« Panasonic LX3 vs Canon S90 JPEG Shootout | Main | Crafty »

Earphones Once More

So, it's been a little over a year since my last earphone post. Ever since I picked up the Etymotic hf2, it has been my preferred everyday earphone for use with the iPhone. However, the hf2 isn't without its problems. Or more specifically, one HUGE problem. There appears to be a manufacturing defect with the original hf2 that causes either the left or right channel to just cut out for no visible reason. The weak point seems to be where the cord meets the plug, cause if I messed around with the cord a bit right above the plug, the sound would come back, but immediately disappear again if the cord was moved. So it appears that the wire within the cord was breaking somehow even though the exterior plastic cord was fine. This issue happened not once, but THREE times in the past year and a half. Thankfully, Etymotic replaced the non-functioning ones free of charge since they were all under warranty. And I know it wasn't user error because after the first time, I was doubly careful every time I unplugged the earphones, gripping the plug and not the cord.

(l to r) Etymotic hf2, Shure SE115m+, Klipsch IMAGE S4i
Etymotic, Shure, Klipsch Earphones

A more impatient fellow would have given up after the second occurrence of this issue and probably switched to another brand. Luckily for Etymotic, and unfortunately for me I guess, I still stuck with them because there weren't any other iPhone-compatible earphones that could compare at the time. When it wasn't broke, the hf2 was still the best-sounding microphone and controller-equipped earphone available.

However, a couple things have changed within the past month. Namely the release of the Klipsch IMAGE S4i and the Shure SE115m+. Both of these new iPhone-compatible earphones come with one new feature that the hf2 lacks: volume control. So while I was waiting for my hf2 to once again be replaced, I tested out these two new contenders.

(l to r) Etymotic hf2, Shure SE115m+, Klipsch IMAGE S4i
Earphone Buds

First up, the Klipsch IMAGE S4i. These reminded me of the V-Moda Vibes that I previously tested in looks, feel, and sound. Pretty decent overall sound but the emphasis on the bass muddled the mids and highs a bit more than I like. Also provided the least amount of external noise isolation for me with the default ear buds. The only puzzler for me was the location of the mic/controller which was placed way down on the cord. The controller was easy enough to use without looking but because it's placed so far down, you either have to bring it up closer to your mouth when talking or yell down at your chest which is just weird. But overall a decent set of earphones for the sub-$100 price, especially if you like the big bass.

Next up, the Shure SE115m+ which was just released a week or so ago and is supposedly available only from the Apple Store for now. Historically I've avoided Shures because I just don't like the whole "wrap the cord up and around your ear" business. But I figured I'd try it out this time cause it looks sturdier than the Etymotic and Klipsch. Its cord is of slightly thicker stock, the earbuds are bigger, and the plug looks more heavy duty. But according to its specs it's pretty darn light (30 grams) which I find a little suspicious cause it doesn't feel lighter than the hf2 which is supposed to weigh 37 grams. As for the sound, I gotta admit, I'm very impressed. It's quite a well-balanced sound with a more noticeable bass than the Etymotic but not enough to affect the mids and highs too much like the Klipsch. Noise isolation is pretty complete if you wear it the suggested way (cord up, over and behind your ears). I tried wearing it the usual earphone way as well and was surprised to hear that it didn't detract much, if at all from the overall sound. Maybe a teeny bit less bass oomph because it's harder to get a complete seal when worn like a regular set of earphones.

The mic/controller is quite large although pretty easy to use. The main clicker button is located in the center, slightly indented so you can tell the difference between it and the two arrow-shaped buttons flanking it above and below that control the volume. And it's more sensibly located on the cord leading up to the right earbud. I'm still not quite used to the suggested wear method and I don't think my ears are cut out for it because if I turn my head too often or if the wind is too strong, the cord on one side or another easily becomes untucked. But overall I think it's a great set of earphones and a better bargain since it's only $20 more than the Klipsch.

(l to r) Etymotic hf2, Shure SE115m+, Klipsch IMAGE S4i
Earphone Plugs

And lastly, the revised Etymotic hf2. According to the support lady I spoke with, they reworked the hf2 with a new plug design. Instead of the straight plug that it originally came out with (and which the Klipsch still uses), they're now using an angled plug (like the Shure). Whether or not this fixes the weak wire issue remains to be seen but I'm optimistic. Now I don't know if they're rolling out these revised earphones to the retail market or just sending them out as they come in for repair but the box that I received still shows a picture of the old plug on the side.

Surprisingly, that wasn't the only thing that's changed. Maybe it's just copy to copy discrepancy but this new hf2 sounds fuller in the bass than my hf5 which is new because last I checked, both sounded the same to me (which they should since they're pretty much the same earphone except the hf2 has the mic/controller). So not sure if Etymotic also rejiggered the frequency response curve but this new pair sounds even better than before.

So, despite the appearance of two new rivals to the marketplace, the Etymotic hf2 is still my earphone of choice. Now with it's slightly fuller bass and regular style of wear, I can overlook the lack of volume controls. Hopefully, the new plug will finally fix the random channel loss issue that has plagued me for the last two years. Both the Klipsch and Shure sets are quite nice though and will probably work better for those who prefer even more emphasis on the bass side of things. Volume control on the mic/controller turned out to be not as big of a deal for me. I generally keep my iPhone within easy reach and I can locate the volume controls on it by feel now anyway so while having the two extra buttons are nice, they're not critical. Out of the two new offerings, I would pick the Shure for its more balanced sound and better mic/controller placement.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (4)

Well for what it's worth, I own these:

+ AKG K601
+ AKG K701 (for mastering in studio)
+ Shure SE530 (for ipod)

All highly recommended!

Great writeup! This encouraged me to go out and buy my own pair of Etymotic hf2s, which I am really enjoying so far!

Thanks for sharing this post. This is a very helpful and informative material. Good post and keep it up. Websites are always helpful in one way or the other, that’s cool stuff, anyways, a good way to get started to renovate your dreams into the world of reality.

However, perhaps the best thing about binaural beats is that you can try them out for yourself from the comfort of your own home.

Why not download some binaural beat mp3s and try them out for yourself?
Although there is so many cheap files out there that it is really not worth the effort of trying to make your own binaural beats, you can do so if you wish

Post a comment


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 4, 2009 11:36 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Panasonic LX3 vs Canon S90 JPEG Shootout.

The next post in this blog is Crafty.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



Add to Google Reader or Homepage
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.