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The Etymotic HF5 - It's New, It's Etymotic, But Is It Good? [Work-In-Progress Review]

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 


Packaging: Simple packaging that wasn't difficult to get into. No tools/scissors required. No excessive plastic or cardboard.
Included Items: HF5 IEM, Small Etymotic pouch, Standard Etymotic tri-flange tips, Baby blue tri-flange tips, Large dark grey foamies (not the mushroom type), Filter changing tool, Spare filters
Cord: Seems sturdy enough. Has a slider above the "Y" junction. Shirt clip already on the cord. Cord doesn't seem too thin or too thick. Plug is straight instead of having a bent or "J" shape.

Initial Impression: Good lord, I have to insert these deep to get a seal with the stock tips!

Sound: Very clean. Bass is tight, fast, a little anemic for my taste, but definitely there and not completely disappointing. (Note to those who want warmer sound from these: With a small 4-5 dB boost in the 40-60 Hz range and a 2-3 dB boost in the 250-450 Hz range, the bass/low mid range is just about right) Mids are neutral. They don't sound either forward or recessed. Highs are fresh, airy, energetic, and crisp but without being piercing or shrill. These have the least sibilance I've heard from an IEM. I can only hear sibilance with "ch" sounds, not "s" or "sh". Even then it is barely detectable.

Comparison against Etymotic ER4P & ER6/6i by Synaesthetic

Recommended Genres: Pretty much anything but hip hop. These sound great with vocals, piano (wow), guitar, and anything which doesn't require massive bass response. I suppose you could even do a few hip hop songs, but they have to have the bass pretty much built in to the song (such as Flo Rida's "Low"). Anything with bass that focuses on a warm, constant mid-bass + low, low (30 Hz or less) bass in the background (Hurricane Chris's "Hand Clap") with few bass spikes will not sound good with these.

These are especially great for anything that requires a fast bass response (Metal/Symphonic Metal/"Fast" Rock) or energetic, airy highs (Pop/J-Pop/Guitar + Vocal/Classical/Orchestral). Or both! (Think of Ministry) I can't lavish enough praise on these for how well I think they render pianos. I literally want to reach out and start playing (my fingers unconsciously twitch!) whenever I hear a piano with the HF5.

Soundstage: Honestly, the music is somewhat constrained here, probably in large part to how deep you have to insert these puppies.



...Anyway. Your music isn't going to surround you or anything. The instrument separation is great with these, but the sound feels a bit like it's been squeezed into a small room (Maybe a small recording studio?). That or if you have these cranked loud enough you could consider that you're standing on the stage or in the first row instead of being in the crowd. Once in a while you'll be able to place something off to the side, but it won't be as often as with a fair number of other IEMs. This is also highly dependent on the quality of the seal you have. The better the seal, the better the soundstage is with these.

Microphonics: Bad and lots. Luckily (and somewhat annoyingly) the shirt clip is attached straight out of the box!

Isolation: Good and just okay. Good on first insert. Without music playing I can hardly hear conversation in the office, and even then it's an undecipherable mumble. After a period of time the seal loosens up a bit and it's more like a standard IEM, where you can listen to conversations if you want with no music playing, but it's not going to bother you while listening. I just had a coworker open a can of soda no more than 3 feet away from me and I could only hear it because I was listening for it (Listening to Eric Johnson's "East West", which isn't really a complex, loud song).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Quality of seal is almost inversely proportionate to comfort if you have medium to large ears. This applies to stock tips only and will not be an issue with foam tips or your favorite tip that fits the Etymotic HF5 nozzle.

Comfort: Starts off poor with the initial seal. These are a pain to get a seal with, and I don't really have large ears or ear canals. I generally use medium-sized tips on everything but my Klipsch Image X10. After the seal loosens up a bit (helps to yawn lightly), they aren't bad, but you'll know they're there.

IMPORTANT NOTE: YOU CAN SLEEP WITH THESE ON! They rival the Klipsch Image X10 for comfort in this regard!

