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  • This is just our opinion. We passed them around the office and got a general consensus, but this test isn't nearly as scientific as the ones conducted in our performance section. We highly, highly recommend trying them out before you buy.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones are a set of in-ears. They're pretty vanilla, from a design standpoint.

HATS-Front Image
HATS-Side Image

The two channels meet at this number, which we've accentuated with the included shirt clip. Truly, no shirt is safe from the ravages of your headphones without this clip.

The cord guards at the buds and plug are pretty good, and should prevent the cord from doubling back on itself too much.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones come with four sets of sleeves (two triple-flange, one foam, and one soft plastic), a cleaning tool, two wax nozzle guards, and a carrying case.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones seem pretty durable for a set of in-ears.

There's not a whole lot you can do with a set of in-ears to make them flashy. Sure, you can make them look like earrings or bedazzle them to your heart's content, but there's not a whole lot you can do with such a small surface area without coming off as gaudy. It's hard to rave about a simple design or a splash of color, which the mc5s have.

For the majority of the frequency spectrum, the mc5 headphones were pretty spot-on. They have a very even bass response, that gradually builds to a bit of a boost around the 1kHz mark. At that point the response falls off a bit so an imperceptibly underemphasized level. It maintains that level until a small spike at 7kHz, after which the response plummets.

Frequency Response Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones don't have any distortion worth mentioning. Expect near-reference quality here.

Distortion Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The mc5s' tracking was, at least to the human ear, flawless. They never waver more than a single decibel in any direction.

Tracking Graph

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The mc5s, like most Etymotic Research headphones we've reviewed, were excellent isolators. Like most in-ears, they block out more high frequencies than low ones, but they don't exactly slack with lower hertz bands. Overall, the mc5s put up an incredible performance here.

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Isolation Graph

Click here for more information on our isolation test.

As with most in-ears we've reviewed, the mc5 headphones don't leak a notable amount. They're ideal for listening to music in a quiet environment.

Click here for more information on our leakage test.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones were capable of a high maximum usable volume: we clocked them at 117dB before they reached 3% distortion: the point at which the distortion would have been annoyingly audible.

Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test

The mc5 headphones are pretty comfortable for a set of in-ears. We found the sleeves they came with filled the ear canal without feeling like they were stretching it.

There are two caveats here, though:

These are in-ears. They require sticking something into your ear. This act itself is significantly more uncomfortable for some people than it is for others.

This is just our opinion. We passed them around the office and got a general consensus, but this test isn't nearly as scientific as the ones conducted in our performance section. We highly, highly recommend trying them out before you buy.

After time, the mc5 headphones became slightly less comfortable, which happens with all in-ears. The ears don't like foreign objects obstructing them for long periods of time. This isn't necessarily a condemnation of the mc5s specifically, more so an issue with the in-ear form factor itself.

The mc5 headphones come with three different types of sleeves: triple flange, soft plastic, and foam. The headphones come with two different sizes of triple-flange sleeve.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones have a four foot-long cord, which is ideal for a portable set of headphones. They don't, however, come with any additional connectivity options, such as an extension cable, airplane adapter, or 1/4-inch adapter.

The mc5 headphones are in-ears, which means they're significantly more portable than any given set of on-ears or over-ears. They also come with a pouch, which has a mesh net along its interior. This net is important because it keeps all your sleeves in place. Some sets of in-ears come with a pouch that lacks this inner pocket, making it extremely easy to accidentally spill tiny bits of rubber everywhere.

The mc5 headphones, unlike most entry-level sets, actual does come with a maintenance tool: nozzle filters. What you do is use the metal tool to insert the tiny, white pipe segments into the nozzle. Simply remove the filter and you've also removed all the grime that's built up as well. When something spends its life alternating between your pocket and ear canal, it's inevitable gunk is going to build up over time.


The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones don't require batteries. This is definitely a good thing, because batteries are annoying: they need to be replaced every so often, which either denies you functionality or gives your headphones an upkeep cost. We therefore award points to every set of headphones we come across that don't require the annoying addition.

The mc5s definitely look like they cost more than the Triqiis. Although the Triqiis look like they cost more than $20, they definitely look cheap. Both sets of headphones are probably the same durability as well, for different reasons. As on-ears, the Triqiis simply have more material to work with to create something sturdy. Their rubbery design will bend pretty far and bounce back, foam pads are really only vulnerable to tearing and its cord is pretty robust. While the mc5s aren't particularly fragile, in-ears just typically break down faster than other wear styles.

The Etymotic Research mc5 headphones have a much more even frequency response than the Triqiis for the majority of the frequency spectrum, but their response falls off at a much lower frequency than the Triqiis.

The Triqiis have significantly more low-end distortion than the mc5 headphones.

While the mc5s obviously have a much more even frequency response, the Triqiis aren't exactly erratic: at most they waver a few decibels from where they should. Most users wouldn't notice the difference.

The mc5s isolate far better than the Triqiis.

We thought the mc5 headphones were a bit more comfortable than the Triqiis, because the Triqiis have foam pads and the band was a bit warped from the way it was packaged. Of course, if you don't like in-ears you'll probably disagree with us, so definitely use you own judgment here.

