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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For noisy commutes these are excellent.
I purchased these in-ear-monitors (IEMs) about 6 months ago, but waited until now so I could review them based on more long-term impressions, since I feel that's always more useful when considering products that people may well be using every day. I'll start with everything not relating to how they sound, and then finish with my opinions of the audio quality - but bear...
Published on 5 Jan 2011 by S. Thomson

versus
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Getting better...
Headphones, & in particular, earphones are a tricky purchase. It is difficult to try before you buy & you are never quite sure what you are going to end up with, over priced tosh or a decent value product. The Etymotic HF5 fall into neither of these, coming up just short of the hurdle of being a good valued piece of kit.

First off these type of phones are...
Published on 1 April 2009 by Rich


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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For noisy commutes these are excellent., 5 Jan 2011
By 
S. Thomson (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I purchased these in-ear-monitors (IEMs) about 6 months ago, but waited until now so I could review them based on more long-term impressions, since I feel that's always more useful when considering products that people may well be using every day. I'll start with everything not relating to how they sound, and then finish with my opinions of the audio quality - but bear in mind that's a very subjective topic.

I didn't used to be a fan of IEMs, but the HF5s have converted me. The isolation they provide when fitted correctly is superb, making them perfect for my noisy commutes (bus, train, occasionally coach). I'm also confident that they would be more than enough for use when travelling by plane. They are particularly good at blocking out the low frequencies, with higher frequencies being *slightly* more audible. This isn't necessarily a bad quality, though, as it means that voices can be heard when needed, though you'll have to remove them if you want to have a conversation. The isolation is so great that I would not recommend them for running/waling around town etc.

In spite of the deep insertion, I find them to be a very comfortable fit. The triple-flange design is made of quite soft silicon, and compresses nicely when inserted, but still provides plenty of resistance and friction to keep them in place. Several other tips are included: a smaller triple-flange set, some rather unusual-shaped `glider' tips (I don't really know how to describe these, but I found them both less comfortable than the flanges, and to decrease the sound quality), and a set of foam tips. The foam tips were the most comfortable, for me, but get dirty relatively quickly and only stand up to so much cleaning, as well as being rather pricey to replace when you consider that it's just a little bit of foam.

Microphonics (noise due to the cable/headphone casing catching and knocking against things) is moderate; I do not find microphonics to be particularly distracting, but if you are sensitive to it I would not recommend these `phones. When sat still, with the cable-clip attached to my top, the cable is more-or-less prevented from knocking and rubbing against closing, eliminating the problem.

Build-quality seems at least acceptable. At first they felt rather flimsy, but having stood up to six months of fairly regular use I have to say that they are sturdier than they appear. There are as-yet no signs of wear, though I have heard of people having the cables detach from the driver module; I suspect that this is due to the headphones being removed by the cable - don't do that, remove them by holding the driver casing instead.

And onto the sound quality:

Bass: bass is precise, and extension is good (they can hit the low notes) but they are a little lacking in impact. A good seal makes them far better, but still slightly anaemic (I'm not a bass-head, either). The bass is quick to respond and rarely does it feel that the HF5s are incapable of keeping up with rapid changes in the low notes.

Mids: the mids are probably the strongest point of these `phones, being well detailed although perhaps slightly forward relative to the bass and treble, but largely well-balanced. (Male) Vocals are definitely more prominent in the mids than in the bass. I find tonality to be fairly poor here, with unamplified instruments and vocals often sounding quite unnatural (more on that below).

Treble: again, the treble is well balanced and accurate. Detail is also very good here, and I am still noticing things in tracks that I never knew were there (though this is probably due in part to the excellent isolation). With female vocals I often find them to be uncomfortably shrill, despite the headphone sounding relatively neutral overall. As an example, I rarely listen to Florence and the Machine with these because I find it an almost painful experience, but then again, her voice is quite shrill naturally.

Overall, these are precise, balanced and neutral sounding. Unfortunately, this leads to a more analytical sound than a musical one, so it depends what you're after. Listening to music on these makes it sound a little dead, as if it's being played in a padded room. You can hear everything very clearly, but they are not going to make you want to dance. I also find the timbre to be quite unnatural, especially with classical music. I know how a violin is supposed to sound, and this is not it. There seem to be both low- and high-end harmonics/overtones missing, which is especially noticeable in string instruments. I'm sort of on the fence about sound quality, because while they don't appear to do very much wrong, the sound just isn't quite right. That said, I really enjoy listening to electronic music with these `phones, despite their slightly lean bass (they respond well to a low-frequency boost from a decent EQ.)

