I will never forget the day I got my first Apple iPod. It was from Apple's PR firm and it came to my old office on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Inside there was a small note saying "if your publisher will allow you to keep this device - please feel free to do so." Considering that I was the publisher, I asked myself and I agreed to keep that first iPod, which absolutely blew my mind. At my old publication, we gave it Product of the Year (not because they gave me one either), as the iPod was an instant hit. I could now ditch my clunky Compact Disc player and CD case from my briefcase, thus making my all-important audiophile road rig much lighter as well as containing thousands more songs. The iPod was a game changer for me as it was for millions of other people in the years to come.
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Adding that old iPod to my mobile rig did give me reason to start looking for new headphones. Acoustician Bob Hodas told me of a new variety of in-ear monitors that some studios and increasing amounts of on-stage performers were using. That got me to the Etymotic Research ER-4 Micro Pro in-ear monitors. Priced a lot higher back them, the ER-4's today sell for $299 a pair and can be found at places like Amazon.com, Headroom.com and beyond. These thin headphones actually go inside your ear and come with a variety of ear molds, foam and other endings that you can try to cut down ambient noise and get greater comfort, as not all ears are the same size and/or shape - even on the inside. The Etymotic ER-4 Micro Pro headphones come with a travel case, ¼ inch adaptor, a longer cable, various foam endings as well as some plasticy/rubber ones.
Sonically, I really like the in-ear concept as done by Etymotic Research. Their speakers aren't colored and without the impact of the acoustics of a room you get a very "now" or immediate sound. The bass is better than you might expect and the overall sound is absolutely audiophile quality, even when being fed by an iPod. Of course the better the source you feed, the better the ER-4s sound but they can rock on uncompressed files from your iPod without question.
Not being one to shy away from going to extremes, I found out that there are professional audiologists who could make sound isolating ear molds that the Etymotic Research ER-4s fit perfectly into. These molds help you cut down the ambient noise in your environment (be it an airplane, on-stage or anywhere) by easily 30 dB if not more. The process of getting fitted for these molds has additional cost and you must get your ears filled with a gel-like substance for which they make the molds. It's an odd experience to be polite and you must absolutely be sitting as you can (and likely will lose your balance). A good doctor or technician in this area could also do a professional cleaning of your ears as well as test your hearing. Both are required.
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