesn’t sound quite as refined as something like the Variations or higher-end monitors despite retrieving detail almost equally well. Still, percussive instruments don’t dominate the mix and the EVO is able to discern and separate many small details in a near effortless manner even on complex passages like the intro to Missy Higgin’s “Scar”. It extends nicely above and has a decent middle-treble presence to imbue additional air. However, the background is mostly dark and sparkle and micro-details at the very top aren’t especially apparent similar to most competitors around this price. The focus is more on its resolution of fine details around the lower-treble and through the midrange rather than crafting huge atmosphere and ethereal sparkle. This remains a balanced, well-separated monitor with especially strong fine detail retrieval in the lower-treble but no outstanding characteristics above.
Where past Etymotic earphones have provided an in-the-head experience, the EVO does make meaningful steps forward here. Much like its bass, this remains a weaker aspect of this earphone but offers characteristics that suit the tuning. It expands just beyond the head in width with a more intimate depth due to the slightly forward midrange. All in all, the stage remains quite intimate but not claustrophobic nor stuffy due to the neutral note size throughout. Imaging is the highlight here, with pinpoint accurate localisation and super sharp directional cues, I would attribute this to the even tuning and deep fit depth too. The EVO has exemplary layering, offering an organised lateral spread of elements.
This means it sounds composed even on complex tracks despite not having the most forgiving tuning. Separation is another strength of this earphone due to its neutral note size throughout and lack of colouration. There is a palpable air around each note making small details easy to discern for the listener as they are never overshadowed by neighbouring instruments. Altogether, a good refinement of the Etymotic formula that retains the strengths of the ER-models, no longer feels claustrophobic but also not overtly spacious either.
The EVO has an unconventionally high 47 Ohm impedance and a lower 99dB sensitivity. Indeed, it does require more volume than most multi-BA monitors to reach the same listening volume, though, with its full BA driver array, isn’t too demanding of the source otherwise. This has always been the case with Etymotic earphones. I would posit that, given their intended use case as reference monitors and their focus on tonality, the higher impedance stabilises the frequency response from source to source. Let’s dive in.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
With a 47-ohm impedance, you will theoretically want to keep the source output impedance below 6.5 ohms to avoid tonal colouration. To assess the impedance curve, I switched between the Shanling M2X (1-ohm) and Hiby R6 (10-ohms) which revealed that there was minimal change between the two beyond source colouration. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the EVO has a flat impedance curve, it is less drastic than many competitors which, combined with the higher impedance, makes it fairly source agnostic. This means you get a very consistent signature from basically any source, save for those with especially high impedances.
As expected, the EVO does require quite a bit of volume, I am a lower volume listener and required around 14/30 steps on my Xperia 5 II. In turn, I would suggest a dedicated source of some description for most listeners simply due to the voltage requirement. This can be a dongle or BT receiver as the EVO is, otherwise, not too fussy about source power. It doesn’t pick up much source noise either. It was dead silent on volume 0 on the M2X, with no music playing and the amp circuit activated. You will want a higher resolution source that said, as the EVO scales nicely in this regard. Technicals such as layering, imaging and detail retrieval all scale appropriately with higher end sources.
Suggested Pair Ups
The EVO isn’t sensitive to output impedance up to a tested 10-ohms (potentially higher) nor will it pick up hiss on most sources. It doesn’t require much power from a dynamics and control POV with its BA setup, but does benefit from a higher output of voltage/volume due to its lower sensitivity. I preferred it most from linear/neutral sources such as those from Topping as they best brought out the clean character of this in-ear. However, as the treble is smooth and even, you can pair it with sources with a sharp note presentation like the DX200 or THX789 without issue. Similarly, it can tolerate a lot of warmth. Combined with its minimal colouration with impedance and noise resistance, it is very easy to adjust source pairings to tailor the experience to your preference.
TRI Starshine ($499): The Starshine is far more coloured but has a very intriguing treble performance that will impress if you can tolerate brightness. Both have similar bass extension, neither being especially impressive. The Starshine has a warmer, fuller mid-bass giving it more slam, however, the EVO is noticeably faster and more defined here being much more articulate. This is in addition to its cleaner and more separated tuning. The midrange on the Starshine picks up greater warmth from its bass and it is more laid-back. Its vocals sound a bit more strained due to its upper-mid lift. The EVO is far more linear here and also more forward. It has a more natural voicing free of strain or sibilance and a more accurate articulation.
The EVO also has better note definition, being more resolving of fine details here. The treble is much brighter on the Starshine but the lower treble is actually a little smoother if anything. It has less bite too with its daintier EST note presentation. The EVO has a better resolved foreground in turn, and it delivers more accurate note body and texture. The Starshine is much thinner due to its middle-treble peakiness. At the same time, it does have a bit more fine detail retrieval in the foreground, but chiefly extends much better with loads more sparkle, micro-detail and headroom above. It has a larger and more holographic image while the EVO is more stable and layered.
