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Need IEM advice: Etymotic HF5 vs Sony XBA-3

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi all,

 

I'm relatively new to IEMs and looking for a pair for portable use (preferably one that can sound great straight out of the Ipod 5.5 Gen). I currently own a pair of Spider TinyEar and for the retail price they sound great but I want to explore what is out there if I go further up the scale with IEMs :)

 

I listen to all genres with an emphasis on Rock/Metal and singer/songwriter stuff. I'd like to stay within the $100-130 price range (the lesser the better without sacrificing too much in SQ) and I'm not against buying used. I'm in favor of a clear/crisp presentation with great details and attack but also love good bass (something more or less in the vent of AKG K701, perhaps without the big soundstage). In order of preference:

 

1. Clarity/Details

2. Comfort and isolation (I have quite small ear canals and the small single flange tips on the TinyEar fit just right)

2. Attack

3. Sweet mids (at least not too recessed)

4. Bass

 

I've done some research and come down to the two candidates: HF5 and XBA-3 which happen to be more or less in my price range. According to what I've read, they are quite different animals, one being accurate, detailed but somewhat cold sounding vs one with rather warm, bassy signature.

 

My question is that for my list of preferences above, which one would be a better choice. I'm also happy to know if there's any other good options in this price range.

 

Thanks so much in advance!!!

post #2 of 13

The XBA 3 will not fail you on clarity for vocals and bass and all round, triple Balanced Armature Drivers will blow your mind, recommended for all in those genres. hope I helped.

post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the input. How is the fit with small ears? I heard the XBA-3 are bassy iems and have a warm signature, does this somehow result in overall relaxed/laid back presentation?

post #4 of 13

As an owner of a pair of XBA3s, I can say that they might be a little uncomfortable for smaller ear canals. The housings on the XBA3 are on the larger side. They also cannot be worn around the ear, which means that you'll have to deal with microphonics. 

 

The ergonomic difference between the two iems is that XBA3s are for a shallow(ish) fit, while the the HF5 are for a deeper fit.

 

The number of drivers don't make that big a difference. Don't just buy the XBA3s for the 3'rd driver.

 

I too listen to rock/metal (and quite a bit of classical music too) and I find the XBA3s fantastic for that. I'd say that if I had to pin-point one thing that is really exceptional about the XBA3 (or the thing that wow'ed me most) was the instrument separation. I thought it was phenomenal.  

 

XBA3s are not bassy at all, they're very balanced. They suffer from a little bit of sibelence. I personally use and equalizer to reduce the trebles (for the 'ss' and the 'sshh' sounds). 

 

Also, if you're getting the XBA3, go for the version with the mic. The normal version has a J-cord, while the mic version (XBA3ip) has a normal symmetrical cord. This makes a big difference with this iem, because I hate the J-cord. 

 

So if you are getting the XBA3, just keep in mind that you might find them uncomfortable, you might struggle with the J-cord, and you'll probably have to equalize out the sibilance. I haven't used the HF5, so I can't comment for that.

post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 

Very informative, thank you. I was afraid that the XBA-3 wouldn't fit me well when I saw the housing (they look awesome though). This is quite a deal breaker for me. So despite the tempting sound signature you described, I think I may go with the Etys instead. I'm not against deep insertion as long as the tips fit right and I don't want to experience with lots of aftermarket tips to find out.

 

Anyway, if there's another good option vs the HF5, I'm all ears :)

post #6 of 13

The XBA-3 bass is quite impactful and has great extension, much more so than the HF5 does. The XBA-3 has pretty balanced mids and highs, while the HF5 is fantastically neutral, with a flat response, a fast, tight, lighter bass, mids so neutral it leans towards coldness, and a treble lifted to add clarity. The XBA-3 is not "bassy" in the sense of many dynamic drivers, but rather has a good extension and an impact that is quite definite, but not really as slow and emphasized as, for example, the also BA-based Klipsch X10. They lean towards warmth and can't be called neutral, especially next to the HF5. The fit of the XBA-3 is fine in my experience, and I have relatively small ears. I haven't met anyone who has complained about them being uncomfortable. The HF5 is smaller which is good, but the deep level of insertion may not be a "disappear in the ear" experience

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eastPride View Post

The XBA-3 bass is quite impactful and has great extension, much more so than the HF5 does. The XBA-3 has pretty balanced mids and highs, while the HF5 is fantastically neutral, with a flat response, a fast, tight, lighter bass, mids so neutral it leans towards coldness, and a treble lifted to add clarity. The XBA-3 is not "bassy" in the sense of many dynamic drivers, but rather has a good extension and an impact that is quite definite, but not really as slow and emphasized as, for example, the also BA-based Klipsch X10. They lean towards warmth and can't be called neutral, especially next to the HF5. The fit of the XBA-3 is fine in my experience, and I have relatively small ears. I haven't met anyone who has complained about them being uncomfortable. The HF5 is smaller which is good, but the deep level of insertion may not be a "disappear in the ear" experience

 

Now you're making it hard to decide again biggrin.gif The reason I'm leaning towards the HF5 is that they don't seem to stick as much out of the ear as bigger iems like XB3. And I guess deeper insertion may prevent the phones from falling out as I move. I once tried a friend's Shure SCL4 and they couldn't stay in my ears unless I pushed them in quite deep, which resulted in bad comfort as they are not designed to be worn that way.

 

Anyway, if you have heard both, how different is the treble between the two? Which one is more detailed (and with less sibilance)? Thanks

post #8 of 13
I had the ety micropro 4p and hated them, very poor, they do get good reviews but I'm still perplexed how, I tried for over 2 months with differing tips and eventually had a showdown with a few mates between all my IEMs and after that I sold them on eBay.