Comfort - Tips: The HF5 tri-flange tips are interchangeable with Klipsch gels and Future Sonics bi-flanges. The sound stage improves with the Klipsch gels, as well as warming up the sound a bit.



Overall Sound Quality: ★★★★.5 of ★★★★★, only because of the small soundstage and just-barely-too-low low end response.

Overall Value: At the $99 I spent, ★★★★.5 of ★★★★★. At MSRP of $150, I'd say ★★★★ of ★★★★★. Microphonics (shirt clip not withstanding), no airplane/volume attenuator, lack of various tip sizes, diminished soundstage, and just-too-little low end response (for my taste) bring the HF5 down. However, the sound reproduction is excellent, and I am personally quite happy with the signature overall. With a slight EQ boost on the low end and low mids, these are a very enjoyable IEM. The Etymotic HF5 has the least sibilance I've heard from an IEM. Also, you can sleep with them on no problem. These were definitely worth my money.

post #2 of 54
i find small biflanges work very well for a consistent seal. just above average isolation, but they seal well and every time, comfortably. theyre essentially small triflanges without the last microflange. when I want isolation, I throw on the mushrooms.....for me, those things make etys the undisputed gods of isolation.
post #3 of 54
I was planning on ordering today, but it's already back to $149
post #4 of 54
How close do they sound to the er4s?
post #5 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by Taikero View Post


Packaging: Simple packaging that wasn't difficult to get into. No tools/scissors required.
Included Items: HF5 IEM, Small Etymotic pouch, Standard Etymotic tri-flange tips, Baby blue tri-flange tips, Large dark grey foamies (not the mushroom type), IEM cleaning tool
Cord: Seems sturdy enough. Has a slider above the "Y" junction. Shirt clip already on the cord. Cord doesn't seem too thin or too thick.

Initial Impression: Good lord, I have to insert these deep to get a seal!

Sound: Very clean. Bass is tight, fast, a little anemic for my taste, but definitely there and not completely disappointing. (Note to those who want warmer sound from these: With a small 4-5 dB boost in the 40-60 Hz range and a 2-3 dB boost in the 250-450 Hz range, the bass/low mid range is just about right) Mids are neutral. They don't sound either forward or recessed. Highs are fresh, airy, energetic, and crisp but without being piercing or shrill. Some of the least sibilance I've heard from an IEM.

Recommended Genres: Pretty much anything but hip hop. These sound great with vocals, piano, guitar, and anything which doesn't require massive bass response. I suppose you could even do a few hip hop songs, but they have to have the bass pretty much built in to the song (such as Flo Rida's "Low"). Anything with bass that focuses on a warm, constant mid-bass + low, low (30 Hz or less) bass in the background (Hurricane Chris's "Hand Clap") with few bass spikes will not sound good with these.

These are especially great for anything that requires a fast bass response (Metal/Symphonic Metal/"Fast" Rock) or energetic, airy highs (Pop/J-Pop/Guitar + Vocal/Classical/Orchestral). Or both! (Think of Ministry)

Soundstage: Honestly, the music is pretty restricted here, probably in large part to how deep you have to insert these puppies.



...Anyway. Your music isn't going to surround you or anything. The instrument separation is great with these, but the sound feels a bit like it's been squeezed into a small room. Once in a while you'll be able to place something off to the side, but that's not as often as with a fair number of other IEMs. This is also highly dependent on the quality of the seal you have.

Microphonics: Bad and lots. Luckily (and somewhat annoyingly) the shirt clip is attached straight out of the box!

Isolation: Good and just okay. Good on first insert. Without music playing I can hardly hear conversation in the office, and even then it's an undecipherable mumble. After a period of time the seal loosens up a bit and it's more like a standard IEM, where you can listen to conversations if you want with no music playing, but it's not going to bother you while listening. I just had a coworker open a can of soda no more than 3 feet away from me and I could only hear it because I was listening for it (Listening to Eric Johnson's "East West", which isn't really a complex, loud song).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Quality of seal is almost inversely proportionate to comfort if you have medium to large ears.

