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New to IEMs; Impressions Etymotic HF3 and Klipsch Custom 3

  1. BrianMB
    This is my first lengthy posting in regards to any audio related field, so my apologies if I'm a bit difficult to follow. Please let me know if there are any improvements I can make as all thoughts and feedback are welcome!
    So I have recently been required to take a bus to work and with all of that decided that I would invest in some good IEMs that I can just relax and enjoy some music on the ride. My source has been my iPhone 4, and using either Equalizer or EQu.
    My first IEM purchase was a set of Etymotic HF3s which have been absolutely fantastic IMO. I've had them since early March this year and have logged many hours (~150-200hrs). The noise isolation is great, and without music playing, using Ety Large Tri-flange tips or Shure Olives (Med) I have to read lips when I'm talking with someone. I'm not sure how much isolation I'm actually getting dB wise with them but I want to test them out vs a set of Peltor Shotgunners which have an NRR of 21dB.
    Either way, I'm able to listen to my music at a low volume, quite comfortably and pick out details of most any song! The bass is present, but certainly not the focus. It is audible, and clear, and the separation between the bass drum, low brass, timpany, bass guitar, is very much present. The vocals be it male or female come through with a very nice clarity, and are held fairly true to life. Be it the vocals of Tarja Turunen, Chrigel Glanzmann, James Hetfield, Katherine Whalen or many others, they come through clean and clear. Guitars are heard balanced with the rest of the instruments and certainly don't over power but definitely along with the vocals seem to have more focus than the bass end. What to say about the treble, I don't know. Cymbals come through and fall off fairly accurately, and don't sound as though they are held right up to a mic and going off the levels.
    A great example of instrument separation I found while listening the other week was on the song The Deceived by Trivium, at about 1:50 into the song it moves into a bridge type section with just the bass guitar and drums. The bass guitar has a fantastic moving part all through and very well represented by the HF3s as a separate entity from the bass drum.
    Now onto the Custom 3s which I've had for about 2 weeks now. First off isolation, while not on par with the HF3s, still have some decent isolation and allow for comfortable listening even in the noisy environment of a city bus. For tips, I've found that again out of all the tips included with the C3s, I prefer the Shure Olives.
    As to sound, definitely more emphasis on the bass from these than the Etys! The extention, while I'm not sure if it would be equal to the Etys is quite good, but the body is where these excell in my opinion. The overall presence of the low end is much more substantial, although not overpowering of the other elements. Instrument separation  again is well done by the C3s, and the ability to keep up with intricate bass lines seems no issue.
    Vocals and guitars are well presented and I think well balanced overall. Although I think that compared to the HF3, they are somewhat recessed, with the bass being more pronounced. Although not enough to completely over power, but noticeable.
    This trait is certainly more noticeable at lower volumes, however once the volume level starts coming up, the C3s really start coming to life. And you don't really need to focus for any particular instrument range as they all seem presented right up front and almost in your face.
    Just A/B'ing right now with both phones on the song Bad Businessman by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, I would say that the C3s are more U shaped in their sound. Not extremely so, but that the bass presence is seemingly more than the mids, and the highs about equal with the mids, perhaps a bit more. The HF3s, definitely less on the bass, more on the mids and equal? to mids for the highs.
    Overall between the 2 sets, I have to admit that for quiet listening, the HF3s are definitely my prefered set. The HF3s seem much more life like at the low volumes. Anytime I want less isolation, walking and need to hear, at work, or just in general, definitely the C3s, or if I am listening at a higher volume, then I can go to the C3s and still feel the life in the music.
    Now then all of this rambling leads to a question. The lifelessness that I'm hearing from the C3s with the lower volume listening, is that a by product of the higher impedance, or just the nature of the 'phones? And in either case would I be able to bring them to life at lower listening volumes? Although I use EQu and Equalizer, while comparing I've been having both programs on their 'Flat' profile so no emphasis from the program across the spectrum.

  2. BrianMB
    Anyone have any thoughts related to the Custom 3s, or is that simply their sound, and that they don't come alive until they have a higher level of current supplied to them?
  3. kmhaynes
    I have the HF5, but haven't heard the C3's, but have a couple of phones that act similarly at lower volumes.  Probably what is happening is because the Ety's are more mid and treble focused, at lower volumes, there is no perceived loss of frequency balance.  On the C3's tho, due to the greater emphasis on the bass region, at lower volumes, the details of the mids and highs are getting over-run by the bass.
    And although the 32ohm impedance of the C3's isn't high, compared to the HF3/5, it is needs a bit more power to get it fully going.  If you can get yourself a small portable headphone amp (iBasso T3 or T4 is excellent and smaller than a Sanza Fuze), it will probably make the C3's come alive at the lower volumes.
  4. mark2410 Contributor
    i think you way just like a bright crisp sound like on the hf3, i can assusre you the KC3 are excellent but they really dont take the detail and shove it brutally in your face the way etys do.
    i would easy place the KC3 on the same level as the ER4 in pure detail though.
  5. BrianMB
    You're right about the KC3 being a great unit Mark2410, if they had the same life at low volume as they do at louder volume, they would be my all the time go to IEMs. In the meanwhile, I'll take a look around and see if there are any portable amps around that I might be able to try out. That or even a different source, see if that would make a difference. Otherwise, I'll enjoy the KC3s as they are and that's the way it is as I have to say the presence of the bass on the KC3s when they come alive, is very enjoyable when listening to any kind of orchestral movie soundtracks or really any piece of music.

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