It's a Headphones Thing

A Headphones Reviews Blog

REVIEW: Etymotic HF5

Prior to the review, I’d like to thank Andrea for the sample.

The Etymotic ER-4 was the first consumer-friendly IEM, released to the market at 1991. In 2008, 17 years after its release, Etymotic had released a new high end IEM, an ER-4 alternative: the HF line. Currently, there are three models in that line: HF2, HF5 and the HF3 all of them except of the HF5 include a remote/mic. The Balanced Armature drivers which are utilized by it are supposedly the same as the ones utilized by the ER4P, so the sound is supposed to be very similar. The difference is in the design and its build; the HFs are available in several colors and has a better and more consumer friendly design than the ER-4’s design. With the HF series, Etymotic had managed to recapture their mainstream market throne; the HF IEMs had got great reviews and they became the favorite IEMs of many individuals. In this review, I’ll check out the reason to the praising and raving of the HF5.

Before we start, here are the technical specifications of the Etymotic HF5:

Frequency Response

20 Hz – 15 kHz


Balanced armature

Noise Isolation

35-42 dB

Impedance (@ 1 kHz)

16 Ohms

Sensitivity (@ 1 kHz) SPL at 0.1V

105 dB

Maximum Output (SPL)

120 dB


4 ft with 3.5 mm plug

Packaging: The HF5 is packaged in a plain and simple-looking cardboard box. In its front, there’s a picture of the HF5 in a black background. In its rare side, there’s some info about the product and about the included accessories.

the provided pouch

Accessories: in the following accessories are included: A zippered leather-felt made case with Etymotic’s logo on its front, replacement filters, filter changing tool, and an assortment of tips, including: a pair of transparent silicone triple flanged tips (Small), a pair of gray triple flanged silicone tips (Large), a pair of industrial-like foam tips (One Size) and a pair of Etymotic’s Gliders. I like the case very much because of its classy look and because of the special section in it which is intended for the included accessories. This isn’t one of the most generous accessories sets I had ever seen, but it’s absolutely enough, and I do not think that there’s any other necessary accessory that wasn’t included. The rating is 8/10.

Building Quality and Design: The plastic-made housings are quite slim and long and tube shaped. The nozzles are long and very thin, and it had already been reported in the past that some people got their broken when they tried to replace the eartips. The thick cable is Kevlar-reinforced, making it feel very durable and protected. It is quite memory and tangle-prone, both caused by its thickness. The strain reliefs are good; they’re flexible enough and their length is ok too. The cable ends with an angled 3.5mm jack, of course gold plated too. The HF5’s building quality is quite good, and it is durable enough, though, there are some minor details that are imperfect in it. The rating is 9/10.

the tips assortment

Comfort/Fit: As all of Etymotic’s IEMs, also the HF5 is intended to be deeply inserted into the user’s ear canal. At first, it can be quite bothering and uncomfortable, but when getting used to it, the IEMs just disappear in your ears and you can easily forget that they’re there. I was already used to the deep insertion from other IEMs that I had used in the past, so for me, it wasn’t bothering at all. Another factor that lets the comfort to be good is the weight of earpieces. In the HF5’s case, there’s nothing to worry about; the weight of each earpiece is tiny. The rating is 8.5/10.

Isolation and Microphonics: The stated isolation of outside noises is between -35dB to -42dB. It isn’t just bloated specifications, after my testing period of the HF5s, I definitely believe it, and trust Etymotic’s specifications. The isolation that the AHF5 provides is by far the best isolation that an IEM that I had tried provides; I was very impressed. The microphonics of the HF5’s cables is also something special, though, in a bad way. The HF5’s cable is the most microphonic cable that I had ever used in an IEM; the noises produced by it are extremely bothering. Fortunately, there’s a shirt clip included, so when clipping it to the shirt, the microphonics are reduced. To reduce it even more, over-the-ear wearing style is the recommendation; using this method, the microphonics are reduced by at least 75% from when worn straight-down. The rating is 5/5 for the isolation, and 3/5 for the microphonics.

Sound Quality: The HF5 has the Etymotic sound-signature: It is analytic, more treble and mids focused, and it has light and “Shy” bass.

The Bass: The HF5’s lows are very well controlled and greatly detailed. They’re very punchy too. They lack some impact and body, and they’re overall very light and “shy”. The bass is very clean, accurate and clear too, as expected from and Etymotic IEM.

The Mids: The mids are pretty smooth, dry and relaxed, yet, still very detailed, clean and clear.

The Treble: The treble is very detailed and crisp. No ear-hurting sibilance can be found, even though the treble is focused and a bit emphasized. Lots of micro-details can be heard, due to great treble resolution. The extension is great, it extends very high. It is very neutral and doesn’t have any coloration.

The Sound-Stage: The sound-stage has a cinematic feeling to it because of its widness. Too bad, but it lacks some, depth, so the presentation is in the listener’s face. Instrument separation and positioning is something that HF5 does very good, the instruments do not have a compressed feeling to them.

The score for this category is 9/10.

In Conclusion, The Etymotic HF5 delivers the Etymotic analytic signature sound and has a good design, awesome building quality and durability and one of the best outside noises isolation by an IEM. There are some minor issues with it, but in the full picture, the HF5 offers a great value to the money, and it is well recommended. The final score is 9/10.

Pros: Very detailed, supreme isolation, good building quality, stunning sound quality, very comfortable when used to it.

Cons: the bass may be too light for some, microphonic cable, deep fit can be uncomfortable at first.

Where To Buy? The official pricing of the Etymotic HF5 is 149$, though, currently it can be found for a lot cheaper (99$) at Amazon. It can also be purchased from Etymotic Direct, where all of the company’s other products can be purchased too.


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