The Etymotic Research HF3’s release was a little puzzling. What does it, big brother to Etymotic’s HF2, offer to the masses than its predecessor hasn’t offered? The HF2, an already solid pair in the market, gave the audiophiles their value for money – so it’s interesting to see what the price increase, however nominal, buys for an upgrade.

Etymotic Research HF3

Etymotic Research HF3

Design and Comfort

Aesthetically, the Etymotic Research HF3 is among the simplest earphones ever designed, not to mention identical to the HF2. The shape is cylindrical, with a textured feel to the housings which make them easy to grip. These are definitely not as flashy as the latest ones available in the market; they don’t even have the brand name etched on them so you won’t associate them immediately with Etymotic. Only the most basic of colors are offered – blue, black and red – but they are appealing enough to the discerning buyer.

The way these earphones fit might prove to be an insurmountable problem if you’re accustomed to a shallow insertion. The tips go way in, which is why they’re also known as ‘canalphones’. The triple-flange tips may look faintly extraterrestrial, but they are the best in creating a great seal. The company website suggested moistening the tips to make insertion easier, but that raises an interesting question – how exactly can a person moisten them? If your own answer grosses you out, rest assured that you will also get a pair of hard foam and soft foam tips.

A recurring problem with the HF2 was that the Y-junction routinely frayed and sound stopped flowing to one of the ears. Etymotic eliminated this problem by reinforcing the cable with Kevlar. If you’re a heavy user, the newer version is more than capable of withstanding hard yanking and tugging. Also included for maintenance are a filter replacement tool and some replacement filters. You’ll also get a clip for securing the cable to your shirt.


The remote is possibly the only point of difference between the HF2 and HF3. What was previously a one-button apparatus now has three buttons with full Apple functionality. That touch of sophistication that is present in the Apple’s product is lacking here, but the buttons are adequately clicky and easy to use – rarely, if ever, would you accidentally double-click them. While most remotes are placed at the Y-junction of the cable, the HF3’s hang close to the mouth. It’s awkward positioning, but because the remote is light, it doesn’t swing around and hit you in the face when you move. You can bet you’ll get high call clarity as well. The transmission will blow you away.


Again, the sound profile of the HF3 is similar to that of the HF2. Both profess a clear appreciation for music as it was recorded, rather than an enhanced version of it. That said, the bass has been accused to be rather anemic. Whilst it is true that the bass should sound more pronounced, Etymotic has never made any promises in regards to the low end. Only those looking for flat response will come knocking at HF3’s door.
And flat response you will receive. Listening to music on the HF3 will become an insightful experience, as minute details that would have disappeared with lesser equipment will be brought to the fore. You can pick out the instruments with pleasure – these earphones easily outperforms pricier alternatives, such as Shure’s SE315, which has disappointed many with its washed out sound.

Apart from the much prized tonal balance, the isolation is so good that an ‘Awareness’ app is available from the Apple App store that lets you listen to both the music and the outside world at the same time. While this isn’t particularly beneficial, it’s a testament to the HF3’s prowess.


At first glance, the Etymotic Research HF3 seems to bring nothing new to the table. Audio-wise, it sounds exactly the same as the HF2. However, what the $20 increase will give you is a sturdier cable and a more functional remote. If you love the HF2’s neutral sound, then forking out a little extra for the HF3 would only be natural.