Problem I felt was the real lack of bass, they are very clear but lack anything low down, if you do manage to push them so far in your ear there touching your brain, the bass appears, but this was no good when out and about.

I tested them with other makers such as sennheiser, sony , beyer UE. I do think you won't go wrong with the sony headphones I have 2 pairs the older mdr ex500 and the flagship mdr ex1000 and they give me everything I need.

Xba3 or 4 would get my vote

I think eastpride says it all, etys are flat and neutral, some,people like that I don't I like to hear my bass as well as other stuff. I missed so much in songs with the etys that the others just exploded into my ear.
Edited by Littleted - 2/10/13 at 12:40am
post #9 of 13

eke2k6 wrote a great review comparing the two: http://www.head-fi.org/t/631704/double-review-etymotic-hf3-sony-xba-3-with-appearances-from-the-vsonic-gr07-mkii (The HF3 and HF5 sound the same)

 

I never had the HF5 but if you like your bass I would be wary of Etys. Many people find them bass light.

post #10 of 13
Neither ar
Quote:
Originally Posted by risenfallen View Post

Now you're making it hard to decide again biggrin.gif
 The reason I'm leaning towards the HF5 is that they don't seem to stick as much out of the ear as bigger iems like XB3. And I guess deeper insertion may prevent the phones from falling out as I move. I once tried a friend's Shure SCL4 and they couldn't stay in my ears unless I pushed them in quite deep, which resulted in bad comfort as they are not designed to be worn that way.

Anyway, if you have heard both, how different is the treble between the two? Which one is more detailed (and with less sibilance)? Thanks
Neither of the two are sibilant in the sense that it'll be harsh, even with a good recording. However, both will accentuate sibilance and harshness in bad recordings. In the end, both would be awful without a good source, which I will assume you indeed have. But just in case, for sibilance, I think that the XBA-3 would accentuate sibilance slightly more so than the HF5 would, but it's a major improvement over the more aggressive EX600. Nevertheless overall, the HF5 would expose more flaws in the source, while the XBA-3 would be a little more forgiving, but not by a large margin.

I'm sorry if this further complicates matters, but I must voice myself. I'd say that for clarity, detail, and quick attack, the HF5 would be optimal, but the warmer, less boring XBA-3 has better bass, with more impact, much better extension, and greater presence. One more thing to note; in my experience with the XBA-3/4, there is a nasty metallic tang to the sound, having a very unnatural timbre. Not that I'm saying that a BA should sound natural, which is rarely the case, but it's noteworthy to point out that the XBA-3/4 especially suffers from this issue.
post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by eastPride View Post

Neither ar
Neither of the two are sibilant in the sense that it'll be harsh, even with a good recording. However, both will accentuate sibilance and harshness in bad recordings. In the end, both would be awful without a good source, which I will assume you indeed have. But just in case, for sibilance, I think that the XBA-3 would accentuate sibilance slightly more so than the HF5 would, but it's a major improvement over the more aggressive EX600. Nevertheless overall, the HF5 would expose more flaws in the source, while the XBA-3 would be a little more forgiving, but not by a large margin.

I'm sorry if this further complicates matters, but I must voice myself. I'd say that for clarity, detail, and quick attack, the HF5 would be optimal, but the warmer, less boring XBA-3 has better bass, with more impact, much better extension, and greater presence. One more thing to note; in my experience with the XBA-3/4, there is a nasty metallic tang to the sound, having a very unnatural timbre. Not that I'm saying that a BA should sound natural, which is rarely the case, but it's noteworthy to point out that the XBA-3/4 especially suffers from this issue.

 

I (kinda) disagree. The XBA 3 does suffer from some sibilance. Doesn't really show up in vocals (thank god), but when I'm listening to a tchaikovsky piece (in 320kbps), the cymbals can get kinda bad. Even in some rock songs, the high hats can get a little bad - not in the way that it'll sound bad, but the sibilance will distract you from the song, it'll reduce the immersion. After a little bit of equalization, I don't notice the sibilance. Again, I haven't used the HF5, so I can't compare it.

I think the larger issue that you might have with the XBA 3 is the fit. I have medium-ish sized ears and they still occasionally get uncomfortable. It'd be great if you can try them on some time and then judge. I'm satisfied with my XBA 3, but I'm still considering trading them away if I get a good trade (partly because I want an IEM with a good over the ear fit, mostly because I just want to try different sounds).

I also wouldn't call the metallic tang 'nasty', I'd just say that the sound is a little 'thin'. I think that the metallic sound stems from the sibilance. I stop noticing it after a while. And its a tradeoff that is worth it for the great details and amazing imaging. Just worry about the fit. The housings are large. Not heavy, but large. The sibilance and thinness aren't a dealbreaker for me. 

 

Also, you might want to consider waiting out for the XBA 30, which is gonna come out soon. It might be a little more expensive though.

I personally am gonna sell the XBA 3 soon, put some more cash and buy the Sennheiser IE60. I wanna see why its soundstage is considered so good. Plus, I listen to a lot of classical/orchestral pieces, so I think that the IE60 will sound great with that.

post #12 of 13

The original XBA line is very picky with its sources. If your source's output impedance is too high, then the metallic tinge will appear. It happens mostly with the XBA-4 since it's impedance is so low. I have the new XBA-30 and it doesn't have the metallic tinge or sibilance/harshness.

 

OP I strongly recommend the CKN50. It has everything you're looking for. They are very revealing though, and will be sibilant if the recording was poorly mastered.

post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks guys. I appreciate the detailed descriptions. Both are promising soundwise, don't know about fit though. I think I'm gonna buy em both and return the less preferred one. At the end of the day, you can't avoid playing around with different kinds of tips to get an optimal fit I guess :)

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