Drop Etymotic ERX

Drop Etymotic ERX

5 August 2022 0 By Petros Laskis

Superb

Pros: + Reference balanced tuning
+ Superb tonal accuracy
+ Great bass extension
+ Top notch technicalities
+ Exceptional transparency and accuracy
+ Crystal clear and resolving
+ Musical and engaging
+ Spacious soundstage with precise imaging
+ Beautiful looking
+ Excellent build quality
+ Comfortable fit and excellent passive noise attenuation
+ Detachable cable
+ Hard carrying case and plenty of ear-tips

Cons: – They need plenty of power
– Texture is more lean than visceral
– Bass is lacking in physical impact
– Soundstage is not that grand and holographic
– Mediocre cable
– A balanced cable is really missing
– Slightly heavy ear-shells
– Deep fit system might not be for everyone

The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for my honest review.
The ERX normal price is $299 but 300 units are now available for pre-order at the discounted price of $249.
You can get it exclusively from Drop.

This review was first published in 05 August 2022 and it is the world premiere.

Etymotic – a legendary name

In audiophile circles and beyond, anyone who knows earphones knows the name Etymotic.
Founded in 1983 with an emphasis on auditory research and engineering-driven product design, Etymotic turned heads just one year later by inventing the first insert earphones for audiological research—the ER1, ER2, and ER3—which are still used in the field today.
In 1991, the brand released its first consumer hi-fi insert earphone—the ER4—which was the first earphone of its kind to use balanced armature drivers, previously used only in hearing aids.
After many years and ER4 iterations, Etymotic released the EVO in 2021, branching out with a multi-driver, in-concha design.
Through all of these innovations, the brand has stayed true to one signature that’s undeniably Etymotic: earphones that sit deep in the ear canal.
It’s an unmistakable—some would say superior—design choice and listening experience.

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Drop+ Etymotic ERX in ear monitors

All information is quoted from the Drop+ website so if you already know what the fuss is about you can skip to the actual impressions.

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The Drop+ Etymotic ERX is a new collaboration between Drop+ and the famous Etymotic to create an IEM with one simple goal, take the community’s most sought-after features from past Etymotic releases and put them into one pair of earphones.
The result was a blend of two Etymotic all-timers: the ER4XR and the EVO.
From the ER4XR, they took the expressive, ultra-consistent single-balanced-armature design. From the EVO, they took the in-concha form factor—which features Etymotic’s signature deep-insertion build, with a natural shape and next to no protrusion outside of the ear.
Tuned together with Etymotic, it’s got a sound that sits somewhere between its two predecessors.

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Drop+ wanted to make a pair of earphones that amazed all listeners—from audiophiles to newcomers, controlled listeners to commuters.
To that end, they needed something that felt as good as it sounded.
With the EVO’s in-concha construction, the ERX has an ultra-streamlined, naturally contoured profile—great for on-stage or under-helmet listening.
It’s also made from durable stainless steel, with a cable placement designed to reduce microphonics. Inside, the ER4XR’s single-balanced-armature design delivers excellent coherence across the entire frequency spectrum, eliminating the risk of the poorly-executed crossover between multiple drivers.
They turned to Etymotic to handle the tuning on the ERX, landing on an accurate sound signature that adds weight to the lowest frequencies without encroaching on the upper bass and lower midrange.
Moving up the spectrum, the mids and highs showcase stunning clarity and precision, mainstays in the Etymotic sound.
From high to low—ER4XR to EVO—this is one IEM that covers it all.

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Build quality, appearance and fit

The ear-shells are made from stainless steel with excellent build quality and a smooth, black matte finish that feels good to the touch and looks quite durable.
This is definitely one of the best made Drop+ products ever and it is very beautiful looking too.
The ERX is anatomically shaped with contoured surfaces and edges that add to a modern and slightly industrial appearance.
The compact ear-shells follow the natural curves of the ear and thanks to the in-concha, deep insertion build they offer a secure but very comfortable fit without an extra bulky protrusion outside the ear.
Of special note is the Etymotic’s signature deep-insertion system which is one of the best IEM fit systems that I have ever tried.
The ERX achieves a deep, stable and snug fit with excellent noise attenuation while at the same time it manages to stay comfortable without causing pain to the ear.
The only downsides I can think of is that you have to use the specially designed ear-tips so If you like to experiment with different kinds of ear-tips, you will have a problem finding something suitable and that some people will find the fit system quite annoying.

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Cable

The ERX features a 1.2m detachable cable with the Estron T2 connectors which are not so commonly available but all major after-market cable manufacturers can build a cable with them.
The cable is nothing special to talk about, it is a generic one with an average build quality.
For $300 a better cable should definitely have been included not to mention the lack of a balanced one.
Now that almost every single USB DAC dongle comes with a balanced output, a balanced cable is a necessity and I can’t understand how some manufacturers keep making IEMs without one or at least the option to choose a balanced plug while placing the order.

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Accessories

The ERX package includes 2 spare dampers, a filter tool, 2 pairs of double flange (medium, large), 1 pair triple flange (large), 3 pairs of single flange ear-tips (small, medium, large) and a good quality, hard carrying case.
You can use the ERX without the dampers but this will alter the stock tuning, I haven’t experimented but you are welcome to do so.

