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Etymotic Research HF5 Portable In-Ear Earphones

December 7th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

5 Stars- techdad

Etymotic Research is synonymous with IEM’s because well, they invented them.  The hf5 is Ety’s more “affordable” hi-fi earphone and sits just below the legendary ER4.  Etymotic’s claim is that the hf5’s are the most accurate earphones under $200.  A pretty bold claim, but not one without merit.  Thanks to Etymotic, I had the opportunity to listen to the hf5 for the past couple of weeks and I came away extremely impressed.

  • Very accurate
  • Beautiful and rich sound
  • Great noise isolation
  • Tight bass but not overwhelming
  • Good efficiency for driving portables
  • Multiple eartips and carry pouch included
  • 2 year warranty
  • Can be uncomfortable without the right eartips
Etymotic was the first high quality IEM I had ever listened to, starting with the Etymotic Research MC5 Noise Isolating In-Ear Earphones.  The mc5 uses a moving coil driver and is priced at nearly half of the hf5.  I was curious if the balanced armature transducers could make them sound that much different, especially given that nearly all of the advertised specs between the mc5 and hf5 were extremely close, if not identical.  After my first listen, my reaction was, “uh, duh!”

Since the hf5’s are balanced armature drivers, the consensus is that they do not require a burn-in like dynamic drivers typically do.  That became evident to me after my first listen.  Whereas the mc5’s required at a least a full day for them to sound remotely good, the hf5’s sounded great out of the box.  There really is no comparison between the two.  The hf5’s sound twice as good, if not more.  That’s not to say that the mc5’s don’t sound good, but I think most people will be able to tell a world of difference between them.  I found practically everything about the hf5 to be amazing, including the low end response.  I loved the detail in the high and mid range as well as the tight bass.  Etymotic is not known for bass so if that’s what you are looking for, these will not be to your liking.  That said, I found the bass to be entirely sufficient for music that really need it, like hip hop, rap, and techno.  Rock, pop, and folk all sounded wonderful as well.  The best way I can describe the sound from the hf5 is, layered.  It’s like someone switched on stereo from mono.  It was that dramatic for me.

The low impedance, high sensitivity of the hf5’s make them very efficient for driving portable players.  They were much more efficient than the mc5’s.  I used only FLAC sound files during my testing using my PC’s on-board sound card and a SanDisk Sansa CLIP+ portable music player.  I will be taking another listen once I receive my USB DAC/amp in the next week or so.

As with nearly all IEM’s, getting a proper seal is extremely important.  To this end, Eytmotic has included a few different types of eartips.  I highly recommend trying all of them before settling on the one that provides the best balance of comfort and seal.  I personally found the glider tips (ugly grey mushroom-looking ones) to work best for me.  They got more comfortable the more I used them.  At first, all the eartips made my ears itch like crazy.  After just a few weeks, I can easily listen to them for a couple of hours at a time without having to take a break.

The hf5’s do suffer from some microphonics so wrap them behind your ears and use the shirt clip if they bother you.  The package includes a nice zippered pouch, multiple eartips, a shirt clip, 1 pair of extra filters and a filter removal tool.

The Etymotic Research hf5 is not cheap nor is it for everyone.  If you prefer heavy bass response, Etymotic earphones won’t satisfy you.  However, those with an agreeable budget and an appreciation for accurate and detailed sound will enjoy the hf5’s.  After a few weeks with the hf5’s, I can barely stand to listen to my other earphones.  We’ll see if that still stands true when I receive my new pair of Monster Turbine High-Performance In-Ear Speakers in a few days.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review sample courtesy of Etymotic Research.

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