Comfort: Starts off poor with the initial seal. These are a pain to get a seal with, and I don't really have large ears or ear canals. I generally use medium-sized tips on everything but my Klipsch Image X10. After the seal loosens up a bit (helps to yawn lightly), they aren't bad, but you'll know they're there.

Overall Sound Quality: ★★★★ of ★★★★★, only because of the small soundstage and just-barely-too-low low end response.

Overall Value: At the $99 I spent, ★★★★.5 of ★★★★★. At MSRP of $150, I'd say ★★★★ of ★★★★★. Microphonics (shirt clip not withstanding), no airplane/volume attenuator, lack of various tip sizes, small soundstage, and just-too-little low end response (for my taste) bring the HF5 down. However, the sound reproduction is excellent, and I am personally quite happy with the signature overall. With a slight EQ, these are a very enjoyable IEM.



I'll have more to say once I've contrasted and compared these to my Image X10, Future Sonics Atrio M5, and maybe others. In addition, I'm going to try some different tips in order to avoid the deep ear canal invasion.

Who's the little eggbert in the photo?
post #6 of 54
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by moodyrn View Post
How close do they sound to the er4s?
I don't know yet. I'm going to meet up with another Head-Fier sometime before the end of the year and contrast and compare the ER4P.

@ oak3x: No idea. Just some picture from Google Images when I typed "puppies in ears".
post #7 of 54
I ain't just "another Head-Fier"

I'm excited to hear the atrios too!
Dang e5 and fuze better be worth it, I hope rockbox is done for the fuze by then too but I doubt it.

So have you noticed any sibilance on these yet? I find a few albums that it shines through on, but with the olive tips on the 4p it is definitely bearable.
post #8 of 54
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZoNtO View Post
I ain't just "another Head-Fier"
Natural habit. I don't give out more information than is necessary most of the time. Comes from dealing with marketing types.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ZoNtO View Post
I'm excited to hear the atrios too!
Dang e5 and fuze better be worth it, I hope rockbox is done for the fuze by then too but I doubt it.

So have you noticed any sibilance on these yet? I find a few albums that it shines through on, but with the olive tips on the 4p it is definitely bearable.
I haven't been able to catch any (serious amount of) sibilance yet. The highs come through really well on the HF5, IMO, and where most of my other IEMs would falter on sibilance, these seemed to pull through a lot better.

I still haven't tried any other tips. I'll probably do that right now and see how that works out.
post #9 of 54
wud love to see whether these are similar to er4 or not
post #10 of 54
Thread Starter 
I can confirm that the Klipsch gels, Future Sonic bi-flange tips, and Etymotic HF5 triple flange tips are interchangeable.
post #11 of 54
for 99 dollars these are a true steal..for 149 an excellent bargain..i have both these and the er-4p and in many ways these rival or surpass the er-4p....they have a bit more bass and are a bit more efficent making them easier to drive...isolation is incredible with the slim comply tips..all in all terrific in my opinion!
post #12 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by FeedMeTrance View Post
wud love to see whether these are similar to er4 or not
The short version is they don't really sound like ER-4P. They're closer to "super" ER-6i.

The long version:

I have the HF5s, and I'm as happy with them as I've ever been with an IEM. I have had the most ridiculous time trying to find an earphone I like, going through nearly every major player in the earphone market.

In my experience every one of them was so severely deficient in one area or another compared to my fullsize headphones that I just couldn't tolerate them. Some earphones had deficient sound quality to my ears... be it rolled off treble (common) to recessed mids (common) to anemic bass (not as common but still common). Many earphones had serious practicality issues, such as terrible microphonics or a convoluted and drawn-out insertion process.

The HF5 is very reminiscent of the ER-6i in many ways. I owned and used a pair of 6i for nearly four years, making them the earphone I've owned longest and have had the most experience with. The shape of the HF5 may look more like a sexier ER-4, but the sound signature and the build "feel" is much closer to the 6i.

