Most of you have probably heard of the Etymotic brand through different audiophile communities for a long while. This brand doesn’t need an introduction, but their newest IEM for sure does, as it’s very different from their usual formula of having a single driver within a very small shell. I’ve seen the Etymotic IEMs before but I’ve never been a fan of the way they fit in the ears, so I have always avoided them. This time around, they have changed their design and it looks a bit more comfortable. I’ll dive deeper into their new design and fit later on in the review. Their latest “flagship”, dubbed the “EVO”, was a name they got from a contest they ran during the latter parts of developing the IEM. They chose the name as it coincides with their vision of their evolution of tech and sound in which their previous IEMs have already reached their peak. However, many have been skeptical about their decision to go the multiple driver route. So does the $399 EVO live up to Etymotic’s vision? Is the EVO able to compete with other multi-driver reference tuned IEMs out in the market? Find out in this review!
Since I’ve never had a chance to try Etymotic’s previous offerings, I don’t know what’s different or what has changed with their packaging, but the EVO’s packaging is quite presentable. The box within the sleeve has foldable split flaps that reveal the IEMs within. The IEMs sit in a circular foam insert within the case with the cable rolled around the insert. It looks nice and honestly, is the only way to store the IEMs neatly and securely as the cable is quite prone to tangling. Moving on to the other included accessories, we have 2 sets of the infamous triple flange tips that Etymotic is known for, and thankfully they have also included 3 sets of less aggressive double flange tips and a couple of foam tips as well. I’ll be elaborating on the tips and might offer some alternatives to the stock ones if they don’t work out for you. Etymotic has also included extra nozzle filters with the tool to safely remove and install the said filters.
Design and Build
Far removed from their traditional on-ear design, the current EVO has an over-the-ear design which most artists and sound engineers as well as myself would prefer as it’s more secure and provides better comfort. The shells themselves, while larger than previous Etymotic offerings, are still on the smaller end of the spectrum. Etymotic fans might rejoice that their tried and tested nozzle design is here to stay on the EVO. It’s a narrower nozzle but quite a bit longer than what is offered by the likes of Westone Audio and Shure. The narrower nozzle is good for those that have smaller ear canals as you can get smaller tips that would fit better.
Moving to the build, the EVO surprised me with how well-built it felt. It has a very premium feeling to it. I was expecting it to be a more plastic-y feeling but it’s made from denser stainless steel injected shells. These are even more premium feeling than other CNC type metal shells and that navy blue finishing is quite the looker. It’s definitely on my top list of well-built IEMs I’ve ever had the chance to try out. Kudos to Etymotic for such a well-built and well-designed IEM.
However, I do have to mention the cable a bit here as it was quite the downside of the whole experience. I don’t mind Etymotic’s decision to go with the much less common IPX/T2 type connectors, but the ergonomics of the cable is quite bothersome. I had to repeatedly use the EVO’s foam insert to roll the cable on it in order to keep it from tangling. It might be a minor caveat to some, but for someone that uses my IEMs on the go and at work during my breaks, it just adds more inconvenience. It’s also insanely thin to the point where I’m always scared of damaging it. So, I’m hoping for a better choice of cable next time. But other than that, I have no complaints on how the cable performs sound-wise.
The stock Etymotic fit is really something you’d either love or hate. The extremely deep fit is not for everyone. With how deep other IEMs already fit me, the EVO goes even deeper. It’s quite uncomfortable for me even with the double flange tips. I’ve tried multiple times to get used to it but I just couldn’t. It had to sit quite far from my concha to have a decent fit, but then the seal isn’t as great which would defeat the purpose of the multi-flanged tips. So I had to go towards a different route with the tips and used the Final E-Tips with the included nozzle inserts to fit the narrower nozzle of the EVO. With the Final E-tips, it finally felt great and sealed well. I also didn’t notice a drastic change in sound from the stock tips.
Etymotic is known for its absolute “diffused-field neutral” tuning and the EVO definitely mirrors that with some added low-end spice. So for those looking for a more coloured sound, this IEM is not for you. Now let’s go over each frequency and technicalities down below!
Bass: Even though I mentioned some spice in the low-end, it is still nowhere near a bass-heavy nor a bass-forward sound. It’s still on the leaner and colder side. I do wish I could have another Etymotic IEM to compare the bass with, but I do have other relatively “neutral” IEMs I’ve set up to compare to the EVO later on in the comparison section; most of them are in the higher price points so it’s gonna be interesting to see just how well the EVO performs in comparison to those. Alright, back to the EVO bass! While it is leaner, it still has enough juice to have a satisfying punch and heft to the lower notes. I’m quite a bit of a fan of this type of presentation. Other “neutral” or “reference” tuned IEMs usually bring more energy to the mid-bass to give a bit of warmth and power to the sound, but the Etymotic went for the sub-bass regions instead to give it better separation and minimize any bloat or if any at all. The move to a triple BA setup has helped the EVO provide the much-needed bass depth which their single BA IEMs could only dream of having.
Mids: The mids of the EVO just might be my favourite part of the IEM. Male and Female vocals both shine exceptionally well on the EVO. The midrange isn’t overly forward but it’s just clean and clear. Even on busier tracks, vocals and instruments don’t get mushy and distracting. It’s just clean and smooth. Etymotic has done well with providing such separation at this price point. There are very few issues or none at all that I could find with the EVO’s midrange for its intended purpose and sound design. Things just fall right in place with the EVO’s midrange presentation.
