Etymotic Research hf2 Custom Noise Isolating Earphones - Etymotic Research hf2 Custom Earphones

By Hugo Jobling



  • Recommended by TR
Etymotic Research hf2 Custom Noise Isolating Earphones


Our Score:


As noted before, the hf2s have a very refined, almost monitor-like, quality. There's none of the bass-heaviness found with some rival earphones, but that's no bad thing. Instead, what's on offer is a beautifully detailed sound which will suit the kind of listener that favours precise, uncoloured reproduction.

Vocally driven tracks such as Phantom Planet's California or The Saturday's Fall especially benefit from this. Backing music remains where it should be, in the background, not dominating the tracks as it can through some earphones.

Switching to Christina Milian's Dip it Low show that the hf2s can handle a bit of pop with aplomb. Although here I think the lessened bass is more of an issue. The haunting electronic beats of Crystal Castles definitely benefit from bassier earphones and Nine Inch Nails' Head Down lacked presence through the hf2s. A pair of SE420s, conversely, suffered from no such issues.

This disparity was fine in the standard hf2s, which were significantly cheaper than any multi-driver earphones. However, a pair of Shure SE420s can be had for less money as these hf2s and I do think they sound better, offering similar detailing to the hf2s but without the arguably 'sterile' bass. I don't have a pair of SE530s to hand to test, but at around £200 - only £20 more than these custom hf2s - I can't see them sounding anything but notably better.

That's the price you pay for the comfort and isolation offered by custom tips. Having splashed out on a pair of SE420s myself a little over a year ago, I'm now finding myself daily in debate as to whether to use those or the custom-tipped hf2s, simply because in the environments I'm using them, I'm generally able to get more from the hf2s, despite the technical advantage of the SE420s.

The hf2s also have the benefits of the in-line remote and microphone to consider. Being able to listen to music while out and about without missing phone calls is a luxury that is, if not hard, annoying to give up. Being able to skip between tracks on my iPhone without having to pull the thing from my pocket is similarly great.


Etymotic Research's partnership with ACS has undoubtedly created the best sounding pair of iPhone-centric earphones available to buy. Just, be prepared to pay a sizeable premium for the privilege of enjoying them.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Value 7
  • Sound Quality 9

Hamish Campbell

May 15, 2009, 4:55 pm

Didn't you mention this a wee while ago, and someone suggested you could get the same custom tips (from different suppliers) for a bit less?

Can't find the article on here....maybe it was another site?

Bryan Kerr

May 15, 2009, 5:21 pm

How long do the custom buds last and how easy are they to clean?


May 15, 2009, 5:47 pm

@haim + @Bryan - what Bryan raises is an important point. ACS moulds are of very high quality and it says you can expect to get up to five years from them. You can find cheaper moulds but you'll replace them far more frequently (which doesn't really make them cheaper).

As for cleaning: 1. you get a little tool to do the job though it's easy with any number of things and 2. no need to if you keep your ears clean ;)


May 15, 2009, 5:48 pm

haim - I thought I mentioned that, oops. Yeah, ACS will do custom tips for any earphones (also for £90 I believe). The difference here is pretty much just the packaging of the bundle.

Bryan - I think they're supposed to last nigh-on indefinitely. Very easy to clean, they're silicone so you just run them under some warm water and wait for them to dry.


May 15, 2009, 6:10 pm

Hmm, wouldn't it be great if you could get a custom set of moulds that would last years and fit many types of earphone from many manufacturers? Just thinking out loud...


May 15, 2009, 7:06 pm

In theory that would work as a lot of tips are interchangeable between various Shure models, see here on the Comply website for specifics

If you get the moulding and sleeves through leightons they will do the mouldings for free, as opposed to £20 or £30 pound, so all in it's £88, which is a pretty good imo, makes my phonaks sound excellent as I struggled to find a decent tip for ages.


May 15, 2009, 7:32 pm

@comedian - All in that's the same price as the ACS custom option (which as Hugo states can be made for any brand of earphones you like). I can't vouch for the quality of Leightons moulds but if that £2 is important to you... ;)


May 15, 2009, 7:47 pm

Yes for £2 difference my point was rather moot.

I was trying to say that the cost of a custom sleeve was lessened if you used that sleeve with a number of different but compatible iems as opposed to getting a mould for each 'phone.

Ricky Archer

May 15, 2009, 10:22 pm

For the sake of an extra £80, I am happy with my 'Beats' by Dr Dre. They come with the inline microphone so I don't miss any calls, they have a mute button so I can hear people when I need (want) to and they are VERY comfortable. I used to use the Ultimate Ears, but got fed up with maneuvering them into a comfortable position! OK so I used to get some stares walking around wearing them, but since every artist and their dog now has them in their music videos, people just tend to nod instead!


May 15, 2009, 11:00 pm

Beats by Dr Dre!?! *runs and hides*


May 15, 2009, 11:03 pm

Actually a really good set of headphones those 'Beats'. Obviously they're somewhat tailored to certain kinds of music but they're still at least good for all types.

Ricky Archer

May 15, 2009, 11:09 pm

Still waiting to see a review on these by you guys, or have I missed it? All my music on my iPhone is lossless format and they give a rich sound that is very crisp at the top end. The bass is slid but not overpowering, try them on Guru Josh's Infinity 2008, there is a slid whoomph of bass that shows off their ability pretty well


May 15, 2009, 11:10 pm

@Ed - fair play. Audio is extremely subjective and for me they're the equivalent of a crass Bass Boost button, but I'm not suggesting any one else runs and hides *runs and hides*


May 19, 2009, 9:11 pm

Ricky, we're getting in some Beats soon. Both the headphones and earphones.

Chris F

May 27, 2009, 8:01 pm

I already had a pair of custom tips made from ACS for my Shure SE530s and they actually mould the tips so that the silicon comes flush onto the drivers and not just the exit channel, so it may make swapping custom tips a little more difficult. However, the upside is that the when in place, the tips and earphone body is lined up perfectly to allow the cable to tuck neatly over and behind your ear!

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