Etymotic Research hf5 vs. Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5vi

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When it comes to earphones/headphones, my preference has been to opt for earphones. No power is required. They are much more convenient to drag onto a plane. If properly inserted, they provide excellent noise reduction and good, clean sound. And, they don’t mess up your hair if you’re flying to a meeting.

The standard Apple earphones are worthless in this regard. They aren’t comfortable and there is no noise reduction. My first pair of add-on earphones were the Shure E2c’s. I loved them and they served faithfully for two years. A year into using them, a piece of plastic broke off where the bud meets the cord. I contacted Shure and they promptly sent me a brand new replacement set. Fantastic service and fantastic ear buds.

When the Shures hit the end of their life, I probably should have just replaced them with another set of Shure. I have no complaints about the buds or the company. But, I was curious about the other options and would wait for a set to go on sale for a good price. That’s how I wound up with the ER and UE buds. I’ve had the hf5 for a little over a year and the 5vi for several months.

Accessories

Case

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The hf5 case is larger and can hold everything that ships with the set. It’s also a soft case. The 5vi case is hard but won’t carry much more than the cleaning tool and the earphones themselves. If you have settled on your desired tips, this shouldn’t be an issue. Winner: 5vi.

Cleaning Tools

I’m not an expert on cleaning tools (a photo of my desk would prove this), so I’d call this one a draw. However, the hf5 comes with filters that are meant to protect the earphones from wax and also to smooth out the frequencies a bit. If you buy into the need for the filter, the hf5 wins. The difference has not been obvious for me and I try to keep the filters clean on the hf5’s. Winner: draw.

Tips

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Both sets come with silicone tips and foam tips. Although the foam tips provide a better seal, I don’t use them. Two reasons: they’re not as easy to work with and they require replacement more often than I care to pay for. They are also much easier to damage if you’re traveling with them. Comparing the foam tips, the 5vi wins. The Comply foam tips are nicer. They seem like they would last longer, they seal better, and they are more comfortable. Here’s the rub for me: the standard Comply tips are $14.95 for 3 sets. Want to go with integrated wax protection? If so, you’ll shell out $19.95 for 3 sets. Damn…Winner: 5vi

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The 5vi comes with 4 sets of silicone tips. The hf5 comes with 2 sets. The triple flanged tips that come with the hf5 are softer, seal better, and are much more comfortable. I really don’t like the silicone tips for the 5vi AT ALL. Winner: hf5

Build

Both sets are well built. The hf5 have an aluminum housing, which feels more rugged than the plastic of the 5vi. The 5vi has a thicker, tangle free cord. There are two potential issues with the thicker cord. First, the thicker, stiffer cord transmits more noise to the ear phones if you tap them or they bounce together. Second, the 5vi works best when you wear the cord over the ear. This is a little more difficult with the stiffer cord. The hf5 has a thicker housing around the plug, which makes it a little tougher to disconnect the dock connect cord. It also has a clip if you’d care to anchor the cord to your shirt. Winner: hf5

Sound

The most noticeable difference between the hf5 and the 5vi is that the 5vi is considerably louder at any volume level. You have to increase the volume when using the hf5 by 80-90% to get the equivalent level of sound. Overall, the sound of the 5vi is more full. Both sets provide clean definition but the hf5 seem just a little bit muddier than the 5vi. The hf5 seems to be a little better at rendering higher pitched sounds like the crash of a cymbal. Below is a summary and a list of different pieces of music and an indicator of on which set I felt they sounded better.

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Specs

Here are the specs from the maker websites.

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Truthfully, they are both very nice sounding earphones. All things being equal, I would choose the 5vi. The more efficient output and the fuller sound are quite appealing and the case is great for travel. But…I truly dislike their silicone tips and can’t see myself shelling out cash for the Comply tips regularly. I’ll take them on my next trip and will see how well they wear. This will determine which set becomes the go-to set.

If comfort is an issue or you plan to exercise with them, the hf5 is probably the better choice. You should get less cord noise and the flanged tips are much more comfortable than the bulbous 5vi tips. As a comparison, Amazon is currently offering the hf5 for $123-$137 (depending on color) and the 5vi for $76.

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