Who here wants the cold and precise Etymotic ER-4S? No? Who here wants the cold and precise Etymotic HF5? Who doesn't know which Etymotic to choose? Luckily, I have both and I have owned every other Etymotic product before that as well (minus the ER6). Personally, I’m a huge fan of Etys mostly because of their precision and levels of attention to detail. Most people would find the HF5 and the ER4 to be very similar in terms of sonic signature, but I’m not one of them. If you were inquiring about the HF5, maybe I can persuade you into looking at the ER4 and if you were inquiring about the ER4, maybe I can persuade you into looking at the HF5. Now let’s get started. Apologies for lackluster pictures, potato cam was used.
DISCLAIMER: THIS REVIEW IS THE HF5 VS THE ER-4S. RESULTS WILL BE DIFFERENT WHEN COMPARED TO THE ER-4PT.
From top to bottom: UM SCL3X Re-shell, Etymotic ER-4S, Etymotic HF5, Shure SE215
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY THE HF5
First of all, it's affordable. Price is a major factor for consumers when buying products and facts are facts, the HF5 MSRP is considerably less than its sibling the ER-4S/P. That's why a good number of IEM seekers look towards the Low-Mid price range compared to high-end pricing as it is used as a 'grab-and-go' solution. With that said, I honestly think the HF5 is priced very competitively. You can buy a new HF5 as low as $120 brand new on the internet. That's around the price of the Shure SE215 MSRP and a little more expensive than the UE600.
It sounds magical. Really clear and precise. Bass is just enough for my personal taste (I wouldn't recommend the HF5 to any hardcore Techno and Bass heavy Hip-hop/rap listeners) and the Mids and Treble are a tad forward with superb sonic balance throughout the frequency range. But that's not what you should be entirely interested in. What makes me a huge Etymotic fan is the way Etymotic products reveal even the slightest detail in songs. I'm not an engineer or anything, but listening to Etymotic products help you understand the amount of effort they put into products such as these. They didn't want the HF5s to sound the same as the ER-4S, but at the same time they wanted to create something reminiscent of the ER4; more consumer friendly over professional. And that's why the HF5 has more bass body and more impact, making it a more "fun" sounding product without sacrificing the legendary Etymotic clarity. Still extremely transparent and often at times, some tracks are punished for being recorded poorly. In short, find the HF5 to be a bit more 'juicy' than the ER-4S. It's not as thin and delicate sounding like the ER4S, but it definitely resembles the ER4S in a way with a bit more weight and body to it. Don't get me wrong here. Of course the HF5s aren't as full sounding as something like the Westone 3s, what I’m trying to say is it feels like a heavier version of the ER4S.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY THE ER4
If you're the kind of person with an OCD-like obsession for absolute accuracy, I think the ER-4S should fit you perfectly. Ah yes, let me explain about the different models available. I currently have the ER-4S and I borrowed someone’s ER-4PT a few years back. Just like Etymotics motto, "True to the ear", I think the ER-4S has to be the only universal IEM available that is able to represent that motto. From what I remember of the PT model, I found it to have a bit more of a HF5 sound. The difference between the two is the impedance. The S is rated at 100 ohms while the PT is rated at 27.
Even more recessed Bass here compared to the HF5 and incredibly enough, even more detail. Also, these are shockingly more transparent than the HF5. These are by far the coldest Etymotics I have ever auditioned and might even be the coldest sounding IEM I have listened to. With this added coldness texture, the ER-4S is able to bring up even more detail in some scientific way that I am unaware of. These are the kings of detail here. Every crash of the cymbal, every clatter of the hi-hats, every pluck of the strings, every vibration in the vocal chords, and every vibration of the Cello sounds so precise and detailed. I honestly cannot explain what I feel when I listen to these IEMs. You really have to try it out on your own to understand what the ER-4S is capable of. Sure it might be neutral and 'boring' to you, but be warned. With a lot of other IEMs you lose realism due to the over compensation of other areas. The ER-4S aims to stay realistic and articulate while other IEMs sound too focused in specific areas while the ER-4S strike a seemingly perfect balance throughout the toal presentation. Don't get me wrong here. I don't think the ER-4S does everything perfectly, I just feel like the ER-4S is doing everything essential to keep music as real as it gets and in my books, that's a winner. I personally like bassy IEMs, I like Mid focus IEMs too, and I also enjoy Treble focused IEMs as well, but with one or more of those characteristics, realism and balance is lost. That's what the ER-4S is to me. It's all about balance. There’s no excess or limiting factor included with the ER-4S. It just has enough of everything and that's all you really need if you want a fairly neutral sounding IEM. I do admit that the treble can be a bit harsh compared to the HF5 and I also admit that the bass could use a tiny bit more body like the HF5, but to my ears the ER-4S is monitoring perfection. It also has the more natural soundstage and layering is top-notch for a single BA IEM. The cable feels nicer as well (I have the older model with Red and Blue nozzle plugs and non-braided cables until the splitter).
WHY YOU SHOULD CHOOSE THE HF5 OVER THE ER-4
Here are a few quick points on why you should choose the HF5 over the ER-4
- Much more affordable
- More forgiving sound
- More bass and smoother highs
- More fun sounding
- More musical
- Lower impedance than the ER-4S making it a better portable solution
- Sounds good unamped, while the ER-4S favors an amplifier
WHY YOU SHOULD CHOOSE THE ER-4S OVER THE HF5
Again, here are a few quick points on why you should choose the ER-4S over the HF5
- EXCELLENT monitoring IEMs (one of the best)
- Removable cables
- Feels much more sturdy on the cables, plugs, and entire housing
- According to Etymotic, next best thing to live music
- Extremely revealing
- Even though it is perceived to be flat, amazing balance throughout the freq range
- Loves to be amped, especially with warmer signatures to make it sound a bit more musical
- Un-colored for monitoring
Well... There you have it. For the people wanting the HF5, maybe I was able to provide you some useful information on buying the HF5 or maybe the ER-4. And if you were planning on buying the ER-4, maybe I helped you save some money by recommending the HF5. Either way, the two are excellent products and I absolutely adore them both. My pick? My newly arrived Etymotic ER-4S. I just love the cables and the sheer neutrality of the ER-4S. It's absolutely mesmerizing how detailed these IEMs are... Really surpassed my expectations on what a single driver IEM is capable of. Try them both and chances are you will end up taking one or the other. Even if you have very high performing IEMs from Heir, Shure, Westone, Earsonics, Final Audio, and etc, the Etymotic HF5 and ER-4S will give you a good reminder at how different things may sound once you simplify things.
ER-4S plug (top) and HF5 plug (bottom). 90 degrees vs 45... Which is better?
HF-5 cable (top) ER-4S cable (bottom)
Edited by planx - 11/5/16 at 8:28pm