Customer Reviews: Etymotic Research HF5 Portable In-Ear Earphones (Cobalt)
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Color: Cobalt Blue|Product Packaging: Standard Packaging|Change
Price:$100.00+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
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on October 16, 2008
I've been using the Etymotic ER-4 for years and recently just bought the HF5. When I first got the ER-4's years ago, my friends first thought I was crazy for paying $275. But I listen to all my music while commuting on the train. If you loved music as much as I do, would you spend that much on a pair of speakers for your home stereo, or skimp and spend $50?

The ER-4 delivered like no other earphones, with not only the sound quality, but the noise reduction. As someone once said "It's the closest thing there is to injecting the music right into your brain." I completely agree. It took some getting used to 'listening' to the bass as opposed to feeling it, but now these are irreplaceable.

I have bought several pair of the ER-4's due to damage, losing them, etc. And it was time to replace my current pair. I decided to get Etymotics newest model, the HF5. I didn't expect a huge improvement over the ER-4's, but I was wrong.

At first I felt like the earphones didn't fit as well as the ER-4's. But then I realized that these actually go DEEPER into your ears than the ER-4's. And once I got them in there... WOW! The sound was actually so much bigger and brighter than the ER-4's. The ER-4's were great, but the HF5's is like watching High Definition Television compared to regular TV. The highs are brighter and the bass is bigger.

The only thing I wasn't happy with, at first, is the cord. They seem to have switched back to the more grabby rubbery style cord as opposed to the smoother plastic. While the rubbery feels nicer, I was worried it would grab onto my clothes too much. That hasn't been a problem so far.

They could have also included a few extra filters. The filters need to be changed every few months when they get gunked up with earwax. This model only includes one spare, and it would have been great to include more.

Other than that I would say these earphones are superb and worth every penny.

Eric Monse
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on August 27, 2008
I can unequivocally recommend these earphones. I have used a broad variety of earphones, including the Shure se530's Ultimate Ears triple-fi 10's and several Sennheisers. For this price, I've never heard sound so balanced, and with such clarity, coming out of an iPod. I feel like I'm in a sealed sound chamber when I listen with these, even when I'm on the bus. It's almost too isolating - sometimes I really lose touch with what's going on around me. I am a musician, and when I've done studio recordings, we listen for nuances in the instrumentation and music that you typically do not hear when playing back an MP3 file or CD. With the Etymotic hf5's, I'm getting the kind of clarity I get in the studio. And for just $150! There's no over-exaggerated bass, and I can hear every instrument and every voice. There's nothing like listening to an a capella group like Take 6 with the hf5. Or to an unplugged session where all kinds of things can happen in the tracks - if you can hear them. Oh, and the blue and red ones are cool-looking. Pretty much everyone replaces the earphones that come with your MP3 player, and you can spend a lot more on earphones than this, but I recommend $150 spent on these earphones as the biggest bang for your buck.
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on August 16, 2008
I have a number of different earphones/headphones, including Etymotic ER-4P, Jays Q-Jays, Ultimate Ears 5 Pro and 4vi. The ER-4Ps sound the best to me (but lack in the design category -- they stick out too far when inserted in your ear and the cable feels somewhat flimsy). The ER-4Ps have a level of clarity and detail (and treble) that the others do not match.

I bought these headphones thinking that I would now have the best of both worlds: the sound of the ER-4Ps with a better design. I was wrong. The design of the Hf5 headphone itself is better than the ER-4P, but the sound of the Hf5 does not match the ER-4P. To my ears, the ER-4P and Hf5 are very similar at the low end (neither is particularly strong in bass). However, at the mid-range and especially the high end, the ER-4Ps have more detail and clarity between different instruments and vocals. The Hf5 tends to sound more muddy IN COMPARISON to the ER-4Ps and the high end of the Hf5 has more roll off than the ER-4Ps (i.e., the highs on the Hf5 won't go as high as they do on the ER-4P). Vocals and mid-range on the ER-4P sound so much better than the Hf5 that I wonder whether I had a bad set of Hf5s.

Looking at Amazon's prices, the ER-4Ps are only $20 more than the Hf5. If you are spending that much money on headphones, the ER-4Ps are a better deal.

