Pros: Great sound & isolation with reasonable comfort
Cons: Hard to find in stores, buttons, cord is a bit too long
After being disappointed by the Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, I decided to explore a set from a well-regarded company in the audio world. I had to pick something with Apple's in-line iPhone controls that could get good isolation and fit. Those were my complaints with the Apple product. The HF3 seemed to be well designed, and more importantly, they offered a custom-fit program at a very reasonable price.
The first problem was tracking the product down in a store. Etymotic lists the Apple Store, London Drugs, and Carbon Computing as the only authorized Canadian dealers. Not a lot to choose from there. Several attempts to get the HF3 from Carbon were a no-go. So I tried the Apple online store: success! I've noted that since I purchased these (not long ago) Apple has removed all Etymotic (and many other hi-fi products) from their online store. Oh well.
I initially used the foam tips because none of the others would get a good seal on my ear canals. They were all too small or too loose. There is a nice selection of tips in there but only the foam would work for me. Too bad it's very rough and although it isolates very well, it's just not comfortable after a couple of hours.
Next, I went to the Etymotic-authorized audiologist and sent away for my custom tips. When they arrived less than two weeks later I could not believe the difference! What a revelation! Forget headphone amps and expensive DACs, custom fit tips are the breakthrough audio product of the century. Absolutely perfect fit and isolation. The bass response was tremendously improved, too. It's like getting an IV of music straight into your brain! And only an extra $115 for the appointment/shipping/tips! That's less than a trip to the dentist. The sound is highly detailed and rich. No complaints there at all.
Now, I must admit that you do get a pressurized or 'airplane' feeling in your ears when you have these in for too long. It's not bad at all, but you will notice it. Also, be patient with the insertion/removal process. It's similar to getting used to contact lenses. Other downsides: the cord is a bit too long and gets in the way (compared to the Apple cord). Also the volume/clicker buttons are very small and all the same size. It's hard to tell, by feel, which is which unless you touch them in sequence. I can't comment on reliability yet, for I've had them for just a few weeks.
In the end, it's been well-worth the hassle of tracking these things done and getting the ear impressions made. Thank you, Etymotic, for getting this custom tip program priced down into the range of mere mortals like myself.