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(REVIEW): Etymotic HF5

post #1 of 67
Thread Starter 

Etymotic HF5 Review

 

Intro

Etymotic: the king of accuracy. There a company you have surely heard if and who have been making IEMs from the start. For 18 years their flagship the ER4 has stayed the same while taking different incarnations for various purposes and as they years went on, most people still titled them, the accuracy kings. Throughout the years they have kept the ER4 series at the top but have always had cheaper alternatives that maintain claims of superior accuracy. First came the ER6, and then there is the current line. Starting at the bottom there are the MC series and above that sitting nicely under the ER4 is the HF series. These are the HF5 and are the same as the HF2 and HF3 but lack a microphone.

 

I’d thought id mention these boast big things and claim to offer a 85% accuracy. Not bad that all this is being delivered from a single microscopic (not quite but you get the jist) balanced armature driver. So when I got the opportunity to get a pair of these cheap I had to try them and see if they lived up to the claims. Enjoy!

 

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Set-up

As it happens with my time so far with these I have really experimented with these and found them to respond quite amazingly to amplifiers. For this review I will of course do the main sound write up from what they delivered straight up from my Cowon J3 with FLAC and my iMac with Apple Lossless and some AAC and MP3 of mixed bit rates.

 

However I will do a little bit of a write up on amping.

 

Build Quality/Design

I am going to find this hard to comment as I actually bought these in quite a state. The cap on one of the back of the housings had came off leaving all the inside oozing out. I have managed to tape it up and it is still in perfect working order and I am having no problems with it since the taping.

 

Okay so starting with the cable. Starts with your standard hardly bulky gold plated straight ‘I’ jack. I’d like to see a right-angled jack like the ER4 series have but most earphones I have use an ‘I’ jack so I won’t complain. Its gold plated which helps static sounds. This moves onto the lower cable that I would say is your average thickness with a very solid, glossy feel to it. It seems very resistant to tangling as well. The split is very low profile and the separated cables are of course thinner but still remain with their sturdy feel. There is a chin slider that I find handy.

 

The housings are made of a plastic that actually feels solid enough but I think it’s the way that the back cap of the housing and the front is glued around the strain relief is going to be prone to problems as this is were mine had the break. The strain relief is a flexible silicone that does not seem to look like it could be a hazard for problems. Another part I am not keen on is the sound tube/nozzle that is the thinnest I have ever seen and I get worried whenever I have to change tip.

 

The design is very low profile as they are all black. It has a matte finish that is nice and does not finger print. There is an R and a L on the corresponding phones underneath the housing.

 

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Accessories

I did not get the full collection of accessories. What you do get originally is a plethora of different tips including two triple flanges, foam tips and some foam glider tips. Other than the full range of tips I got the rest of what Is quite a good pack of goodies.

 

You get a shirt clip that is not in need of any more detail.

 

You get a nice pleather zippered case which although will not offer protection from crush it will stop scratches etc. I also found that it is a good size and looks and feel nice. Good case.

 

You also get a pair of replacement filters and a tool to change them. The filters don’t change sound like with the Phonaks I reviewed but it is handy that you can change them I guess.

 

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Comfort

No comfort is something that for me as been like a burn in experience. I started with some unused stock triple flanges and when I inserted them I found that I was with actually in pain.  I have scary thoughts that I will not be able to use these and will have to sell them. It saddened me.

 

But then like a leaf in the autumn a improvement blossomed, I was very determined and the pain started to ease and the tips burned in. No we will not have a debate over tip burn in but basically the just softened and almost molded to my ears.

 

Now three weeks down the line I’m used to them and they are not half bad!

 

Isolation

This is simply put the best isolation I have ever come across. They insert so deep, they actually make contact with the brain, and even with no music playing the outside world is blocked. Completely. These get rid of everything I reckon a bomb could go off next to you and chances are you wouldn’t hear (am not guaranteeing these will save your life however). The other plus side to this is that you can listen to your music at lower volumes and this will protect you from dangers in the future.

