Low-key but accomplished, Etymotic is a consistent player in the field of in-ear monitors and earphones. The company was the first to introduce the “canalphone” – an earphone that goes right into ear canals – but this fact is not so widely known. The Etymotic Research HF2 was put on shelves alongside its brethren in the same range, HF3 and HF5 a few years back. For an old-timer, just how well does the HF2 fare compared to its younger rivals?
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Design and Comfort
As far as looks are concerned, the HF2 is not quite up there with its contenders. The cylindrical shape of its ear pieces and the metal finish combine to produce an appearance reminiscent of a thermos flask, though you have to keep in mind that it was released back in 2006 and deserves some slack. Comparisons aside, the colors – cobalt, red and black – are safe bets, but vivacious enough for the market.
Although the ear pieces look like they would jut out from your ears, they don’t quite do so when you insert them properly. An important note is that the tips are meant to be inserted deep into your ear canals. If you’re used to the shallow insertion that, say, Sennheiser IE 60 requires, then putting on these earphones will resemble a drilling operation. Uncomfortable and hard to get used to, the accompanying triple flange tips are no doubt superior in isolating noise, but the hard foam ones are less fatiguing and easily replaceable.
Etymotic has done a job in keeping its cables tangle-free, and the HF2 is no exception. There’s no fear of knots even if you just dump it in the case, and its 4 feet length is more than enough for flexibility of movement. However, one significant problem it has is cable noise. The HF2 can be worn over the ear to minimize this issue, but that would situate the microphone farther away from your mouth. The provided shirt clip does little to remedy this, so audio and call quality are somewhat hampered. Replacement filters and a filter replacement tool are also included in the set.
One of factors which made the HF2 attractive when it was released was the handsfree aspect. The inadequate pair of earphones that came with the iPhones left people wanting, and so Etymotic HF2 stepped in to fill the void. The microphone is positioned quite close to your mouth, which means that you won’t have to arrange the cable around or lift it up to speak. Transmission is impressive – the other end of the call will hear you perfectly, be it at an airport or a train station. The one-button remote also functions as any other remote does; a single press to answer or end calls and pause or play music, and a quick double press for skipping tracks.
The HF2’s rendering of music is faithful and precise, which some will take as lackluster. It wasn’t meant to boost your bass to brain-rattling levels, but you will find that fact is compensated by a stunning clarity. Elements which usually pass by unnoticed are brought forward, so much so that you will feel like you are listening to the songs for the first time. Another wonderful fact is you won’t have to hit the maximum volume for you to hear all those details. The earphones’ isolation is among the best in the market – which makes it suitable for travel.
It goes without saying that acoustic tracks are these earphones’ forte. When compared to Shure SE315 which retails for about $40 more, the HF2 thoroughly outperformed it in all aspects. Whilst the SE315 required some burn in time, the HF2 sounded great right off the bat. The sound is extremely flat and balanced – artists sound exactly how they were meant to; highly articulate with no warmth to muddy the midrange. There’s a fullness that doesn’t come off as too bright. On the other hand, the SE315’s sound is hollow and not quite there, which is evident even the most upbeat of songs.
Retailing at $149, Etymotic Research HF2 is still a contender in the crowded earphones market. Its sound quality sends its more recent competitors packing, which is no mean feat considering the market is crowded with high quality products. If you have no qualms with the deep insertion it requires, and prefer balanced sound over bass-enhancement, then the HF2 makes a strong case for this price point.