Etymotic Research hf3 review

Available in three flashy colours and a choice of buds; serious hi-fi sound Tested at £134

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

These Etymotics deliver serious hi-fi in a stylish little package


  • +

    Detailed, direct and crisp

  • +

    excellent dynamics

  • +


  • +

    can take custom buds


  • -

    Invasive fit

  • -

    can be pushed to brightness by poor recordings

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

Etymotic seems to have garnered a reputation that’s both ‘hi-fi’ and ‘cool’ – two things that aren’t easy to combine.

The hf3s are the earbuds that most embody this.

They're available in three flashy, luxurious metallic finishes and are fitted with a three-button remote and mic at chin-height on the cable to the left ear, which lets you control your music and take calls.

Find your best buds
Bung them in, though, and the degree to which the hf3s stick out of your ears is a little bit of a surprise when you consider just how far they need to be shoved into your ear canal in order to create a satisfying seal.

Even then we simply couldn’t get along with the included flange or sponge tips – only the ugly, mushroom-shaped buds worked for us.

Everyone’s ears are different, though, so experiment until you find what works for you (or use the bundled voucher to get a pair of custom moulds made for an extra £80).

You’ll know when you've cracked it because suddenly all the noise around you will vanish behind a wall of isolation and your music will sound extraordinary.

Exceptionally crisp and insightful
These really are exceptionally crisp and insightful headphones. They’re supremely tight and controlled right through the frequency range, with the kind of analytical nature you’d usually associate with a much higher price tag.

Mind you, they won’t flatter poor recordings.

They aren't too bright with good-quality, lossless or uncompressed recordings, but their crispness can be coaxed to brightness fairly easily with lower-quality files – as our rip of the latest Strokes album proves.

Still, keep feeding them the good stuff and the hf3s will keep delivering superb audio.

See all our headphone Best Buys

Follow whathifi on Twitter

Join whathifi on Facebook

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

Read more about how we test