Before I get into the review proper, let me re-iterate what I was looking for in headphones. I wanted something that I could plug directly into my Rio Karma, without a headphone amp. I wanted something small and portable that I could use while mowing the lawn, general listening at work, or on an airplane. In addition, they needed to be comfortable. I am not a big fan of earbud style headphones, so I expected this to be a problem. Finally, they needed to be able to keep out outside noise relatively well while having good sound quality. I knew the ER-4P fit all these categories with the possible exception of comfort. The specs clearly indicated their size, their 25+ db of attenuation, and the ability to be powered by a device, so I didn't worry too much.
Friday, the FedEx man arrived with my package. I opened the box, unpacked everything and *gasp* read the instruction book; after all, I needed to find out what all the little parts were for. The included parts were 3 sets of flanged ear-tips, 5 pairs of foam (disposable) ear tips, filters, filter changing tool, a shirt clip, a travel bag, and the earplugs themselves.
After reading through the manuals and looking at the flanged eartips, I began to worry. I was worrying because I have relatively small ear canals, and the ear tips looked rather large. I followed the instructions anyway, and cleaned out my ears, moistened the ear tips, pulled up on my ear and inserted them. They fit! As a matter of fact, they are comfortable. I wouldn't say they are the most comfortable headphones I've ever had on my head, but they are definitely something I can wear all day. If I ever get ambitious enough, and find an extra $100 burning a hole in my pocket, I'll think about custom ear molds. In the meantime, they earphones go in easily, and come out easily, and are comfortable to wear.
So, how do they sound? After putting the plugs in, I first noticed that I could still hear things around me. Not well, but I could hear them. I plugged the 1/8" mini plug into the Rio and hit the play button. I hear music, which was a good start. The Rio has plenty of power to drive the ER-4P, and I didn't need to turn it up past 20 (out of 30) before my ears started to hurt. At moderate to low volumes, I can't hear anything going on around me, and people around me can't hear the music. When the music is turned up loud, people still can't hear a peep from the earplugs. This is a definite plus for at work use.
This is all well and good, but how well do they reproduce music? The answer is: quite well. One of the first tracks that I tested with was Round Here by The Counting Crows. This song has a good 10 seconds of silence in the beginning before the track starts. It turns out that it isn’t silent, but a bass riff that is going on. I think I hear voices one time too when it was turned up loud. Either way, these are some pieces of the song that I hadn’t heard before. I played several more tracks before I realized someone was trying to talk to me. Oops.
Two days later, I took the earplugs out when I was doing some yard work: mowing, raking and other miscellaneous tasks. In this environment, they performed admirably. During the raking, the chord would often bounce off the side of head, but I didn’t notice the ‘microphone effect’ that some other reviews had commented on. It was at this time that I also first realized the benefit of the shirt clip, which I first dismissed as a stupid gimmick. The shirt clip kept the earplugs from falling out when I hit the chord with the rake, and allowed me to pull the earplugs out to talk to someone without worrying about them falling to the ground. As it turns out, the shirt clip has also helped me from getting the headphone cable wrapped around my chair, which happens far too often with other headphones I have owned.
In short, on a scale of 1-10, I’d give these a 9/10 in sound quality (though the best I’ve ever heard) and a 7/10 in comfort. Not the most comfortable piece of technology, but better than I expected.