This is not to say that the Hf5s are a bad set of headphones. To the contrary, I found them to compare very favorably to the Q-Jays. The Q-Jays had better low end (bass) than the Hf5, but the Hf5 was better than the Q-Jays on the high end and the Hf5 seemed to have a better soundstage (more clarity and detail). The Q-Jays are smaller and fit better than the Hf5; HF5 are slightly better than the Q-Jays at blocking external noises.

The Ultimate Ears 4vi are a good set of headphones. With respect to sound, I would give a slight edge to the UE 4vi over the Hf5 (the UE 4vis have better low end and maybe slightly better soundstage than the Hf5...though not by much). The Hf5 fit better than the UE4vi and block more external noise.

The UE Super 5 Pros are muddy and pale in comparison to any of the other headphones.

So, the Hf5s are a good set of headphones...but they do not match the great sound quality of the ER-4Ps.
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on January 13, 2011
After spending several months researching headphones, I finally settled on the Etymotic HF5 Earphones. I already owned a pair of Sennheiser 595's, which are some of the best headphones money can buy (in that price range, anyway :), but those headphones utilize an open design, which does provide a wonderful room-like listening experiences and superior sound quality, but also allows a tremendous amount of outside noise to bleed through (which can be good or bad) and, likewise, bleed a substantial amount of noise to anyone close by; also, while the Sennheiser's are extremely comfortable, they are big and bulky--not easily portable, or suitable for many day-to-day activities. As such, I was interested in finding the best quality in-ear headphones that would be comfortable, provide excellent sound reproduction, and also sound isolation through noise reduction--a tall order, especially if you want to spend less than $200. I'm happy to say that the Etymotic HF5's have met my needs.

They are not perfect, and, for instance, I would say that the overall sound quality and comfort (in a quiet environment) is still better with my Sennheiser 595's, but they are definitely the best in-ear headphones I have tried by a landslide. Some care is required for proper insertion into your ears. They have a helpful video on their website showing how to properly insert the various included tips into your ears to ensure a proper seal--which, if you don't have a proper seal, you will be disappointed because the noise isolation will be severely diminished and the bass response drops considerably. After a little bit of practice (learning to pull my upper ear back at the right angle, rather than out away from my head, for instance) I was able to get the default flanged tips to fit fairly comfortably and also provide an exceptional amount of noise isolation. Again, it did take a little practice to insert the tips properly and make a good seal, but, once I had that figured out, I was extremely happy with the quality. Obviously everyone's ears will be different, but I would wager that with a combination of practice putting the tips in, and also making sure to use the best tips for your ears (they provide several options included with the headphones), anyone should be able to wear the headphones reasonably comfortably and enjoy a good bass response as well as superior outside noise reduction.

I have experimented with listening to several genres of music, from Jazz, to Rock, to Metal, Classical, and even that stuff Enya does :), and the headphones have performed excellently. (For those who care, I've only used a 4th Gen. iPod Touch and my laptop computer so far, but both serve as an adequate driver in my opinion). Highs are crisp and clear, and the mid-tones and bass are well represented. I would prefer a little more articulation in the bass, but I don't find that it detracts too much from the listening experience.

I would highly recommend this product to anyone looking for in-ear headphones in this price range. They offer exceptional (though not perfect) sound quality, reasonable comfort, and incredible noise reduction.

I should also note that the cord-noise that is almost inescapable on in-ear headphones is actually not so bad on these; yes, you do hear it occasionally, but by adjusting the cinch on the cord and using the attached clip, the noise is virtually eliminated. Even during the times when I do hear it, I don't find it as distracting as it is on most other in-ear headphones.

For what it's worth, I consider myself an audiophile. I've done sound reinforcement for about 6 years and I also play the piano, drums, and guitar, so my opinion is at least semi-educated and based on a fair amount of experience.

