I’ve had a really tough time finding good iPod or iPhone earbuds. The ones that came with my iPhone didn’t stay in my ears and sounded lousy. I bought some higher-end ones and felt like I needed to crank the volume up way to much to get good sound, very likely because of the ambient noise. It also seems as though there is a glut of earphones available in the $10-$80 that simply sound terrible.
Because I’ve heard so much about them and because they looked really nice on paper, I decided to give the Etymotic hf5 earbuds a whirl and review them. (note that there is a $50 off code for these now, see below)
Opening the box
When I greedily opened the box, I was struck by how small these earbuds were. The part that sticks out of your ear is just a small barrel instead of a big ugly “bud”. They are also extremely light, weighing in at less than half an ounce. They come in three different colors, black, cobalt, and ruby.
The hf5 earphones are very similar to Etymotic’s hf2 set, except they do not have a microphone. Included in the package are 3 types of ear canal sleeves: the extra-long, triple flange sound isolating ones in 2 sizes and also some regular foam tips. The flanged tips are meant to enhance the sound isolating function of the earphones and do take a little getting used to as they penetrate quite deeply into the ear canal.
In addition to the three sets of tips, the hf5 earbuds also come with a really nice travel pouch and a filter changing and cleaning tool to help remove the ear wax from the filter (yuk). Most earbuds are not user-serviceable, so this was a very welcome surprise. The filters are small cylinders that are stuck in the opening of ear earpiece to help smooth the frequency response and to prevent earwax from building up inside. Although I didn’t get a chance to stress-test the hf5’s, the cord seems quit sturdy and is easy to untangle. They also include a removable clip that helps prevent the cord from getting too knotted up while being stored in the case.
Using the Hf5 earbuds
As was previously mentioned, the depth that the flanges go into your ear canal is a bit strange at first, but I quickly got used to it over the course of this review. Many earphones have noise cancellation technology, however I’ve never been happy with the results that I’ve heard. Etymotic’s design principle was: let’s make these earbuds so that they isolate ambient noise as much as possible so that the volume doesn’t have to be too loud. This reduces the chance of hearing loss associated with listening at levels that are too high. I’m happy to report that the noise isolation of these earphones is simply remarkable – so much so, in fact, that you have to be careful because it’s difficult to hear things like car horns. Etymotic claim that their isolation earphones have the “Highest noise isolation of all earphones, regardless of type”, and I believe it.
The other benefit of such a close fit with your ear canal is that the frequency response is duly enhanced. Etymotic also make the claim that they have the “Highest frequency response of all in-ear earphones, regardless of type”. Although I have no easy way to verify this, their stated frequency response is 20Hz-15kHz, which seems quite good. Here is a great description of how they measure the frequency response.
What this all adds up to is that the earbuds sound good. Darn good. I’ve tried many different earphones from bargain-cheap to high end, these are definitely near or at the top of the list for sound quality. The sound is clear, the highs are smooth, and the bass is super tight. The ultra-isolation of the flanges really helps a lot in the quality of sound, and I really did find that I didn’t have to turn these up as much as other earphones to achieve the same perception of volume.
My one complaint was that I found the hf5 earbuds a touch light in the bass. In fact, every time I try out any audiophile-type equipment, I almost always have this complaint. I think that this stems from being so used to listening to consumer-grade audio equipment that inevitably has a little bump in the bass frequencies to make it sound more expensive than it really is. When listening to a piece of equipment that has a high degree of accuracy, the bass seems a bit lighter. If you really do want the heavy bass, Etymotic make the Etymotic Research MC5 Noise Isolating In-Ear Earphones that have enhanced bass response.
All in all, these are some of the very best earphones that I have tried, and at $150 they undercut other high-end earbuds by a good margin. Right now they are running a $50 off deal until May 31, making the price $100. Make sure to use the Etymotic hf5 earbuds Amazon discount code CED3JMZB if you decide to buy a pair. You won’t find anything else for $100 that performs so well. Check them out.