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 thinking of buying the HF5, maybe I can persuade you into buying the ER4 and if you were thinking of buying the ER4S, maybe I can persuade you into buying the HF5. Now let’s get started. BTW sorry for mediocre pictures... I'm only a student so I don't have a fancy camera of any sort!
DISCLAIMER: THIS REVIEW IS THE HF5 VS THE ER-4S. RESULTS WILL BE DIFFERENT WHEN COMPARED TO THE ER-4PT.
UM SCL3X Re-shell, Etymotic ER-4S, Etymotic HF5, Shure SE215
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY THE HF5
First of all, it is more affordable. Price is a major factor for consumers when buying products and facts are facts, the HF5s MSRP is a lot lower than the ER-4S/P. That's why the majority of IEM seekers look towards the Low-Mid price range compared to the minority in the High-end IEM zone. With that said, I honestly think the HF5s are at a reasonable price. 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 somewhat forward with good 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 you can actually feel the engineers Heart and Soul being poured onto Etymotic IEMs. These engineers really worked hard on the HF5s sonic signature. They didn't want the HF5s to sound the same as the ER-4S. They wanted to create a more universal product compared to the ER-4S; 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 losing its very well known clarity and detail. Still extremely transparent and often some tracks are punished for being recorded poorly. I find the HF5 to be a bit more "juicy" than the ER-4S. It's not as thin and delicate sounding like the ER4S. It resembles the ER4S in a way with a bit more weight and body to it; a much more fuller sounding IEM. Don't get me wrong here. Of course the HF5s aren't as full sounding as a Westone 3 in anyway, what I’m trying to say is it feels like a heavier version of the anorexic ER4S. If that makes any sense to you at all.
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 while the S model is even thinner and airy than the PT. The difference between the two is the impedance. The S has 100ohms while the PT has 27.
Fairly neutral to my ears. Even more recessed Bass here compared to the HF5 and incredibly enough, even more detail. Also, these are even 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 a fairly neutral and "boring" sounding IEM, but be warned. With a lot of other IEMs you lose realism. The ER-4S sounds realistic and articulate while other IEMs sounds too focused in one or two directions compared to the universal capabilities of the ER-4S. 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. Very cold and sounds like an IEM that won't lie to you. I 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 admit that the highs sound a bit harsh compared to the HF5 and I also admit that the bass is significantly weaker, but to my ears the ER-4S is monitoring perfection. It also has better soundstage and amazing layering. Positioning of instruments are bang on and doesn't sound too congested. 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 seems to be amp dependent
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 (Best I’ve ever heard)
- 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 flat and "boring" sounding, VERY revealing and excellent delivery of bass, mids and highs
- Even more revealing
- 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. Both way, both these IEMs 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, the Etymotic HF5 and ER-4S will give you a simple reminder on what music really sounds like at its normal and neutral state. It sure surprises me every time I try on both the HF5 and the ER-4S, maybe it will too. It's all personal choice like usual. Happy listening!
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 - 12/31/12 at 3:57pm