They look fragile, the cord is rather thin compared to the ER-4 and especially compared to Shure IEMs. But like the ER-6i, which also looked and felt very fragile, the HF5 are proving to be more durable than they appear. They don't have the tank-like qualities of the Shure E3c I once owned but they are not a pair of Skullcandies that fall apart if you stare at them crosseyed. The cord is also much shorter than most IEMs; it's more of a length appropriate for an earphone used with a portable device, measuring at 48 inches. I'm not really fond of the iPhone-compatible straight miniplug, as I prefer a sturdier right-angle type, but it feels robust despite the thinness.

Compared to both the ER-4 and the ER-6i, practicalities are vastly improved. The earphones themselves are lower profile than the ER-4, but not as tiny as the 6i, so they don't have the problem of "vanishing in ones' ears" making them hard to remove without tugging on the wires (which is obviously bad). Microphonics are vastly improved from both the ER-4 and the ER-6i, both of which have an absolutely terrible cable.

Sound quality is very good, especially when using Shure black foams. The default tri-flange tips I cannot use, as they do not seal well and result in a marked lack of bass response and isolation, as well as causing extreme discomfort. Your mileage may vary, however. [To my ears] the sound signature of the HF5s is virtually identical whether using the stock foams that are packed in with the earphones or when using the Shure black foams, but the black foams are easier to insert (no "roll and insert" needed) and can be cleaned and last far longer.

As I said earlier, the sound signature is closer to that of the ER-6i than the ER-4. The extreme detail of the ER-4 isn't present in these and neither is the extreme focus on high frequencies. In this respect, as well as the bass (which is better and more present than the ER-4P) the HF5s are clearly much closer to the ER-6i. Only better. The HF5s have a nicer "overall sound" than the ER-6i as well. Sibilance, as the OP pointed out, is near nonexistent. They are less sibilant than the other two Etys, and this is a blessing considering how ear-destroying the ER-4P were with certain tracks and albums.

I bought my HF5s at full price; the $99 deal came after I purchased mine (and I was a little annoyed at this fact), but I don't regret it at all. They're not perfect; no IEM is, I don't care if it's a cheap Sony canalphone or a UE11. No balanced armature will ever measure up to a fullsize driver in my opinion, and because of this fact I'm sure to wind up with ESW9 as my portable cans sometime in the future.

However, what they do well, they do very well, and their idiosyncrasies are much easier to tolerate than other earphones. If you like the Etymotic "house sound" at all and want something a little more refined than the ER-6i but don't want to deal with the impracticalities, finickiness and sibilance of the ER-4, these would be a solid choice.
post #13 of 54
Thanks, Synaesthetic! This is really helpful! I just got my er6i, my first high quality pair of earphones, and am loving them, but really appreciate this comparison.
post #14 of 54
I have never heard the ER6 but have lived with various incarnations of ER4 for about 8 years. I also do not have the HF5 but the HF2 which I assume is a HF5 with microphone and control button. I don't find the sound to be too far from the stock ER4-P. The HF2 has a little more bass presence and not quite the briliance to the treble, even further from the ER4-S. I also use them with Shure black olives and find isolation execelent and absolutely no problem with microphonics even without the shirt clip that I hate so this is miles better that the stock ER4. Also I have no problem with the build.

This photo shows the 2 drivers next to each other



The HF2/HF5 are supposed to use the same drivers (according to an email I got from Etymotics customer support) as the ER4 but with the ER4 the left and right driver are hand matched to get exactly the same spec where as the HF2/HF5 are just randomly picked drivers.
post #15 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by nc8000 View Post
The HF2/HF5 are supposed to use the same drivers (according to an email I got from Etymotics customer support) as the ER4 but with the ER4 the left and right driver are hand matched to get exactly the same spec where as the HF2/HF5 are just randomly picked drivers.
What implications does this have? Sounds bad, like they just took whatever they could find and chucked it in.
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