 

If you are someone who uses public transport daily or are a regular flyer, these are these are the isolation that you may need. If this is a priority then do not look past these or their more expensive siblings the ER4 series (boasts better isolation, I don’t know how).

 

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Microphonics (Cable Noise)

I expect you to have noticed by now that these are worn cable down. For those who don’t know one of the main reasons for them going over your ear is that this helps lose the annoying cable noise that comes with earphones that people have come to expect with cable down earphones. Obviously there are exceptions and certain earphones suffer more than others.

 

I would not go to say that these suffer largely but they do have microphonics. Your not going to suffer from them like I do with my HiSoundAudio Crystals but it can be irritating at times. There are luckily a few ways you can combat this. The first way is to se the included shirt clip that helps reduce the microphonics. The other way is just as simple and that is to wear them over the ear, its not ideal but if you cant deal with any microphonics then you will at least have a couple of options.

 

Soundstage and instrument separation

I don’t think that Etymotics thing is to have some super large soundstage and if it did I would love to know whether it would compliment the earphone well as personally it would just not be right. That being said they don’t have a small earphone its just nothing large and to get excited at. It all stays in your head but that just feels like the way it should be.

 

The instrument separation on the other hand is just sublime. It’s like in each song they have got each part or instrument and put them in their own separate bubble of breezy air. They separate second to none and they are only a touch of my DBA-02s in this department, which is not a shabby quote.

 

As for presentation although all in your head the separation make its all work and everything seems in the right position. There’s such an airy feel to these.

 

Bass

The bass on these is a good way to check for a seal as if your getting absolutely none then you has not got a seal. Once you have some then boom, your ready to go.

 

Single balanced armatures can’t have a big bass response and in this case its right. I don’t believe in that rule but this is something these are a prime example anyhow. Mid-Bass lacks majorly in quantity but does live it up a bit by its real good quality which delivers with a beautiful punch. Its super tight but just lacks ever so slightly in body. These claim to be 85% accurate and I think it’s the slight lack of bass body that marks it down. These are also surprising to have more bass than the ER4, which make me even more curious to try them.

 

Sub-Bass if you feel some well your lucky because in my time I have owned them they have yet to show me any.

 

So with my Cowon I thought just for review purposes I would try and EQ the bass up. I am not a big EQ fan but I know some of you use it daily with your best earphones so I gave it a try. Was not impressed it gives it a hump in order to boost quantity and even has a mid bleed. Did not work for me to say the least.

 

Now I am going to mention that I am by know means a bass head and can happily deal with low bass amounts so this is by far no where near an off put for me and is not biased and compared to plenty of bass heavy earphones. Check my round up at the end for a better idea.

 

Midrange

Now I find there to be a slight peak in the mids leaving them sitting slightly above the other frequencies. These are still by no means a mid-centric earphone or even shouty but you notice its present just slightly above the rest. The detail is as you can guess with their accuracy ratings, something special. I find these to be very dynamic with great speed taking everything in their stride and they really leap around the place volume wise to the song.

 

Vocals seem so silky smooth but also underemphasized. They sit just right but can sometimes feel a bit whispy.

 

Part of they analytical Etymotic sig however makes these feel very thin and un-textured where they lack body. Makes out for a very two-dimensional sound. This is not to worry about as it is all part of the sound and it works.

 

Treble

The right finish to the analytical signature with a great extension which goes miles up the frequencies. The highs are not aggressive or laid back and they have big sparkle, not close to fatiguing like the DBA-02 but lets symbols really stand out. The detail as with rest of the HF5 is beautifully on the money.

 

Timbre

I thought I would mention the naturalness of the instruments. The decay seems just perfect. I do find though that drum hits are lacking and can feel empty but symbols make goo use of the highs and really shine. Guitar solos are just soooo natural and really have some zing.

