The Etymotic Research HF5 are average mixed-usage in-ears, with a mediocre-at-best sound quality for critical listening. They do decently well as commuting headphones thanks to their portable design and unique in-ear fit that blocks an incredible amount of noise passively. Unfortunately, their mediocre sound pushes instruments and vocals slightly too forward on most tracks, which makes them sound a bit harsh and fatiguing during longer listening sessions.
The Etymotic HF5 are simple and straightforward in-ears with unique tips. Their in-ear fit enters the ear canal quite deeply, which may not be as comfortable for all listeners. On the upside, they come with a couple of tip options including foam tips to help you find a better fit. They're also very lightweight, breathable and stable enough for sports. Unfortunately, they do not have a detachable cable so they won't be as durable as some of the other in-ears we've tested. They also do not have any in-line remote or controls, which is not ideal for listeners on the go, but it's to be expected for more critical listening focused in-ears, like these.
The Etymotic HF5 have a pretty straightforward in-ear design that looks decently well made but does not feel as high-end or as durable as the more premium ER4XR. The HF5 have decently dense plastic buds and a relatively thick audio cable. They also have the somewhat unique tips of the Etymotic lineup that sets them apart from more other more typical in-ear designs. Unfortunately, the cable is not braided or detachable like the ER4XR. The earbuds also look much cheaper in comparison. Overall they should look good enough for most but won't stand out much when compared to flashier looking in-ears with more varied color schemes.
The Etymotic Research HF5, like the ER4XR, have an in-ear fit that goes deeply into the ear canal, which may not be as comfortable for all listeners. On the upside, they also come with multiple tip options including foam and silicone tips of different sizes that may help mitigate this issue although they do not have as many tip options as the ER4XR. They're also very lightweight, so once you get the right fit, you won't notice them as much. They won't be the ideal headphones for everyone especially if you're not a big fan of in-ears, but with the various tip sizes, you can find a combination that works for you.
Like most in-ear headphones, the HF5 are very breathable. They fit deeper into the ear canal than most in-ears, which leaves your outer-ear cool in all conditions, and makes them a decent choice for sports or extended listening sessions. They trap a small amount of heat within your ear canal but it's negligible at most and won't make you sweat more than usual when exercising.
These headphones, like most in-ears, are very portable. They have a small footprint, and you can fold them to fit into almost any pockets. They're super easy to carry around on your person and come with a simple soft case that's also very portable.
The Etymotic HF5 have decent build quality but do not look and feel as premium or as durable as the ER4XR. They have a decently thick audio cable and dense plastic buds that should last you a while. However, unlike the more high-end model, their audio cable is not detachable, so you can't replace it if it ever gets damaged. This makes them less durable than some of the other in-ears we've tested at a lower price range like the KZ ZS10.
These headphones do not have any stability tips but go in deeply into the ear canal which makes them stable enough for most activities. Once you get the right fit, they will rarely slip out of your ears even during more intense exercises at the gym, unless the cable gets hooked on something. Unfortunately, since they are not wireless, this may happen occasionally. However, unless you physically pull the buds out of your ears, on purpose or by accident, they will not fall, which makes them a good option for sports.
The Etymotic HF5 is a mediocre-at-best sounding pair of closed-back in-ears. They have a consistent bass with an average amount of body and punch, an even but forward mid-range, and a bright sounding treble. This results in a bright and slightly mid-rangy sound profile, which may not be best for bass-heavy genres or critical listening, but they will emphasize vocals quite a bit. The HF5 sound very similar to the ER4XR, but lack a bit of sub-bass in comparison, which won't be very noticeable.
The bass is about average. LFE is at 88Hz, which is not good. Also, low-bass, responsible for thump and rumble common to bass-heavy music and film scores, is lacking by more than 7dB. Mid-bass, which is responsible for the body of bass guitars and the punch of kick drums, is underemphasized by about 3dB. High-bass however, responsible for warmth, is over our neutral target by about 2dB. Overall, the bass of the HF5 lack sub-bass, and is a little shy on body and punch.
The mid-range is good. Low-mid shows 4dB of overemphasis. This is actually the continuation of the high-bass bump and adds a bit of muddiness and clutter to the overall mix. High-mid is over our neutral target by about 6dB, which adds excess projection and intensity to vocals and lead instruments.
The treble performance is decent. Low-treble is overemphasized by more than 5dB, which makes vocals noticeably bright sounding. Mid-treble, mostly responsible for sibilances (S and Ts), is relatively well-balanced.
The frequency response consistency is excellent. If the user is able to achieve a proper fit and an air-tight seal using the assortment of tips that come with the headphones, then they should be able to get consistent bass and treble delivery every time they use the headphones. However, if a proper and air-tight seal is not achieved with these headphones, the user will experience a significant drop in bass delivery.
The imaging performance is excellent. The weighted group delay is at 0.1, which is great. The GD graph also shows that the entire group delay response is below the audibility threshold. This ensures a tight bass and a transparent treble reproduction. Additionally, the L/R drivers of our test unit were very well-matched, which is important for the accurate placement and localization of objects (instruments, voice, footsteps), in the stereo image.
