Etymotic hf5 In-Ear Headphones Review

Etymotic Research, Inc. is an engineering-driven research, development and manufacturing company. The name "Etymotic" (pronounced "et-im-oh-tik.") means "true to the ear." And that is the idea behind their
hf5 High-Fidelity Earphones.

There is not much to speak of and that is where the hf5s loses its first points. The packaging was exciting, but upon opening the things, the excitement left the room. We received the black ones (they also come in cobalt and ruby) and the lack of style to the pair really shows what Etymotic is going for, quietly being a major player in the high-fidelity market.
But in the world of flashy headphones that scream "we are hundreds of dollars" the hf5's style has them saying "we came for free with your walkman." There is nothing that separates these visually from a $10 pair from Walmart. That is not a huge deal, because they way they sound always rules all, you just might have to tell your friends that these are really $150 headphones and not something that you found in the trash. Its a subtle style that is understated, but some will love.

The wire is easily tangled, which is a always an issue with earbud style headphones. It also seems rather flimsy compared to both the Crossfade LPs and Solo HDs, but those of course are on a different level. Where the wire splits off to both ears is disignated with a modest rubber splitter and a "gatherer" which will bring the left and right wires together to your liking.

Etymotic's hf5 is a microphone free version of the highly-rated hf2. For thirty bucks more you can add the mic and a remote to control your tunes, something that is becoming an industry standard quite quickly. So there is another miss for the hf5s.

Never before have we had experience with earphones that require this much work. According to the Etymotic website:
"hf5 earphones have special filters that smooth the frequency response and prevent earwax from entering the earphones. A filter is located at the end of the earphone and is visible when the eartip is removed. If a filter becomes clogged, it should be replaced. A dirty filter will reduce earphone output. A filter should be changed if the loudness decreases or the sound quality declines.
Sounds like a project. Here is the graphic from the site.
You can also replace the tips for a smaller and slightly less intrusive version that some will prefer. I liked, for sound quality purposes, the longer tips, but the shorter and smaller one was more comfortable. There are also foam tips in the packaging, but you lose a lot of what these are known for because the passive noise canceling/blocking is not there.

The hf5s are not for people who enjoy bass because there is hardly any to speak of. The source device and be played with to provide some, but all in all, there is not much. Hip hop and rap listeners should pass on these. You all know that I personally like a strong bass presence, but gave these the full spectrum of music tests. Live music, alternative and rock music all shined with the great mids and crystal clear hi-fidelity output. Coldplay and Dave Matthews Band live were the all-stars. These have, so far, been the most clear ear/headphones yet, hands down.

In some instances the highs weren't strong enough to blend with the mids and everything kind of fell into the same "mids" category, which is okay because the mids are so great.

Sound is excellent, but my issue is the comfort. I would either experience pain/discomfort or pressure inside my ear from the hf5s blocking the way. The music feels like it is being played right on my brain. Its an interesting feeling that is hard to reproduce and explain. For the record, its also a good thing, but how it is done will turn some off because it requires you to slide these babies into your ear, where only your finger and a q-tip have ever gone. The cleaning required and replacing of parts is also troublesome because your hf5s almost require a pit crew when the time comes to swap and clean off parts.


+ Mids are fantastic
+ The most crystal clear listening experience we have had
+ Passive noise canceling works really well
+ Good price for the noise reproduction, but throw in another $30 and get the hf2s with the mic/remote

- Bass is almost non existent unless you fiddle with source EQ
- Highs are weak in some tracks
- Not really high on having them in ear canal and the discomfort that comes from it
- Design is bland
- Needs a remote and mic


- People that love ultra clear music
- Live music, alternative, rock, country (NOT Rap/Hip Hop)
- Those that want a good pair of passive noise canceling headphones and don't want the huge cans that go around and over your ear