 

Adding Impedance and Amping

So I heard that by adding impedance to these such as the ER4P to ER4S adaptor or an attenuator bundled with earphones that you can make these pretty much as good as the ER4’s. So I got my UE airplane attenuator out which add 100 ohms of impedance and then went iMac to Objective 2 to HF5. OH GOD! The improvement was unreal, more details, more body, better presentation and transparency and a smoother sound overall. It was great.

 

So the after some more experimenting I made the best iPhone rig that I have done today using the attenuator, my Phone 4 and my cMoy BB amp. Same effect and also super portable.

 

If you have these I recommend playing around with this stuff.

 

IMG_0868.jpg

 

Overall

The whole series with the HF2 and HF3 with their mics make these earphones cater for everyone. They can be had fairly cheap and offer superb analytical and accurate sound. However even though these are so accurate and maintain pretty much neutral frequency response (other than slight mid boost, really slight like 0.5 or 1 db at a guess) they do not sound natural and extremely false. This is not bad and I really enjoy these earphones nonetheless. These are great for a lot of situations. For example want a cheaper earphones that sounds neutral with mic, tick! Want a super isolator earphone, tick! Want to get the ER4 but can not afford them or unsure on the sig, then these will more than likely do nicely.

 

MY IEM ROUNDUP (too compare these to my other earphones)


Edited by Swimsonny - 5/3/12 at 12:26pm
post #2 of 67

Nice review, thanks for posting it.

 

They now come with an angled plug, not the straight one you have. It's not a right angle, it's actually about 45 degrees. At least the HF3 that I got today did ;-).

 

Dave.

post #3 of 67

Interesting, I have my HF5s which are great but have been falling to disuse as of late. Could you comment a bit more on the effect on the attenuator? and where you obtained this?

post #4 of 67

Nice review!

post #5 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldave View Post

Nice review, thanks for posting it.

They now come with an angled plug, not the straight one you have. It's not a right angle, it's actually about 45 degrees. At least the HF3 that I got today did ;-).

Dave.

Thanks Dave, Yeh I've noticed that. It's the curved jack and I'd find that much more ideal. Now just a guess but was there a gap in between HF5 release and that of the HF2 and HF3? Then they might have a few other slight build upgrades. Or Maybe just a lil upgrade across the the series. I'll give ety an email to check.

How you finding them?

Quote:
Originally Posted by AuralHygiene View Post

Interesting, I have my HF5s which are great but have been falling to disuse as of late. Could you comment a bit more on the effect on the attenuator? and where you obtained this?

It's a shame to hear that they have become to collect dust. I will tonorrow have an a/b session and do a prolonged write up. Do you have a cMoy or an O2 (any prefferences which I use)? The one I own was bundled with my Ultimate Ears Super Fi 3. You may have one if you've ever hot Shure or UE earphones but they'll add different impedance at a guess. They're also cheap enough of eBay (under £10) and you can also ask for custom resistance, 25 ohms to over a 100 ohms I think but I'm good with a 100 butch ER4P to ER4S converter added 75 ohms (that's all it did).

What are you currently using mainly? ASG-1?
Quote:
Originally Posted by roma101 View Post

Nice review!
Thanks buddy.
Edited by Swimsonny - 5/3/12 at 7:09pm
post #6 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by Swimsonny View Post
How you finding them?

 

I haven't had a chance for an extended listening session. However, so far, so good. I've been playing around with different tips, and when they say its all about the fit, they aren't kidding! The small tri-flanges were too small, and the standard ones were an improvement. The gliders gave a better seal over either of the flanged ones, but the foam tips gave the best of the stock tips. Shame they were itchy though. However, I've got some Shure tri-flanges that I use with my Westone UM2 that have been cut down to bi flange (remove the smallest flange), and had the stem trimmed back so it' doesn't extend beyond the largest flange. These gave the best seal of all and were the most comfortable. For my ears at least.

