Etymotic ER6 vs. Bose QuietComfort II

I’m sitting on an Alaska Airlines flight up to Seattle right now and figure it’s a good time to put my two headphones to the test. I’ve owned both the QuietComfort I and II headphones for the past few years. Recently I purchased the Etymotic ER6’s and love them but I have not had a chance to test out Etymotic’s claims that they perform better than active noise canceling headphones (like the Bose). In short, they are right. The ER6’s kicked Bose but.

Etymotic ER6

Even though the ER6’s do not produce any kind of active noise canceling I found them to reduce the airplane noise more than the Bose QuietComfort IIs when no music was playing. However, where they really excelled is when I turned on my tunes. The ER6’s produced a much cleaner sounds that was not distorted, amplified, or distracted from anything else. In fact with the volume set appropriately I completely forgot about the cabin noise. With the Bose I have always felt that there was some sort of background noise that I could hear.

The trick for me was really spending a few extra seconds to make sure that my ER6’s had a good snug fit in my ear. In the Etymotic manual they recommend yawning while inserting the earplugs. This actually works fairly well as it expands the ear canal enough to allow the earplugs to get a good tight fit. Additionally, after a few minutes of being in your ear, the snug fit seems to improve a bit.

The best part about all this? Well the ER6’s weigh 1 oz and fit in my pocket. The Bose headphones are huge, require batteries, and are very difficult to sleep with (which is what I tend to do on long flights).

Ever since I started using noise canceling headphones I’ve found that they SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the amount of stress on the body when flying. This is especially true for flights over 4 hours. When you arrive at your destination you don’t feel the wear from the drone of the engines.

Now, here is the thing. Bose has sold thousands of these headsets to people like myself because they flew on an American Airlines flight where they give out the headsets to Business and First Class passengers on International flights. I purchased my first headset when I returned from a 1999 trip to Japan. I was upgraded to first class and they gave me these headsets. Having used them the entire 9 hour flight, I almost cried when I had to return them. Since then I purchased the QuietComfort IIs and gave my wife the Is. You see a lot of frequent flyers bring on their own pairs of these headsets, and since I only fly American/Alaska I see them everywhere. Furthermore, Bose does a lot of advertising in all the in-seat magazines like Alaska’s and American’s. They even price the $300 headsets in installments of $30 a month with zero interest. I bet that they sell like hotcakes to frequent travelers.

The Etymotics earplugs are a better product. I wish they sold to more folks. The problem is: 1) it’s hard to notice people have them, so they aren’t going to sell themselves, 2) since they are earplugs, you can’t really hand them to a friend to try them out. That makes it rather difficult. I think they could improve their “reach” by:

  1. Partnering with an OEM to include their headsets. Figure out a clever name and brand them as such. Call them noise canceling or whatever.
  2. Give your users lots of extra earplugs. This will allow them to let their friends try them out.
  3. Give you users little information cards to hand to their friends like Bose does. My QuietComfort II case includes 15 pre-printed information cards to hand to people who ask about the headphones. Clever.
  4. Make your headphones look different. Put some bling bling on them or something. Get people to notice that they are not your normal headphones. Sony does a decent job of this. How about making the cable metal? What about a cool case for them? I notice Apple’s White headphones, all they did was change the color.

Anyway, if you fly at all, spend the dough and get these puppies. If you were thinking about getting the QuietComfort or other kinds of Active Noise Canceling headphones think twice and try the ER6 or ER6i. However, if you are one of those people that does’t like putting things in your ear, then maybe these aren’t for you.

Comments (15)

  1. Chris S says:

    I have a pair of the ER6i’s and haven’t been on a flight with them yet. I’ve bought an inline volume control for them, but my concern is that I fall asleep with them in with no audio and accidentally push the volume setting (either the inline or the aircraft). Then there’s a cabin announcement and my head gets blown off. The same could happen if I accidentally brush agains the inline whilst listening to music – as they are far in your ears they do need to be eased out slowly. I connected them to my tablet pc without the inline and the volume level has to be set *really* low on the pc to get them at a comfortable volume.

    I think a solution would be a fixed limiter on the phones, so you could say ‘whatever the input, cap the output level to this maximum’.

  2. Marc Bizer says:

    Hey Omar,

    But do you like having earplugs in your ear? Which is more comfortable? The Bose or the Etymotics? I’ve also read that one constantly gets earwax on the Etymotics … Have you found that to be a problem?

  3. Jay Glynn says:

    I’ve tried most and the ones that I like the best are the Sennheiser PXC250. Much more comfortable then either the Bose or the ER6. For some reason my ear isn’t cooperative with any earbud type headphone, including the Shure or the ER series. The PXC250 are very light, comfortable to wear and sound great.

  4. Omar Shahine says:

    I don’t mind having earplugs in my ear. Some people do. For me the stock ear plugs fit just fine, some folks will need to experiment.

    It’s true that earwax has a tendency to get on the rubber flanges, but for me that’s not a big deal. Some folks generate a lot more earwax than others so it could be a big problem.

  5. Kev says:

    But what about the sound quality? I have the Bose Quiet Comfort II and I haven’t been able to get the same kind of fidelity out of anything else.

    I just kick back and love listening to beautiful music on a nice set of headphones and would love to find something a bit smaller.

    So give me the skinny; what’s the quality like?

  6. walt french says:

    I’m a long-time user of Ety’s ER-4 plugs. I can’t compare them to the 6’s, but I previously owned a Sony noise-canceller and the Ety’s are HUGELY better — full, clean, rich, detailed, … (Accuracy and noise specs on the Sony about the same as the Bose.) You will definitely notice how much nicer 160 kb/s AAC sounds compared to your old 96 or 128 kb/sec MP3’s. Addictive!

    Earwax on the flanges is easily removed. (Pop ’em off the plugs & soak in warm water.) But it’s a warning to clean your ears: if wax gets down the pipe on these plugs, you need to replace a "filter" (protective screen, in my view) inside the plug, or the sound will be muted.

    Check you local drugstore: you’ll just put in a few drops, let it sit for 5 mins, then repeat on the other side. Painless, and unless you’re much waxier than I, only every few months at most.

    I got talked into trying some GNC "ear candles" to remove wax (by an airplane seatmate who was a musician). Total waste of $8 and 15 minutes.

  7. Omar Shahine says:

    Sounds quality is great IMHO.

  8. Randy B says:

    I agree with your comments. A good pair of "passive" noise reduction earphones such as Etymotic or Ultimate Ears are far superior to active products like Bose. Folks should know that active systems while reducing ambient sounds also reduce some of the good sounds (e.g., your music). With a good fitting passive system, you get the best of both worlds — reduction of ambient sounds without sacrificing music quality. Also, the compactness of the earphones are a big benefit for travelers.

    Bose does a great job of marketing and the surcharge you pay for their products are often excessive to other comparable products. For example, look at their Wave radios that have been highly successful. I should say that I do have a Bose home stereo so I am not adverse to Bose as a company.

  9. I’m sitting on an Alaska Airlines flight up to Seattle right now and figure it’s a good time to put my two headphones to the test. I’ve owned both the QuietComfort I and II headphones for the past few years. Recently I purchased the Etymotic ER6’s an