Earbuds for Uncommon Sized Ears: Etymotic Research Hf3

Product: Etymotic Research hf3 with Custom Fit earbuds
Price: $279 (hf3 $179 + Custom Fit $100)
Rating: Recommend*

Do you have smaller than average or larger than average ears and often have trouble finding earbuds that fit? Are you in the market for a great pair of headphones that also work well as a headset for your phone? The hf3 headset with Custom Fit by Etymotic Research is a great combination of comfortably fitting earbuds and clean sound without breaking the bank. Having rather freakishly tiny ears I was more than overjoyed when given the opportunity to run the hf3 with Custom Fit earbuds through its paces.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Custom Fit:
While at CES I had the opportunity to chat with the nice folks at Etymotic Research. It was during our conversation that I spoke of my trouble with finding earbuds that fit due to my small ears. Apparently, there are many out there with uncommon sized ears which is one of the reasons why Etymotic Research offers Custom Fit. Custom Fit, is when a mold or impression is taken of your ears and a set of earbuds (Etymotic calls these earmolds) made to be used on the Etymotic Research headphones and headsets are made. Luckily an audiologist was on site and I was able to have the impressions made right then and there. The process is quick and painless, although it does feel a little odd when the putty is being inserted into your ear. The impressions were made in less than 20 minutes and did not leave a residue behind in my ears. I received a package containing my hf3 and new earmolds in less than 5 weeks.

What is the process like for those not at CES? First, you go to the Custom Fit site and fill out the voucher for the impression and set of molds at a discounted price. On the site you can locate an audiologist (there are presently 250 locations in the United States) and then call them to make an impression appointment. Once the impression is taken, the audiologist will send the voucher to ACS Custom and in 3 to 4 weeks you will have a set of personalized earmolds.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

One of the first things I noticed when I opened the hf3 package was how very nice and solid everything felt. The Kevlar reinforced cable makes quite a difference in how the product feels and wears. The hf3 does not feel cheap, it feels durable, because it is durable. The cord is black, and the 3 button control and headset ear pieces are red. While red is not one of my favorite colors, the red color that is used on the headset is not a flashy metallic red and does not scream “look at me” as I feared a red headset would. The earmolds which serve as the earbuds are clear.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The earmolds come with instructions for insertion. These instructions are very useful as it took several tries to properly get the headset into place. When the headset is on properly the first thing you notice is a massive reduction in the noise around you. This is great when you are on the subway or bus, but is a bit dangerous when walking outside. While using this product on my daily commute (a walk crosstown) I was struck by how much more aware I needed to be of my surrounding since my sense of ambient sound was severely diminished. While it was wonderful not to hear unkind words from people on the street I decided to not use the hf3 and earmolds when walking outside because I was barely able to hear passing sirens which is not a good thing for busy Manhattan streets. The hf3 and earmolds were great for running at the gym and they did a fantastic job of blocking out the unpleasant workout sounds of those around me.

Skype calls from my iPhone were much clearer and the music and podcast listening experience was also excellent. The hf3 does not try and add to the source but instead seeks to have an authentic sound. This is a great improvement over headphones that add “dimension” and “weight” to music. I did notice that the microphone picked up much more ambient noise than my usual headset and often when using this outside had to move the microphone closer to my mouth in order to be heard by the person I was calling.

One of the downsides of the hf3 is how far the ear pieces stick out in the ear. Since the weather was a bit chilly while I was using these, I would often wear a cowl or scarf and these winter accessories would frequently hit the ear pieces and cause discomfort. The pieces would also get knocked by the collar on my coat and would get snagged when I would remove my coat. Because of how far out of the ear they stuck out, it made sleeping with these on impossible, which is disappointing considering how well they cut down on ambient noise. The earmolds are great for getting a snug fit, but are a bit tricky to get in and out of your ears. Your mileage may vary, but I found it a bit challenging to easily pop them in my ears. The earmolds come with a solution to use to make them easier to insert and remove.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

– custom fit is great for uncommon sized ears
– crisp clean sound
– earphones function equally well as a headset
– amazing outside noise reduction
– lightweight
– durable cord

– headphone does stick out a bit from the ear
– blocks out background noise which can be dangerous for walking outdoors
– difficult to quickly insert and remove from the ear

The Bottom Line (& Who Should Buy):
For the price, the hf3 is a great headset and earphones, and Custom Fit is really a lifesaver for those who have a difficult time finding earbuds that fit. We recommend the Custom Fit service especially to those who want earbuds that not only fit well, but also isolate outside sound as they do a superb job at this. This combination is not ideal for those who often walk outside and need to be very aware of their surroundings. This combination however is great for running on a treadmill and blocking out noise of the heavy breathing and grunting of the person next to you.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend
Weak Recommend
Don’t Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.