The soundstage is poor. This is because creating an out-of-head and speaker-like soundstage is largely dependent on activating the resonances of the pinna (outer ear). The design of in-ears and earbuds is in such a way that fully bypasses the pinna and doesn't interact with it. Also, because these headphones have a closed-back enclosure, their soundstage won't be perceived to be as open as that of open-back earbuds like the Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds, or the Bose SoundSport Free.
The harmonic distortion performance is decent. The amount of THD produced in the bass and treble ranges is quite low and doesn't change under heavier loads, which is great. However, the mid-range shows a bump in THD centered around 1KHz, which could make the sound of that region a bit harsh and impure.
The Etymotic Research HF5 passively isolate better than some of the best noise canceling headphones we've tested. Like the ER4XR, the in-ear fit of the HF5 goes very deep into the ear canal which creates an excellent seal that does not leak and blocks a lot of noise. Also, since they barely leak, you can mask even more noise by playing your music at higher volumes without distracting the people around you. This makes them a great choice for noise sensitive environments like being at the office, and for loud, noisy conditions like being on a plane or commuting via public transit.
The isolation performance of the Etymotic HF5 is excellent. These in-ears don't have an active noise cancelling (ANC) system but are able to provide great isolation passively. In the bass range, where the rumble of airplane and bus engines sits, they achieve about 16dB of isolation, which is good. In the mid-range, important for blocking out speech, the isolate by about 22dB, which is very good. In the treble range, occupied by sharp sounds like S and Ts, they achieve more than 51dB of isolation, which is outstanding.
It should also be noted that these headphones were measured with their silicone tips. Their comply foam tips provide significantly better isolation.
The leakage performance is excellent. The Etymotics basically do not leak, so there's no need to worry about disturbing people around with your music, even if you listen at very loud volumes. With the music at 100dB SPL, the leakage at 1 foot away averages at 20dB SPL and peaks at 28dB SPL, which is roughly as loud as a quiet whisper.
The Etymotic HF5 are passive, wired headphones with no active features.
The Etymotic HF5 are simple and straightforward in-ears with a 1/8" TRS connector and no in-line remote or microphone on their audio cable. This means they will only provide audio when connected to your phone, PC, or consoles.
These headphones do not have an in-line remote or microphone on their audio cable. This means they are not OS-specific and will only provide audio when connected to your console or PC.
The Etymotic HF5 do not have a dock. If you need a headset with a dock that also has a wired connection for gaming or watching movies, then consider the SteelSeries Arctis 7.
The Etymotics HF5 are average in-ears for most use cases but a mediocre option for critical listening. They have unique in-ear tips that enter the ear canal more deeply than typical in-ears. This makes them a slightly better choice than some of the in-ears compared below for commuting in loud, noisy environments. It also makes them a decently stable option for sports, but unfortunately, they do not have in-line controls or a replaceable audio cable like some of the other in-ears we've tested. They also have a below-average audio reproduction that may sound a bit fatiguing during longer listening sessions.
The Etymotic ER4XR are better critical listening headphones than the Etymotic HF5. The ER4XR have a better more premium build quality with dense durable earbuds and a detachable, braided audio cable that you can replace if it ever gets damaged. They also have a slightly better sound than the HF5 with more bass. However, the HF5 are a better value for your money since they cost much less for a similar sound. They also isolate as much as the ER4XR in noisy conditions which makes them a great choice for loud noisy environments and for commuting.
The Shure SE215 are slightly better critical listening than the Etymotic HF5. They have a more comfortable fit with angled earbuds that better fit the contour of your ears. The Shures also have a better-balanced sound quality with a stronger bass and a better mid-range. They also have a thicker, more durable, and detachable audio cable. On the other hand, the Etymotic isolate passively a lot better than the Shures. They also have a more lightweight and straightforward in-ear design that some may prefer over the thicker cables of the SE215.
The KZ ZS-10 are slightly better critical listening than the Etymotic HF5. They have a more comfortable fit despite their larger than average earbuds. The KZs also have a better-balanced sound quality with a stronger bass, a better mid-range, and a more balanced treble. They also have a more durable and eye-catching design with a detachable audio cable. On the other hand, the Etymotic isolate passively a lot better than the KZs. They're also more portable and come with a case and more accessories than the ZS-10.
The 1More Triple Driver In-Ear are better critical listening headphones than the Etymotic HF5. The 1More are more comfortable and have a better-balanced sound quality that does not sound as forward and harsh with instruments and vocals. they also have better bass than the Etymotics. The 1Mores also have a slightly more durable look and feel with braided audio cables and denser metal buds. On the other hand, the Etymotics isolate much better passively than the 1Mores, so they're a better choice for loud noisy environments. They also have a lighter design that some may prefer, although the lack of inline controls makes them slightly less practical on the go.