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Etymotic MK5 Isolator Pros&Cons

Pros

  • Well-priced
  • Seems durable
  • Reasonably good sound
  • Incredible isolation

Cons

  • Fairly bright sound
  • Can be uncomfortable
  • Not the best sound quality at this price-point

etymotic-MK5-Isolator-packaging

Etymotic MK5 Isolator Specs

  • Impedance: 32Ω
  • Driver size: 6mm Dynamic driver
  • Frequency response: 20-15000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 95dB
  • Cable length: 4ft
  • Noise isolation: 35-42dB

Packaging

The MK5 Isolator’s packaging is pretty simplistic. Thankfully the packaging is frustration free, as opposed to some blister-types that require the use of a blowtorch, chainsaw, angle grinder, and the Jaws of Life. But, at this price-point, fancy packaging is totally a bonus, not an expected necessity. On the front, the MK5 Isolators are in clear view, whilst on the back we are given some specifications about them, such as frequency response range and impedance.

What’s in the box?

  • Etymotic MK5 Isolator
  • Protective case
  • 2 pairs of triple-flange eartips
  • 1 pair of foam eartips
  • Shirt-clip
  • User manual

MK5-Isolator-box-contents

Accessories

The MK5 Isolator doesn’t come with many accessories, barely more than the essentials, really. Two pairs of triple-flange silicon tips are included (Small and Large), as well as a single pair of foam eartips. The foam eartips are quite large, which may work well for large ear canals, but can be problematic for smaller ear canals. Also included is a shirt clip to keep you from getting the cable snagged easily.
The included case is nothing to write home about, being a simple nylon pouch which is big enough to store the MK5 Isolator, as well as the extra eartips, and features a zipper closure.

Design

The MK5 Isolator has a relatively simple, yet unique design. It doesn’t offer any premium features or build materials. But really, this is perfectly acceptable at an asking price of $60. Etymotic have stuck with their formula here; namely small size and deep-ear insertion. The triple-flange eartips have become rather synonymous with Etymotic’s product portfolio. What you get is a lightweight set of in-ears that offer exceptional isolation. This increased isolation means that the music doesn’t need to fight against ambient noises as much, and as a result it allows you can turn down the volume level whilst still achieving a comfortably loud listening session. It’s not the most comfortable design, however, as such a deep insertion into the ear canals is rather obtrusive, and as such does require some getting used to.

MM5-Isolator-closeup

Sound

Whilst the MK5 Isolator may only rely on relatively small 6mm dynamic drivers, due to the amount of isolation it creates, the sound is a bit better than what you might expect. However, there simply is no way of getting around this…this IEM is on the bright side. So, if you’re a basshead, these absolutely won’t be for you. Whilst the bass region is quite recessed compared to the rest of the frequencies, it does sound remarkably linear. But, because of this recessed bass and elevated treble region, the MK5 Isolator does sound just a bit hollow. Voices do come across reasonably clearly, but they do sound just a touch distant (perhaps adding to the sensation of sounding a tad hollow). Maybe hollow isn’t quite the right terms to use, but rather that it just sounds like it lacks some power and authority. The upper registers are perhaps the most problematic. The MK5 Isolator does sound quite clear, surprisingly so, but perhaps overly so too. It lacks a certain organic finesse, meaning that they sound just a bit forced and artificial. Clinical would perhaps be more accurate. Personally, I was genuinely surprised to see that Etymotic employed a dynamic driver setup for this IEM, as the sound signature seemed much more akin to that of a balanced armature. On tracks that have inherently higher levels of upper frequency energy, the details can become overly bight, and soon sibilance can ensue. This mostly occurs on higher volume levels, which it seems the MK5 Isolator was not intended for. This is in stark contrast with the usual overpowering bass and squashed vocals that you’d get with most consumer-grade headphones/IEMs. Perhaps with the correct foam eartips you might be able to increase the bass region and reduce the high frequency glare, but this simply isn’t going to happen with the included eartips. The included foam tips certainly do help, but unfortunately do not solve this issue.


Value

So, at the $60 price-point, does the MK5 Isolator offer good value for money? Well, that depends on your needs. If absolute sound quality is at the top of your list, the Fiio EX1 2nd Gen would offer better value. But then again, there aren’t a whole lot of in-ears that can compete with the EX1 2nd Gen when it comes to sheer overall value. Then there is also the MEE Audio M6 Pro to consider. The M6 Pro also offers fantastic value for money at only $50, but it can’t quite match the sound quality of the Fiio. The M6 Pro is, however, one of the most comfortable IEMs out there. So, between those 2 models, where does the MK5 Isolator fit in? If you’re on a tight budget and require high levels of isolation with relatively above-average sonic performance, look no further than the MK5 Isolator. After all, the clue is in the name: ISOLATOR. The EX1 2nd Gen, on the other hand, would be at the bottom of the list due to its semi-open design, and whilst the M6 Pro offers subjectively better sound than the MK5 Isolator, it’s isolation-levels simply can’t compete with that of the MK5 Isolator. As such, this particular set of IEMs would be perfect for those who want to rock out to their tunes whilst working in a noisy environment, but within the constraints of a fairly tight budget.

There might be a bit of a saving grace, though, in terms of adjusting the sonic character of the MK5 Isolator somewhat by means of a slight modification. A search on the interwebs reveals that quite a number of users have opted to utilise some Knowles acoustic dampers in order to tame the highs and bring up the low end. C’mon, DIY is fun, and if this relatively simple little modification really does improve things, the MK5 Isolator could turn out to in fact be much more valuable than what it’s factory standard state would suggest.

Read: MEE Audio M6 Pro In Ear Headpone Review

 

Rating

The NO BULL rating system is designed to take as many aspects of the device into account as possible. As such, we have a basic rating, as well as a final rating. The basic rating rates the product purely as a high quality portable audio device, and is generally a good indicator of how it stacks up to its rivals in terms of standard features and specs. The final rating, however, grants bonus points for any extra features and specs that aren’t quite as common, and is a great way to judge the product as a complete package.


Packaging
Look and feel: 5 / 10

Included Accessories
More than 3 pairs of eartips included: –
Protective case: YES

Build
Quality control: 10 / 10
Seems durable: YES
Microphonics: 7 / 10
Comfort: 7 / 10

Sound
Relatively balanced signature: –
Soundstage: 6 / 10
Detail retrieval: 7 / 10
Sibilance: 5 / 10
Instrument separation: 6 / 10
Isolation: 10 / 10
Hiss: 8 / 10


Portability

Small size: 10 / 10
Relatively low power required: 8 / 10
Weight: 10 / 10

Value
Competitive price-point: YES
Relative value: 8 / 10

Basic Rating: 7.6

Bonus points
Removable cables: –
Number of cables included: –
Premium cables: –
Pairs of eartips above 3 pairs: –
How premium the case looks and feels: 4
Battery life above 8 hours: –
Bluetooth: –
Apt-X: –
Volume/remote controls: –
Metal body: –
Interchangeable filter system: –
Premium look and feel: –
Use of exotic materials: –
Bluetooth connection quality: –
1/4” adapter included: –
Cable management: –
Aircraft adapter: –

Final Rating: 7.7

 

Many thanks to Etymotic Research for sending us the MK5 Isolator for review!

 

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