Moondrop Variations ($520): The IEM to beat around this price range IMO, a very strong all-rounder. Instantly, the Variations is bassier, extending deeper and delivering a far more emphasized sub-bass slam. The EVO is faster and more articulate, in addition to its leaner and more defined note presentation, it has a sizeable separation advantage. The Variations has it beat on texturing, dynamics and its bass sits more forward without introducing much tonal colouration, which will likely appeal to a wider range of listeners. The midrange has a very similar character between the two. The EVO is slightly leaner, the Variations slightly more laid-back and forgiving. Both have a slightly smoother articulation and excellent timbral accuracy throughout.
The EVO is a touch drier but also sounds slightly more balanced and linear to me. The Variations is slightly more structured and coherent but doesn’t has a hint less same resolving power. The Variations has a slightly more even and present lower-treble. Despite this, the EVO has a sharper note attack giving it more bite here and a slight advantage on fine detail retrieval. The Variations meanwhile is a bit more textured and has greater air and background detail above. It even has some sparkle the EVO misses. The Variations has a larger stage, especially with regards to depth. The EVO is more separated and has sharper positioning while the Variations is more multi-dimensional albeit less precise.
Kinera Skuld ($550): The Skuld is a more coloured sound with a fuller lower-midrange and bass in particular. It has slightly better bass extension but the EVO has greater deep-bass focus giving it a slightly more weighted note presentation, the Skuld having more mid and upper-bass warmth. The Skuld is fuller and punchier, its bass sits slightly more forward but is mostly defined by its different voicing. The EVO is faster, cleaner and more separated. The midrange tells a similar story, the EVO is far cleaner and more separated while the Skuld is the opposite, being full-bodied and musical. The EVO has a more accurate voicing and a smoother articulation balances out its leaner nature.
It has higher note definition and is more resolving in general. The Skuld is more inviting and forgiving, while a little boxy, it remains naturally voiced all the same. The Skuld has a more prominent treble overall, especially in the lower-treble giving it a crisper yet thinner treble expression. The EVO is more even, and more defined, retrieving fine details better. The Skuld extends slightly better, delivering more air and slightly better layering. It has a wider stage though the EVO has much sharper imaging and better separation.
Soft Ears RS10 ($2099): The RS10sits near the pinnacle in terms of tonal and technical refinement if you’re looking at a Harman-neutral style presentation. With an all-BA setup, it represents a logical progression from the EVO. The RS10 is one step more revealing than the EVO but with a bolstered sub-bass to counterbalance. Its low-end remains tonally clean but has a bolder expression and immediately better extension, weight and rumble. The RS10 has a more discerning mid-bass too, but the EVO does separate slightly better with its more even tuning, though I would hesitate to call it more timbrally accurate despite this. The midrange is also just a touch more linear and coherent on the EVO as the upper-midrange falls off sooner. The RS10 extends into the 4kHz region giving it a hint of intensity on certain tracks. In return, it represents a large bump in resolution and layering and the voicing is no less natural.
The RS10 lacks the dryness and lean note weight of the EVO, both are tonally excellent here. The RS10 also has a bit more treble presence and a similarly even lower-treble tuning. It is immediately more detailed with a cleaner transient response discerning greater fine detail and better separating ability during complex passages. The biggest difference is with regards to extension, the RS10 having heaps of background and micro-detail that isn’t nearly as apparent if at all on the EVO. This gives the RS10 a huge advantage in imaging, though it isn’t much larger, the RS10 is far more multi-dimensional and just as sharp and organized. It separates even better with exception of the bass due to its bolder note structure here.
Where competitors may provide greater power and complexity, the EVO is a stripped-out machine of precision, focus and purpose. The cable is hugely annoying but the new metal shells are gorgeous, highly isolating and ergonomic – that is, if you can handle the long sound tubes that still tickle the brain as on past Ety earphones. And, the listening experience is familiar too, now made more accessible with a more robust low-end. While Etymotic’s signature weaknesses of soundstage size and bass extension are improved, they do remain weaknesses relative to the competition. On the contrary, I feel these qualities contribute in part to the Etymotic house sound and I found it very familiar coming from ownership of the original ER4S. Had Etymotic assumed a Harman tuning, boosted bass extension or upper-treble sparkle, I would argue that the end result may not have been as distinct in character nor as appealing to fans of the brand.
For so too has the company honed their strengths; the EVO delivers sensational note definition that exceeds its asking price, excellent midrange resolving power and market-leading tonal accuracy. It’s a rewarding tuning that feels like it was drawn from a time capsule yet realised through svelte modern design. So while many modern competitors pursue a grander, more ethereal sound, the EVO is the opposite – intimate, hyper-responsive and oh so clean from bottom to top. In turn, I would still fathom Etymotic earphones don’t have the widest appeal as a daily driver and yet, years later, their signature tuning remains hard come by and has plenty of life. Accordingly, a case can easily be made that the EVO is worthy of a place in any enthusiast’s IEM collection.
The EVO can be purchased from hifiheadphones for $499 USD/£499 at the time of review. I am not affiliated with Etymotic or hifiheadphones and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
AKMU – SAILING
Billy Joel – The Stranger
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Crush – OHIO
Daryl Hall & John Oates – Voices
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jaden – BYE
Joji – Sanctuary
Kanye West – Donda
Maneskin – Chosen
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of The Moon
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours