Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
on 17 October 2012
Reading some of the negative reviews I've been inspired to add my own.
Etymotics are great but there are some significant issues you need to be aware of.
Firstly, you need a good quality bass boost or equalizer to compensate for the neutral bass; and that's assuming you've got a decent seal. The bass is very high quality (tight), but the bass sounds weak to the layman ear. Good quality equalizers are difficult to find. The one on older Ipods (gen 2) is atrocious (perhaps also true of older iphones, pre 3); it distorts almost immediately. Android needs 3rd party apps to get quality equalization. I can recommend the clip+ at £26 for the 2GB version: it has excellent equalization out of the box as well as hifi audio : google "clip+ nwavguy" . Better still, the clip+ and clipzip can have the rockbox firmware put on it.
2nd, Earwax: when I first got them I had a painful and squelchy feeling in one of my ears. I thought my ears were etymotics incompatible but in fact though being quite young I had an ear wax issue, which apparently is quite common. the (slight) pain continued even after taking them out so I went to the doctor and eventually got it sorted out by the local nurse. Hot damn, my hearing majorly improved.
3rd, player issues: the electricals mean that some player designs cut corners and have high 'output impedance'. Read more on that with a google "nwavguy output impedance" .To summarise: this is a serious issue for low impedance earphones (typical of consumer earbuds etc) and even worse for balanced armatures like the HF2/3/5. It weakens bass and treble: you won't be getting the promised audio fidelity. The iphone 3GS,and 4 are fine. But many older ipods have high output impedance. The iphone 5 has increased the output impedance and will be affecting these etymotics. You could use the cheap-n-cheerful FIIO 5 headphone amp to correct this (it's near hifi and 'corrects' the output impedance, google "fii0 E5 nwavguy").
Personally, I haven't had issues with my HF2s falling apart as some have, yet I've treated them quite roughly. I'm suspecting fakes out there. Now near two years I can see the kevlar splitting at the plug; which doesn't surprise me the way I treated them. One of the reasons I went ahead and purchased these expensive phones is because of the 2 year warranty and reports from the US or etymotics being very good at honouring it even for wear and tear. However, another review here casts doubt on that. It would be good to hear of other people's experience of this.
So why only 3 stars? Firstly, they are NOT neutral or flat. According to diffuse-field headphone design theory they are neutral, but that theory requires a bump in the audio frequency at about 3000Hz. The result is the legendary thin and bass-shy performance of etymotics. You can clearly hear the bump if you do a sinesweep. For all the reported detail (partly from the artificial boost) they have anti-warmth. This is only of any use to the partially deaf (which usually affects 2000-4000Hz). They are neither good for monitoring nor for music enjoyment. They are really not 'reference' monitors, neither the ER4S or ER4P. What they are good for is being properly equalized and getting £300 performance from a $100 earphone + 2 year warranty (only from amazon-official sellers). If you have no parametric equalizer then boost the bass by about 9db to get half-decent performance. 30hz and down can't be equalized in; they just don't have the oomph. Also they lack beyond 12000Hz, for 'air'. You need multi-armature phones for that but then you have phase issues. Except for freqphase multi-armatures $1000 phones, these etymotics equalised are a pretty good compromise.
With a rockboxed clip+ the equalizer settings you need for enjoyable performance (with deep bass) are 40Hz 5db q=1.4, 650Hz -4.5db q=2.8, 2900Hz -5db q1.4, 8500Hz -8db q.4.8 (8500hz is an ear canal resonance and will vary by person and tip used), finally treble -5db. With these settings, if you are a loud listener it's conceivable that you'll need more volume than the clip+ can provide, in which case the Fii0 E5 should do that. With that 40Hz setting, you should really not set volume higher than -5db (or +1db at a pinch); if that's not loud enough then change to 50Hz, +3db. Adjust treble according to taste; for both bass and treble the rule of thumb is to avoid being distracted (high-hats, snare posessing your attention? Turn down the treble).
Secondly, they have limited 'soundstage'. A wide soundstage really adds a lot. Nevertheless, for on-the-go hifi and isolation these phones are really good. And because they are technically excellent with hyper low-distortion, they can help to sort out issues with other headphones or poor mixes/mastering by comparing.
I really recommend the Sansa clip+. It's hifi, with low output impedance and a good equalizer...and it's cheap. Rockboxed, it's the perfect companion to these headphones.