Sound stage is larger than I expected, but still quite small. They certainly don't sound as closed-in as I had expected, given their deep-insertion. Instrument separation is also minimal, but enough not to find everything lost to a muddy, unclear jumble of sounds.

From the last few paragraphs I may have painted quite a negative picture of these headphones, but I am just being overly-critical. You will get used to their tone after some mental burn-in, and I am yet to find anything else that offers such good isolation in a similar price bracket. When on the move they are probably my best-sounding set of `phones, because the awesome isolation means you lose so little to unwanted ambient noise.

So yes, for the price there are better sounding IEMs, over-ear headphones, etc, but none of them will sound this good when your sat at the back of a noisy bus. I bought them for commuting, and in that respect they perform excellently and are relatively good value. Oh, and well done if you made it this far.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Getting better..., 1 April 2009
By 
Headphones, & in particular, earphones are a tricky purchase. It is difficult to try before you buy & you are never quite sure what you are going to end up with, over priced tosh or a decent value product. The Etymotic HF5 fall into neither of these, coming up just short of the hurdle of being a good valued piece of kit.

First off these type of phones are slightly intrusive, if you struggle to use foam ear plugs then look at a different style headphone, if not & you want a good level of sound isolation then read on.

Build quality is good & the supplied bits include: case, two sizes of flanged ear tips, one set of foam ear tips, a filter removal tool, filters & clip to hold the cable to clothing.

The headphones provide a very detailed insight into the music, picking up things in the recordings that you may not have noticed before, mid range in particular comes through with outstanding clarity & this with the very balanced top end really gives a sense of quality sound. However I found the bass a little lacking with any of the supplied fittings. These style phones need to fit really well in order to reproduce the correct bass but even with the supplied foam plugs the only bass that really comes through is a very tight mid bass, not that I want something that is thumping, but a little more warmth & a touch more low end grunt would really push these on sonically.

So, I've tried them with the Shure Foam Tips (PA910 fit perfectly), these really do bring an added depth to the bass, an altogether rounder & warmer tone. However there is a trade-off for this improvement in sound & that is cable feedback, it was driving me mad, solution - put the phones in upside down & trail the cable around your ears.

Overall I'm pleased with my choice, although it has taken a couple of weeks to get them right, plus the additional outlay for the new foam tips. So a recommendation, but a hesitant one.

A 3 star product as standard, a 4 Star product with the Shure foam tips.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Headphones for a Fantastic Price., 2 Sep 2010
By 
MrCoolManTim (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Black (Electronics)
I bought these recently as a replacement to my Shure SE210. I find them a much better headphone, they seemed to be much better designed and have better clarity and separation. I am extremely happy with these headphones but then again you are probably wondering why I gave them a 4 star rating apposed to a 5 star. Well I will address the problems these headphones suffer in detail so keep reading.
Advantages over the SE210 is that the sound is rounder with basses being more fleshed out and highs not being ultra sharp. In comparison to my Sennheiser HD650s they don't flesh out the bass as much as I would like and also with the HD650s I find each layer is perfectly audible and crisp but with these I don't find them as crystal clear listening to some music. This is really not a fair comparison because the HD650s cost twice to three times as much and are not marketed as competitors and also try carrying them around with you!
In terms of comfort & design compared to the SE210 these come out top dog. I find their three layered flange tips to be amazing for blocking out ambient noise and putting you right in your music. Personally I find etymotic's range of tips lacking compared to the ones Shure offers, so this leads my having a bit of an uncomfortable time with the HF5s. I find you really need to jam the tips far into your ear canal, which is not a very pleasant experience and if one of the earphones is not inserted all the way it sounds un balanced, so you might be moving them around until you are happy with the fit. I also found that the tips made my ear irritated which is a problem I have never had with any other in-ear earphone every before. The other tips Etymotic provide don't really serve much purpose I find, they are exotic looking and are not pleasant to use.
Design wise, the HF5s are very well designed. They come with a soft case which is a very nice addition, and especially compared to the un-practical hard case that came with the Shure's because I found I couldn't slip it into a pocket because of it's ridiculous size. A problem I have found with the HF5s is the cable design. It's too thin and causes a lot of noise whenever it's moved, this is a very big problem and even with the addition of the included shirt clip it's still a problem! Shure's cable management system is much better and they also have a lot higher quality cables AND also has an easily replaceable extension cable so you can replace it when the jack wears out. I am also a sucker for Shure's design of wrapping the cable around the back of the ear to minimise cable friction noise and also to keep them safe when not in use (does make you look a bit silly though). Another design choice that I am not keen on with the HF5s is the soft touch finish they have put on the cables and the body of the the headphones which makes them feel cheap and they don't feel like they will last for very long.
To summarise, I think the HF5s are an amazing sounding and well priced pair of in-ear earphones but not having a high end in-ear line of headphones leads to the HF5s missing out on any handed down high-end features you find on other headphones. Not a deal breaker but a bit annoying at times.
If I had to recommend a pair of in-ear headphones under 100 it would be these.
4/5 (3/5 when revised)

