Get Better Gear!

Premier Sponsors


Other World Computing

Top 5 Free Apps

Release Date: August 05, 2009
Genre: Games
Release Date: May 22, 2009
Genre: Games
Release Date: August 29, 2009
Genre: Games
Release Date: March 27, 2009
Release Date: August 07, 2009

iTunes New Music Releases

Release Date: September 29, 2009
Genre: Rock
Release Date: September 20, 2009
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Genre: Rock
Release Date: August 25, 2009

Top 5 Paid Apps

Release Date: April 22, 2009
StickWars $0.99
Release Date: March 31, 2009
Genre: Games
Bloons $0.99
Release Date: April 05, 2009
Genre: Games

Discover New Music

  • Wolfmother

    • 8 out of 10
    • Wolfmother
    • Black Sabbath, The White Stripes, The Stooges. There aren't many bands worth their salt that want to be compared to other bands, but when I listen to Wolfmother's self-titled American debut, I can

  • Trouble

    • 8 out of 10
    • Ray LaMontagne
    • At first, Ray LaMontagne might strike you as just another breathy-voiced knockoff of folk/rock guitarists like John Mayer and Jack Johnson. But he's actually got a better voice than either, he tell

  • Rock Spectacle

    • 8 out of 10
    • Barenaked Ladies
    • These guys know how to put on a live show, and whomever recorded this knows how to capture one. Rock Spectacle is one of the warmest-sounding recordings I've ever heard, and totally fills a room at a
  • The Life Pursuit

    • 8 out of 10
    • Belle & Sebastian
    • The Life Pursuit is a sort of Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. You get Belle & Sebastian's peanut butter (its wistful, often irresistible pop) dipped in a 'Have A Nice Day!' and glam 70s chocol

  • Go Away White

    • 10 out of 10
    • Bauhaus
    • Go Away White is an album I've been waiting more than 20 years to hear, and the good news is that it was worth the wait.  The latest -- and last, no...for real this time -- album from

Reader Specials

Visit Deals On The Web for the best deals on all consumer electronics, iPods, and more!

Just a Peek

Etymotic Research HF2 Noise Isolation Earphones

I am genetic misfit. I am among those of you who have some slight, but strange genetic aberration. I am one with the folks possessing extra fingers or toes. ("Allo! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!") I understand the heartbreak of people who have an extra nipple or two. I am clansman of the people with tails.

My genetic misstep isn’t so obvious, however. My defect, if you can call it that, prohibits me from using the earbuds supplied with my iPhone, or any earbuds for that matter. Where most people have a deep little pocket formed by the conch, anti-tragus, and the tragus of the outer ear my pocket is shallow due to an overly large conch and an under-developed anti-tragus. In effect, earbuds fall out of my ears.

In a recent article I lamented about my defect, blaming Apple and others for ignoring people with problematic anti-traguses. The folks at Etymotic Research heard my sad story and suggested I try a pair of their HF2 earphones.

When I got the HF2s, which offers a built-in mic and a control button for answering calls or controlling iPod functions, I was excited.

The HF2 earphones are designed to be inserted into the ear canal. The earphones come with two sets of rubber cones, either set of which should give you a nice seal when pushed into your ear canal, and the seal is important for getting the proper sound out of the earphones. A good seal also provides a measure of noise isolation, an advertised feature of the HF2.

When I tried on the HF2s, however, what I heard was tinny music, and voices on the other end of phone calls where nasally and weak.

My excitement was dampened.

The documentation that came with the HF2s insisted that a good seal between the earphones and my ear canal was essential to getting the most out of them, but try as I might I could never get the earphones to sound like I believe they should. I had begun to believe that my ear defect was an insurmountable problem and I would have to resort to bulky over-the-ear headsets.

As a last resort I tried the foam eartips provided with the HF2s. Music suddenly sounded rich with a tight, but full of bass. Voices on the other end of phone calls sounded more natural and recogizable. I was elated. I had found a solution to my problem. No longer would I have to hang my head in shame. I could finally use earphones, just like normal people, and man did they sound good.

Over the course of the next several days, however, my joy abated. The exterior of the eartips are rough and they scraped and irritated my ear canals. After continued use the earphones began to feel as if they were covered with sandpaper.

So, I could either use the foam eartips and slowly sand my ear canals wider while enjoying full rich sound or use the rubber eartips and forget about bass response and put up with callers sounding as if they have a cold.

Life is cruel.

Those of you with normal ears should know that the Etymontic Research HF2 earphones are lightweight, easy to use and do a great job in reducing outside noise. You should be able to use the normal rubber eartips and get great sound.

The mic works well, even in moderately breezy conditions. One thing you’ll want to be mindful of is your tendency to speak louder than you normally would when using the HF2s, or any noise isolating earphones. The HF2 earplugs provide sound isolation and even you own voice is muted when wearing them, so you wind up with everyone around you involved in your conversation if you’re not careful.

The HF2 earphones come with a nice zippered bag to carry them in and, as I mention before, another smaller set of rubber eartips and the sandy foam eartips.

There’s also a tool for changing the itty-bitty wax filters. These things are small so handle with care. Unless your earwax runs like warm maple syrup, you shouldn’t have to change the filters too often.

In use the single button on the mic works well, serving double duty as the answer/hang-up remote button when in the phone mode and the play/stop/next song button when in the iPod mode. A double click gets you to the next song, all other actions require a single click.

Beyond my mewling over the eartips, I have two other gripes with the HF2, the first has to do with its phone plug.

I wear my iPhone in a leather belt clip which allows me to plug in the earphones yet keep my iPhone in a convenient place on my person. The problem is that the earphone plug sticks out from the iPhone like an antenna and it’s just begging to get snapped off.

It would have been better to offer a bent plug, which would not stick out as much. It’s a minor gripe, I know, but I think it’s valid.

My second gripe has to do with the style of the HF2s. The earphones are black and when worn they look OK except for the wire on the right side which holds the mic. The mic position becomes an annoyance when you are moving, it swings and bumps your collar or chin and to someone on the other end of your phone call it sounds like you’re wrestling a bear. Also, the mic dangling there, in my opinion, just looks silly. Apple has a similar design in the earphones they provide with the iPhone and in the new $79 dollar iPod earphones (that don’t work with iPhones for some strange reason), and Apple’s name on them makes them no less silly.

Perhaps a better solution would be to put the mic at the joint where the left and right earphone wires split. That way the mic can be stabilized by clipping it to your clothes. (Yes, there is a clip on the HF2 that can be repositioned, but it does little to keep the mic from swinging no matter how you position it.)

Good mic in a bad place

It would have been better if Etymotic Research had made the right (or left) earphone with a little boom and a directional mic. The distance from your mouth is about the same and since the mic would be in a fixed place there would be no more bear wrestling. It also would look very cool.

The bottom line is that the Etymotic Research HF2 earphones are worthy replacements for the earbuds Apple insists on giving us. They are small, lightweight, easy to use and sound amazing once you get a good seal. The mic works well and the single button does the job with no fuss. Sound isolation is a big plus, even for someone with jacked up traguses. It would be nice if the plug didn’t protrude so much when plugged into my iPhone, and the mic dangling from the earphone wire is not the best place for a mic to be.

I Highly Recommend* the Etymotic Research HF2 earphones.

Review Item HF2 earphones
Manufacturer Etymotic Research

List Price


Minimum Requirements iPhone (1st generation or 3G)

* Note: My rating system goes like this;
  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly Recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He’s been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

Post Your Comments

  Remember Me  Forgot your password?

Not a member? Register now. You can post comments without logging in, but they'll show up as a "guest" post.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.