Review: Etymotic Research hf3 
Headset and Earphones

Sections: Consumer Electronics

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What is it?

Like other writers here, I tend to use headphones quite often.  Unlike our editor Robert Nelson, I don’t mind spending a relatively high price for good headphones.  I have gone through several pairs of higher-quality earphones because I appreciate having better sound quality.  Not to say I am an audiophile by any stretch, I just appreciate more accurate sound performance.

The Etymotic Research hf3 headset + earphones are billed as “the world’s most accurate noise-isolating headset + earphones under $200.”  In this case, under $200 means the earphones will run you $180.  For this review, I also had a set of CUSTOM•FIT earmolds.  The earmolds will cost an extra $100, bringing the total price of the earphones to $280, which is probably a bit steep for many people.  In addition to the extra cost, the earmolds need to be done by an authorized audiologist (Etymotic gives you a voucher, so you only end up paying the $100) who sends your ear impressions off to make the molds, which should take about 2-3 weeks to arrive.

The hf3 headset + earphones also came with a selection of other tips, though most of my testing was done with the custom molds.

The Good

To start, the custom earmolds were fantastic.  There was a bit of resistance to get them in place at first, and then they took about a week to be fully comfortable.  After that week the molds felt very natural, and they sealed much better than any other earphones I’ve used in the past.  While the standard tips I’ve found in other earphones tended to unseal after a period of time, or sometimes even just fall out my ear, these had non such issues, though that is to be expected.

As for the sound that came through those custom made, it was pretty fantastic.  The earphones certainly have better sound than the Apple In-earphones I was using previously.  Testing the two headsets against each other showed that the hf3 was better at reproducing the myriad bass and noises in Deadmau5 songs as well as the complicated progressive metal of Dream Theater.  The bass was more satisfying without overpowering everything, and treble came out just fine, if not a bit more defined than in the Apple headset.  Overall, I’d have to say that the sound the hf3 headset + earphones produced has been the best in a pair of earphones I’ve ever owned.  The only set of earphones I’ve heard that produced a comparative sound were the Monster Turbine Pro Copper which I had only a few brief minutes to listen to at CES last January.

The Bad

There really isn’t much I can personally say against the Etymotic Research hf3 headset + earphones on the side of the sound.  The only complaint I’ve had is the sound it blocks out.  I would use the earphones to listen to music while blogging, which caused at least a few arguments with my fiancée.  I just couldn’t hear her through the earphones, no matter how many times she called my name.  I’ve also tested this in New York City, and they blocked out most ambient noise around me save for a few loud or persistant noises (of course, I would never recommend anyone use sound isolation earphones while walking in busy city sidewalks).

The Crux


The Etymotic Research hf3 headset + earphones are a great set of earphones, hands down.  The price is a bit up there, but they definitely seem worth it to me.  If you don’t feel as if you need, or can’t use the microphone and control buttons the hf5 are essentially the same without the controls for $30 less. (I personally love having both inline so I don’t have to take out my iPhone to pause the music, or answer a call).  If you’re like me, and have trouble with typical in-ear tips, the custom earmolds are a godsend, and are definitely worth the price of admission.

Product [Etymotic Research hf3 headset + earphones]

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