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Thread: Etymotic hf3 IEMs Subjective Review (headphones, in ear monitors)

  1. #1
    Devil's Advocate Adam_MSS's Avatar
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    Etymotic hf3 IEMs Subjective Review (headphones, in ear monitors)

    I've been listening to my new set of Etymotic hf3 IEMs for the last couple hours and thought it might be helpful to post a review since I tend to recommend Etymotic products for people looking for IEMs or headphones in general. I'm planning to use mine primarily with my iPhone 4 for day to day use, but when traveling I'll probably also use my 5th gen iPod and Xin Supermacro III headphone amplifier. I also own/have owned the ER-6i, ER-4p, UE TripleFi 10 Pro, and a variety of grado's, sennheisers, etc.. This entire review is subjective as I have no good way to measure headphone output.

    I bought my hf3 iems from amazon for $110 (using the amazon links on the site helps support mss).

    The hf3 uses the same earpieces as the hf2 and hf5. The basic layout of the Etymotic hf range is:
    hf5 = 5th generation balance armature stereo IEMs
    hf3 = hf5 + mic and controls for use with iPhone, iPad, iPod
    hf2 = hf5 + mic and controls for use with android, blackberry, other non-iPhone smartphones


    Here's what they look like. I didn't take pictures of my set yet, but I'd be happy to do so. I bought black because I didn't feel compelled to wear red or blue IEMs. Just my preference to keep it low key.




    The hf3 come packaged with a carrying case, two sizes of tri-flange tips, rounded foam tips, sponge foam tips, extra filters, and a filter removal tool.




    To arrive at my impressions I listened to a variety of music that I'm pretty familiar with on the iPhone 4, iPod 5th gen, and iPod 5th gen + Xin amp. In general these headphones strike me as being very true to the etymotic tradition. They don't really draw significant attention to any one aspect of the music because they are just well balanced. The bass is tight and punchy (you've got to get the seal right to get the impact) but doesn't dominate. I could see bassheads being disappointed here absent some eq boost on the low end, but I think the bass is pretty good when I've got a good seal. With the Xin Supermacro's bass-boost function enabled, these can satisfy my inner basshead when necessary :headbang:. The midrange and treble are spot on as one would expect from Etys. Everything is clean crisp and dynamic. It's an effortless sound.

    Since I've mentioned the seal a couple times already it's probably worth some additional commentary. With Etys (and IEMs in general) it's very important to get a relatively air-tight seal to your ear canal. Getting a proper seal ensure the maximum attenuation of external noises and also more closely couples the drivers to your eardrums. This is particularly important in bass reproduction. When you've got Ety's properly inserted and sealed you'll barely hear the outside world, before you even start playing music. Once you turn on the music, even at low volume, external noises will vanish.

    Once I had a proper seal on both sides, I elected to try all three source configurations without removing the headphones so I could be sure there was some consistency. The iPhone 4 sounds pretty good. Not as good as my 5th gen iPod, but more than good enough for average use. The 5th gen iPod is a step up in most regards. It just sounds bett. Add the Xin Supermacro III to the mix coupled with the 5th gen iPod and there's a big gain. To be fair, I think most of the gain from the headphone amplifier is actually a function of the crossfeed circuitry, but it also seems like there is some more depth and fullness to the sound when using the amplifier. Not enough to justify lugging around two extra devices on a daily basis, but I probably will bring them along when I travel.


    Compared to the ER-6i, I'd say these seem like a step up. I still think the ER-6i are a great bargain, but the hf3 sound more like the ER-4p, which is a good thing. A bit more detail and tightness over the ER-6i. I do think the ER-6i are actually a bit more comfortable.

    Compared to the ER-4p, I think it's a close call. The ER-4p might be slightly better in the midrange, but not by much. The hf3 definitely has a more user friendly design. The softer cable greatly reduces microphonics and the side exit for the cable results in less protrusion from the ear.



    Overall, I'm very pleased with these so far, especially at the current price. I'll update as I get some more time with them.





    Lastly, Etymotic has an iPhone app called "Awareness" that is pretty cool for use with the hf2 and hf3. It allows you to configure settings that govern when the mic input is directed to the earphones. Among other things this allows you to set a threshold volume level at which the mic automatically gets routed to the earphones. Once the outside sound level drops down again for a few seconds the mic mutes again. When the baby started crying nearby she tripped the volume threshold and I immediately heard her loud and clear. You can also manually activate or deactivate the mic. There are some other functions that auto-set the mic threshold and can pause the music when the external volume threshold is tripped. In summary, the app is pretty cool, and if you register on Etymotic.com you can get a code to unlock the various functions.










    Lastly, there is a program called "custom fit" that allows you to get custom molded plugs using a voucher from Etymotic for a fixed $100 fee (impressions + molds). I think I'll probably pursue it as it's not a big cost and the precision of the fit really does make all the difference with IEMs.
    You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right. - R.Munroe

    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. - W.L.Bragg



  2. #2
    Big Daddy Chad's Avatar
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    Stupid question... I prefer foamies, and given Shure has pretty much flodded the market, you can find replacement foamies ANYWHERE... how easy is it to obtain replacement foamies?

  3. #3
    Devil's Advocate Adam_MSS's Avatar
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    The Shure tips fit these etys, but I have also previously ordered replacement foam tips from etymotic research as well. I think it was around $9 for 5 pairs.
    You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right. - R.Munroe

    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. - W.L.Bragg



  4. #4
    Big Daddy Chad's Avatar
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    well if the shures fit,, that's dandy....

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    Devil's Advocate Adam_MSS's Avatar
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    Yep, I think the tips from the E series Shure IEMs (except the E2C) will work. I'm ordering a Shure Fit Kit to test out a variety of tips.
    You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right. - R.Munroe

    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. - W.L.Bragg



  6. #6
    Big Daddy Chad's Avatar
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    of course I have E2C's

  7. #7
    Devil's Advocate Adam_MSS's Avatar
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    Let me get my fit kit from Shure then I'll be able to tell you what fits with certainty.
    You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right. - R.Munroe

    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. - W.L.Bragg



  8. #8
    Devil's Advocate Adam_MSS's Avatar
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    Chad, I received the Shure sleeves from earphone solutions and they fit perfectly. I'm going with the medium black foam sleeves (also referred to some places as the "olives"). They're very comfortable and noticeably improved the bass response. Pretty thrilled with this combo at the moment as they sound great and I've never had etys be this comfortable before. I could easily forget they are there.

    I'll post a couple pictures later.
    You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right. - R.Munroe

    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. - W.L.Bragg



  9. #9
    Devil's Advocate Adam_MSS's Avatar
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    Some pictures.

    Etymotic hf3 with no sleeves on.


    The various sleeves/tips that come with the hf3 iems.


    The Shure medium black foam sleeves (shure olives)


    Shure sleeves on the hf3 iems


    Looks like this will probably be my near term travel package. I'm resurrecting the 40 gb 4th gen iPod with a new high capacity battery in the near future. Right now it only gives about a half hour of play time.
    You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right. - R.Munroe

    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. - W.L.Bragg



  10. #10
    Big Daddy Chad's Avatar
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    I wish they sit more flush in the ear. Sometimes I lay down in my shures and they do not protrude from the ear much at all.

    I looked into getting some JH Audio molds.... Mucho money no way.

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