Etymotic Research is an interesting company that has been around for several years. Rather than focusing on all sorts of technologies that drastically improve the listening experience, Etymotic Research concentrates on perfection by specifications. Of course, several products still have to be offered to cater to different buyers and with the $129 Etymotic HF5, this portable in-ear earphones strives to be a good choice for people looking for noise-cancelling and isolating with great accuracy.
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Design and Comfort
Based on looks alone, the HF5 may not be an appealing package for say teens and younger folks that are looking for fun and trendy designs with cool looking logos. In fact, you won’t even find a logo on this pair of earphones. The overall appearance is very simple although there is a nice cobalt blue and ruby version if the black version looks too generic. But not all mainstream canalphones come with 3-flanged earpieces and the ones that may have them are not perfected. This is because Etymotic Research actually invented this unique design and all of a sudden, the Etymotic HF5 just got more interesting.
3-flanged earpieces give the added advantage of providing up to 35dB noise isolation. But for some folks, they may not exactly be the most comfortable choice. Moistening the tips make the process a bit easier to get a solid seal but it could still be a frustrating extra step for some. But Etymotic Research gets praise nevertheless for including soft foam tips as well as hard foam tips to suit other people. To sum things up, just use the ACCU•Fit-branded soft foam tips if you want comfort and use the triple flanged tips if you really need that noise isolation. It is also nice to see that a padded pouch with zipper is included in the package so you have a place to store the earphones along with the eartips for traveling.
Another interesting thing that the hf5 possesses is a special filter called the ACCU•Filter. This not only smoothens out the frequency responses but it also makes sure that ear wax does not enter the earphones. Of course, these filters can get dirty over time and affect the audio quality but there is an included tool that makes it easy to remove the filter for replacement. This filter can be seen after removing the eartip. A couple of extra filters are included and you will need to buy more separately in the future as dirty filters are not meant to be cleaned and reused.
As a part of Etymotic Research’s goal in eliminating all compromises, the company paid attention to the cable of the Etymotic HF5 as well. This is important because the set of headphones is practically useless if the cable suddenly frays and that will significantly affect the audio quality. Etymotic Research’s approach to the problem is to add Kevlar reinforcements to increase durability. This is the same synthetic fiber that is used to make body armor.
Naming this pair of earphones the HF5 is a pretty odd choice as it denotes something that is superior to the HF3 model. But in terms of features, the Etymotic HF5 is more focused on a particular audience – listeners. There are no headset features here and no built-in microphone so don’t expect to plug this in to your iPhone and strike up a conversation while the phone is in your pocket. But for enjoying your iTunes collection, the HF5 is more of a performer. Other than the handy cable slider, you won’t find any buttons on the earphones or cable.
Like the Etymotic HF3 headset, the Etymotic HF5 boasts 85%+ response accuracy from the 20 Hz to 15 kHz range. Then they get even more technical by having a high output sensitivity with 105 dB SPL and maximum output of 120 dB. These are pretty high figures and what it basically means is that you get both fantastic noise isolation without sacrificing the detail. Sound is very crisp with great details on the high-end although some of the higher frequency sounds produced by hip-hop tracks might not be so noticeable. It is a very minor issue and something that you won’t have to worry about at all if you are fans of classical, rock or electronic music. Once again, the trick to getting that great and comfortable sound experience is to insert the earphones correctly and fortunately Etymotic Research teaches you how through instructions on the manual and website as well as video tutorials on its YouTube channel.
The hf5 is a fantastic choice for the audiophile that finds the high-end ER•4 too pricey. At the same time, it is miles ahead of the mc5 model which costs $70 less. Still, the $100 to $200 price range is a pretty competitive space especially when you take the more fun looking and still impressive sounding models into consideration. But as long as you are looking for something with great accuracy and best-in-class noise isolation, the Etymotic HF5 is an easy recommendation.