Highs: The highs… while this region provides a decent body avoiding any harshness, as a converted treble head, it is a bit too safe or too smooth for my liking. Although there is decent detail, it just doesn’t come across as well-refined as other reference-tuned IEMs I’ve compared it to. But since it is cheaper, I might cut it some slack. Though, I wish for a bit more treble extension and energy as the treble comes across as a bit blunted and is a touch behind the overall midrange. Maybe we’ll hear that on the next iteration of the EVO. I’m looking forward to what Etymotic has in the works if they do have another IEM to release alongside the EVO with the new design language and tech. Maybe there’s a more energetic V-shaped sounding IEM in the works to accompany the EVO at the top of their lineup?
Staging/Imaging: On the staging side of things, this is another area where Etymotic could improve on. With the EVO being a touch mid-forward, the stage, while not totally “in-the-head” in terms of presentation, is still more on the intimate side. It’s a decent performer but I wouldn’t call it its selling point. On the other hand, imaging is pretty great, the separation the triple driver setup gives helps out with instrument placement and precision. The EVO keeps everything in place and doesn’t lose control even with busier tracks. Another point to Etymotic!
AudioFly AF1120 MKII
Although the AudioFly brand isn’t around anymore and that the AF1120 MKII is now discontinued, I still wanted to add it in as if you’re looking for something in the “used” market that has a somewhat similar sound to the EVO with an even more compact body.
Bass: The EVO is the definitive winner here for my taste. The EVO’s bass just reaches deeper and provides a better kick and rumble than the even more “anemic/dryer” bass of the AF1120 MKII. If you prefer an even flatter bass response, the AF1120 might be the one for you, but if you’re like me that likes a bit more spice in this department while staying uncoloured throughout, the EVO is your winner.
Mids: Both IEMs excel in the midrange department with the EVO slightly edging out the AF1120 MKII in technicalities. Vocals and instruments on busier tracks just sound more separated and controlled on the EVO. The AF1120 isn’t a slouch here but the EVO just has a slight advantage in layering. The AF1120 does provide a sweeter vocal presentation though. So if you care more about vocals than anything else, I’d give the AF1120 a try.
Highs: Much like the mids, both IEMs have a similar treble presentation. Both the EVO and the AF1120 have a somewhat blunted or rather smoother treble rendering to put it nicely. I do feel that the EVO provides better clarity and note weight, but with how smooth the treble presentation is, I wouldn’t totally give it the win. In this regard, it’s a draw for me.
Bass: The EVO has the leaner and dryer bass notes of the two. The RSV provides the listener with a more satisfying punch and a more prominent rumble. That being said, the EVO sounds more “correct” or rather, it has a cleaner note definition than the RSV with the obvious sacrifice of it being more on the leaner side. Ultimately, it depends on what’s more important to you when it comes to bass rendering.
Mids: With the RSV having a more prominent bass section, the lower mids do seem a bit more on the meatier side, giving the male vocals a touch more body compared to the neutral tone coming from the EVO. Much like the male vocals, the female vocals on the EVO stay neutral with just a hair forwardness. The RSV have a bit of a thinner female vocal presentation in comparison. It’s not by much, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Highs: The RSV has the extension and energy I wanted the EVO to have. While they may be quite equal with detail retrieval, the way the RSV renders detail is just more refined than the EVO. The sparkle and touch of edginess on the RSV is what makes the RSV’s treble closer to my preferences compared to the EVO. However, the RSV is almost double the price and does have 2 more BAs to help out with its technical performance, so once again, I do have to cut the EVO some slack here. If you’re looking for a smoother yet detailed treble, the EVO would win you over.
Empire Ears ESR MKII
Bass: The ESR MKII packs more of a mid-bass punch compared to the EVO’s sub-bass focus. Both have a leaner low-end but the ESR MKII have that warmth one might like when picking a reference IEM. The EVO is set on giving you the cleanest and uncoloured bass response. I love these two IEMs quite equally. They just provide me with different flavours. I would pick the EVO over the ESR MKII if your focus is on electronic music where the heavier notes of electronic beats just reach deeper on the EVO’s sub-bass bump. On the contrary, I would choose the ESR over the EVO when it comes to acoustic instruments. The mid-bass hump and warmth of the ESR help bring a fuller note to drum kicks and bass slaps.
Mids: The ESR MKII’s lower mids sound fuller and notes have more weight to them. It’s such a pleasure to listen to male vocals on the ESR. Meanwhile, the EVO has a noticeable forwardness in the upper mids. As a result, female vocals sound more intimate on the EVO. The ESR MKII always had amazing layering, especially around vocals. So if you’re after an even range with both types of vocals without one being more forward than the other, the ESR MKII would be the better choice. But if you’re just like me that has a music library filled with female vocalists, the EVO is quite the performer.
Highs: Much like the comparison with the RSV, the ESR MKII is closer to my preferences in terms of how I want my treble to be presented; a touch more energy without a hint of harshness. The ESR MKII covers this really well. And with an asking price way above the EVO and with an EST-type driver to handle the upper frequencies, it definitely should. It’s quite a bit unfair to compare these two, but I felt that I had to since the ESR MKII became my go-to IEM for “mixing”. I wanted to see how close the EVO was to this as it could be a “cheaper” alternative. While I may prefer the ESR MKII for its added warmth, which is quite pleasant for acoustic instruments, the EVO has a more laid-back and smoother tonality which is better for longer listening sessions. Even though the ESR MKII is my winner, the EVO isn’t too far behind.
I’m glad to finally have been given the chance to try out an Etymotic IEM. So before I end my review, I just want to thank Etymotic for providing me with the IEMs to review.
The EVO proves that Etymotic isn’t scared to try out new things! I’m glad to finally see them go out of their comfort zone and experiment on a new form factor and a new formula to win some new fans that just weren’t a fan of their previous offerings’ form factor. I’m looking forward to seeing this new form factor come to new products in the future. Perhaps a hybrid formula?