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Power requirements

The ERX with 47Ω of rated impedance and a sensitivity of 98dB/0.1Vrms, is quite difficult to drive and the use of a powerful USB DAC dongle is a must.
To include some real examples, the iBasso DC05 which is already powerful for the size is not sufficient enough for properly driving the ERX.
With classical music it easily reaches its upper clipping limits with the result of a harsh and piercing sound.
Since the ERX came without a balanced cable, I wasn’t able to use more powerful balanced DAC dongles like the FiiO KA3 or the Shanling UA3 and I had to rely on single ended gear.
From USB DAC dongles, the iFi Go bar (from the single ended output) was powerful enough but still not perfect so I ended with battery powered or stationary gear like the EarMen TR-Amp or FiiO K5 Pro ESS.
I have also listened a lot with the iBasso DX320/AMP13.
The ERX was burned for more than 50 hours before evaluation.

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Listening impressions

Utterly balanced, this is the first impression that comes to mind after listening to the ERX and it doesn’t fade away but it gets even stronger as you keep listening.
Actually the ERX is one of the best tuned earphones that I have ever tested with great tonal accuracy and coherence throughout the whole frequency band.
The tonality is near perfect, at least when listening to real instruments and voices, which all sound tonally correct with natural timbre.

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The ERX tuning is not about personal preferences like whether you like your mids forward or your bass elevated because ultimate transparency and accuracy are the ruling principles.
What you hear is an exact mirroring of the recording and the gear behind the ERX, this is a crystal clear mirror that reflects everything into your ears with the utmost honesty.
The tuning is masterfully balanced, every part of the frequency range has the right amount of gravity and nothing gets too boosted or subdued.
It seems that the engineers goal was to make every instrument sound with the correct pitch and they have surely succeeded.

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Some of you are going to be rather disappointed because the ERX doesn’t offer extreme sub-bass or elevated bass or forward mids or cozy warmth or sizzling treble or an analytical sound signature or anything else that deviates from the reference norm.
Looking into the specs and reading about the single full range balanced armature driver that is used inside the ERX, I bet that your first thought was something like, “hey there is no way that it can do real bass”.
Wrong, think twice, because the ERX extends well deep into the lows with ample sub-bass and bass quantity without unnecessary boosting it nor elevating the mid-bass.
The only difference from a dynamic driver is lying in the bass texture which is not that visceral, it is on the lean side but not that much as to call it dry.
While the whole presentation is very persuasive thanks to the excellent dynamic contrast which covers all the volume gradients, it is not that physically impactful and muscular as with a dynamic driver.
Technicalities are superb, layering and definition are out of this world, the bass is extra tight and controlled with exemplary clarity without a single trace of mid-bass masking or bleeding into the mids.

The mids are reproduced with exemplary fidelity, true to the original mix without being moved backwards or forward.
Of course this doesn’t mean that they lack in presence and weight while they are heard with the finest articulation and plenty of harmonic expression.
As said earlier the timbre is not warm nor cold, nor lush nor dry but it rather sits in the middle, you could name it natural and lifelike while it is absent of the usual balanced armature artificially metallic flavor.

The treble is sparkling, luminous and vivid with first class detail retrieval but without sounding analytical, bright, etched or fatiguing.
Great high frequency tuning which balances the high quality resolution, excellent extension and airy presentation with a touch of smoothness and the lack of harshness.
The texture is rather delicate and not that weighty but the interesting part is that decaying time is kept under control and is not that hasty so despite the lack of relative body the high pitched instruments, including percussion like high-huts, don’t sound too thin and lifeless.

The same high level of technical performance applies into the soundstage which is naturally extended, wide and airy with pinpoint accuracy and the most correct positioning with plenty of space around the performers.
The ambience is well communicated but the balanced armature driver seems to be rather limited when it comes to depth layering and holography, the stage is rather two-dimensional and not that grand in scale.

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The best part is saved for the last, the actual achievement of the ERX design is that despite the high transparency and accuracy, it is not by any means a boring, clinical or artificial sounding earphone.
On the contrary it is rather musical and engaging with foot tapping qualities and an engaging character.
With a wealth of overtones and a colorful harmonic palette, combined with the natural tonality, the ERX sounds realistic and emotional albeit not too full bodied.
The ERX is at home with all kinds of music, as long as you don’t have special tuning preferences, but it is impossible not to overemphasize how a perfect match is with classical or acoustic music.
The ERX is the classical music listener’s dream and from solo piano, to quarters and symphonic works or opera seria, everything sounded delightfully convincing and enjoyable.

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In the end

The Drop+ Etymotic ERX is destined for great success and I can see thousands of it being sold over the years.
Not by chance but because it is masterfully tuned with a reference-like sound signature that stays true to the legendary Etymotic heritage.
With an exceptional tonal balance, excellent transparency and master class technicalities for the category, it is a critical listening earphone that manages to stay very musical and engaging.
Add the top notch build quality, the comfortable fit and the outstanding passive noise attenuation and the Drop+ Etymotic ERX is a clear winner with the only thing really missing a better quality cable with interchangeable plugs.

Test playlist

Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.