The Etymotic Custom fit headphones are an interesting premise. Buy a pair of standard Etymotic hf2 headphones, then go through a fitting process to make them unique to you. But is the end result worth the hassle?
To be honest you might as well stop reading now, we've got your verdict: they are one of the best sets of headphones we've tested here at Pocket-lint. Why? Well because not only are the very comfortable, but they also sound amazing. Better still because they fit your ear perfectly you don't have to have them that loud.
So now we've got our opinion out on the table, let's tell you about the process of getting them fitted and more importantly why we like them so much.
Users buying the headphones, which cost £99.99, will then be able to go to one of 300 approved ear impression outlets to get their custom moulding for a further £90. So on the table, yes, this is an expensive set of headphones.
The fitting is an interesting experience. You turn up, a man rams (read gently nudges in) a small cotton bud down your ear canal before filling it with blue goo. It's completely painless and fairly comfortable, although you do feel like you are underwater.
You then sit there for around 5 minutes allowing the impression to set before they yank it out of your ear (read politely remove), bag it and tag it. A couple of weeks later you get a pair of sleeves that are unique to you as they are an exact mould of your inner ear canal.
Why all the effort? The idea is that the earphone then fits you perfectly as its designed to fit your ear canal.
Once you get your sleeves back (the service takes around 2 weeks) then all you have to do is fit them to the company's hf2 headphones and away you go.
"Most Etymotic customers can achieve a comfortable fit with the array of ear tips we include with our products, but the hf2 custom fit delivers the same level of comfort that performing musicians require during live performances", the makers claim.
Getting them in your ear the first time can be a frustrating experience as it involves a bit of wiggling and making sure you've got the right earphone for the right ear is important - it doesn't fit otherwise.
Still after a couple of goes we soon got the hang of it, for us it's a case of going in at a 90 degree angle and twisting as we push the earphones into our ears (it's really not as scary as it sounds), you'll then hear/feel a pop and that's it your done. You are wearing a pair of headphones that no one else can wear.
The results of the hf2 speak for themselves, but the main benefit we've found is that because it's a perfect fit there is very little noise coming in from the outside world; noise isolation is excellent. This means you don't need to have the music up very loud and if you don't need to have it so loud it won't damage your ears.
Listening to the system on a number of devices from an iPod touch to a Denon Amp the results were impressive. We found the volume element cames to light very clearly when listening on a Mac. Of the 16 volume bars you get, we could comfortably listen to it with only one volume bar selected on an overland train, as a comparison a standard pair of Apple headphones requires it to be at 12 bars or over. The iPod touch required the level to be no higher than a quarter of a way across the volume slider.
But it's not just the sound levels, the headphones themselves are very good, lacking slightly in a rich bass that we prefer, they are by no means poor in performance and the sound barrier is more than enough to make up for it.
For those making phone calls via the iPhone, the hf2 also features an in-line microphone so you can use the headphones as a headset and this is good enough to make calls. In our tests the mic quality was akin to using the handset, although of course you have to factor into the account that these are wired not wireless headphones. You do get a clip to attach it to your shirt or jacket however.
As we said at the beginning these headphones are amazing, amazing in that they are comfortable; there is little or not movement making them ideal for runners, and that they sound great.
The fitting process is painless and the end result is that you get a pair of headphones that fit you and only you alone.
Our only complaint of the hf2's is that they could have been a bit bassier, but regardless of that, they still come highly recommended.