Manufacturer:Etymotic UK Price (as reviewed):£99.95 (inc. VAT) plus £90 for ear tips US Price (as reviewed): $179.95 (ex. Tax) plus fee for ear tips
Frequency response: 20Hz – 15kHz Carry case: Soft Pouch for earphones, soft pouch for custom tips Tips: Small, medium cones, foam barrels plus custom plastic ear tips Cable length: 122cm Weight: 37g Remote: Clicker
When we recently reviewed a selection of iPhone earphones, Etymotic’s hF2s finished top of the class for sound quality. ‘They’re incredibly rewarding and their lightness of touch means you can really get lost in their sound,’ said the review, and that’s as true today as it was when written two months ago. As a result, the hF2s are the regular choice for day-to-day listening for several of the bit-tech staff.
One area where we did criticise the hF2s was the comfort of their fit, so when Etymotic announced that it was going to start providing custom-made tips for its hF2s, we were keen to see what the process would involve.
In order to provide the service, Etymotic has teamed up with a company called Advanced Communication Systems. ACS make custom earphone tips for musicians, pilots, racing drivers and others who need to combine noise isolation and hearing protection with the ability to listen to data coming through earphones.
They are, in their own words, “very serious about sound”, thanks in part to the experience that caused ACS’ managing director Andy Shiach to start the company – a musician by profession, his hearing was seriously damaged when he was working in a rehearsal studio and one of the technicians sent a massive blast of feedback into the headphones he was wearing. His career as a musician was over in an instant.
Etymotics hF2 earphones with ACS custom tips. Our tips didn't look this normal.
The majority of people own very little that’s truly custom-made. From furniture to clothes, the low costs offered by design standardisation, large-scale production and the ease of global trade (pirates not withstanding) has meant bespoke products have come to seem extremely expensive compared to mass-market items. This is usually the case for the custom tips ACS makes, but Etymotic thinks it’s priced the process reasonably: £99 for a set of hF2 earphones, and then £90 for the custom tips.
As well as looking at the price, Etymotic and ACS has also put some thought into making the process as streamlined as possible. To begin with, the custom fit hF2s are only available via Apple stores – either online, or at one of the retail locations. To get started, you buy a pair of hF2s with the ‘custom fit logo’ on the front. Inside, you get the same earphones as in the usual hF2 retail pack, and, in Willy Wonka style, a voucher. Fill it out, and ACS will set you up with an appointment at your nearest audiologist. ACS claims there are over 300 locations around the country - which you can check out online.
There, they take impressions of your ears, and create from scratch completely custom made ear tips for your earphones. These are then posted back to you. We were told manufacture of the tips should take “around a week.”
bit-tech Editor Tim Smalley has his ear impressions taken
The custom fit hF2s launch on Monday 27th April, so we were treated to a preview of the process, with ACS founder and managing director Andy Shiach visiting the bit-tech offices to take impressions for our custom tips. It’s a relatively quick, if strange process that involves a quick check of the condition of your inner ears, and then a mixture of silicone being squirted slowly into each ear.
This feels very strange – if you’ve ever had water stuck in your ears after swimming you’ll recognise the sloshing sounds inside your head and the feeling of being isolated from the world, but having the goo in your ears gives the bizarre feeling that someone’s making a sponge cake in your ear canal. It’s not uncomfortable, however, and the mixture sets quickly – within five minutes. Waiting for it to set does make it look like you’ve put chewing gum in your ears, though.
The ear tips are made from clear silicone, with a small red and blue dot denoting which one is left and right. They’re supplied with their own protective case, and tube of ‘comfort cream’, which the manually helpfully (and entirely without innuendo) states is to ‘ease insertion.’ All you need to do is put a little on the tip, apparently.
We were surprised by the bizarre shape of the insides of ears, and on a more serious note, how different each set of tips made were from each other – they clearly are completely customised for each person. It also goes to show how a one-size-fits-all earphone is incredibly difficult to make – it's no wonder why some people don't like in-ear headphones.