EDIT: After over three years of owning these headphones I would like to add to my review.
After about a year of owning them for three years I have found some issues. One issue is the cable, after just one year of owning my pair I had the cable damage at the plug (I made sure to put them back in the case whenever transporting them) which made the left earphone cut in and out. I did get a replacement (with a new plug but which seems to have fixed the issue of the connection breaking to the plug after a shot period of time) but the problem with the cable has persisted; to put it succinctly, they shred! The state of my cable outer after a year and a half of usage is so bad that I don't really want to take them with me as I am scared of them breaking, I now don't really use them at all much as there is no point when I have headphones for inside use.
Considered getting a replacement pair but figured this would just happen again and not to mention the fact that they are now 100+; when I bought mine back in 2010 I paid 66.95 from my local Apple repair place/centre-thing (which has now shut down). At 100+ I am considering something along the lines of the Steelseries Flux, Vsonic VC1000 or Rock-it R-50; any advice appreciated!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawless., 18 Dec 2009
By 
Ms. Leah Pritchard (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Black (Electronics)
I previously used a pair of great Sennheiser headphones which cost about twice as much as these. I wanted something a little more compact for travelling and for general use with my laptop/iPod. The sound quality on these is just as good as the Sennheisers and the noise cancelling is simply phenomenal. I use the foam ear tips, which I find work best. I have to replace them every month or so or they do start to let some noise through. Once I've done that, I can't even hear my phone ring when it's on the table in front of me. I'd definitely replace these if I ever lost them (Etymotic happily replaced them when I accidentally tugged the cable a bit too hard and one channel stopped working.)
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good separation and isolation - great IEMs !, 18 July 2010
This review is from: Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Black (Electronics)
I have owned Sennheiser PX100, CX300, Ultimate Ears Super Fi Pro, Denons IEMs 700something, Grados SR60. Now I own a pair of these and I am extremely happy. Unheard clarity and separation. It is so easy to follow the individual instruments, the heights sound just great. There is enough bass for me, even without equalizer tweaking. I listen to rock, metal, ska and classical music. Even the radio moderator's voices sound better with these...

The only problem is that moving the wires results in noise (microphonics), badly...the shirt clip helps a bit but is a bit annoying and does not solve the problem 100%. I guess that is the price you pay for such excellent sound isolation. I cannot hear when someone talks to me, and I do not blast my ear drums with ridiculous volume. They just have the best isolation I ever came across.

Because of the microphonics I deduct one star...but these are truly great, great headphones. Side note, they are very very light, which is nice too.

I am using the foam tips, the triple flange silicon one sound a bit better, but I have to insert them very deep and it starts to hurt after a while (I have got very large ear canals, so they go in very deep). The glider tips would be great, but they are bit too small for me. I ordered some Comply Tx100 foam tips to improve comfort, the Etymotic foam is quite rough and gets itchy.

Do yourself a favour and get a pair...you will not regret it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for musicians, 11 Sep 2009
By 
I'd been shopping around for a while trying to find some earphones I could use when playing the drums (for playing to my Ipod, click tracks etc), and after looking at bulky isolating headphones, cheap earphones, really expensive earphones, in-ears etc, I decided to give these a try. Last night I got them into the practise room and tried them out, and I couldn't be more impressed.

