I needed a replacement for my Shure E2C earbuds when the cable on one side frayed and that side stopped working. I had really loved my E2Cs but my one complaint was the stiffness of the cables which led to them eventually suffering from cracked sheath and finally frayed copper. Enter the Etymotic Research ER-6i earbuds.
Value: The ER-6i can be had for under 100 bucks. I got mine for about 75.00 after shipping, but I've seen them for more and less on other web sites.
Quality: The packaging that came was excellently designed, stylish and easy to read, open, and repack. The earphones themselves were terriffic. The cord is about 6 - 12 inches longer than I would like, but the cable is small, and most importantly flexible and not stiff.
Some people complain about the noise of the cord rubbing against clothing while walking or moving around, and I noticed that a lot with cheaper earbuds and even with my Shures. That noise is also present with my ER-6i buds but that noise is no where near as bad as it was with the Shures. It's a minor annoyance at best. The cable also comes with a clip that you can use to secure the cable to your shirt, pocket, collar, or whatever and that goes a long way to mitigating any cable rub noise. Either way, that noise is there, but so far it's been minimal with the ER-6i and I don't even notice it unless I am really looking for it.
The ER-6i comes with several sizes of ear buds. Three sizes of silicon inserts, and one "One Size Fits All" set of foam inserts. The instructions are very clear that you need to moisten the silicon inserts before inserting them into your ears, and those warnings should be heeded. However, even with moisturising them with various things (spit, baby oil, water-based lubricant) they were still uncomfortable to me. I have smaller ear canals than many people though, so someone with larger canals may find the silicon inserts more comfortable.
I also noticed that the silicon inserts are harder to position for proper fit and if you don't get them fitted just right, the sound you hear is muffled to some degree, and not as pleasant as it should be.
Because my job is in a noisy test lab, I settled on using the foam tips. These are made just like the foam ear plugs you would use in any noisy environment. Simply roll them between your fingers to compress them, insert into your ears, and when they expand, they seal off the ear canals and cut off most of the noise around you. I have also found them to be comfortable enough to wear for up to 8 hours at a time without needing to remove them for relief.
My only complaint here is that Etymotic didn't include a second set of foam ear plugs. From what I have read, they no longer sell the style of foam inserts that came with my set of ER-6i, but there are other vendors who sell similar replacements if you wish to keep the same style of foam inserts. I've been using mine for about a month now, and I can see that they will most likely need to be replaced after another 2 or 3 months usage.
Because of the light weight of the cables and the earphones themselves, these are highly comfortable to wear all day long.
Sound reproduction is spot on. I am not an audio engineer, but I could tell the difference between these and cheaper earphones the first time I tried them out. They very accruately reproduce the sounds of whatever you are listening to. Some podcasts are so sharp that I can hear the slight warble in someone's vocie when he or she is being emotional. In classical music, I can hear the variances when multiple strings play together, and in Jazz, I can hear the full power of a horn, including the subtle nuances that makes the great jazz horn players great.
The only complaint here is that I personally would prefer a little more bass response. They are ACCURATE, but not bassy, but my personal taste is for a little more bass. That is more of a personal preference than a detraction from the sound quality that the ER-6i produces, however. You may have no problems at all with the amount of bass. One thing I CAN say, however, is that while the bass response may not be as boomy as I may like, it IS punchy. The bass is very accruately reproduced and does not seem muted or muffled in any way.
There is only one other problem I have with them. The earbuds themselves have tiny holes in the casing. I believe these are there to help reproduce the sounds as the tiny driver fires. On a windy day, I can hear the wind whistling through these holes and that can be somewhat maddening. That is probably my biggest complaint overall and seems more a result of a bad design decision than anything else. Unfortunately, this means that I will most likely have to get a set of Shures again to wear out doors, or perhaps a cheaper set of buds for that usage (biking, hiking, yard work, etc) but that is the ONLY case where I would consider wearing somtehing else other than my ER-6is.
Overall, I think these are excellent earbuds. They have very accurate sound reproduction, including accurate, though not boomy bass response. They seem to be very well made, and are very high quality, especially for the price. These are studio grade earbuds for the price of middle-grade consumer ear phones.
Pros: High quality, good company support, excellent sound reproduction, light weight, comfortabe, easy to insert and use, great value for the money.
Cons: Whistling noise when wind blows across them, cable can be a bit too long for some people, possible difficulty in finding replacement foam inserts of the same design as the original.