 

Dave.

post #7 of 67
Thread Starter 
That interesting, you seem to really have played around a lot with the tips. I didn't get all the original tips so I didn't get to try them all. The medium triple flanges do start of close to unbearable but as I said wearing them for a week they will break in and you will find that you start to find them really quite comfy.

And yes, if you don't achieve the correct seal you really notice the determination in the sound quality which is mainly due to the lack of bass.
post #8 of 67

I didn't find the triple flanges uncomfortable - I suspect that having larger ear canals means that they don't get as forced in as tightly as with someone like yourself, and it might also explain why I didn't get an ideal seal - the sound seemed ok, but the foamies were noticeably louder, which I believe would be due to a better seal. Also, the weaker seal was evident in how easily they came out - just a gentle pull and they slid out really easily. In contrast, my modified Shure triple flanges often turn inside out when I remove them (i.e. the flange bit folds over towards the tip of the earphone). This could of course be related to the material, but I still get a better sound with them.

 

I forgot to say, I did try them with the Comply tips that came with the Westone UM2 (T-100). Although super comfy, the sound wasn't great as the seal wasn't great, they were very easy to remove, with virtually no resistance. I tried what I believe are medium and large, with the same results as the only difference with the large is the length - diameter is the same. I may look in to the Ts-100, as they are about 1mm wider than the widest part of the T-100 (which is at the cable end anyway, so away front he canal). It's only 1mm, but in ear canal terms that might make all the difference.

 

The final option is to get some custom moulds done... I'm very tempted...

 

Dave.

post #9 of 67

Quote:

Originally Posted by Swimsonny View Post

It's a shame to hear that they have become to collect dust. I will tonorrow have an a/b session and do a prolonged write up. Do you have a cMoy or an O2 (any prefferences which I use)? The one I own was bundled with my Ultimate Ears Super Fi 3. You may have one if you've ever hot Shure or UE earphones but they'll add different impedance at a guess. They're also cheap enough of eBay (under £10) and you can also ask for custom resistance, 25 ohms to over a 100 ohms I think but I'm good with a 100 butch ER4P to ER4S converter added 75 ohms (that's all it did).
What are you currently using mainly? ASG-1?

ASG-1s and UE700. I was extremely surprised when I started listening to the ue700's how much I liked them. ASG's emphasize the mids and provide great quality to most genres and I use my UE700 w/ BassBoost for techno/dub-step. It's been hard for me to find a specific genre that the HF's do better in than either of the other two. I guess, before pairing the UE700's with the cMoy, i definitely liked the HF better, but now, the UE700s are sounding like less mid-recessed versions of the TF10s which is pretty amazing.

 

But that's also why I was curious, as i feel that the HF's aren't being revealed to their potential and so was curious how much of a difference it really made to add the adapter. I'll be on the lookout to buy one now i guess to give it a try :)

 

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by digitaldave View Post

The final option is to get some custom moulds done... I'm very tempted...

 

Dave.

 

Before you do, might i suggest you try getting the Klipsch oval tips? I currently use the double flange mediums from them and they provide an extraordinary fit/comfort compared to the provided stock tips. In fact, ANY of their tips trumped the ones given by Ety. You might not be able to order a sampler pack online so i would recommend talking to their customer service to see if you can place an order for a sample pack with one of each type of tip. 

post #10 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by AuralHygiene View Post

Before you do, might i suggest you try getting the Klipsch oval tips? I currently use the double flange mediums from them and they provide an extraordinary fit/comfort compared to the provided stock tips. In fact, ANY of their tips trumped the ones given by Ety. You might not be able to order a sampler pack online so i would recommend talking to their customer service to see if you can place an order for a sample pack with one of each type of tip. 

Thanks for the heads up, I may well check them out.. Their uk site has bags of small/medium and medium/large, not sure about a mixed pack, but I suspect that I'll need large anyway.

