Tailor made earphones
As standard, the hF2s are supplied with two types of tips – soft plastic ‘Christmas trees’ and squidgy foam barrels. As with all in-ear earphones, a tight fit between the tip and ear canal enables you to enjoy the best sound quality (particularly bass), to suffer less intrusion from background noise, and to listen at lower volumes.
The foam barrels try and achieve this fit by expanding to fill the auditory canal, while the Christmas trees, and other similar silicon tips, change shape by squashing up against the canal to make the fit tight. In both cases, there’s an outward pressure from the tip pushing against a sensitive part of your ear – it’s a small pressure, but it is one that can contribute to the earphones not feeling comfortable. To combat this, most manufacturers tend to try and use very soft plastic to make the tip as flexible as possible. This has its own problems though – the tip needs a degree of rigidity to form a fit tight enough to be effective.
A pair of custom tips. The red and blue logos denote left and right
As the custom ear tips fit your ears exactly, they’re made from much tougher plastic than is usual, and they’re also much chunkier. Like a jigsaw piece, they fit perfectly, but only when inserted with the correct orientation. As a result, the custom tips can be harder to insert than standard soft silicon tips, and more time consuming, but it will ultimately depend on how strange the inside of your ear is.
We criticised the hF2s for being fiddly to fit with their default tips, and this even more the case with the custom tips for me in particular, but Tim on the other hand finds the custom tips easier to insert. There’s a degree to which this it nitpicking – you’re still talking seconds to put the hF2s with custom tips in – but if you’re someone who wants to take micro-seconds to get ready to go with your headphones, it’s something to be aware of.
In terms of comfort however, the custom ear tips are a revelation. They’re strange at first, because of the way they completely fill your ear canal. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable or intrusive, because the fact they’re bespoke means they feel, if anything, like they’re supposed to be there. The fact they’re custom made means they’re incredibly stable and secure once in your ears – there’s no chance of them becoming dislodged, even if you were running or exercising. This also makes the hF2s feel very light – the weight of the earphone will be evenly distributed around the ear, so you can easily wear them for hours and hours.
The closeness of the fit means you feel even closer to the music you’re listening to: they improve the hF2s' already excellent sound quality. We wrote in our original review that 'listening to them, we were regularly pulled up by hearing moments we never realised were there. Voices in particular are full of life and even on compressed audio, strikingly real.' This is even more the case with the custom tips – there’s a simply tremendous sense of presence and reality to the sound. There’s so much detail; enough to make you want to rush through your music library relistening to old favourites, and enough to make you realise just how marvellous human hearing is. As the earphones themselves are unchanged from the original hF2s, the change in audio quality isn't radical - and for more on their sound quality and performance, you can read our original review
Another area where the custom tips improve upon the standard ones that come in the box with hF2s is noise isolation. With the custom tips on, the rest of the world is completely muted – you won’t hear phones ringing, you won’t hear people talking to you, or car noises. Several members of the bit-tech
team now keep an arsenal of objects to hand to throw at anyone wearing the custom fit ear tips when they need to get their attention.
In our original hF2 review, we wrote 'you really do need to be careful when crossing roads when wearing them.' That goes double for the hF2s with the custom fit tips – you’re incredibly isolated from the noise and bustle of the world and should take care wearing them in busy public places. We’re not liable if you get run over wearing them. (I was nearly run over three times on the way to work yesterday... within two minutes of leaving home and then I realized I needed to be doubly aware of what was going on around me - Ed.
Adding custom fit ear tips to the hF2s virtually doubles their price, taking them to a not inconsiderable £185. That’s a lot of money to pay for earphones, and many people will think it’s simply too much. However, Etymotic and ACS are offering a truly unique service for consumer earphones – they’ve made it relatively simple for anyone to get a bespoke product. It’s not bespoke for no reason, either. The custom tips audibly increase the sound quality offered by the hF2s, as well as making them significantly better at blocking out noise. They’re also, in the experience of the team, very comfortable. If you’re someone who’s had trouble finding a pair of earphones that don’t cause discomfort, the hF2s with custom tips are well worth looking at.
Etymotic hF2 Custom Fit Headset