Both of these headphones cater to different groups of budget users. The mc5s are dirt cheap for the quality they provide, making them quite a bargain at $80. Likewise, the Triqiis are a pretty good deal at about $20.

The mc5 headphones are probably about on par with the CX 980s in terms of design. Both have their little design flourishes. The CX 980s have a slightly cooler-looking design on their ear buds and plug, but the mc5s have a splash of color to them and really, who's studying your ears so much they notice a subtle design flourish on your in-ears? Creepy people, that's who. What would your mother say if she knew you were deliberately accessorizing your ears for creepy people? I'm sure she'd give you an earful! In conclusion, the mc5 headphones have the same aesthetic quality as the as the CX 980s.

In other news, the mc5s are probably slightly more durable than the CX 980s because they don't have any in-line accessories. As you might have guessed, this doesn't create a huge gap between the overall ruggedness of these two headphones. At the end of the day, in-ears are just hair-like strands of metal in a thin rubber shell. If you want durable, get a set of over-ears with a metallic frame and a removable cable.

The mc5s and the CX 980s both had issues with their high end. The CX 980s put a bit more emphasis on their bass than we think is appropriate, but hey, people like bass. If you like bass, you will probably like the CX 980s.

Neither set of headphones had any real issues with distortion.

The mc5 headphones had less wobbling between their left and right channels. This being said, the CX 980s waver by about 2dB, which doesn't exactly qualify as an imbalance.

The mc5 headphones blocked out significantly more sound than the CX 980s did.

The mc5 headphones and CX 980s are roughly the same in terms of comfort level.

The Sennheiser CX 980s have slightly better audio quality than the Etymotic mc5 headphones, but the mc5s are definitely a better value. As of this article's publish date, the CX 980s cost about $150 more than the mc5s, and we're not entirely sure if the difference in quality is worth the additional investment.

Both the Etymotic Research mc5s and the Shure SE115s are well-manufactured in-ears, so they're roughly similar in terms of design and aesthetics. The SE115s have a unique shape to them while the mc5s are are tiny and feature a jaunty red paint job. The only real difference between the two is their overall durability. While the mc5s are by no means flimsy, the SE115s will likely last longer. First of all, the SE115s have a much thicker, more robust cable, despite the ridiculously misleading pictures below. Secondly, much like the that reptilian Houdini, the gecko, the SE115s can jettison the lower portion of its cord should it break down. Replacing 2.5 feet of audio cable is much less expensive than just replacing the unit, so it's definitely appreciated. As an added non-durability-related bonus, the two-part cable also allows you to add in-line accessories, like a remote & mic or volume controls.

The SE115s had an overabundance of bass, while the mc5s had a much flatter, even response.

While neither set of headphones had a significant amount of distortion, the Shure SE115s technically had a bit more. This distinction is virtually meaningless, however: the SE115s distortion levels are negligible.

The mc5 headphones have a much more even kiel than the SE115s. The SE115s get a bit wobbly towards the high-end, with a sudden 6dB drop towards the 7kHz mark. While not a huge volume shift, it's sudden enough that you might notice it.

Note, however, that our graph of the SE115 is an older version, one that keeps some data on either end of the graph that's not 100% accurate (we left it in to indicate the general trend, but didn't score based on it).

Both sets of headphones are great isolators. The mc5s block out a bit more bass while the SE115s block out a little more high-end.

The two headphones are probably about the same in terms of comfort. Both are in-ears, so neither are as comfortable as a set of in-ears. The SE115s have a different wear style than the mc5s: if you like running the cord around the back of your ears, you'll prefer the SE115s and if not, the mc5s will better accommodate you.

The mc5s would take this match-up pretty cleanly if it weren't for durability issues. Shure builds sturdy in-ears. The mc5s aren't exactly poorly manufactured, but they also aren't as rugged as the SE115s. If you don't care so much about the extra durability, don't like the wear style, or just want to save a few bucks, the mc5s are the better choice.

The mc5s seem to have better manufacturing behind them; just looking at the PS200s, you can tell they're a bit on the cheap side. The back of the ear buds has a turbine-shaped design, which can, under the right circumstances, look okay.

Both headphones have roughly the same frequency response. The PS200s are a bit more erratic throughout the entire spectrum, but the mc5 just really drops the ball on the high frequencies.

The PS200s has a tiny bit more distortion when compared to the mc5s.

This isn't really a challenge: the PS200s's high-end reads like a seismograph.

The mc5s isolate better than the PS200.

We found the PS200s to be pretty uncomfortable. Stick with the mc5s.

The mc5s cost less and offer better audio quality almost across the board. Stick with them and give the PS200s a pass.

There isn't much to say about the Etymotic Research mc5 headphones. While they're not perfect, they squeeze a lot of audio quality into an $80 package. Really, the only thing keeping them from being a great set of iPhone headphone replacements is the lack of a remote & mic. If you've ever traded in a set of remote & mic headphones for a set without the feature, you know how oddly primitive it feels. It's like that time you dropped your iPod in a puddle and had to use your old CD player while it dried out: you may have loved that player before, but now it just feels gigantic in your pocket and skipping albums requires you to switch out discs like a caveman. Basically, if you don't mind the inconvenience of no remote & mic, the mc5 headphones are a great value.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer


Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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