Of course, there's also some of the Shure options I could try too. I better be careful, this could end up getting expensive very quickly just for some tips!
Edited by digitaldave - 5/4/12 at 9:33am
post #11 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldave View Post

I didn't find the triple flanges uncomfortable - I suspect that having larger ear canals means that they don't get as forced in as tightly as with someone like yourself, and it might also explain why I didn't get an ideal seal - the sound seemed ok, but the foamies were noticeably louder, which I believe would be due to a better seal. Also, the weaker seal was evident in how easily they came out - just a gentle pull and they slid out really easily. In contrast, my modified Shure triple flanges often turn inside out when I remove them (i.e. the flange bit folds over towards the tip of the earphone). This could of course be related to the material, but I still get a better sound with them.

 

I forgot to say, I did try them with the Comply tips that came with the Westone UM2 (T-100). Although super comfy, the sound wasn't great as the seal wasn't great, they were very easy to remove, with virtually no resistance. I tried what I believe are medium and large, with the same results as the only difference with the large is the length - diameter is the same. I may look in to the Ts-100, as they are about 1mm wider than the widest part of the T-100 (which is at the cable end anyway, so away front he canal). It's only 1mm, but in ear canal terms that might make all the difference.

 

The final option is to get some custom moulds done... I'm very tempted...

 

Dave.

 

 

Ahh you did not get a seal with them. There is no use sticking with them then,. Yeh i think that the shires seem to be the way forward at the moment for you. When i take mine out it is a real case of tug and war as they really create a vacuam. I would go with, for now, whatever sound best, don't worry about comfort too much as that will get better. At the end of the day sound comes first (I'm not saying it'd be worth making your ears bleed, but you get the jist).

 

Yeh i could easily see myself getting tempted by the custom molds!

Quote:

Originally Posted by AuralHygiene View Post

 

ASG-1s and UE700. I was extremely surprised when I started listening to the ue700's how much I liked them. ASG's emphasize the mids and provide great quality to most genres and I use my UE700 w/ BassBoost for techno/dub-step. It's been hard for me to find a specific genre that the HF's do better in than either of the other two. I guess, before pairing the UE700's with the cMoy, i definitely liked the HF better, but now, the UE700s are sounding like less mid-recessed versions of the TF10s which is pretty amazing.

 

But that's also why I was curious, as i feel that the HF's aren't being revealed to their potential and so was curious how much of a difference it really made to add the adapter. I'll be on the lookout to buy one now i guess to give it a try :)

 
Yeh the UE700 use a TWFK and they are meant to be one of the not so good TWFK, i really recommend checking the like of the DBA-02 and Rock-It R50 out! Im quite surprised that the UE700 go well with the cMoy as my DBAs didn't like the cMoy and the bass boost just ruined them. 
 
Yeh when i am not caught up in other reviews i will do a write up for the exact differences but i can say for sure that it is very positive.
 
 
For $11 i would just give it a go. The one i use has 100 ohms impedance but you could go for 75 ohms as thats what the ER4P to ER4S adapter uses. This guy lets you choose anyway.
post #12 of 67

Actually, I was very surprised as well. I actually bought two cMoys by accident since the first one was not by JDS and had BB permanently on, found for 15 on ebay. They were complete trash for all my headphones, but seemed to synch perfectly with the ue700s. Also, i think the UE700s were very lacking in bass compared to other TWFKs. anyways, blew my mind when I tried and actually started liking my UE's again.

 

Hmmm, wondering if anyone has experience between the 75 vs the 100 ohm adapter? 

post #13 of 67
Thread Starter 
I spoke to ClieOS about differences a bit back, he said its something you'd have to try and it would probably be down to preference.
post #14 of 67
Quote:
I’d like to see a right-angled jack

The right channel of my hf5 recently died.

When I got my replacements, I was glad to see they've updated the jack.

 

 

post #15 of 67

Custom tips are the way to go with these. Unbelievably awesome sound, and second-to-none isolation.

 

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