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.