UPDATE: I originally bought these headphones in January of 2011. Now, about a year and a half later, I'm happy to say that they've held up extremely well. I do my best to take good care of my headphones, but these being my go-to, daily-use pair that I carry around with me, I wouldn't have been surprised if they got a little worse for the wear--but they haven't. At one point the cord-clip broke (which I recommend using whenever you wear them, since it will all-but eliminate cord-noise) and I somehow lost the leather storage pouch (also highly recommended, since it makes for a safe, convenient way to carry the headphones around), but it was very easy and inexpensive to order replacements from Etymotic. I've also found that the flange-style earpieces seem to have adapted somewhat to the shape of my ears, and between that and habit, it's gotten very easy to achieve a proper fit with a good seal (needed for the noise reduction effect to work, as well as the full extent of the bass response) almost every time; every once in a while I might have to make an adjustment after putting them in, but not often. The only maintenance required is an occasional cleaning of the flanged tips, if earwax builds up. All in all, I'm very impressed with how well these are holding up after a year and a half of heavy use.
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on November 5, 2013
This is the second pair of HF5 earphones I've owned and they both came apart as pictured (in product image gallery) when pulled normally and gently from a headphone jack. They are definitely too fragile for normal use. I was always very careful with these and never forceably inserted or removed the plug, especially after the first set broke so easily. I purchased the second set thinking the first failure was probably just a manufacturing defect. But with the exact same thing happening twice, I am done with Etymotics products.
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on December 9, 2011
I am generally very conservative when giving out complement. The HF5 however, completely blew me away.
I have tried the Sennheiser HD 650, which is a very good headphone. To my ear, the sound quality of the HF5 is at least as good as the HD650. It is just amazing to me how far the technology of earbud has improved.
My music is New Age/Electronic, encoding is mp3/320kbps and I drive the HF5 via a NuForce Icon HDP headphone AMP or a Sony Walkman NWZS545. I actually prefer the bass response of the HF5 over the HD650. It is tight, clean, with just the right amount of power. The highs and mids are very detail and crisp. As far as sound quality is concern, I just can not find anything to complaint about. In one word: wow!.
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on November 3, 2011
The way these IEMs are constructed is a disaster waiting to happen. The cord enters at a seam where the plastic housing is just glued together; and if you catch the wire on anything, this is the sole point of stress. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't take a whole lot of force to have the monitor literally come apart.

After supergluing mine back together, since Etymotic's warranty amounts to an offer to buy a new pair at a reduced price (unless you buy the ER4 expect no real customer service.), they came apart fully a second time tearing the wires out of the driver.

Sound and isolation are great, shame they just can't stand up to actually being used.
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on December 2, 2012
I am an audiophile, have been for 32 years, and I was a musician for five years, playing classical orchestra, jazz, and musicals. I am comparing these to my Sennheiser HD 580 full size cans, as well as a number of other IEMs, including Klipsch S4 (not in the same league as the HF5). If you are able to get a good seal, these HF5s are amazingly good. With the stock grey triple flange or Comply foam tips, the HF5 is unbelievable. The detail and balance, the realistic tonality, especially at low frequencies, the shear balance across the musical spectrum is fantastic. Highly recommended, and for the price they are one of the very best values ever.
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on September 22, 2009
I will brief. I have used them for 9 months with no complaints. No bulky earphones, no bendy wires behind your ears, no looking for left and right, no drama. Just pop these puppies in and exercise. They weigh nothing, block out all the outside sound and no cord noise. Last, but not least, they sound great.
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on May 1, 2009
I was looking for headphones that were in the $180 to $250 range. The top offerings were Shure SE420 and SE530, q-jays, Ultimate Ear superfi 5 pro and Etymontic Research ER-4P. As you maybe aware, only Amazon sales the HF5. When they offered them at one third off and after reading a review at [...], I decided to give them a try . The sound is good for me and the isolation is amazing. With the triple flanges eartips, I did not hear the fire alarm that went off in my building. With earphones in and the music off, I cannot hear people talking to me that are within 4 feet of me. The foam eartips are rated at -45db and the triple flanges are -35db. I called Etymotic Research to inquire about their glide eartips and they are sending a free set for me to try. Now that is good customer service. My purchases from Amazon have always been as advertized and I can recommend them to you.

I received the glide eartips and recommend them. The glide eartip is foam eartip that is configure like a single flange eartip. The glide eartips are more comfortable then the triple flange and feel more secure then the foam eartips. The noise isolation, to my hears, is the same as the triple flange.
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