The Company Line

In the past, we have introduced you to several of the hearing protection products offered by Etymotic. In this review, we’d like to focus on one of their products which is meant to deliver sound to your ears, as opposed to protect them from it. This time up, we take a look at the new mk5 Isolator Earphones, which is the newest addition to Etymotic’s Isolator line of earphones.

As you might suspect from the name, one of the goals with the mk5 Isloator Earphones is to isolate the sounds you want to hear from the sounds which you don’t want to hear (like background noise). By sealing the ear canal, you can hear your music without needing to blast the volume. The mk5’s reviewed here represent the lowest-profile and lowest-cost model in the Isolator line.

First Impressions

My first experience with Etymotic came many years ago with the purchase of a pair of ER-6i earphones (which I still own and use). The ER-6i’s really set the standard for “affordable high fidelity” in a compact earphone. They were a great way to experience a notable increase in sound quality, without breaking the bank. Comparing the mk5’s to the 6i’s, I did notice that the mk5’s did a better job of making a seal in my ear canal, and this resulted in slightly better bass response. I will say, though, that the eartips on my 6i’s are quite old, and might not seal as well as new eartips would. The upper mids and high end on the 6i’s seemed to be more extended and clear, but the mk5’s were more smooth. At lower volume settings, the ER-6i’s seem to have more output, but as I turned up the volume, the apparent output from the two became more or less equal. Though the 6i’s are not an overly large set of earphones, the mk5’s are noticeably more compact.

It is worth noting that the ER-6i’s employ a balanced-armature driver, which is a different technology than the moving-coil dynamic drivers used in the mk5’s. While Etymotic no longer offers the ER-6i’s, the current hf5 is based upon similar technology (balanced-armature driver) and is priced at $139.95.

The mk5’s ship equipped with a pair of standard-sized “frost” 3-flange eartips. Inside the packaging, Etymotic provides two alternate sets of eartips: one set of foam eartips, and a second, slightly larger set of 3-flange clear silicon eartips. There is also a removable shirt clip, and a zippered pouch to store everything. Etymotic does recommend getting new eartips every so often (every 3-6 months for the 3-flange tips), and you can buy them at a very reasonable price (in packages of ten) from the Etymotic website. Swapping or replacing the eartips is quick and easy. The 4’ cable is Kevlar-reinforced, and terminates in a 3.5mm jack.

A Real Earful

mk5 isolator earphonesIf you are in the market for earphones (ear buds, in-ear monitors, whatever you want to call them), there are an increasing number of products on the market. Etymotic helped to pioneer this particular market segment, and within their own brand, they have a number of different offerings, from the higher-end (and higher-priced, at $349.00) ER4’s, to the ETY•Kids® earphones (priced at $19.95, and designed to keep the SPL’s down to a safe level). At the same price point as the mk5’s ($64.95), Etymotic also offers the HD•Safety™ earplugs+earphones and the mc5 Earphones. The HD•Safety’s carry a noise reduction rating, offering up to 27dB of reduction. This is distinguished from noise isolation (and all of Etymotic’s earphones carry about 35-40dB in terms of noise isolation). The HD•Safety earphones also designed to be less sensitive than the mk5’s, with a maximum output of 88dB.

The mc5’s go in the opposite direction, and are a little more sensitive than the mk5’s (100dB for the mc5, versus 95dB for the mk5) and utilize a high-output 8mm neodymium moving-coil driver. The mk5 and HD•Safety models employ high-output 6mm neodymium moving-coil drivers, which are a bit more accurate in the highs and are a little more true to Etymotic’s “target response curve.” I have to admit, I have not had a chance to compare the mk5’s to their identically priced brethren, but it’s good to have options, eh?

Lasting Impressions

  Considering the wide number of brands and products to choose from in the general earphone market, it is comforting to have a well-established, highly regarded brand such as Etymotic putting out a nice range of options. It is worth noting that Etymotic has its roots in hearing protection, and I feel confident that I can trust my ears with their products. The mk5 Isolator earphones sound great, and seem very sturdy. These are definitely a great bang for the buck.  

Manufacturer:Etymotic Research, Inc.
Model:mk5 Isolator Earphones
Made in:USA
Headphone Jack:3.5mm
Drivers:6mm neodymium moving-coil drivers, with Accu•Chamber® Technology
Impedance:32 Ohm
Maximum Output:120dB
Manufacturer’s Stated Frequency Response:20Hz to 15kHz
Noise Isolation:98% (35-42 dB)
Accessories:Zippered pouch, shirt clip, foam eartips, standard and large 3-flange eartips
Warranty:1 Year