With its recessed earphone socket, the iPhone can present an awkward situation if you want to use your own headphones rather than the bundled pair. Etymotic's new sound-isolating hf2 'phones help ease the struggle and will fit that very socket. Plus, they should make iPhones sound a hundred times better than they do through the bundled earphones.
The Etymotic hf2's are available to pre-order from expansys, and while the price is not yet confirmed, we expect a £100 price tag.
A curse of the iPhone is that aforementioned socket: it's recessed into the phone's enclosure, making it incompatible with nearly every pair of earphones on the market. Some manufacturers have made the audio adaptor on the end of their earphones' cable smaller to address this problem. Etymotic, too, has done this with the hf2 model, making it compatible with Apple's phone, and every other iPod on the market.
As earphones go, they're attractive and well constructed. The coated cabling doesn't tangle easily, and strain is alleviated from the parts of the cable most frequently stressed using some tough, supportive plastic coating. An in-line microphone and single button lets you silence your music so you can take a call on the iPhone. This function is restricted to only the iPhone.
Several silicon tips come in the box to ensure you get a comfortable fit, comprising of small and large silicon flanges and a pair of foam tips -- the latter being more intrusive but compensate with significantly increased bass performance. We enjoyed the terrific sound isolation from the large flanges in particular. If this is a crucial area for you -- commuters take note -- Etymotic's sound isolation is amongst the greatest.
On the whole, sound quality is excellent at this price. Each balanced armature driver responds to frequencies between 20Hz and 16KHz -- about average -- producing a clean sound, with tight highs, bold mids and a clear, smooth bass riding underneath. John Otto's drums on Limp Bizkit's early album Significant Other are, sound wise, one of our favourite studio drum recordings. Through the hf2's, the skull-crushing snare drum rim shots pounded our ears into dust, while tight hi-hat rudiments shone with gorgeous clarity.
It has to be said that our hf2s weren't the most robust of earphones. Within a week of using them, the earphone nozzle -- that's the bit that the silicon or foam tips grip on to -- came away from the earphone body when we tried to remove the foam tips. However, Etymotic has advised us that this was almost certainly an isolated fault, and that no other similar reports have been made. We'll update this review when we've inspected a new pair very soon.
Before our problem occurred, we definitely felt that bass response might not be powerful enough for fans of dance and electronic music. It's an extremely clean and well-balanced bass, but it doesn't quite have the deep, raw power of Denon's C700s, for example, or Sennheiser's more affordable CX 95s.
The in-line button for silencing music when taking calls on an iPhone requires an extra connection on the hf2's 3.5mm plug, making these 'phones incompatible with some Creative MP3 players -- the Zen and Zen Stone series in our tests -- or Nokia's N95. It's a normal plug in most other ways, and all other Apple, Samsung and Cowon players seemed to work fine. This, somewhat obviously, limits their use to Apple supporters, primarily iPhone users.
The hf2's are an attractive pair of earphones with great audio performance. They're not great for drum 'n' bass fans and they don't work with some popular devices. But you iPhone owners will almost certainly agree they're probably the best model to enhance your iPhone's performance as a music player.
For a little less money, equally good performance and compatibility with all MP3 players, check out Etymotic's ER-6i's. They offer superb performance and they won't ask for as much cash as the iPhone-loving hf2's.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday