Nearly two decades ago, Etymotic used the company’s expertise in hearing aids to produce one of the first lines of in-ear-canal headphones, the ER-4 series. The ER-4 line remains an audiophile classic and is still available today starting at around £150.
The £79 mc3 is Etymotic’s attempt to bring a similarly high level of performance to the sub-£100 market. The company has cut costs by replacing the balanced-armature drivers of the ER series with less-expensive moving-coil drivers and tuning those drivers to closely mimic the performance of the ER series.
In-ear pieces typically fit deep in your ear canals, blocking most external noise and creating a solid acoustic seal. The downside to this is that some people find it tricky to get a proper fit and you may hear cable noise.
The lack of bass is occasionally frustrating, but overall we love the mc3 earphones
The design is clean and attractive. An Apple-style three-button (Volume Up, Play/Pause/Call, and Volume Down) remote with a built-in microphone sits on the cable.
Etymotic provides a diverse assortment of eartips: small and large triple-flanged silicone tips, foam tips, and mushroom-shaped ‘glider’ tips made of smooth foam. Eartip preference is personal, but we liked the triple-flange versions, which produced a good seal. You can also upgrade the mc3 with Etymotic’s Custom-Fit eartips, designed specifically for your ear canals. These improve comfort considerably but you’ll need to weigh up the additional cost.
When we first tried the mc3, we were immediately impressed by the sound quality. Audio is clear and natural, with impressive detail in the bass, midrange, and high frequencies.
Etymotic’s products have a reputation for producing frequency response that’s as ‘flat’ as possible – having the high, midrange, and low frequencies in balance, rather than any one dominating. As a result, bass frequencies sound a bit on the quiet side. We suspect there won’t be enough bass for some listeners.
The performance of the inline microphone is one of the mc3’s few weak spots. Voices reproduced by the microphone are comprehensible, but sound thin compared to the iPhone 4’s internal microphone
Bassheads should steer clear, but even though we find the lack of bass occasionally frustrating, overall we love the mc3 earphones. Given the mc3’s already great performance, we’d pick the mc3 with custom tips – that extra comfort means we can listen even longer.