They come with 2 sizes of triple-flanged eartips, and 2 sizes of foam ones. The large triple-flanged are the same size as a regular pair of triple flanged earplugs, and the level of isolation they deliver is superb. In fact, I've used Etymotic Research's ER20 earplugs and these earphones isolate much more than them.

I was able to listen to my ipod on half volume and play along full tilt with no problems at all, and I play hard! That was a totally comfortable volume too. I could have turned it up more without it getting uncomfortable.

A couple of points in response to complaints below:

-The bass response is absolutely fine if you've fitted them properly (DEEP into the ear canal, whilst lifting the top of the ear with the opposite hand). Seriously, if you want any isolation or bass at all you have to get them right inside your ear. There's a note about this in the box, and a diagram, and a link to a video on the website. How people have got this so wrong when all the information is provided for them I have no idea, but rest assured that if you insert them according to the instructions and get a tight seal the bass is fine and the isolation is phenomenal.

-Cable feedback needn't be a problem if you use them properly. I've been using mine whilst playing the drums, which involves a great deal more movement than what a lot of the other reviewers have been doing and I had no problems at all. Someone below suggests that you "put the phones in upside down & trail the cable around your ears" and although there is nothing to this effect in the instructions, it is the correct way to wear this type of earphones. There is also a `cable slider' which allows you to adjust the point at which the wires to the two earpieces separate. If you run the wires around your ears and tighten the slider behind your head you get a really snug fit and minimal cable feedback.

These earphones are amazing. Great for musicians and if you take the time to find out how to use them properly they're great for use out and about too. Plus they're cheap as chips for what they do :) Couldn't recommend them more highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superbe, 1 July 2010
wow wee!! For the price you pay for these these are as good as some of the top of the range stuff out there. Nice and comfy too excellent bass and crystal clear sound!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant, 25 Jun 2010
By 
Callum A. Boa - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Having spent the past week or so going through various reviews about IEMs I finally decided that these would be the best choice for me. I can definitely say that I wasn't disappointed.
On first putting them on my first thought was how far they need to be inserted, the second was how much these things isolate. I then put some music on and was instantly plunged into sheer auditory bliss. The amount of detail you can hear in music with these is nothing short of fantastic - I'm finding detail in music that my Grado sr60i's simply couldn't pick up. With some people complain about there not being enough bass with these IEMs I can only imagine that they are used to the huge bass hump found in most cheaper earphones (Sennheiser's CX series for example). A lot of people may think that this lack of bass is down to the fact that they don't have a proper seal but these IEMs don't have the bass that may be expected from others.
Basically, I'd say that these are IEMs for people who want to hear music as it is, hearing the little details at any frequency. These are definitely NOT IEMs for bassheads however.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Sound, 31 May 2010
By 
Anne osullivan (Eire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Black (Electronics)
These earphones are very good, I've used a few other brands Sennheiser being the main one and I prefer these over all of them including my HD595's. The sound is perfect,just as if you were listening to a set of studio monitors. The bass is nice and tight and just right for me.
The noise isolation is the best I've come across,I was standing next to a reasonably load radio the other day and didn't even notice it was on until I looked at it.
The cable is 4ft long and has a handy clip attached to it as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really comfortable and easy to wear, 11 April 2010
By 
Kristin "I read so I don't kill people!" (Wiltshire) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
I have some custom made ear plugs for these, which are fairly easy to get done. With those, these are excellent. I only need the volume a a low level so can still be aware of my surroundings for alarms etc, but can hear everything so clearly that I don't have to blast sound into my eardrums. This is tested using mostly audio books, which are often the hardest to work with, as you need to ear all the words, and they are often softly spoken in sections. I am also a chronic pain sufferer, and until found these, could not wear ear phones at all, and found the over ear phones just too heavy to carry, so was unable to listen to my books whilst travelling. One of the final best things about using these with an iPhone, is that they remember what the volume was somehow for them against my other pillow speakers, and adjust the volume when they are plugged in somehow. Call volumes are also nice and clear, and my callers say they can hear me excellently over the mike. That and a nice colour and soft touch finish all add up to an excellent p[air of earphones.
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Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Black
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