Nearly two decades ago, Etymotic used its 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 hearphones are Etymotic's attempt to bring a similarly high level of performance to the sub-£100 market.

Etymotic has cut costs for the mc3 headphones 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 down side to this is that some people find it tricky to get a proper fit and you may hear cable noise.

The design of the mc3 headphones 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 with the mc3 headphones: 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.

Etymotic mc3 headphones: Sound quality

When we first tried the mc3 headphones, 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 headphones' few weak spots. Voices reproduced by the microphone are comprehensible, but sound thin compared to the iPhone 4's internal microphone.

Next page: Our expert verdict >>

See also:

Headphone reviews

Speaker reviews

Etymotic mc3 headphones: Specs

  • Frequency response 20Hz-15kHz
  • high-output 8mm neodymium moving coil driver
  • noise isolation 35-42dB
  • impedance 16 Ohms
  • 4ft cable with 3.5mm plug
  • 2-year warranty
  • Frequency response 20Hz-15kHz
  • high-output 8mm neodymium moving coil driver
  • noise isolation 35-42dB
  • impedance 16 Ohms
  • 4ft cable with 3.5mm plug
  • 2-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

Bassheads should steer clear, but even though we find the lack of bass occasionally frustrating, overall we love the mc3 earphones. Given the mc3s' already great performance, we’d pick the mc3 with custom tips - that extra comfort means we can listen even longer.

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